MIAMI — In a year when three new Miami-Dade hotels drew widespread attention — and two landed on a travel magazine's list of hot new properties—— it's easy to forget that the region's hotel industry is still climbing out of a recession.
A private club-slash-chic-hotel in Miami Beach and upscale boutique (inside a new high-rise hotel) in downtown Miami were the highlights of the new hotel offerings in the past 12 months. Bu t the bulk of what's new used to be old.
Former apartment buildings and shuttered hotels are finding new life in South Florida's lodging landscape. More is expected as financially troubled properties find new owners willing to invest in improvements to lure new visitors.
Already, the improving economy is delivering good news. The most recent figures available show that hotel occupancy increased in Broward, Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys year over year. Room rates ticked up too.
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That means locals who want to sample the newest goods might expect to pay more than in the previous couple of years. But most hotels are offering some kind of summer specials for staycationers.
And stay tuned for more grand opening specials. Other big projects are expected to wrap up soon, including the nearly completed Dream South Beach, which is partially open, and two Ocean Drive renovations, Hotel Breakwater and Waldorf. But for now, here are the highlights of what's new.
—Bal Harbour Quarzo
What's new: The all-suite, three-story hotel had a former life as an apartment building. It was completely renovated before opening with 27 suites available to rent. Nineteen of those have full kitchens, while the rest have kitchenettes with refrigerators and microwaves. A second phase of the project will add 49 more suites.
Bragging rights: Rooms are luxuriously roomy without a giant price tag. Most junior suites are 400-450 square feet; one-bedroom suites are 1,150 square feet and the master suites are 1,800 square feet. A serene "beach garden" with sun beds and cabanas overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway; the beach is a short walk away. Free Wi-Fi. Free Pilates on the beach several times a week.
Caveat emptor: No on-site restaurant or spa, though guests can arrange for a private chef to cook in their room. In-room spa services are available, as is the spa at One Bal Harbour across the street. Just west of the Collins Avenue bridge, the hotel can be somewhat tricky to find.
Best for: Families who want plenty of space and kitchen amenities; high-end shoppers who want to splurge at the nearby Bal Harbour Shops rather than on a hotel.
Details: 290 Bal Bay Drive, Bal Harbour, 305-222-7922, www.quarzomiamihotel.com.
Rates & deals: In low season, junior suites from $199; one-bedroom from $259, master from $309. Through Sept. 30, stay three nights get the fourth free.
What's new: Just about everything but the structure of the old Henry Hotel. The 48-suite hotel features pictures of models, photographers and other international fashion icons on the doors and walls.
Bragging rights: The fashion suite includes a "super king-sized" bed that measures 8 feet by more than 8 1/2 feet.
Caveat emptor: For "suites," the rooms are small: a master suite is 230 square feet. The hotel doesn't have some of the amenities like an in-house gym or pool that some travelers want when they come to Miami Beach.
Best for: People who want to be near the heart of South Beach action without paying top rates. Fans of South American fashion icons.
Details: 534 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 786-398-4408, www.fashionhaushotel.com.
Rates & deals: Rooms from $179 on weekends and $125 on weekdays. Florida residents and anyone who mentions this offer get 20 percent off through May 26.
—Hotel Beaux Arts
What's new: The whole thing. This upscale 44-room boutique, which fully opened a couple months ago, is tucked into floors 38-40 of the JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami. Guests are escorted to a private check-in area on the 39th floor and have their own lounge as well.
Bragging rights: Rooms are tricked out with gadgets: Bang & Olufsen electronics, iPads with hotel app already loaded, TVs embedded in the bathroom mirror and Illy espresso makers. The hotel made Conde Nast Traveler's 2011 Hot List.
Caveat emptor: Don't expect any discounting here. "We don't do deals," according to the hotel's sales and marketing director. The spa, gym and other fitness areas are in the main Marriott hotel.
Best for: Business travelers who want modern luxury (and aren't limited by a tight expense account). Anyone who doesn't mind paying for extra privacy. Super-sized athletes who will appreciate the California King-sized beds and tall showers that allow for extra head room.
Details: 255 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami, 305-421-8700, www.hotelbeauxartsmiami.com.
Rates & deals: Rooms from $440, suites from $810.
—JW Marriott Marquis
What's new: Everything at the sleek 41-story hotel, which opened in October.
Bragging rights: Restaurants include the buzz-worthy db Bistro Moderne from Daniel Boulud. Fitness area includes heavy-duty gym, heated stainless steel pool, basketball court, virtual bowling and Jim McLean Golf School and Virtual Golf.
Caveat emptor: Be careful not to confuse the cab driver — or the GPS; there's a JW Marriott just down the road on Brickell Avenue.
Best for: Meetings; the hotel has more than 80,000 square feet of meeting space. Business travelers who want to take advantage of negotiated corporate rates. Suburb dwellers who want a quick city getaway.
