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A Tale of Two Miamis

A tale of two Miamis

 

I recently had the opportunity to stay in two of Miami’s best hotels: the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, and the Acqualina Resort and Spa.  Both resorts are recipients of both the Forbes Five Star award as well as the AAA Five Diamond award, among the most prestigious rankings in the industry.  These awards attest to the high level of service, quality of rooms and other facilities, and overall atmosphere experienced in both resorts.

 

The St. Regis Bal Harbour sits at the northern tip of Miami Beach in Bal Harbour Village.  The Village has a great vibe and aesthetic, with hotels and residences along the beach and high-end shopping and dining set further back but still within comfortable walking distance or a short ride in the house car.

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At the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, the unique shape and configuration of the building is such that every room is afforded an ocean view from its large balcony.

 

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Rooms start at a generous 650 square feet, and max out with the Grand Palace suite measuring 7500 square feet and featuring two separate media entertainment rooms as well as eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms.

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Looking for the ultimate beach-side experience?  Consider one of the St. Regis Resort’s Oceanfront Day Villas.  Measuring at 600 square feet, the Villas sit between the pools and the beach, and feature indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, a private shower, a stocked bar, food and beverage service, and complimentary amenities throughout the day.

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Champagne Sabrage is an evening tradition at many St. Regis properties around the world, and can be experienced every evening at 7:30pm in the St. Regis Bar at their Bal Harbour property.  The dramatic ritual involves a specially trained St. Regis butler who, with a flourish worthy of the Three Musketeers, uses a traditional Champagne Saber to remove the top of a bottle of champagne.  All guests then receive a complimentary glass of champagne, and participate in an evening toast.

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The St. Regis is located directly across the street from the Bal Harbour Shops.  The chic indoor/outdoor mall contains a garden-like atmosphere with palm trees and waterfalls, and the extensive array of designer and specialty shops is a worthy rival to The Galleria, Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive.

 

“We refer to our staff members as Dream Makers” says Christof Pignet, the General Manager at Aqualina Resort and Spa.  The staff holds a monthly competition between departments to see how many ways each staff member can deliver an over-the-top experience for clients.  He tells of how Valet Services had initially not won any of the competitions, so they decided to examine how they were doing things and what they could do to improve.  They came up with ideas such as topping off clients’ vehicles with gas before they left the property.  They also now will affix the seatbelt of each guest as they leave the property, whether in their own vehicle or that of a service.  Moves like that have put Valet Services ahead in recent months, though the competition remains fierce.

 

Acqualina sits several miles north of the St. Regis, on Sunny Isles Beach.  Sunny Isles is a barrier island which sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway.  Luxury residences (including the Estates and Mansions at Acqualina) compete along the beachfront with stunning hotels, of which Acqualina is the crown jewel.

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Rooms at the Acqualina start at 600 square feet; the largest are the three bedroom suites measuring at 2375 square feet.  All rooms include a separate shower and Jacuzzi tub (along with the signature Acqualina rubber duck!), as well as a sleeper sofa and private balcony.

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Acqualina is a great choice for couples and solo travelers, with its ESPA Spa, Il Mulino Italian restaurant, and its stunning location.  It is also a great choice for families and multigenerational groups:  Acqualina is the recipient of the Fodor’s Choice Gold Award as one of the Best Hotels for Kids and Families in the United States.  This honor is due in part to Acqualina’s AcquaMarine supervised program for children.  Available to guests of the Acqualina on a complimentary basis, AcquaMarine is a supervised program for children ages 5 through 12, with a marine biology-inspired curriculum incorporating learning activities and play.

There is also a Teen Program that offers themed events and fitness training sessions, as well as a schedule of family programs including classes taught by one of the Resort chefs and a chance to encounter and learn about Sea Turtles.

The beach lawn at Acqualina is a unique, beautiful feature; looking out at the pristine white sand beach and ocean beyond, the lawn provides a sanctuary to those who enjoy the look of the beach while not relishing the feel of the sand!

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Both resorts are located 20-30 minutes from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports.  Both airports offer both multiple daily direct commercial flights from Houston (via United, American Airlines, and Spirit Airlines) as well as FBO services for private aviation.

Please contact Andrew Butler Travel to arrange your next Miami stay.  As a member of Virtuoso, I can secure the following amenities at no additional cost to you:

St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Full Breakfast daily for up to two in-room guests, served in Restaurant ($50.00 credit per person)
  • $100 USD equivalent Spa Services credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full, excludes spa products)
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

Acqualina Resort and Spa:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests
  • $100 USD Equivalent Spa Services credit, to be utilized during stay (not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Through July 31st you can also enjoy a 4th night free (restrictions apply)

In addition, through my personal connections at both properties I can make sure that you are a recognized and treated as a VIP client.

