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Travelling First Class on a Budget Vacation


Traveling first class on a budget vacation sounds like an oxymoron? Well, I've done it and so can you. Recently, I decided to take a first class, budget vacation; travel first class and save money at the same time. Here's how....

 

The Journey

First, I chose an exciting destination, but went during the off-season. The weather was good, airlines and hotels offered specials and there were not as many other tourists. South Beach in Miami is one of the most exciting regions in the United States; multi-cultural, sensual, and everything a resort vacation should offer, with the kicker of big city panache. I was looking forward to the beach experience. I also wanted to pamper myself at a first class spa. With that in mind, I went online and did my homework. Flying to the southeast from San Diego, my home base, is a challenge because most connections to Florida go through Atlanta. The Atlanta airport is one I try to avoid (like SFO), because of crowded conditions and flight delays. Fortunately, I was able to find a direct flight through Houston. Here's the best part: I found an online consolidator who specializes in business and first class tickets. The result: I was able to fly first class for about the price of a full fare coach ticket. There are all sorts of consolidator lists online, but always use your credit card for security purposes. Landing in the Miami airport was the first taste of my international experience. Although flavored by mostly Caribbean, Central and South American cultures, Miami is also a major European destination. My two favorite things about the airport: overhead signs that say "meet me here" and watch kiosks selling good quality knock-offs for $10; I bought several watches to bring back home as gifts. Inexpensive, portable, fun and my friends and family thought I was a big spender! Driving around the Miami area is easy because the airport is centrally located and the highways are well marked. Since I had rented my car online and only had carry-on luggage, I was in Art Deco heaven, South Beach, a quick, easy twenty minutes after picking up my car. Although most hotels offer valet parking, South Beach has several public parking lots. Use them! I paid $4 versus $18-$20 for valet parking.

First Stop: Tides, South Beach

My choice for the "first class on a budget" vacation was the Tides, an Island Outpost hotel in the heart of the action. Let's get the hotel rate out of the way. It's $450 in season, but only $300 in the summer. I saved $150! Voila, see? First class on a budget. The Tides is an upscale, very chic hotel. It is electric with excitement. Film stars, producers, models and all sorts of wannabees are in and out of the lobby, at the pool, and in the bar and two restaurants. The Tides has only 45 rooms in the hotel, a big plus for me. The well trained staff has time to say hello, make suggestions and ask about your stay. Every room is suite-sized and, because it is the tallest hotel in South Beach, offers unobstructed ocean views maximized with its own telescope. The suite is chock full of amenities including CD player and CDs, VCR, TV, three two-line phones, loads of closet space and robes. The style is simple, cool and elegant. The room is very comfortable and inviting. One of my favorites little things is the chalk board for messages at your entrance.

The Tide's elegant luxury overlooking the beach. Courtesy of Island Outpost.In South Beach, one doesn't need to go far for great food. The first night I ate at the Tides Terrace Restaurant. A summer storm had just blown through and it had cooled down in a sultry sort of way. Sitting outside, I enjoyed dinner starting with an order of crab cakes with a lemon dill dressing. The gazpacho was recommended by my knowledgeable server and it was a perfect choice. For the main course, I chose a grilled sirloin steak salad with Maytag blue cheese dressing. Although it is a salad selection, it was a good light choice for my entree. The waiter insisted that I try the key lime cannoli. It is a crispy caramelized coconut cannoli filled with key lime mousse. Need I say more? It was wonderful. The next day I had lunch at the Terrace and had another terrific meal. They offer seven appetizers, five salads, five sandwiches and nine "main plates." I highly recommend the Terrace. Good food, wonderful service, reasonable prices and open for breakfast as well.

For a more elegant environment, the Tides 1220 restaurant is considered to be one of South Beach's best and a consistent award winner. One more recommendation. A block away is the Leslie Hotel. Try their Leslie Cafe. It is a casual sidewalk cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reasonably priced with a Caribbean flair, featuring an imaginative menu and friendly staff. Good value and a great place to people watch, a favorite south beach activity.

