Easing our way through the warm night air, over the bridge onto Miami Beach, I recognised the broken French of our cab driver but not the accent. ‘Creole,’ our welcoming driver told us. This was a world away from the USA we’d last visited. There was none of the chaos of New York or the calmness of San Francisco. There was something beguiling about Miami, the sparkling lights of a welcome party on the horizon.
Set in the revamped art deco buildings that once housed the glamorous Royal Palm, the James has one of the best spots in South Beach, with sweeping views and direct access to the Atlantic. Cool ambient beats and cool ambient bodies emanated from the lobby as we checked in at the decidedly jolly reception. Housing an all-day lounge with pour-over coffee and iPads to borrow, this space could be a Cole Porter set, with art deco zigzags, porthole windows and streamlined furniture.
Weary from a long-haul journey, with a sleepy baby in tow, we instantly felt part of the Saturday-evening vibe… Music followed us, rather nicely, through the long Thirties’ beach-housey ground floor into the lift. Though it’s one of the largest hotels on the strip, the hotel is full of intimate, welcoming elements. Escorted up to the whitewashed driftwood-clad ninth floor, we were steered to our room as indicated by letterpress type (nice touch) on a tiny shelf by the door.
Mr Smith was delighted to discover a well-stocked minibar and was pleased to have an excuse to visit the ice room. The James may go easy on the tea- and coffee-making facilities, but who is thinking hot drinks when a cocktail shaker and ice bucket sit there ready and waiting? The only question: which brand of gin to start with? Memories of travel stresses fully vanished with a wash of my hands with an organic de-stress soap in the bathroom. The ensuite is comfortable in a thick-velvet-pile-bathmat kind of way, and the soap did what it said on the label. With a little help from the gin…
As an interiors stylist and shop owner, I’m a connoisseur of finishing touches. I noted fabulously extra-soft extra-thick robes, iPod dock, quirky old-school alarm clock, dimmable grey-brown pendant lamp… Mr Smith meanwhile saluted the free WiFi. Rooms are unmistakably Floridian, with original art, beachy colours and unparalleled bay and beach views. Peering out of the floor-to-ceiling window, the floodlit pools gleamed reassuringly from below. We were definitely in Miami.
A huge HD TV offered a library of recently released film rental options, perfect for long evenings with a little one. The large flatscreen faced an equally huge bed, piled in layers of extra-large pillows, sheets and feather-light quilts all crafted from the same quality white linen. The James Royal Palm provided us with a very natty cot for baby Smith, but this bed could have easily slept all of us, along with extended family. Lying on that mattress is how I imagine lying on a cloud feels. (Mr Smith and I resolved to treat ourselves to a new bed; he was convinced he was lying on a second duvet by mistake. If the hotel was selling those beds we’d have bought one there and then.)
We woke extremely early due to Brits-abroad jetlag, but here were in Miami, watching the sunrise over the sea… What other treat but to scour our high-definition film options and pass the time with the Bourne Legacy until 6am when we could order room service? An hour later a magical table was wheeled in, laden with goodies. A green smoothie equalled liquid health and my plate was uncovered to reveal ‘Miami eggs retro style’ – shrimps, potatoes, eggs, fruit, muffins and, er, more potatoes. Quite honestly it was the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Mr Smith looked longingly at my carbs for a nanosecond before tucking into his steak and eggs – with asparagus and potatoes.
Sliding back the door onto the balcony we watched the beach coming to life. Runners jogged along the boardwalk and all along the stretch of white sand neighbouring hotels were claiming lounger and tent space. (We discovered you can rent a sun tent as easily as a lounger – another tick on the baby-friendly checklist.) Hot and sunny, with the most delightful breeze the weather too did not disappoint and soon lured us out. Venturing south along the boardwalk we admired flawlessly tanned and toned bodies alongside the perfect art deco architecture and palm trees aplenty. Eye-candy gold. Note to self: keep shades firmly on.
For lunch we installed ourselves at Florida Cookery by one of the pools. True to form, staff here are relaxed, friendly and helpful. Kris Wessel of Miami’s popular Red Light Little River has created a menu of regional Floridian dishes including conch chowder, cast-iron seared Sunshine State frog legs and alligator empanadas…. And who could resist the Lee Schrager burger? Finish with local mango pie: it’s the sweetest taste of tropical paradise.
Fast forward to this family spread out over a couple of low-mattressed sundecks with Mr Smith, usually suspicious of piped music, humming along to the chill-out tunes. The James Royal Palm Miami had made a cool ambient trio of us in no time, just the same as how we’d been greeted.