Things happen in your life that you don’t expect. Like your father moving to Tampa. The west coast of Florida is full of Harley Davidsons and mustaches and motorcycle cops. My dad is a khaki -and linen shirt kind-of guy who likes to dance the mambo. Hmmmm. But here he is, in Tampa. And British Airways actually flies direct from Tampa to London so here I am too.
Downtown Tampa is a city that time forgot. I try to take a walk around town and it depresses me. Maybe I’m in the wrong part of town. I hear the museums in Tampa are great. But there are a lot of homeless men on bicycles and frankly, I’m not feeling too comfortable. I go to the drugstore, CVS, to stock up on particulars, and a down-on-his-luck-kind-of-guy follows me around and spends a little too long staring at my purse. He hasn’t seen a shower in a long time.
But my hotel, Le Meridian, is lovely. Really really lovely. I’ve booked it on Starwood points, the best points ever, and all is good with the world. It’s a little like Design Within Reach threw up in the lobby of this former courthouse, but hey, I can’t get enough of Herman Miller or Knoll myself so there’s that. Jason at the front desk is the loveliest of chatterers and offers me a free drink voucher at the bar after I check in. My room service breakfast is a little late one morning, and the *gloriously* well-dressed restaurant manager delivers my poached eggs and polenta himself and then tells me it’s all on the house. Life is good.
Tampa is a puzzle. Given how full my returning flight to London is, many people must like it here. Next time, I’ll stay a little longer and see some more things. Maybe drag my dad to a museum or two. We shall see. But one thing is for sure…I will definitely be returning to Le Meridian. It’s pretty gorgeous.
Quickly…over Christmas, I did that thing I usually do. I headed up to Orlando to visit my dad’s side of the family. My aunt and uncle have a timeshare in Orlando and — gasp — they actually use it. (Most Americans buy timeshares and then quickly realize they just can’t use them and then they try to sell them and can’t.) We stayed one night at the Marriott Cypress Harbour and boy am I glad my dad is a senior citizen, because without his discount, this would have cost us over $400 bucks just for one night. (My father was happy to stay at the Quality Inn 4.5 miles away for $62 bucks a night. Not me.) We got 15% off our rate because he is over 65.
The Marriott Cypress Harbour is an apartment hotel and our room was HUGE. As was the hot tub. A little disconcerting, this hot tub. I let my dad have this room. I took the smaller guest bedroom, above.
I guess if I were a family with two children, this place would have been the perfect setup. For a father and daughter traveling together though, there was no easy access to alcohol, which was a problem. There was no minibar and the bar at the clubhouse required a car to get there. (I often joke that my father would never survive a trip to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. No red wine.) That being said, my bed was comfortable and the blackout curtains were awesome.
While in Orlando, we had lunch at the Copper Canyon Grill, where my order of rotisserie chicken was large enough to feed fourteen people. (America, this is why you’re fat. Really.) Our server also told us he was a green beret in Afghanistan, and my dad and my uncle, both servicemen themselves, thought he was lying. So that was awkward. (We didn’t tell him he was lying. We just discussed it during and afterwards.) Everything here was nice enough by big-box-chain-restaurant standards though. Speedy service, plenty of tap water, and they very easily dealt with our party of ten.
And before we sped off to the airport the next morning, we stopped at Denny’s at 11037 International Drive. (Remember, I’m not as sophisticated as you might think I am.) And I was again given pause for thought. Do you wonder why there is an obesity epidemic in America? Things like The Grand Slamwich exist, that’s why. Potato bread!! That being said, the service at Denny’s was super-chipper and speedy. There’s something about diner service in America: these servers are not precious, they’ve seen it all, and they are as flexible as flexible can be.
I was in Miami for Labor Day back in September. It was a bad trip because I got monsterously ill. And I hated the hotel I was staying in, a hotel that made me question the value of TripAdvisor and wonder whether the hotel was paying people to write all those wonderful reviews. But I survived. And got a little tan in the process. Here’s where I ate, roughly in order of deliciousness:
Yardbird, 1600 Lennox Avenue: If I had been smart, I would have eaten here multiple times. Reservations were hard to come by, so bar seating for us. Yardbird is one of the new breed of southern-focused restaurants. I had — surprise — the fried chicken. But what really amazed me with its deliciousness was the salad with mango, pecans and tomatoes, all local to South Florida. Florida used to be all agriculture. Now it’s all strip malls and strip clubs. Yardbird reminded me of the old days. The Verdict: GO.