As your luxury travel advisor, I believe that travel should be a personalized, transformative experience that transcends your time and monetary investment.  I would love to get to know you and your family so that I can design custom trips to fit your unique needs and interests.  Please contact me to start planning your next trip!

Andrew Butler

Luxury Travel Advisor

Andrew Butler Travel

andrewbutlertravel@gmail.com

832-472-9574

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The (Re)Imagineered Disney Wonder

I admit that I have always loved all things Disney.  My friends and I would role-play as Todd and Copper when I was a kid.  I would daydream that I was the red fox version of Robin Hood, fighting the Sheriff’s men to save the vixen Maid Marion.  As I got older, my tastes didn’t change: my wife and I went to Disney World at least once per year before we had kids, and now that we do have kids they endure us dragging them along at least that often.  Alas, I digress.  But all pieces to the puzzle, my friends, because as a Professional Travel Advisor I love to share my love for Disney with my clients.

I recently had the opportunity to inspect the Disney Wonder, two weeks after it left dry dock with some spiffy new upgrades.  My family and I had sailed on the Wonder in the Summer of 2015 on an Alaska itinerary and loved it.  The ship itself was and is lovely and well cared-for, the staterooms are among the largest in the market, the dining and entertainment is excellent, and the service is unmistakably Disney.  I was very excited to see what updates and changes had been made.

When walking into the atrium lobby from the gangplank, the first change that was evident were the holiday decorations!  Every November and December, the four ships in the Disney fleet are decorated for the holidays, and the Very Merrytime sailings as they are called feature a lot of special holiday extras.

Guests at the Walt Disney resorts will be familiar with the gingerbread houses that typically decorate the lobbies of the resorts at this time of year.  Not to be outdone, the Disney vessels also feature gingerbread houses in the lobbies!

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One of the most impressive holiday features has to be the chandelier.  During November and December, the venerable Dale Chihuly chandelier that typically decorates the atrium lobby ceiling is carefully removed and replaced with a piece that compliments the seasonal decor.

 

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Proceeding from the lobby, we first had the opportunity to tour several of the staterooms from different categories.

Staterooms are one of the selling points for Disney over other cruise lines; the rooms are among the largest in the industry, and contain thoughtful touches to maximize space and guest comfort as well as decor that reflects the golden age of ocean travel with a Disney touch.

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Standard staterooms typically contain a queen-sized bed as well as a sleeper sofa.  Most staterooms also contain a pull-down upper berth that is purely Disney magic — during the day this bed disappears as it stows flush with the ceiling; at night it pulls down to form an upper bunk with the sleeper sofa; a ladder is added, and there is a railing on the upper berth to prevent sleep-movement misadventures!

Some staterooms also feature a wall pull-down bed to sleep another family member.

One of the other Disney touches in the standard stateroom is the split configuration bathroom.  Most bathrooms are actually split into two areas with separate doors and walls, one containing a toilet and a sink, the other containing a shower/tub and another sink.  This allows one multiple guests access to bathroom facilities at the same time — a real plus for those families with kiddos (and adults) that like to linger longer in the shower!

Standard staterooms include inside staterooms and outside staterooms, as well as staterooms featuring a veranda (balcony).

Concierge level rooms include some verandah staterooms as well as one- and two-bedroom suites and Royal suites.  These rooms come at a premium, but are well-appointed, and suites are large with living rooms, larger bathrooms with jetted tubs. and large balconies.  Concierge level rooms also have access to the concierge lounge with a daily selection of complimentary hors d’ oeuvres and drinks, and concierge guests have first dibs on booking shore excursions and onboard activities well in advance of other guests.

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We moved on in our tour to view the dining areas aboard the Disney Wonder.  The Disney Wonder features three main restaurants — Tritons, Animator’s Palate, and the new Tiana’s.  Diners rotate through each of the restaurants at least once during each cruise, with the same (if any) tablemates joining each night.

Diners in each of the three main restaurants are also joined each night by their Dining Room Server and Assistant Server — another part of the Disney Cruise difference.  These individuals are outstanding and bring a real face to the Disney Cruise experience.  They will take great care of you and your family, and get to know you individually, along with your preferences.