Details: 255 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami, 305-421-8600, www.jwmarriottmarquismiami.com.
Rates & deals: Rooms from $239. The hotel is offering a staycation special for Florida residents: weekend rates start at $229 with breakfast for two and free parking included.
—Lords South Beach
What's new: The old Hotel Nash got a facelift with new rugs, paint, furnishings and other touch-ups. The end result is a bright, beachy, 54-room boutique that caters to gay travelers.
Bragging rights: One of the best hotel restaurant names of all time: Cha Cha Rooster. A giant polar bear welcomes guests in the lobby.
Caveat emptor: Lords has a busy social calendar, so if all you want to do is relax quietly, look elsewhere.
Best for: Gay singles or couples — and their straight friends.
Details: 1120 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 877-448-4754, www.lordssouthbeach.com.
Rates & deals: Rooms from $204. From June through August, some rooms will be offered at $99 a night on the weekend for Florida residents, subject to availability.
—Soho Beach House
What's new: The former Sovereign Hotel got a total transformation and expansion to become the chic Soho Beach House, a hotel and members-only club.
Bragging rights: As the Miami outpost of a private club that has locations in New York, California, London and Berlin, Soho Beach House is oh-so-exclusive. The 50 rooms are gorgeous and comfortable at the same time. The hotel offers a screening snug for film showings, two pools, a library, Cecconi's restaurant, Cowshed spa and an art-filled drawing room. Also showed up on Conde Nast Traveler's 2011 Hot List.
Caveat emptor: Privacy is a priority, so posting pictures to Facebook or Twitter is a no-no. Cellphone chatter is limited to certain areas. If you're tempted to try to become a member after spending the night, be aware that annual membership rates are $1,800 or $900 for the under-27 set.
Best for: Artistic types, hipsters with cash, Europeans, young creatives.
Details: 4385 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 786-507-7900, www.sohobeachhouse.com.
Rates & deals: Rooms from $340. Anyone who asks for the "staycation" rate until June 30 can get 20 percent off the published rate, continental breakfast for two and 20 percent off spa treatments (May 25-30 excluded).
—B Ocean Fort Lauderdale
What's new: Formerly a Holiday Inn, the beachfront hotel at Sunrise Boulevard and A1A got a total reworking. White wave-designed walls get a new wash of color every few seconds with changing lights. The new design is heavily beach-inspired with lots of floor-to-ceiling windows in public areas.
Bragging rights: Did we mention beachfront? All 240 rooms have an ocean view. The hotel lets you check out an iPad for free and offers free Wi-Fi throughout the property and on the beach. Sushi restaurant Saia is getting raves, and B'stro on the Beach offers grab and go or sit-down service (with a nifty wine dispenser that lets you sip, sample or savor).
Caveat emptor: The pool area is a little small, with views of unattractive condo towers nearby. The fitness center is likewise tiny, and bathrooms are nothing to boast about.
Best for: Couples or groups of friends who want a cool beach experience at a reasonable price with easy access to shopping and downtown Fort Lauderdale. The hotel is family-friendly but not kid-focused with king beds or two doubles.
Details: 999 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-564-1000, www.boceanfortlauderdale.com.
Rates & deals: Rooms from $129-$249 in the off season. Florida residents get 35 percent off rack rates.
—Royal Palms Resort & Spa
What's new: The hotel for gay men added 50 rooms down the street from its original lushly landscaped 12-room inn. The property now has two pools (one clothing-optional), a fitness center an d spa, and bar and restaurant. Rooms are decorated in white with splashes of green or orange.
Bragging rights: Bikes, iPads and cellphones are available to rent on-site. Orchids are a signature decoration (check inside the toilets for proof).
Caveat emptor: If you're not comfortable with clothing-optional pools (or sensual artwork), you won't be comfortable here.
Best for: Gay men only. The bar is straight-friendly at cocktail hour.
Details: 717 Breakers Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-564-1000, www.royalpalms.com.
Rates & deals: Rooms from $159; special rates at $119 a night for a two-night minimum.
—Silver Palms Inn
What's new: The $6 million eco-friendly boutique hotel opened in October, replacing the El Rancho Motel. The Soni family took a chance on the market and tore down the decaying hotel they bought 27 years ago.
Bragging rights: In April, the 50-room facility was certified a Green Lodging Facility by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Each room has an electronic key system that activates the air conditioner and lights. The hotel features solar water heaters and low-flow showerheads and toilets to conserve water. Reclaimed water is used for the vegetation around the property.
Caveat emptor: While the location is in the heart of Key West, most of the rooms overlook the parking lot, which is located next to the saltwater pool.
Best for: Guests who are green minded and will spend more time inside their modern, island-style rooms with 40-inch flat screen TVS than on the balcony overlooking the parking lot.
Details: 830 Truman Ave., Key West, 305-294-8700; www.silverpalmsinn.com. Rates: Rooms start at $169 during the week and $189 on the weekends.