After a wonderful meal, a walk seems in order. South Beach is a walker's paradise. The boardwalk is 1.8 miles long. Try a beachfront walk for exercise and boulevard strolling at night for catching the rhythms and flavor of South Beach. Cafes, bars, discos and restaurants line Ocean Drive. At night South Beach has a very international, exciting atmosphere.

Walking tours of the Art Deco District are available on Thursdays and Saturdays. Drop by the Island Outpost shop on Ocean Drive. There you'll find unique beachwear, and interesting food items for gifts back home. For more ideas of things to do in the Miami area (including South Beach), pick up copies of Where, miamigo, quickguide, and Welcome to Miami and the Beaches. They are local, free guidebooks, filled with information about restaurants, shopping and sightseeing.

Second Stop: Doral Golf Resort and Spa

Doral Resort, known for its golf, has that and much more to offer. Courtesy of Doral Golf Resort and SpaIt was now time to head to the spa. My online study had directed me to the award-winning Doral Golf Resort and Spa. Although this is a complete resort, it was clear to me that staying at the Spa (separate accommodations from the Golf Resort) and choosing spa services a la carte was the way to go, pricewise. And what a way to go! The Doral is an 650 acre oasis and pleasure palace. I am not a golfer, but they offer five golf courses. It is the home of the world famous "Blue Monster."

The Spa, with only 48 suites, is self-contained within the resort. Treatment rooms, hydrotherapy, Jacuzzis, hot and cold plunge pools, hydromassage, saunas, state of the art fitness rooms, outdoor whirlpool, sundecks and beauty salon are all in the 145,000 square foot facility. They offer fitness, nutrition, stress relief and beauty programs for men and women. A restaurant, indoor and outdoor pools and landscaped gardens round out this wonderfully serene place. A nice touch: adults only.

There are a four restaurants to choose from at the Mobil Four Star rated Doral Golf Resort and Spa. The Spa food is wonderful. I usually don't find spa meals very appealing or interesting, but they have broken the mold here; fresh, imaginative foods that look and taste good and are healthy. As you would expect, the service is attentive and friendly. I also ate the buffet lunch at Windows. Don't miss it! Sushi, pasta station, cheese tables, dozens of salads, cold meats including lamb, several hot entrees, and desserts. This is an outstanding buffet. Great service, presentation and a marvelous view. What could be better?

The Terrazo restaurant offers a breakfast buffet and casual dining for lunch and dinner. There is also a sports bar and grill for sandwiches and appetizers. All in all, a nice selection of surprisingly, reasonably priced restaurants.

Healthy spa food made appealing and tasty no matter where you are at Doral. Courtesy of Doral Golf Resort and SpaThe spa services are outstanding. A la carte, I was able to choose from a wide range of offerings including massage therapy, facial skin care, body treatments, therapeutic hydro-treatments, fitness services, nutrition and aromatherapy. The staff was knowledgeable and very helpful. After two days of pampering, I was relaxed and rested. Their Blue Lagoon is now open and pumping one million gallons of water daily through the dramatic 35 foot waterfall. If you are feeling adventurous, try the 125 foot Blue Monster water slide. It was a great trip. Exciting South Beach and the luxuriant Doral. What a combination! Shopping smart for hotels and a spa experience with the attendant planning made this a first class trip on a budget! You can do it too.

Practicalities

Special note: both the Tides and Doral Spa have online specials. They can be found at www.islandoutpost.com and www.doralgolf.com or www.doralresort.com.

General visitor information can be found at www.miamibeachchamber.com and www.miamibeach.com.

Travel tips

Booking online can earn you valuable discounts and frequent flyer miles. Shop online for specials and packages and travel off season.

Before your flight, take a picture of any checked through baggage. If it is lost, a picture is worth the proverbial thousand words.

If you must have something from the honor bar in your hotel room, replace the consumed item from the nearest supermarket or minimart. It will cost you less than what the hotel charges. It all adds up to being a "practical traveler."

