A few hardy souls might look back with fondness on a trip to Miami Beach during which the car broke down, leaving them stranded for three days or a vacation that cost twice what it was supposed to. For most travelers, though, the best trips are those that are safe, smooth, and within budget. To help you make your trip the best it can be, we’ve assembled a few tips and resources.
Many hotels and motels offer discounts for senior citizens, business travelers, families, you name it. It never hurts to ask politely, that is. Sometimes, especially in the late afternoon, desk clerks are instructed to fill beds, and you might be offered a lower rate or a nicer room to entice you to stay. Simply ask the reservation agent for the best rate available. Also, make sure to try both the toll-free number and the local number. You may be able to get a lower rate from one than the other.
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Timing your trip right can cut your lodging costs as well. Look for bargains on stays over multiple nights, in the off-season, and on weekdays or weekends, depending on the location. Many hotels in major metropolitan areas, for example, have special weekend packages that offer considerable savings on rooms; they may include breakfast, cocktails, and dinner discounts.
Another way to save money is to choose accommodations that give you more than just a standard room. Rooms with kitchen facilities enable you to cook some meals yourself, reducing your restaurant costs. A suite might save money for two couples traveling together. Even hotel luxury levels can provide good value, as many include breakfast or cocktails at the price of a room.
State and city taxes, as well as special room taxes, can increase your room rate by as much as 25 percent per day. We are unable to include information about taxes in our listings, but we strongly urge you to ask about taxes when making reservations so that you understand the total cost of your lodgings before you book.
Watch out for telephone-usage charges that hotels frequently impose on long-distance, credit card, and other calls. Before phoning from your room, read the information given to you at check-in, and then be sure to review your bill carefully when checking out. You won’t be expected to pay for charges that the hotel didn’t spell out. Consider using your cell phone if you have one; or, if public telephones are available in the hotel lobby, your cost savings may outweigh the inconvenience of using them.
Here are some additional tips to save on lodgings: Stay in B&B accommodations; they’re generally less expensive than standard hotel rooms, and the complimentary breakfasts cut down on food costs. If you’re traveling with children, find lodgings at which kids stay free.
When visiting a major city, stay just outside the city limits; these rooms are usually less expensive than those in downtown locations.
Consider visiting national parks during the low season, when prices of lodgings near the parks drop 25 percent or more. When calling a hotel, ask whether it is running any special promotions or if any discounts are available; many times reservationists are told not to volunteer deals unless specifically asked about them.
Check for hotel packages; some offer nightly rates that include a rental car or discounts on major attractions.
There are several ways to get a less expensive meal at a more expensive restaurant. Early-bird dinners are popular in many parts of the country and offer considerable savings. If you’re interested in sampling a Mobil Four- or Five-Star establishment, consider going at lunchtime. Although the prices are probably still relatively high at midday, they may be half of those at dinner, and you’ll experience the same ambiance, service, and cuisine.
Although some national parks, monuments, seashores, historic sites, and recreation areas may be used free of charge, others charge an entrance fee (ranging from $1 to $8 per person or $5 to $25 per carload) and/or a usage fee for special services and facilities.
If you plan to make several visits to national recreation areas, consider one of the following money-saving programs offered by the National Park Service:
There is an annual pass good for entrance to any national park that charges an entrance fee. If the park charges a per-vehicle fee, the pass holder and any accompanying passengers in a private noncommercial vehicle may enter. If the park charges a per-person fee, the pass applies to the holder’s spouse, children, and parents as well as the holder. It is valid for entrance fees only; it does not cover parking, camping, or other fees.
You can purchase a National Parks Pass in person at any national park where an entrance fee is charged; by mail from the National Park Foundation, P0 Box 34108, Washington, DC 20043-4108; by calling 888/GO-PARKS; or at www.nationalparks.org.
The cost is $50/60.
When affixed to a National Parks Pass, this sticker, available to people who are between 17 and 61 years of age, extends coverage to sites managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. It is good until the National Parks Pass to which it is affixed expires and does not cover user fees.
You can purchase one at the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management fee stations. The cost is $15/20.
Golden Age Passport
Available to citizens and permanent US residents 62 and older, this passport is a lifetime entrance permit to fee-charging national recreation areas. The fee exemption extends to those accompanying the permit holder in a private noncommercial vehicle or, in the case of walk-in facilities, to the holder’s spouse and children. The passport also entitles the holder to a 50 percent discount on federal usage fees charged in park areas, but not on concessions.
Golden Age Passports must be obtained in person and are available at most National Park Service units that charge an entrance fee. The applicant must show proof of age, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate (Medicare cards are not acceptable proof).
The cost is $10/15.
Golden Access Passport
Issued to citizens and permanent US residents who are physically disabled or visually impaired, this passport is a free lifetime entrance permit to fee-charging national recreation areas. The fee exemption extends to those accompanying the permit holder in a private noncommercial vehicle or, in the case of walk-in facilities, to the holder’s spouse and children.
The passport also entitles the holder to a 50 percent discount on usage fees charged in park areas, but not on concessions.
