Friday, February 5, 2016

Miami Hostel Experience

During our Miami escape in January, Ken and I stayed at a hostel just a block from the beach and Lummus Park.  We'd never stayed at a hostel before but our budget couldn't accommodate a Miami hotel near the beach, so we figured we'd give a hostel a try.  

After a Google search of Miami hostels, I came across several hostels that sounded interesting.  They were all about the same price, but the Posh hostel seemed to have the best location and looked very modern and clean.  The reviews were great and there was a rooftop pool, so I went ahead and booked it.  When I told Ken that we'd be sharing showers and sleeping quarters with other guys and gals for $50 bucks each a night ... he wasn't too sure.  $100 bucks a night for us to stay in a hostel?  Welcome to Miami, baby!

Reading about the unisex bunk beds didn't bother me since Ken would be nearby, but I was concerned about the fact that the hostel had unisex bathrooms and showers .. did the showers have locks?  What if someone just walked right in?  It didn't help that I once had a male janitor walk in on me when showering at the gym.  I screamed, he ran, and then I was ticked.  I yelled, "You heard the water running!  You knew somebody was in here"!  Anyway, I told Ken that he may have to hang out in the bathroom while I took my shower since I wasn't sure if the showers had locks or not.

As we walked towards the hostel, I hoped that our experience wouldn't be too bad and that Ken wouldn't wonder what the heck I'd gotten us into.  Would we feel safe?  Would the place be as clean as it looked in the pictures?  Would we be able to sleep at night, or would the room be filled with people snoring and worse ... "barking spiders"?!

I had heard that the hostel was located next to the Whitelaw Hotel, so when I saw the hotel I walked inside to ask where the hostel was located.  The lady walked us down an alley (patio sounds better) next to the hotel and through a door with an elevator.  We went to the second floor and found the hostel.  Check-in was in the kitchen/living area, which looked just like the pictures ... modern and clean.

The Whitelaw Hotel ... love the art deco buildings!

The "patio" ...

The entrance (door under the "Exit" sign) into the hostel and living area ... the rooftop pool was next to the elevator, right across from the front door.  It was nice, but the weather was too cold for us to try it out.  Right across from the breakfast bar was a sectional and flat-screen television for lounging.

We arrived before check-in time, but we were able to store our bags so we could immediately find some lunch.  Before we left, we went downstairs to check out our bunk beds.  We'd originally been assigned two bottom beds, across from each other.  However, I asked if these beds were in the "30 bed" room or the "8 bed" room and was told the "30 bed" room.  Hmmm ... could we have beds in the "8 bed" room?  He said we could, but we'd have a bottom and top bed.  I thought this would be better than a big ole room full of beds, so we made the switch.  While that turned out to be fine, we later wished that we'd taken the two lower bunks in the big room.  When going downstairs, we had to go through the big room and it wasn't so bad.  If we'd gotten two lower beds, we could have talked with each other and Ken wouldn't have had to sleep up top.  Oh well, no big deal.  However, I would recommend requesting beds AWAY from the stairs.  Who wants to be right there by the entry way?!

Stairs to lower sleeping area ...

We walked past all the bunks, into the bathroom area, and then to the left where our room of 8 bunks was located.  The bathrooms also looked just like the pictures, always very clean!  See the bathroom stalls?  Across from that was the showers .. which had frosted glass doors, but no locks!

This was our little corner of the room.  Ken and I had the bunks on the left.  At some point, the other two bunks became occupied by two guys.  They checked in at different times, so they didn't know each other ... or us.  I barely saw them, but I did figure out that the guy on the top spoke French and was in town for the weekend's upcoming marathon.  Before we checked out, several more people arrived for the marathon.

