By Paula Lewis
The stars love Miami. If you want to see celebrities, or just live like one during your vacation, you need to know where to go. The best part is, these A-list vacations are more accessible than you might think.
Since the heyday of Ol' Blue Eyes and his pleasure-seeking Rat Pack, stars have been drawn to the glitter of Miami. And who could blame them? An itinerary of beautiful beaches, trendy restaurants, swanky shopping, stunning people and seductive evenings make for a celeb-worthy vacation.
But what if you’re not a celebrity? No matter. In Miami, even regular folks like you and me can have an A-list vacation.
There was a time when the trendiest hotels were out of reach to anyone but the most well off. That was, of course, until someone realized that money looked the same no matter whose pocket it came from. Prices vary, but opting to pay higher rates might be worth it if you’re looking for private butler service and a personal entertainment assistant.
In Miami, The Setai is one celebrity hotel of choice. The experience begins at the Miami International Airport. A car service driver greets you at the airport, then whisks you away in the hotel’s black Range Rover. Hot, aromatic towels and snacks revive you during the short ride to Miami Beach.
At this Art Deco landmark, you’ll be indulged just like Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady. The Setai has its own celebrity wing – the residential tower. The tower has expansive suites, a concierge and butler service and a modest lobby (which isn't encouraging to fans).
Other celebrity-preferred hotels in Miami are the ultra chic Shore Club and the sophisticated Ritz-Carlton South Beach, where “no” isn’t in the staff’s vocabulary. Now, what celebrity – or celebrity for a day – wouldn’t relish that type of service?
If you’re in Florida for the beaches, why not make it a celebrity-worthy day under the sun? Stars love to while away the day on South Beach for the quintessential Miami beach experience. The beach is on Ocean Drive, across the street from many famous nightclubs. I have lounged away many an afternoon on this beach among serious sunbathers who are as likely to chat in French, Spanish, Portuguese or German as in English.
After relaxing on the beach, fashionistas such as Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston and, ahem, myself like to drop a credit card (or just window shop) at Bal Harbour Shops. With a collection of luxurious retail stores that would be hard to find side-by-side almost anywhere else in the world (outside of Paris or New York), this high-end retail center has a who’s-who fashion directory: Bulgari, Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Tiffany, Gianni Versace and dozens more.
Take a cue from Jada Pinkett Smith and Jennifer Lopez and treat yourself to one of Miami’s world-renowned spas. The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami is a favorite among celebs and everyday folks alike.
The Spa doesn’t just give you a foot rub and send you home – it creates a custom treatment for each customer based on their needs and desires.
A celeb favorite at The Spa is the Kundalini Journey, which combines aromatherapy and advanced massage techniques with gemstone therapy to achieve an enhanced level of physical and mental relaxation.
I treated myself to their Ayurvedic Holistic Body Treatment. As I sipped a relaxing herbal tea, my feet soaked in warm, petal-scattered water while the therapist massaged the reflex zones on my feet. A gentle, full-body exfoliation was followed by a warm shower.
Usually, this would be the end of the spa treatment, but this is celebrity Miami. After a nourishing facial cleanse, I surrendered to the Ayurvedic Marma Points Massage. A warm infusion of aromatic oils and herbs were applied to the vital energy centers of my face and body. My ritual concluded with a deeply relaxing Oriental head massage.
Every fiber of my skin released tension. On my euphoric stroll out of the spa, I thanked the Ayurvedic gods that these treatments are available to anyone.
In addition to The Spa, also worth noting is the sun-filled spa at the Biltmore. With discerning guests such as Christina Aguilera and Cameron Diaz, the Biltmore Spa delivers stellar pampering. (Also of note: In early 2011, the Biltmore's Palme d'Or was rated the best restaurant in Miami by the Zagat Survey.)
What you’ve heard about Miami’s dining and nightlife is no overstatement. What you may not know is where to chow down and live it up, star-style.
The Italian fare at Casa Tua is not a trend; it’s a showcase of lifestyle – good life, good art, good wine and good service. From the moment you pass under the trees that hide this Mediterranean villa from the frenzy of Miami, you’ll understand what I mean. Warm lights spill from a doorway and small lanterns twinkle from trees. A friendly gentleman welcomes you as if receiving you at his home – which is, of course, the point of Casa Tua, or “your house.”
If you’re looking for a glitzy evening, the endless nightlife options may seem daunting. However, there are a few sure-bets for a see-and-be-seen experience.
Mansion is among the hottest nightclubs. Meanwhile South Beach’s sexy Mango’s morphs from a restaurant by day into a lounge by night where beautiful people party with celebs like Ricky Martin, Alicia Keys and Janet Jackson into the wee hours.
Celebrities gravitate to the “Sexiest Place on Earth,” Nikki Beach Miami. Nikki lives up to its reputation as a party playground for jetsetters, celebrities, VIPs and people just like you and me.
On weekends, my friends love the “Amazing Sunday” party that brings the international elite and beautiful locals together for an all-day soiree. From fire performances and stilt walkers to costumed dancers and runway shows, Amazing Sundays make star-worthy spectacles accessible to all.
Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell and Mario Lopez have been spotted wining and dining at the award-winning restaurant and lounging on one of Nikki’s signature plush beds or in VIP cabanas.
The rich and famous – or those who want to be around them – also love Tantra, which has a live-grass entryway, sexy silk walls, aphrodisiac food (the Tantra Love Apple is one such amorous appetizer) and great music.
Miami is more than a playground for the rich and elite. The truth is, South Beach has a variety of accommodation options. For every Beyonce wanna-be, there are at least 20 thrifty tourists. And they all have to stay somewhere.
The low season, from June to October, is a great time to experience Miami like a celebrity. Four- or five-star hotels generally have rates ranging from $250 to $450 a night. You can also find more economical rooms nearby; you just have to do your homework.
You’ll also want to look the part, and you’re in luck because “Miami Style” is easy to achieve. Daywear is a casual affair. Put on a hot swimsuit, flip-flops, a hat and sunscreen and you’re good to go. In the evening, a nice pair of jeans with a chic top will do. Women on the beach love their high-heeled sandals, so ladies, keep that in mind. Flip-flops for men or women at night are a big no-no.
After dark, many nightclubs have a line and a cover charge (no more than $20). If you plan to really live it up, ask the concierge at your hotel to reserve you a table at a club and the cover charge may disappear. If you’re lucky, your table might be next to celebs like Paris Hilton or Will Smith who love our steamy nightlife.
No matter what your plans, there are deals to be had. Even in glamorous Miami, you don’t need a celebrity name to open doors to high-end places.