The flight to Miami actually wasn't too bad. Heathrow Terminal 3 is greatly improved from how I remember it and the Virgin Atlantic flight was perfectly efficient. We took off more or less on time and we experienced few bumps while in the air. Luckily there we're spare seats around us so I got to stretch out and even lie down for a kip across three seats at one point. The food was OK but not up to British Airways' standard and I didn't bother much with the inflight entertainment system apart from Pedro Almodóvar's I'm So Excited and Will Smith's After Earth which were both mildly distracting but no more than that. The Virgin Atalantic flight attendants were good - but as Stu pointed out they were not like those you see in their adverts!
After 9 hours in the air we touched down to Florida's 30C and high humidity. The air con in the terminal was very welcome I can tell you. Miami Airport is as large and sprawling as any large and sprawling modern city airport has become these days. You seem to walk for miles from your arrival gate only for your heart to sink as you come across a massive passport control hall with an equally massive queue in it. All in all we went through the place in 90 mins which I suppose isn't too bad considering the numbers who arrive in Florida every hour.
We queued for a yellow taxi just outside the terminal and chatted to our driver as he whisked us the short 15 minute $40 trip through Downtown Miami and on out to Miami Beach (the city within a city on the Eastern see board). Connected by just four bridges to the mainland Miami Beach is an island that has the whiff of a seaside resort about it but with the pleasing Art Deco architecture to give it some sort of class.
Our hotel was South Beach's Lord Balfour Hotel at one end of the world famous Ocean Drive which was both welcoming and perfectly serviceable - matching it's high Trip Advisor status. We dropped our bags in our rooms, pulled on some shorts and headed along the strip to see what it hand to offer these weary travellers.
What we discovered is that Miami Beach is party central - shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs - and no place within it is more 'party' than South Beach. It's a 24 hour sort of place.
And to be honest I was mildly disappointed. Not that there wasn't much going on - but there was perhaps too much going on. The beach is on one side of the strip, Ocean Drive is down the middle and on the other side sits row upon row of bars, restaurants and hotels all crammed in together and each straddling the pavement with table and chairs set for drinks and (more profitably) meals. Canvas awnings, gaudy neon lights wound around trees, dazzling flashing lights, booming speakers and live bands assault the senses. We ran the gauntlet of waiters and waitresses thrusting menus in our faces, "Half price coctails! Come sit lovely gentlemen! Cheap beer! Cheap food!" But as we dodged around the empty tables they spoke volumes to us. Why we're these places all so empty? Was it a case of once bitten, twice shy? Ibiza Town... Brighton Lanes... Sites... Christopher Place... Brick Lane... Every busy place has somewhere like this. A place for tourists. A place for tourists to get trapped.
But hey we were tourists. We knew when we were beaten. Inevitably we were worned down and alighted upon what we thought looked like an OK sort of place. The music wasn't too loud. The owner's spiel not too insistent. The waiter was attentive and barely noticing that the coctail menu had no prices on it - an omission we were later to regret - we ordered something suitably exotic. What actually turned up were massive margarita glasses about 25cm across filled with ice, Margarita mix and two upended bottles of Corona in each. We laughed. And drank. And took pictures. And laughed some more. Once we're downed these we ordered some pizzas and laughed again. People watching is definitively the thing to do in South Beach but after an hour or so even we had had our fill of it. Stated we thought about moving on. But it was at that point we got stung by the bill. A stinging so servere that we might have only expected to have received it from one of the jellyfish rumoured to be occasionally found on the beach across the road. $277 for four drinks and four pizzas. Ouch!
We stopped off for one last beer on the way back to the hotel in some deafeningly loud gay bar called The Palace. Even outside on the pavement the music made our teeth rattle. Oh and we saw a dead, half naked man with a bloodied stab wound in his back lying in the park on the way back home too. Somehow that seemed to top the night off.