Desperately seeking a grown-up vacay, Hubby and I rattled off the list of places we’d love to hit during the winter holidays in our kid-free fantasy world. With its warm beaches, fab restaurants, and international vibe, Miami was at the top of the list. Once I pictured myself on the beach, tropical beverage in hand, I was hooked on a winter trip to Miami.
We couldn’t realistically leave the kids behind, so we decided to make it a family trip. It seemed a little crazy to take our crew to party-hearty South Beach, but before we knew it, tickets were booked and we were packing our flip-flops!
The last few trips for our family of five were jam-packed itineraries focused on making the kids happy. We rode Space Mountain, noshed at a spunky 50s diner, touched sting rays and won a build-your-own-cardboard-boat-and-paddle-it-across-the-pool race. The one thing we didn’t do: RELAX.
WELCOME TO SOUTH BEACH
I was determined to strike a balance in South Beach between kid fun and grown-up downtime. I even warned the kids that they would have fun while we were in Miami, but they wouldn’t have fun the whole time. Though I was prepared to hear loads of complaining, the weekend was amazing! I couldn’t believe all the simple and creative ways we had fun together as a family with absolutely no character meals or go carts in sight! Here’s how we pulled it off:
AN AWESOME POOL
We stayed at the W Hotel in South Beach, which has a stunning pool and happenin’ pool scene (there was a DJ spinning tunes poolside by 9:00 AM each day!). It’s not the kind of pool the kids would have picked out from a travel brochure. There were no water slides or pool-side hula hoop contests to keep them busy. But my kids loved it even without all the bells and whistles. They made up silly water games and practiced new swim tricks. There were plenty of other kids there, many of them visiting from outside the US. They quickly made friends as we happily watched them from the comfort of our freakishly cozy poolside lounge chairs.
Servers brought us food and drinks upon request—though I have to admit that the poolside service was really slow and caused some serious hunger-drama in the afternoons. When you’re seven, an hour and a half is a really long time to wait for your pizza! Oh, and I did have to go through an awkward explanation about thong bikinis and a lengthy conversation about why some people choose to wear t-shirts prominently featuring the f-word.
But Hubby and I got to chill for most of the day and watch our kids happily frolicking, so we chalked these up to early life lessons and hoped they’d remember the pool and not the tanned touches.
After a full day of poolside fun, we decided to make Day Two a beach day. We scored great beach chairs and an umbrella courtesy of the hotel, and alternated walks along the beach, sandcastle building, and relaxing with a good book. The only drawback was that the chairs all faced south along the beach, rather than facing the ocean, and you had to fork over a hefty fee for a front-row spot. If it were just Hubby and me, that would’ve been fine, but we couldn’t watch the kids playing in the sand from our chairs, so we alternated kid duty.
After a couple of hours of this, everyone decided the pool was more fun, so we headed back to our fave poolside lounge spot where we could easily keep an eye on our young swimmers. If you have your heart set on lots of beach time, I recommended finding a hotel or public beach spot where parents can lounge within view of little sandcastle builders or be prepared to play with the kiddos the whole time.
Hubby was happy to get away to Miami for a few days, but he was the most excited for our restaurant extravaganza experiment. We were bravely planning to take the kids to the restaurants WE wanted to check out, and none of them had kids’ menus! The first night we dined at the happen’ hot-spot Prime 112. The food was fantastic and it was quite a show watching our oldest put down an entire 12-oz. steak!
Thanks to the amazing concierge at the hotel, we also scored a fantastic table with a view of the kitchen and the eclectic and generally very beautiful crowd. We were thrilled when Paul Schaeffer (musician) and his family sat down next to us, and then over the moon when The Rock (Scorpion King, Fast & Furious) took the table on our other side. Yes, we were between The Rock and Paul Schaeffer! Though the kids were more interested in the homemade tater tots, Hubby and I had to work hard to play it cool.
On night two, we went to a fabulous French-inspired restaurant called Villa Azur. We were seated in a stunning outdoor tent reminiscent of a five-star wedding locale. A beautiful woman wearing a dress with wings—yes, wings—strutted around striking poses as jazzy lounge music played in the background.
Our food was fantastic, though the kids weren’t impressed. I was happy to pay for a great steak for a hungry teen the night before, but not so thrilled to fork over $22 for plain linguini. We still had a great time, especially our 10-year-old daughter who bravely ordered a globe of various interpretations of chestnuts for dessert and ate every bite!
After that, we decided it was time to bring in reinforcements. The next day, the concierge helped us located a lovely babysitter named Sade who happily ordered chicken tenders and pizza for the kids back at the room while Hubby and I headed off to Restaurant Michael Schwarz for a moonlit meal for two. Everybody was happy, including the kids, who got to have some down time, and the parents who got to enjoy crispy hominy with chili and lime without worrying about how close it was getting to bedtime!
On the final evening, we ventured out as a family once more, this time to the elegant but energetic Greek restaurant Milos. Every detail of that dinner was mind-blowing, and everyone agreed that it was a highlight of the trip. Any restaurant that can make veggies fun and appealing to kids is high on my list, but this place was truly incredible.
There were plenty of kids amongst the tony dining crowd, and the noise level was high enough that we didn’t have to stress about the kids’ chatter. It was a great way to end the trip, and showed us that a compromise between adult tastes and kids’ needs can make everyone happy from time to time!
Miami has its share of family-friendly spots such as Zoo Miami and Miami Seaquarium. But we were sticking to our mantra of kid-adult balance, so we avoided those attractions in favor of a walk through Miami Beach on our last day. We strode the boardwalk and stopped by kiosks selling handmade jewelry and other local treasures. Then we made our way up to Lincoln Road Mall, a bustling area of shops, restaurants and vendors. We happened upon a lively farmer’s market, got fresh-squeezed juice from a street vendor, had a lovely lunch al fresco in the middle of the road between the shops, and thrilled the kids with a visit to Dylan’s Candy Bar before heading to the airport.
Don’t think I got soft at the end of the trip and gave up on kid-adult balance. I left Dylan’s with a milk chocolate s’mores bar in hand and the assurance that balance is good for everyone in the family. Kids need the chance to make their own unscheduled, thrill-ride-free fun from time to time—and moms need to build sand castles and indulge in a chocolate s’mores bar once in a while too!
Photo credits: BJ Marshall
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