Golden Access Passports must be obtained in person and are available at most National Park Service units that charge an entrance fee. Proof of eligibility to receive federal benefits (under programs such as Disability Retirement, Compensation for Military Service-Connected Disability, and the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act) is required, or an affidavit must be signed attesting to eligibility.
A money-saving move in several large cities is to purchase a CityPass.
If you plan to visit several museums and other major attractions, CityPass is a terrific option because it gets you into several sites for one substantially reduced price.
Transportation in Miami, Miami Beach, and Florida.
Transportation is a big part of any vacation budget.
Here are some ways to reduce your costs:
If you’re renting a car in Miami Beach, shop early over the Internet; you can book a car during the low season for less, even if you’ll be using it in the high season.
In Miami and Florida usually, rental car discounts are often available if you rent for one week or longer and reserve in advance. Get the best gas mileage out of your vehicle by making sure that it’s properly tuned up and keeping your tires properly inflated. If your tires need to be replaced, you can save money on a new set.
Travel at moderate speeds on the open road; higher speeds require more gasoline. Fill the tank before you return your rental car – very important -; rental companies charge to refill the tank and do so at prices of up to 50 percent more than at local gas stations. Make a checklist of travel essentials and purchase them before you leave; don’t get stuck buying expensive sunscreen at your hotel or overpriced film at the airport.
Tipping in Miami Beach
Tips are expressions of appreciation for good service. However, you are never obligated to tip if you receive poor service.
Door attendants usually get $1/2 for hailing a cab.
Belstaff expects $2 per bag.
Concierges are tipped according to the service they perform. Tipping is not mandatory when you’ve asked for suggestions on sightseeing or restaurants or for help in making dining reservations. However, a tip of $5 is appropriate when a concierge books you a table at a restaurant known to be difficult to get into. For obtaining theater or sporting event tickets, $5 to $10 is expected. Maids should be tipped $1 to $2 per day. Hand your tip directly to the maid, or leave it with a note saying that the money has been left expressly for the maid. Before tipping, carefully review your check for any gratuity or service charge that is already included in your bill. If you’re in doubt, ask your server. Coffee shop and counter service waitstaff usually receive 15 percent of the bill, before sales tax.
In full-service restaurants, tip 18 percent of the bill, before sales tax. In fine restaurants, where gratuities are shared among a larger staff, 18 to 20 percent is appropriate. In most cases, the maitre d’ is tipped only if the service has been extraordinary, and only on the way out. At upscale properties in major metropolitan areas, $20 is the minimum. If there is a wine steward, a tip of $20 for exemplary service and beyond, or more if the wine was decanted or the bottle was very expensive. Tip $1 to $2 per coat at the coat check.
At Miami International Airport
Curbside luggage handlers expect $1/2 per bag. Car-rental shuttle drivers who help with your luggage appreciate a $1 or $2 tip.
The best way to deal with emergencies is to avoid them in the first place. However, unforeseen situations do happen, so you should be prepared for them.
In your car around Miami Dade
Before you head out on a road trip, make sure that your car has been serviced and is in good working order. Change the oil, check the battery and belts, and make sure that your windshield washer fluid is full and your tires are properly inflated (which can also improve your gas mileage). Other inspections recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer should also be made.
Many emergency supplies are sold in special packages that include the essentials you need to stay safe in the event of a breakdown. Also bring all appropriate and up-to-date documentation-licenses, registration, and insurance cards and know what your insurance covers.
Bring an extra set of keys, too, just in case. En route, always buckle up! In most states, wearing a seatbelt is required by law. If your car does break down, do the following: Get out of traffic as soon as possible-pull well off the road.
Raise the hood and turn on your emergency flashers or tie a white cloth to the roadside door handle or antenna.
Stay in your car.
Use flares or reflectors to keep your vehicle from being hit.
In your Hotels or Motel in Miami Beach
Chances are slim that you will encounter a hotel or motel fire, but you can protect yourself by doing the following:
Once you’ve checked in, make sure that the smoke detector in your room is working properly.
Find the property’s fire safety instructions, usually posted on the inside of the room door. Locate the fire extinguishers and at least two fire exits. Never use an elevator in a fire. For personal security, use the peephole in your room door and make sure that anyone claiming to be a hotel employee can show proper identification, especially if you are in a Motel. Call the front desk if you feel threatened at any time.
Protecting against theft
To guard against theft wherever you go: Don’t bring anything of more value than you need. If you do bring valuables, leave them at your hotel rather than in your car. If you bring something very expensive, lock it in a safe. Many hotels in Miami Beach put one in each room; others will store your valuables in the hotel’s safe. Don’t carry more money than you need. Use traveler’s checks and credit cards or visit cash machines to withdraw more cash when you run out.
For Travelers with Disabilities
To get the kind of service you need and have a right to expect, don’t hesitate when making a reservation to question the management about the availability of accessible rooms, parking, entrances, restaurants, lounges, or any other facilities that are important to you, and confirm what is meant by “accessible.”
Another reliable organization is the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH), 347 Fifth Ave, Suite 610, New York, NY 10016; phone 212/447-7284; www.sath.org.
Enjoy your stay in Miami Beach and Florida.