So, what did we think of our first hostel experience?  It was pretty good!  While we didn't hang around the hostel long enough to make new friends, we did find it interesting to see so many people of different ages and from different countries.  Ken and I figured we'd be the oldest folks around, but as it turned out there were folks from the age of 20-something to 70-something.  There were males and females that arrived alone, and there were also couples ... all of various ages.  We saw one couple that appeared to be in their 70's, and we talked to a girl that looked to be in her early 30's that was alone and from Spain.  We overheard two middle-aged women say they were from Africa, and I talked to two young girls that had just arrived from Austria.  They were staying a few days and then driving to Disney World.  As the marathon drew closer, more and more runners arrived.  Let me tell ya ... the beds were always full.

As far as the unisex bathrooms and no locks on the showers ... surprisingly it didn't bother me!  The hostel had a very safe feeling to it, and I didn't see one person that seemed shady.  Well, there were two guys from Colombia that looked exactly what you'd think drug dealers would look like but they weren't around much.  I didn't make Ken guard the shower, as our room was nearby and the staff was always around .. cleaning and making their presence known.  

The hostel had quite a few rules that we had to agree to or else get kicked out.  This probably helps keep things in order.  The rules were things such as no guests, nobody in your bed, no sex (yeah, I guess ya have to tell some people it's not acceptable in public places), and no drugs.  They had in parenthesis ... "Yes, this includes marijuana"!  So, while these rules may seem silly it keeps the place from turning into an "Animal House".  One rule was "lights out" at 11 pm.  While you could come and go as you pleased, you had to be quiet and find your bed in the dark if it was after 11:00.  We kept busy during the day, so this wasn't a problem for us.  The folks that did come in later were very conscientious and did their best to keep quiet and nobody snored ... and no "barking spiders" either!  Can you believe that?!  I'm a very light sleeper so I was concerned about getting a good night's sleep.  It turned out not be a problem.  

One thing that did bother me was that the cleaning lady came in at 10:30 one night to sweep the floors.  It was the second night that we were there, and we'd just gotten to sleep when the lights went on.  At first I didn't get upset because it wasn't 11:00 yet, but the cleaning lady?!  Luckily we never saw her at night again.  

Each morning a free continental breakfast was offered in the kitchen ... basically coffee, juice, toast and cereal.  We took advantage of this every morning.  A refrigerator, stove and oven were also available for use, but I wasn't cooking on vacation!  Another great perk that we were around for one night was free drinks at the Whitelaw hotel's bar every night from 7-8.  With mixed drinks starting at $8 bucks in Miami, this was a pretty good deal.  We could choose any drink made with gin, rum, tequila or vodka ... as much as we wanted till 8:00.  Ken had a few tequila drinks, but I only had one ... this was the day we had started drinking at lunch because it rained all day.  I just couldn't handle anymore.  Below is the bar at the Whitelaw ... it was pretty full during free "happy hour".

Now that we've experienced a hostel, I'd try it again somewhere else and I'd definitely recommend this hostel if you're looking for a place in Miami Beach.  I never felt creeped out, it was very modern & clean, and one more perk ... free shuttle to and from the airport!  We didn't use the shuttle to the hostel because we'd taken the really cheap public bus that runs from the airport.  However, we did take the shuttle to the airport, which made things really easy.  Located one block from the beach, free shuttle, free drinks every night and free breakfast every morning ... not bad at all!

Hasta luego ... until then.  Mid-Life Cruising!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Miami Escape!

After a very wet December and headaches at the boatyard, Ken and I needed to escape for a few days to somewhere a bit warmer.  When I saw non-stop round-trip flights to Miami for only $139 for both of us ... we were going to Miami!

After booking the flights, I was surprised to learn how expensive it is to stay in Miami!  We wanted to be within walking distance of the beach, which meant big bucks.  Frugal as I am, I found a solution ... have you ever heard of a hostel?  Ken and I had never stayed at a hostel before, but after finding the Posh Hostel just a block from the beach I figured it was time to see what staying at a hostel was all about.  At $100 bucks a night for the both of us, we each got a bunk bed (Ken slept on the top bunk) and we shared uni-sex showers/bathrooms and a modern kitchen/living area with the other guests.  So, was our hostel experience a good experience or was I totally creeped out?  You'll have to stay tuned for my upcoming post about our thoughts on staying at a hostel.   

