JW Marriott Marquis Miami
345 Avenue of the Americas, Miami; (305) 421-8600; www.marriott.com. From $299. No eco-rating.
This summer, Miami ignited the basketball world when the city's NBA franchise, the Miami Heat, persuaded superstar duo LeBron James and former Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh to join the team's all-star guard, Dwyane Wade. Presto change-o: instant championship contender.
Now, the city's newest luxury hotel has pulled an equally gutsy move, putting an NBA-size basketball court on the 19th floor. Instead of the likes of Bosh, J.W. Marriott Marquis Miami hopes to reel in hoops-loving travellers flocking to the tropical Florida city.
The vibe is decidedly more charcuterie house than frat house. The sparkling blue-glass tower, which held its grand opening this month, is stocked with the finer things in life. Billiards, basketball, rooftop swimming - even an in-house golf school are available to guests. And from gourmet French cuisine to the flat-screen televisions embedded in bathroom mirrors, the perks should satisfy jocks and couch potatoes alike.
Tuckered out after long day of meetings or sunning on South Beach, guests can snuggle under fluffy down duvets and flip on the 52-inch flat-screen television to watch the game on ESPN. Or take a five-minute walk to the American Airlines Arena and watch the Heat do battle live.
After handing the car keys to a valet parking attendant, guests enter the hotel on a sea of white marble. The modern, minimalist aesthetic allows a massive custom-made chandelier to hog all the attention: hundreds of glass crystals cascading down over the lobby from the second floor. Once past check-in, high-speed elevators whisk you up to one of the hotel's 41 floors. The towering building is surrounded by glass, so every one of the 313 guest rooms features either a view of Biscayne Bay or downtown.
While the views are spectacular, the perks inside the room compete for your attention. Each room is stocked with an espresso machine, imported Italian marble tub and shower, an iPod dock that attaches to the television speaker system and an in-room computer with Internet access. For elite clients, the Marquis houses an exclusive hotel within a hotel, called Hotel Beaux Arts. The 44 suites, which run upward of $550 (U.S.) a night, are designed to feel more loft-style condo than hotel room. The units feature spectacular views and hardwood floors. Each comes stocked with iPad and a chandelier over the bathtub.
The staff was charming and eager to please. Since the hotel is new, their keen, heightened attentiveness, combined with the sheer numbers of employees, could sometimes feel overwhelming. One valet attendant, searching for something to say as a guest walked by, blurted: "You smell nice." Well-meaning… Still, they showed remarkable attention no matter the situation. During my stay, as the hotel's new fire alarm malfunctioned and screeched for close to an hour, staff continued to smile and serve drinks to guests with gritted teeth.
The hotel has three dining areas, each a distinct experience. Lazy mornings can be spent feasting on The Wall Street Journal and a latte at Intermezzo, the second-floor coffee shop. For lunch, a Marriott burger hits the spot at the Met Cafe & Bar, which has nine flat-screen televisions showing the latest ESPN offerings. But the hotel's crown culinary jewel is db Bistro Moderne, where you'll find yourself choosing between escargots and seared sea scallops.
Award-winning French chef Daniel Boulud has created a menu inspired by three French regions so, to start, guests can sample grilled octopus (Basque), eggplant caviar (Provence) or house-made terrines (Lyons). The restaurant has three distinct rooms, the aptly named mirror room, the cozy white oak room and the all-orange persimmon room, which is much more calming than you'd think. The high ceilings combined with feather-filled benches give the feeling of dining in a cozy little ballroom.
Billiards, hoops, virtual bowling, yoga, golf lessons - energetic guests could spend all day in the two-floor, 50,000-square-foot entertainment complex. Even the vicious burn of a cardio workout can be soothed by the ocean views surrounding the fitness facility.
For basketball fans, the hotel offers packages that include a one-night stay, pre-game cocktails and breakfast. But lucky guests might even spot a player in the hallway. The gym was transformed into a party room to host a recent celebration for the Heat, and the Minnesota Timberwolves practised here before a game. Compared with the hotel's other amenities, Rik Rak Salon & Spa seems like an afterthought. While there is a separate relaxation room, VIP pedicures ($75 U.S.) are done alongside haircuts and highlights, making it pretty impossible to relax during that 45 minutes - unless you don't mind the drone of hair dryers and tunes more appropriate for a nightclub on South Beach.
Just like the Miami Heat, which has struggled to gel early in the season despite the team's immense individual talents, this new hotel has a few kinks to work out. But when that happens, it will be a slam dunk for those looking to indulge their passion for sports, the finer things in life or both.