Two nights in paradise: A review of the W South Beach
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If you're over a certain age, the word "relaxing" probably doesn't come to mind when you think of Miami's South Beach. Long adored by college students and early 20-somethings alike, the nearly three-mile stretch has become infamous for wild parties, celebrity sightings and daiquiris from Wet Willies'.
That reputation has also extended to many of the hotels that dot the South Beach coastline, including the W South Beach. Celebrities frequent the W -- 50 Cent recently partied there -- and you'll find luxury cars like Bentleys and Rolls-Royces parked outside.
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Knowing its reputation for parties, I didn't expect to enjoy a relaxing, off-the-grid visit. But what I found during a brief, mid-February stay at the W South Beach is that you shouldn't judge a hotel solely by its location. It's been nearly a decade since TPG himself reviewed the W South Beach, and much has changed since then. I was eager to check it out.
Cash prices for my two-night stay in mid-February hovered around $550 a night, including taxes and fees. This W is a Category 8 Marriott Bonvoy property, meaning standard award nights go for 85,000 points a night, off-peak for 70,000 and peak at a whopping 100,000 points a night.
We decided to book the stay using 170,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Additionally, I was charged a $40 daily resort fee for beach activities, use of two beach chairs, bike usage, "enhanced high-speed Internet," fitness classes and art tours. Aside from the internet and beach chairs, I didn't take advantage of anything else included in the resort fee.
If you find yourself needing to top up your account before a redemption -- such as the W South Beach, for instance -- you may want to consider a Marriott card, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card.
You'll earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Additionally, you'll receive an annual award night worth up to 50,000 points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (certain hotels have resort fees) and upon account renewal, up to $300 annual travel credit on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, instant Gold Marriott elite status with the ability to earn Platinum with $75,000 in annual spending on the card. The card has a $450 annual fee (see rates & fees).
Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?
The W takes up the entire block of Collins Avenue between 22nd and 23rd streets on Miami Beach. The hotel is located on a strip of South Beach near other luxury hotels in the area, including The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, Loews Miami Beach Hotel and Delano South Beach. If you're looking to be "in the mix" -- that is, where the parties and clubs are -- you picked a great location. If you're flying in from Miami International Airport (MIA), the hotel is about 11 miles (or about 30 minutes by car) away.
My room was on a high floor with beach views, so I didn't hear much noise from the ground or other rooms on my floor.
I found food options in the area to be scarce, however. Meals at the W can be pricey (more on that later), so I would have appreciated having more options in the neighborhood. That said, I grabbed breakfast and juice at nearby Joe & The Juice, and that was enough to tide me over between meals.
If you need something you can't get from the hotel, there is a Walgreens a few blocks away. I also found Uber and Lyft to be very affordable between locations on South Beach and most picked me up within five minutes.
If you're staying at a South Beach hotel, you're looking for easy beach access. You can't go wrong at the W, with the beach just outside the hotel.
I arrived at the W around 5 p.m. on a Saturday in mid-February. Check-in was a breeze, as there was only one person ahead of me in line.
I handed over my ID and was then asked if I wanted a welcome drink of sangria. Keeping with the Miami theme, I selected a red sangria, which I happily sipped while waiting on my room assignment.
After getting my key, the concierge asked if I'd like my bag delivered to my room and then showed me to the elevator to take me to my room. I decided to check out the lobby before heading up. W hotels can be a bit flashy for my tastes, but I found the lobby to be classy. It's designed in elegant colors of cream and steel, with high ceilings and plush chairs and rugs throughout.
There was a gift shop in the lobby with some high-priced gear, like jewelry and swimsuits.
I was impressed by the art collection in the lobby, and as I was snapping pictures, a hotel worker said, "there are even more paintings down the hall." Taking his suggestion, I wandered down down the hall to where the restrooms on the main floor are located and indeed, I found some paintings I otherwise wouldn't have discovered. It seemed like the W is made for Instagram Stories.
During my tour of the lobby, I noticed several furry friends and discovered that the W SoBe is pet friendly in all rooms. It almost made me sad that I'd left Migo at home.
I decided to head upstairs to check out my room. Shortly after arriving, I heard a knock on the door to deliver my bags, along with a "enjoy your stay, Ms. Walker." I found the service to be extremely personable. Overall, the check-in was smooth and friendly, and I was ready to check out my beautiful room.
I was glad to be on a high floor in room 1502, with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and other nearby resorts.
Immediately upon entering, you'll find the bathroom on your left side, which contained a double vanity, WC and shower. Unfortunately, there was no tub. The drawers were stocked with a razor, makeup removal kit and dental kit. A comfy robe was waiting in the bathroom and I found a pair of slippers in a nearby closet.
I figured standing on the scale would turn it on, but I found out that there was no battery installed.
The shower was spacious and featured two nozzles. It was also stocked with melon-scented body wash, shampoo and conditioner. After spending a windy day at the beach, I was looking forward to washing the sand out of my hair. Similar to TPG's shower test, I always check the back of the shampoo and conditioner bottles to see if I can even use the products on my natural, texturized hair.