On the morning of Wednesday, January 20th we arrived in Miami.  After a short (public) bus ride to Miami Beach, we checked into the hostel and claimed our bunks.  After locking up our belongings (not much since we only had our carry-on SailorBags) we walked the one block to Ocean Drive.  We were at Miami Beach and the famous Lummus Park!  

Lummus Park is known as the place that models have their photo shoots and folks like to show off their bodies.  This area provides free work-out equipment, which wasn't going unused.

That's Ken walking ahead of me ... he passed on the chin-ups!

I have to say that I really liked the way the beach was protected from hotels and restaurants.  On one side of Ocean Drive was the buildings, and the other side was the park with a bike/walking path and plenty of grass to enjoy the scenery.  Just past the bike path was the entry onto the beach.  The layout was so much better than all those buildings we saw on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu!

Notice the picture above ... to the far left is a bike station where you can rent a bike and then leave it at one of the many bike stations around Miami.  What a great idea!  The picture below shows Ocean Drive on the left and the bike path on the right ...

Do you recognize the house below on Ocean Drive?  The belated Versace house ...

The picture below shows the entrance onto the beach, which is separated from the bike path by grass.  The weather was unseasonably cold (according to the locals) and in the low 70's for a high, which meant we were  happy to enjoy the views in our blue jeans.

That afternoon, Ken and I grabbed a seat at one of the cafes on Ocean Drive for a few beers and snacks.  After being up since 2:30 that morning, we were in bed pretty early.  A note for those that are frugal like us ... a beer is $5-$8 bucks!

Miami isn't cheap, but before our trip I searched the LivingSocial and Groupon sites to see what deals I could find in Miami.  This was well worth it, as I spent $100 bucks for $250 bucks worth of deals.  We got $50 at Senor Frogs, a 2-day pass for each of us on the Hop-On/Hop-Off  tour bus, a boat ride during the day and another at night which provided great views of the port, the cruise ships and the homes of the filthy rich.  The amount of money in this place almost made us forget the state of the economy ... almost.  We did find the only Burger King in the US that sells beer!  For only $2 bucks extra with your meal, you can have a Blue Moon (that's my pick).

The next morning we walked around the corner to jump on the On/Off Bus tour (we really were in a great location).  The bus took us down Ocean Drive, past the location for the Miami Boat Show (we're a few days too early), through a residential section that was mainly Jewish (and very nice), and then to downtown Miami.  Ken and I sat on the second level of the bus, which was open air and really great for seeing the city.  

Instead of getting off the bus in downtown Miami, we stayed on the bus and rode through the upscale section of Coral Gables and got off at Coconut Grove, another area of Miami that we loved!  Coconut Grove was beautiful, with palm trees and tropical landscaping .. and so clean.  We walked to the marina that we'd passed on the bus, and checked out all the boats.  Would we really make it here someday?  We hoped so!  There were a ton of folks in the marina launching their sailboats and we wondered what was going on.  After all, it was a Thursday .. surely there must be getting ready for some sort of event that weekend.  After talking to one of the young girls that was working on a sailboat, we learned that they were getting ready for the weekend's World Cup Regatta.  Evidently, Miami is the only place in the US that hosts this regatta. I wish we could have been there for that, but we were leaving Saturday night and had lots of other things to see.

We jumped back on the bus and headed to Little Havana for lunch.  We found what appeared to be an authentic Cuban restaurant, but we somehow went from dreaming of a good Cuban meal to ordering cold Cuban sandwiches.  What were we thinking?!  They were okay, but the hot meals being served looked great.  Little Havana was fun, and we felt like just maybe we were in Cuba.  We enjoyed the colors, the cigar shops and the music in the streets.  Here's a picture of the McDonald's sign.  Notice the dominoes in the picture ... I can't believe I didn't get a photo of Domino Park nearby.  It was an outdoor area packed with folks playing dominos.  It looked like an outdoor poker room, but with no gambling or drinking ... so, not exactly a poker room.

