Hugging the coast of Southeast Florida, Miami is perhaps most famous for its pristine beaches and Cuban influence. Its glamorous neighbourhoods have been the backdrop for many Hollywood blockbusters and TV series, with sprawling Art Deco buildings lining the seafront.
“With year-round good weather, top-ranked beaches and the sparkling waters of Biscayne Bay edging a cosmopolitan metropolis right by the cruise port, Miami is an enticing stopover, with family-friendly cultural and historical attractions aplenty,” said Suzie Sponder, director of media relations Europe at Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Within minutes of disembarking their ship, visitors can be exploring the beating urban heart of Downtown. The hip area of Brickell offers excellent bars and restaurants, visitors can find great shopping and atmosphere at Bayside Marketplace or Brickell City Centre, or explore the recently developed Museum of Science and the Perez Art Museum Miami, both providing amazing panoramic views of Biscayne Bay.
“A quick taxi or bus ride and guests can be exploring Little Havana, the Wynwood Arts District, the newly opened Design District or even drive over the scenic MacArthur causeway to South Beach in just 15 minutes. Here, visitors can marvel at the Art Deco buildings, check out the lifeguard huts or take a dip in the turquoise ocean.”
With Suzie’s top tips in mind, we’ve put together a guide on how to spend your cruise stopover in Miami, so you won’t miss the city’s highlights.
What to do in Miami
Visit Little Havana
During the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s, many Cubans emigrated to Miami. Situated west of the city’s downtown, the neighbourhood quickly became known as Little Havana. It is renowned as the cultural and political capital of Cuban Americans and is a culturally fascinating and vibrant area to visit on your cruise stopover.
The buzz of Little Havana is something you’ll feel the moment you arrive in the neighbourhood. Cafes, bars and restaurants are filled with chatty locals and the streets are very much alive. To do some people-watching, head to Maximo Gomez Park, also known as ‘Domino Park’ as it’s where older Cubans meet to play Dominoes and catch up with friends. This tradition has been taking place for more than 35 years and there are even benches set up for people to watch.
Just around the corner from Maximo Gomez Park is one of the area’s main attractions, the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame. As you wander SW 8th Street you’ll see pink marble stars lining the pavement, much like the iconic Hollywood attraction. This was created to recognise Cuban celebrities and now honours famous people all over Latin America.
There is a great sense of pride in Little Havana. Its historic cinema, Tower Theater, presents new films from Cuba and other Latin American countries. Miami-Dade College has partnered with the cinema which showcases shorts and features by aspiring Miami filmmakers.
Enjoy a taste of Cuba
Versailles Restaurant, an old-school Cuban diner in Little Havana, has been serving delicious Cuban cuisine to South Floridians for decades. Since opening its doors in 1971, the restaurant has become a Miami institution, so it’s highly recommended that you visit during your Azamara cruise holiday to the city. Expect dishes such as ceviche (fresh fish cured in lime), Boliche (Cuban-style pot roast) and, of course, a mouth-watering selection of authentic Cuban sandwiches.
For one of the most popular Cuban dishes, the frita, pay a visit to El Rey de las Fritas. Ground beef patties are topped with spices, sautéed onions and shoestring fries, topped with an authentic Cuban bread roll. You can expect to pay just $4 for one of these delicious sandwiches and while there are a few stores located around Miami, it’s a novelty to visit the local chain’s first ever restaurant in Little Havana.
If you’re eager to try some classic Cuban food but aren’t sure where to start, why not join a food tour? Miami Culinary Tours offers a food and cultural tour of Little Havana, giving you the chance to taste authentic Cuban cuisine and learn the stories behind the cooking. The two and a half hour tour also includes a few stops at the neighbourhood’s cultural sights.