BLT Steak, 1440 Ocean Drive, at The Betsy: This is totally a chain, but I loved the peaceful plantation vibe and attentive service. Also, my delicious grilled cheese and tomato soup. All too often, people mess up grilled cheese. Not here. I had the place to myself on a weekday afternoon and I loved it. The Verdict: Very very nice.
The Dutch, 2201 Collins Avenue, in the W Hotel: I’m not quite sure why I did so much hotel eating, but I did. The Dutch is all white subway tile and feels like an old soda fountain. I love that. What I didn’t love? The food. Mainly because although I was one of the only diners, my corn chowder (bisque?) was served lukewarm. My pasta main was unmemorable. The Verdict: OK. More style than substance.
The Front Porch Cafe, 1458 Ocean Drive, in the Z Hotel: This place packs them in, and I’m really not sure why. If you like a dirty restaurant with inattentive service and a lot of people drinking heavily early in the morning, maybe this place is for you. I could barely touch my breakfast. Meh. The Verdict: Don’t go here.
I was all over the great state of Florida last month. Three hotels in three nights. It was a combination of vacation, phase one of my mom’s surgery, and what ended up being a bit of a travel nightmare because I got terribly ill and wasn’t allowed anywhere near my mother after her surgery.
It’s interesting, staying in three hotels in three nights. You notice things you might normally not once you get to the second hotel. And by the time you get to the third hotel, you’ve got a little bit of a routine going.
The first hotel, The Crowne Plaza Z Ocean in Miami Beach. I stayed here on points, and well, while many people might like it here, it just wasn’t for me. The staff was spacey — they checked me into someone else’s room and then they forgot to clean my room two days in a row — and the hallways were pretty dingy and knocked up. Plus, they had signs like this.
If you’re going to provide something that looks like a refrigerator, why not just make it a refrigerator?
Oh, and then this drove me crazy. The real refrigerator door opened one way, while the cabinet door opened the other way. Designed by a man, I’m sure. (Sorry, men.) Ah, and the bed has some sort of plastic wrap on it, and they forgot to give me toilet paper and one of the TVs didn’t work. Oh, and the front desk staff kept calling me “Honey.” Honey? SHUT IT.
Then, I flew to Gainesville, in northern Florida, during an electrical storm. On a super small plane. Everyone on the plane screamed in unison at one point. That wasn’t fun. But we survived, and I checked into the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center and it was pretty amazingly nice for a basic hotel. Check-in was seriously the fastest I’ve ever encountered, there was free wifi all over, and the restaurant served some pretty tasty (albeit not creative) food. My Uncle George said the burger he had in the bar was the best he’s ever had, and my Uncle George is 75 years old, so that means something to me. I was so ill at this point that all I did was sleep, so no pictures for you. Sorry! But I can tell you that the bath products were surprisingly nice, and the sheets were surprisingly soft.
After I was told to leave Gainesville, I had to find my way back to Orlando by myself. (My original plan was to head home with my mom to West Palm and take care of her for a few days. The doctors said NO WAY once they picked up on how sick I was.) I took a BUS to Orlando because it was cheaper than renting a car, and I was kinda excited about this because they promised free wifi on the bus. Well, there was no free wifi, and when I finally got to the bus depot in Orlando, there was a big sign that said, “We will not refund your ticket if the wifi didn”t work.” (Couldn’t get a photo.) Seriously people…if you have to make a sign that says that, doesn’t that tell you that THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG. And why do you put pictures of business people working on their laptops all over your buses if you can’t delivery on your branding? Red Coach USA, I am looking at YOU.
And then I found myself at the Hyatt Orlando Airport. The staff was amazingly cheerful and lovely, which I needed after all the planes, trains and automobiles. And MY ROOM OVERLOOKED THE RUNWAY, which was kinda awesome. (I love airports, remember.) Oh, and then the hotel is attached to the airport, so you could wander around the food court and shops which was fun for a while, until my cold medicine ran out. This is a super high volume property — you can tell. But the staff and the bits like the runway made it a star for me. Not a star? The $52 I spent on room service. Gah.