West Coast watch

If you are going to Salt Lake City, try the newly opened, knock-out Monaco Hotel and don't miss their outstanding Bambara Restaurant. Both are worth a special trip. (www.kimptongroup.com). The newly redecorated Diva is San Francisco is worth a trip. (www.personalityhotels.com) Couple the trip with a visit to the updated Beach Blanket Babylon review.

Second Stop: Doral Golf Resort and Spa

Doral Resort, known for its golf, has that and much more to offer. Courtesy of Doral Golf Resort and SpaIt was now time to head to the spa. My online study had directed me to the award-winning Doral Golf Resort and Spa. Although this is a complete resort, it was clear to me that staying at the Spa (separate accommodations from the Golf Resort) and choosing spa services a la carte was the way to go, pricewise. And what a way to go! The Doral is an 650 acre oasis and pleasure palace. I am not a golfer, but they offer five golf courses. It is the home of the world famous "Blue Monster."

The Spa, with only 48 suites, is self-contained within the resort. Treatment rooms, hydrotherapy, Jacuzzis, hot and cold plunge pools, hydromassage, saunas, state of the art fitness rooms, outdoor whirlpool, sundecks and beauty salon are all in the 145,000 square foot facility. They offer fitness, nutrition, stress relief and beauty programs for men and women. A restaurant, indoor and outdoor pools and landscaped gardens round out this wonderfully serene place. A nice touch: adults only.

There are a four restaurants to choose from at the Mobil Four Star rated Doral Golf Resort and Spa. The Spa food is wonderful. I usually don't find spa meals very appealing or interesting, but they have broken the mold here; fresh, imaginative foods that look and taste good and are healthy. As you would expect, the service is attentive and friendly. I also ate the buffet lunch at Windows. Don't miss it! Sushi, pasta station, cheese tables, dozens of salads, cold meats including lamb, several hot entrees, and desserts. This is an outstanding buffet. Great service, presentation and a marvelous view. What could be better?

The Terrazo restaurant offers a breakfast buffet and casual dining for lunch and dinner. There is also a sports bar and grill for sandwiches and appetizers. All in all, a nice selection of surprisingly, reasonably priced restaurants.

Healthy spa food made appealing and tasty no matter where you are at Doral. Courtesy of Doral Golf Resort and SpaThe spa services are outstanding. A la carte, I was able to choose from a wide range of offerings including massage therapy, facial skin care, body treatments, therapeutic hydro-treatments, fitness services, nutrition and aromatherapy. The staff was knowledgeable and very helpful. After two days of pampering, I was relaxed and rested. Their Blue Lagoon is now open and pumping one million gallons of water daily through the dramatic 35 foot waterfall. If you are feeling adventurous, try the 125 foot Blue Monster water slide. It was a great trip. Exciting South Beach and the luxuriant Doral. What a combination! Shopping smart for hotels and a spa experience with the attendant planning made this a first class trip on a budget! You can do it too.

Practicalities

Special note: both the Tides and Doral Spa have online specials. They can be found at www.islandoutpost.com and www.doralgolf.com or www.doralresort.com.

General visitor information can be found at www.miamibeachchamber.com and www.miamibeach.com.

Travel tips

Booking online can earn you valuable discounts and frequent flyer miles. Shop online for specials and packages and travel off season.

Before your flight, take a picture of any checked through baggage. If it is lost, a picture is worth the proverbial thousand words.

If you must have something from the honor bar in your hotel room, replace the consumed item from the nearest supermarket or minimart. It will cost you less than what the hotel charges. It all adds up to being a "practical traveler."

West Coast watch

If you are going to Salt Lake City, try the newly opened, knock-out Monaco Hotel and don't miss their outstanding Bambara Restaurant. Both are worth a special trip. (www.kimptongroup.com). The newly redecorated Diva is San Francisco is worth a trip. (www.personalityhotels.com) Couple the trip with a visit to the updated Beach Blanket Babylon review.