Tiana’s is the newest addition to the Disney Wonder main dining rotation.  Tiana’s replaces Parrot Cay, with ambience reminiscent of  New Orleans in the roaring 1920s — the setting of the Princess and the Frog in which Princess Tiana was introduced.

 

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Tiana’s features live music nightly on stage, and guests are reportedly visited at times by Princess Tiana herself!

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Triton’s retains it’s more formal, under-the-sea ambiance, while Animator’s Palate has undergone some updates.

Diners if possible should not miss the Animation Magic dinner at the Animator’s Palate — this typically occurs on the second night that you rotate through Animator’s Palate, but be sure to check with your dining team to confirm this.

There are additional casual dining options onboard for those who want an alternative to the Main Dining rooms.  Cabanas features a bountiful buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Palo is the adult-exclusive, fine dining option on board the Disney Wonder which is available for brunch and dinner at an additional fee.  Brunch especially tends to book up well in advance — don’t miss it!

While many of the larger cruise liners feature a central casino, Disney takes this space and instead offers extensive child-care facilities.  The child care aboard the Disney Wonder is fantastic.  Options are available according to age group; care is available for the youngest guests in the It’s A Small World Nursery, which exclusively caters to guests aged 6 months to 3 years.

Children ages 3 to 12 have the envious opportunity to hang out at the Oceaneer Lab and Oceaneer Club.  The two facilities are interconnected by a back hallway, and children can move freely from one to another without having to leave the monitored area.  Children are either dropped off or check themselves in by Magic Band; they can then be located by staff anywhere in the two areas.  Once inside, children have a myriad of options available to them, including games, crafts, movies, themed play areas, and character encounters and parties.

New additions to the Oceaneer Club include the Marvel Avenger’s Academy, Frozen Adventures, Andy’s Room and the Disney Junior area featuring Doc McStuffins!

For tweens and teenagers there are areas as well: Edge caters to those aged 11-14,

while Vibe is an exclusive space for those aged 14-17.

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Also new to the Disney Wonder is a space that Disney Parks fans will know and love — the Bibbidi Bobbidi Botique!

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This is where young princesses, princes, pirates and future ship captains can come to receive the latest fashions in costumes and makeovers.

For adults wanting a space of their own, the Disney Wonder features a newly renovated After Hours area, featuring a lounge/nightclub, a piano bar, and a classic British Pub.

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Azure, the lounge/nightclub, features adult-exclusive entertainment, shows, and games in the evenings, followed some evenings by a DJ and dance club atmosphere.

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The Cadillac Lounge is a classically re-imagined piano bar playing homage to classic cars.

The Crown and Fin Pub was closed for training during our tour, but promises to provide the atmosphere of an authentic British Pub.

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We also had the chance to tour the refreshed and updated Senses Spa.

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The Spa is a beautiful, aroma-therapeutic space that offers traditional treatments in treatment rooms as well as Spa Villas designed for couples.  Some Spa villas include a balcony space with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the water with seating and a hot tub — I know where I am going on my next Disney Cruise!

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The salon overlooks the ocean and looks like a wonderful place for a pedicure!

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There is also the Chill Spa for teens aged 13-17 featuring exclusive treatments and services.

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Guests can obtain passes good for either one day or the duration of their stay, which grants access to the relaxation area featuring experience showers and steam room.

There is also a well equipped gym facing the front of the ship, featuring a range of cardio equipment, circuit training and free weights.

The pool decks have undergone some changes as well.  Still present are the adult-exclusive Quiet Cove pool area

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There is also the main “Goofy” pool

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Aft is newly re-imagined Aqua Lab water area.  This features a new twisty water slide, as well as a water play area where Huey, Dewey and Louie have concocted a series of water “experiments” where the whole family can play:

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A side note for Disney Cruise aficionados: Conspicuously absent are the second Aqua Duck or Dunk water slides featured on the other Disney ships.

Another great new addition is Dory’s Reef, a new covered and shaded splash pad area dedicated to infants and toddlers 3 years of age and younger.

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Unfortunately after our whirlwind tour, we had to depart the ship to allow guests to embark on their Disney Wonder cruise adventure; I felt a bit jealous and wistful as I walked down the gangplank and saw families walking onto the ship, oohing and aahing as they entered the lobby area and were greeted by the crew; they were off to have a grand adventure.  I hope that you have enjoyed this post, and that you will call me at 832-472-9574 or email me at andrewbutlertravel@gmail.com to start planning your own grand adventure!

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See ya real soon!