Salsa dancing at Ball & Chain
Ball & Chain is arguably Miami’s most iconic nightclub, which enjoyed its original heyday between the 1930s and 1950s. It has since remerged as a live-music venue, showcasing the best live salsa and serving authentic Cuban cuisine. Fortunately, many live salsa events at the world-famous Ball & Chain take place in the afternoon, so you’ll get the chance to experience the true Latin American vibe of Miami.
Explore South Beach
South Beach is famous for its white sand and glamorous restaurants. Its unique combination of independent boutiques, high-end fashion stores and well-preserved Art Deco architecture make this area of Miami a must-see on your Azamara cruise holiday. It’s easy to get to from the cruise terminal – simply hop in a cab.
If you only have a day to spend in the city, you won’t regret spending a few hours in South Beach. This sunny city is a paradise, with turquoise water, white sand, and plenty of places to get a great coffee or refreshing cocktail. News Café, a relaxed coffee shop on the area’s palm-tree lined Ocean Drive, is famous for its coffee and cool Florida vibe.
We spoke to the café’s general manager Tony Magaldi to find about more: “News Café is the Grand Central of Ocean Drive. Opened 30 years ago this coming December, we were one of the first to grace Ocean Drive. We are now a 24 hour operation with over 300 seats. Breakfast is served 24 hours a day, lunch dinner, hang out, happy hour – whatever you are looking for in a place to relax and have fun. We have indoor and outdoor seating for whichever you prefer.
“Miami and Miami Beach are great cities because of their diversity! We have so many different neighbourhoods, Wynwood, Mary Brickell Village, Bal Harbour, Key Biscayne, Little Havana, Coconut Grove, to name a few, and of course the Beach. Plenty of nightlife as well, especially on the Beach and Downtown areas. Getting around is a breeze with lots of free transportation (trolleys, Metrorail), or an Uber to anywhere takes no more than 20 minutes.”
After stopping to refuel at News Café, there’s so much to see in South Beach. Look out for the pastel-coloured Art Deco architecture which dominates the area. You may recognise it from the 1980s TV series, Miami Vice. If you’d like to learn more about the history of these buildings, you can always join an Art Deco Walking Tour run by the Miami Design Preservation League. Take a look at their website for daily tour schedules.
If you’d rather join the locals on the beach, you’re guaranteed to find a quiet spot. South Beach stretches for two glorious miles, with pristine white sand and photo-worthy azure water. The colourful, retro-looking lifeguard stands lining the beach are one of its most striking features. So be sure to have your camera handy.
Check out the Wynwood Walls
Showcasing huge, colourful murals by artists from around the globe, the Wynwood Walls have become one of Miami’s most popular attractions. Situated in the Wynwood neighbourhood near downtown Miami, the iconic murals have transformed the area, which was once a collection of aging warehouses. Jessica Goldman Srebnick, CEO at Goldman Properties which owns the Wynwood Walls, told us about their fascinating history:
“In 2006, my late father Tony Goldman began purchasing different properties in Wynwood’s warehouse district which at the time was riddled with poverty and crime. Fast forward three years later, and he had the idea to create an open-air gallery of murals called the Wynwood Walls.
“His vision was to make the entire Wynwood neighbourhood a canvas for urban street art, and he was the first to begin its dramatic revival. Goldman Properties has continued my father’s legacy and his mission for revitalising Wynwood through art, culture and community. Since its inception, the Wynwood Walls continues to be a major art statement, having seen over 50 artists from 16 different countries, including the renowned Shepard Fairey, and brings the world’s best street art and graffiti to Miami.”
Along with the walls, Goldman Properties has opened two restaurants in the neighbourhood – Wynwood Kitchen & Bar and Joeys. The company also runs The Hotel of South Beach. Jessica added: “The Hotel of South Beach was formerly the Tiffany Hotel, and my father and I worked with designer Todd Oldham to revive the property while also preserving its iconic 1930s Art Deco architecture.”