So…my trip to Florida didn’t turn out like anything I planned. I wish I had thought to load my iPad up with movies and stuff because I definitely spent a lot of time traveling around. And I wish I had brought more practical clothing than little sundresses because I was freezing half of the time on planes and buses. I also wish I had status on American Airlines because let me tell you — checking in at Miami Airport totally sucks. Actually, Miami Airport just totally sucks in general.
Let’s just say I’m glad to be home and I like my own bed!
After hitting the Bahamas over Christmas, I headed to Fort Lauderdale to visit my dad. I joke that my parents saw me more when I lived in the UK; I would come home for two weeks at Christmas and not the five days that I do now. The good news for me though is I don’t go on the huge shopping binges I used to. Example: Customs officer: “Excuse me, ma’am. But can you please explain why one of your suitcases is empty and the other suitcase has nothing in it but another suitcase?” Um, the answer was for a while there? I was getting $2.05 to the British pound. Now THOSE were good times. **wistful**
To subsidize my quick visit to Fort Lauderdale, I used Starwood points from my amazing Starwood American Express card and booked a night at the W Fort Lauderdale. This is good because after staying one night, I don’t think I’d stay here again.
Let’s start with the positives. The view from my room was pretty great. Fort Lauderdale is a city right on the ocean, with a great beachfront path for running and biking. That’s nice. Also nice, the Bliss bath products, but I decided afterwards that I didn’t really like the Bliss shampoo and conditioner. I did like the body butter and the face wash though.
Now on to the negatives. First thing, my cousin and I saw a hooker on the side of the road when we got off the expressway earlier that morning. She turned up at the hotel!! I know they can’t control their guests, but I was seriously standing there, looking at this woman and thinking, “Seriously? Isn’t it a little early to be hooking? And two days after Christmas? Come on.” (But as I’ve learned over time, the sex trade knows no time constraints, and I can tell you from experience that the holidays are the busiest time of the year. There are A LOT of lonely people out there.)
Then, the colors used in the hotel. Fort Lauderdale is a happy place. Colorful. This hotel was painted darker than battleship gray. This bothered me. Also, although my room in that picture looks nice, there was a bit of an IKEA feel to things that I can’t really explain. Also no free wifi and no slippers. And the slowest elevators in the world. In short, having stayed at many hotels in Fort Lauderdale over the years, I wouldn’t stay here again. Try the Hilton or The Ritz.
Now, to food…my dad took me to three different places while I was in Fort Lauderdale and while none of them are super-gourmet, two of the three might be worth a visit if you are ever in town and looking for something basic and local and not fussy.
Fort Lauderdale Ale House, 2861 N Federal Highway: Definitely a locals place, just because of its location on a busy commercial strip. This is an efficiently run sports bar with bar food to match. I had a grouper sandwich, sweet potato fries, and an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half iced tea). My dad swore that one of the cops from the TV Show “Cops” (The Broward County edition) was in the Ale House while we were there, but I have no idea. The Verdict: Perfectly acceptable, but probably not worth going out of your way.
The Lauderdale Grill, 1901 Cordova Road: The more I talked to our server/bartender here, the more I liked the place. They smoke their own meat on premises, and I enjoyed my 10 oz smoked prime rib. Also, the caesar salad I had to start was one of the best examples I’ve had since my repatriation, with just the right touch of creamy, salty, garlicky dressing. Lastly, we visited during happy hour so our drinks were half off! Can’t beat that! The Verdict: Good. Go during happy hour.
Quarterdeck, 1541 Cordova Road: I’ve been going to this place since I was a teenager, so I’ll always have a soft spot for it. This time around, my dad and I split six of the biggest oysters I think I’ve ever had in my entire life. (They were the server’s recommendation. Our receipt said “Blu Point” but I know nothing else.) Our server was slow, but otherwise, my blackened grouper caesar salad was quite nice. (Sorry, when in South Florida, I’m a bit predictable with the grouper thing.) The Verdict: Good. Check their Web site first for specials, which can be quite a steal. My dad had a nice sandwich and side for $5.99, making up for the oyster purchase.
Random Fun Moment: While I was out to dinner with my dad, I saw on Twitter that my London blogging friend Mathilde (she, now of Paris) was in Fort Lauderdale! Where was she staying? Of course at The W! So we had a nice night catching up over champagne with her and her husband and their two friends. The world is a small place sometimes, for sure.