The shampoo alone contained a few problematic ingredients, such as sodium lauroyl, which is acceptable for straight textures but strips moisture from kinky and curly textures, resulting in dry hair. Hotels should be mindful of who their products are created for and who can use them. This isn't a problem specific to Marriott but an industry-wide problem, and one that excludes people with curlier hair textures, many of whom are women of color.
Moving into the room, I found a Nespresso espresso machine with coffee pods.
The minibar was stocked with juices, Gatorade, San Pellegrino soda and Voss water, along with alcohol like Patrón tequila and Bombay Sapphire gin. There was another smaller minibar on a table near the balcony with larger bottles of Grey Goose and Patron and another minibar with snacks. Two water bottles were waiting on the nightstand on arrival.
The bed was comfortable, and I slept until noon on my first day in Miami.
The W is known for its eclectic design throughout its hotels, and that includes the room. I found my room to be pretty toned down, but there were signature-W features like a colorful rug and see-through dividers.
The room was perfectly sized for a single traveler, but I'm sure a couple or a family would fit fine, given the separate living area with a couch. The room also had a desk, with a small TV mounted above it.
My only complaint about the room was how slow I found the Wi-Fi to be. It was fine for Twitter and email, but that was about it. It also kicked me off the network every time my phone locked, which was inconvenient and frustrating.
Perhaps the best feature of the room was the balcony. With sweeping views of the beach, I found myself spending hours people watching, catching up on work and napping.
Food and beverage
On my first morning at the hotel, I ordered breakfast through room service, opting for the traditional breakfast spread. My food took about an hour to arrive, but I was more disappointed with the offering.
I ordered eggs with cheese, potatoes and a side of bacon that was way too crunchy for my liking. The food was sadly unappetizing, but the coffee and mango juice were excellent.
Later in the evening, I grabbed drinks at Living Room, a swanky bar located inside the hotel, with my colleagues Nick Ellis and Benji Stawski. Our drinks (I got the Sunday Sunset) cost $18 per person, which was pretty standard for Miami.
I spent a few hours each day lounging by the pool and ordered a Taste of Rio, which was made of rum, strawberries, passion fruit and lime juice at the WET bar. Later, I ordered a Sunset Breeze while lounging on the beach. The drinks were tasty but pricey, but again, I expected that for Miami.
On my last morning at the hotel, I stopped at the WET bar again for food, as food options in the area are pretty scarce. I kept it simple with a hot dog and fries and was surprised how tasty the meal was. Either that or I was famished!
The W is a large resort, but it's stocked with amenities to enhance your stay, including an Instagrammable pool area.
If you want to make your friends really jealous, there are a couple of cabanas that can be booked for an extra fee.
The sprawling pool was pretty empty, but the area around it was crowded as guests, as well as residents, spend much of the day there. I didn't get in, but it was gorgeous -- the type of pool and vibe you'd expect from Miami if you want to see and be seen. That said, I didn't mind when the pool attendant set my towel on a chair in a secluded section near the bar, giving me more privacy and shade.
There's also an adults-only pool that felt pretty sequestered from the main pool area if you're looking for a more relaxing vibe.
Speaking of bars, there are several on the property. I mentioned Living Room earlier, but there's also WALL, an exclusive bar and lounge. If you get hungry, there's MR CHOW and The Dutch, an American restaurant by Chef Andrew Carmellini.
I peeked inside Irmas, a beautiful outdoor seating area located near the pool.
There were many places to sit and sip on a cocktail, but the wind impeded that, unfortunately.
If fitness is on your mind, I found a tennis court called SWISH & SWING, a basketball court, fitness center and Citi Bikes just outside the property. After working up a sweat, you can stop by Bliss Spa for a relaxing massage.
I found the service throughout my stay to be personable without being intrusive. I'm sure that comes from hotels like the W having to handle high-profile celebrities year-round, but I appreciated the attentiveness of the staff.
Upon arrival, I was nearly hit by a teenage boy riding a skateboard. The valet asked if I was alright, and as we laughed it off together, asked if I was staying at the resort and wished me a pleasant stay. Each time I saw him after, he remembered my name and we would joke about the near-miss.
I spent two relaxing afternoons on the beach and appreciated how attentive the workers were, from ordering drinks to making sure I had enough towels. The second day was pretty rainy, as a beach worker notified me as I sat down that I had about 30 minutes before a downpour.
I also appreciated the little things, like the carpet on the elevator changing from "Good Morning" to "Good Evening" every day.
The only downside was how long I waited for breakfast when ordering room service. The employee on the line seemed overwhelmed, but I would've appreciated a heads up.
With its proximity to the beach and its reputation as a "see and be seen" destination, I didn't expect the W SoBe to be relaxing. I'll admit that I was completely wrong. During my stay, I saw families lounging by the pool, couples at the bar and friends celebrating bachelorette parties.
It was a very chill atmosphere and, coupled with the excellent service, a great use of points. Miami isn't my favorite spring break city (that title goes to San Juan), but there's no doubt that I'd stay at the W SoBe when I'm back in town.
All photos by the author.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, click here.