So, why should you visit the walls on your cruise stopover in Miami? “The Wynwood Walls are one of the most Instagramable spots in the country,” said Jessica, “it truly is like walking through a street art safari. There’s something different around every corner! People can immerse themselves in vibrant and colourful larger-than-life murals painted by renowned and upcoming artists from around the world, and even have an opportunity to purchase their own pieces from the Goldman Global Arts Gallery. After touring guests can enjoy a delectable and innovative tapas-style dinner from the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, and then unwind oceanfront at the Hotel of South Beach.
“As a city, Miami is continuing to grow culturally into an international, all-encompassing hot spot. We’re seeing it with the Wynwood Walls, Art Wynwood, Art Basel and other events/attractions. There is new art, new design and new perspectives around every corner – everyone is contributing to the city’s artistic growth. It’s something that I love most about this city!”
Eat, eat and eat some more
As well as its plethora of old and new Cuban restaurants, Miami is a hub for international cuisine. Whether you’re looking for cheap eats or fine-dining by the sea, the city has it all.
Fusing bold Latin American flavours with South Florida’s bounty of coastal ingredients, Amara at Paraiso is one of the most exciting restaurants in Miami today. Its beautiful, open plan seating area faces the sea, welcoming in a fresh ocean breeze. Expect contemporary twists on classics such as ceviche and oysters, and embrace its unique fusion dishes such as banana leaf-wrapped cobia with ashed yucca and coconut pesto, and crispy flounder Milanesa with lime, lemon-cucumber salad. This sleek restaurant isn’t for budget travellers, so reserve Amara at Paraiso for special occasions or an extravagant holiday treat. You can find it in the Beverley Terrace area, north of downtown Miami.
Mexican food can be found in abundance in the United States, however restaurants as delicious as Taquiza are few and far between. Taquiza is a traditional Mexican taqueria serving authentic tacos and street food. Choose from fillings such as pork, orange and cinnamon, steak, citrus and chile de arbol and shrimp with red ‘mole and slaw. Taquiza comes highly recommended by locals and is regularly featured on round-ups of the best eats in Miami.
When it comes to seafood, two restaurants really stand out. Claiming to serve Miami’s best shrimp, La Camaronera is the place to go for exquisite seafood sandwiches. The restaurant itself, situated in Little Havana, is fairly laidback, and the prices are very reasonable. A breaded shrimp sandwich will only set you back around $8. Over in South Beach, locals will recommend Joe’s Stone Crab. The family-owned restaurant is a Miami institution, serving a huge range of tasty seafood dishes. Of course, the stone crab claws come highly recommended. If you’ve got room for dessert, try a slice of one of Florida’s most iconic desserts, the Key lime pie.
Miami’s hidden gems
With so much to see and do in the city, we asked Suzie Sponder of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau if she could let us in on a few of Miami’s hidden gems:
Virginia Key Biscayne Park
“Just 15 minutes away by car lies the peaceful historic Virginia Key Biscayne Park, offering soft, white sand beaches, hammocks, water sports and a nature boardwalk, where visitors can revel in stunning views of the Biscayne Bay and Atlantic Ocean.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
“Just back on the mainland is Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a national historic landmark built in the early 20th century. An extravagant European-style estate set in the beautiful Coconut Grove neighbourhood, Vizcaya is a key cultural hub in Miami where visitors can learn about its interesting history, as well as the tropical native vegetation in its spectacular gardens.
“Tucked away at the Perez Art Museum Miami is Verde, a waterfront restaurant and bar offering sweeping views of the bay and serving up delicious locally-inspired dishes, all of which are prepared fresh with seasonal ingredients.”
Now that you’re all clued up on what to see and do in Miami, we hope you feel prepared to get out there and explore! If you have discovered something amazing in the city on your Azamara cruise holiday, we’d love to hear from you.
Image credits: Phillip Pessar, Josue Goge, Dan Lundberg, News Café, Phillip Pessar, Dan Lundberg, Franklin Heijnen