Fun can come at any price in Miami. If you're toting wads of cash, go all out. If you're stretching a modest budget, weigh options more carefully. If you're dipping into an account you promised never to touch, pinch hard and cut corners.
Why not play all three roles at once? Maybe skew your budget toward great accommodations and hold back on dining and attractions costs. Or stay cheap and invest in memorable meals. Or pile it all on a big night out and otherwise lie low.
Here's a three-way cafeteria plan designed to let you pick a Miami vacation that fits your budget. Choose how you'll spend your money based on the depth of your pockets and the breadth of your interests.
WHERE TO STAY
You can almost always swing a deal for rates lower than those stated if you're flexible about room size and when you go.
$$$: The Morris Lapidus-designed 1954 masterpiece of curves, Fontainebleau Hilton Resort & Towers, still packs a romantic punch. The 1,200-room resort sports a rock-grotto pool, beachfront cabanas, full-service spa, and glitzy floor show at the Cuban-style Club Tropigala. Picture guests Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, and Jackie Gleason in their primes. Today it's more of a family destination than during its racier, star-studded heyday. Kids like the new pool dominated by a giant octopus that sprays water everywhere. 4441 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; (305) 538-2000 or 1-800-548-8886. Rates: $209-$359.
Long known as The Tiffany, The Hotel, a restored Art Deco 52-room landmark, still sports a blue neon tower blaring that name. Guests enjoy an attentive concierge, in-room entertainment systems, a rooftop pool, garden dining at Wish, and step-outside proximity to swinging South Beach nightlife. 801 Collins Avenue, South Beach; (305) 531-2222. Rates: $225-$405.
Another restored Art Deco classic, the 54-room Hotel Nash packs designer surprises within its stark-white exterior. Sweeping curves accent an intimate lobby with a museum-vintage concierge desk and slot-style mailboxes. Belgian linens, shield-shaped armoires, and sepia-toned photographs accent bedrooms. 1120 Collins Avenue, South Beach; (305) 674-7800. Rates: $210-$775.
$$: Cross the Rickenbacker Causeway from downtown Miami to reach Key Biscayne and Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne, a family-style 300-room resort. The white-sand beach begins just past the Olympic-size pool. Sailing, tennis, and nearby golf beckon. Kids enjoy beach volleyball, water balloon fun, sandcastle contests, and field trips to nearby attractions. 350 Ocean Drive, Key Biscayne; (305) 361-2021 or 1-800-766-3782. Rates: $195-$435.
The best reason to choose the Mayfair House is to be close to the Coconut Grove shopping, dining, and nightlife district that surrounds it. Each of the 179 rooms has either an outdoor hot tub on the veranda or an indoor whirlpool clad in marble. A rooftop pool area overlooks Biscayne Bay two blocks away. 3000 Florida Avenue, Coconut Grove; (305) 441-0000 or 1-800-433-4555. Rates: $159-$649.
$: Bust your budget elsewhere by opting for Hampton Inn Miami-Downtown, a clean and safe but otherwise basic motel near the toll bridge to Key Biscayne. A no-frills fenced-in pool serves your need for a quick dip. 2500 Brickell Avenue, Miami; (305) 854-2070. Rates: $84-$129.
From Doubletree Hotel Coconut Grove, you can walk easily to downtown Coconut Grove attractions and to the waterfront on Biscayne Bay. 2649 South Bayshore Drive, Coconut Grove; (305) 858-2500. Rates: $109-$289.