We were back on the bus and headed to Biscayne Bay in Miami for views of the bay and a boat ride.  Our tour guy was fun, and he pointed out the homes of the rich and famous.  We saw the gorgeous home of the inventor of Viagra, the previous home of Shakira, Frank Sinatra's old home, Elizabeth Taylor's place, and all sorts of other rich folks.  Damn, these folks make too much money!  We also saw the port (which was huge) and the cruise ships that were docked.  It was pretty cool. Our tour guide ...

Notice the boats anchored in the background ... we did!  We even saw a few Catalina 30's ...

Here's a pick of David & Victoria Beckham's house ... look at those boats!

The weather was getting cloudy and the next day was supposed to rain, so we decided to go ahead and use our tickets to the night boat ride since it was probably our only chance.  We jumped off the boat and an hour later were boarding another boat for a night ride and a view of the skyline lit up.

Here's Ricky Martin's house ... the lights on top changed colors!

The views of the city from the water were spectacular ... sorry, I had to use my crappy cell phone for photos.  I didn't wanna bring my good camera to the unfamiliar hostel ...

Needless to say, we had a full day and really enjoyed the On/Off Bus tour.  Not only did we get to see a lot of places we probably never would have, but it served as transportation too.  Since the tour ends around 6:30, we needed to take the public bus back to the hostel.  Cheap, clean and safe!

The next day was indeed rainy ... all day long!  We had to use our 2nd day of the bus tour, so we went ahead and rode the bus to downtown Miami to Biscayne Bay.  We had a fantastic lunch buffet looking over the bay, with all sorts of meats and free wine and beer!  Since it was raining and there wasn't much else to do, I enjoyed my bottle of wine and Ken enjoyed his beer.  By the time we left, the rain didn't bother us!  We walked a short distance to the FREE mono-rail and took a ride around the city.  Were we in Disney World?!  The public transportation in Miami is fantastic!  Living in a place that doesn't have public transportation ... we were envious.  Imagine how much money we could save if we lived in a place that didn't require a car, gas or auto insurance.  From what we saw, Miami has done a great job in the public transportation department.

We jumped back on our bus tour before the end of the night and headed back to the hostel.  Every night from 7-8, the hostel has free drinks at their bar!  We arrived just in time.  It was our last night in Miami, so we had a few drinks but weren't out too late.  We'd been drinking since lunch so ....

Our last day was spent checking out Lincoln Road.  Lincoln Road is an outdoor mall that goes on for blocks and blocks.  The weather was great and it was nice just strolling along and checking out the cafes and shops.  We came across one glass-front store that was packed ... what was it?!  As we got closer we realized it was an "Apple" store.  We walked inside to see tons of people of all ages sitting at tables and playing with gadgets.  Crazy!  I knew we should have purchased "Apple" stock a long time ago!

We had a late lunch at the nearby Senor Frogs, which to be honest wasn't all that .. good thing we had a Groupon or it would have been a rip-off.  We'd visited the Senor Frogs in Cozumel, which was great but this place was dead and didn't have much of an atmosphere.  The shrimp was good!

Before we knew it, we were taking a shuttle back to the airport.  It was a quick trip (Wed-Sat), but we packed a bunch of stuff into our visit and had a blast.  Other than riding on Ocean Drive in a car once, we'd never been to Miami and didn't realize how spread out it was.  It was just what we needed before getting back to reality!  

We've already been back for over a week, but you know how it goes .. when you take a vacation, you have twice as much to get back to.  The boat work continues, and we're hoping to splash within the next week.  I really hope I'm not jinxing us!

Hasta luego ... until then.  Mid-Life Cruising!
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