by Carrie Calzaretta
The Fontainebleau is every bit as grand as I was expecting. But when we walked into the recently renovated lobby — this enormous space centers around a sunken bar with a glowing blue floor overlooking meticulously landscaped grounds — it didn’t exactly scream family friendly.
This place is glamorous in a big way, and has a long history of hosting actors, dignitaries and presidents (former President Clinton was also a guest during our stay). Movie buffs may also recognize it from the James Bond film “Goldfinger.” After a nearly one-billion-dollar renovation, Fontainebleau has retained its appeal to Miami’s trendy crowd, but lurking below its glamorous facade is a hotel that remains as family-friendly as it is hip.
Fontainebleau has long been a favorite for families looking to experience the Miami Beach scene first-hand. Over the years it has been home to South Florida’s first ice-skating rink and numerous waterslides; and while today’s Fontainebleau is perhaps more understatedly kid-friendly (the big waterslides have been replaced with one tiny one, and an interactive waterscape), families are absolutely welcomed here.
That being said, don’t expect the concierge to greet your kids at the door with a hug and a teddy bear. It’s Miami Beach.
What’s appealing about this place for families are all the options you’ll find here. The kids will have no shortage of choices for food, entertainment and activities. With more than 1,500 rooms, 11 restaurants and lounges, 10 pools, 22 oceanfront acres, and a kids’ program, I dare them to get bored. It’s worth pointing out that despite its Collins Avenue address, the Fontainebleau is about two miles (a 10-minute cab ride) to the real action in South Beach.
Our Editor Loves
- Spacious rooms for families
- Kids Night Out program
- Supervised kids activities for ages 4 to 12
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Fontainebleau is huge, and there is no shortage of accommodations to choose from. There are 1,504 guestrooms, with everything from basic rooms (even these are lavish, though rather small) to presidential suites. All of the basic rooms, and some suites are located in the two original Fontainebleau buildings, Chateau and Versailles, and during the recent renovation 658 new suites were added in two all-suite towers, Tresor and Sorrento.
All rooms include robes, 400-thread count Egyptian cotton, marble baths, high-def flat-screen TVs, mini-bar, high-speed wireless Internet access, iPod docking station and 20-inch iMac computer.
Junior suites have quite a bit of extra space (standard rooms are about 300 square feet, and junior suites range from 500 to 860) with a sitting area and extra full-size sleeper sofa; it's worth the extra money to upgrade from a standard room for families.
One-bedroom suites have a separate living space and bedrooms, oversized bathrooms with a separate bathtub and shower, full-sized kitchen and a full-sized washer and dryer. They vary in size based on which building they are in, and many have balconies with ocean views.
For families who require more space, two-bedroom suites are created by combining a one-bedroom suite with a junior suite or guest room and guestrooms up to three bedrooms can also be adjoined for even larger family gatherings.
Cribs are free but you'll pay for a rollaway.
We stayed in a Sorrento one-bedroom oceanview suite. It was big, at 1,000 square feet, very simply and elegantly decorated in neutral tones, and immaculate. We had a large kitchen area with a bar and stools, a breakfast table, huge bathroom with double sinks and a separate bath and shower. Unfortunately the chic floor to ceiling glass shower door leaked. There was a large private balcony with a table and chairs. The bedroom was a decent size and the closet was enormous, a walk-in bigger than the one we have at home! We heard rumblings that housekeeping wasn't the greatest, but we didn't have any issues with our room.
Fontainebleau's 10 pools, along with the spectacular beachfront locale, is the main attraction for families. The pools are the hub of activity during the day (even more so than the beach) and this outdoor space is enormous, with meandering pathways, and water in every direction. You could easily spend the day here without getting bored. You can see they went to great lengths in the renovation to preserve the "scene" without alienating families with kids; and they did a decent job. Don't expect much modesty, though; you'll l see lots of young women lounging around in mini-bikinis and heels; but you'll also see plenty of families with children playing alongside couples and (a few) movie stars.
The kids will love the family area. There are several small dipping pools for little ones, along an interactive children's water play area with a beach-style entry, a small waterslide, spray canopy, water cannons and a zero-entry wading pool. If you don't mind shelling out the cash, there are cabanas and loungers in this area as well, so you can sit and watch the kids.
You'll have access to food and beverage service from anywhere in the pool area, and there are plenty of items that will appeal to the kids. But the service can be painfully slow on the weekends, and you will pay handsomely for it. If you really want to splurge, there are cabanas with flat-screen TVs, refrigerators, wireless Internet and butler service. They have curtains you can close, a sectional couch, and a chair and table.
On weekends, the pool draws a young local crowd looking to see and be seen. The music turns up, and the bars and restaurants get noisy and occasionally even a little rowdy. But there is so much outdoor space here, it's easy to avoid these little pockets. If it's not your scene, this might be a good time to take advantage of the in-room babysitting services, which are available seven days a week. In any case, the people watching is great fun here!
The beach is just steps from the pool area, and is a much quieter hang out spot. This is where I wanted to spend my days. You can't beat Fontainebleau's piece of beachfront real estate and the resort's stretch of property is well-maintained and well-staffed. You can get umbrellas, chairs and cabanas on the beach, and there are windsurfer and jet ski rentals. There is a boardwalk perfect for walking, jogging or pushing a stroller. We walked nearly three miles south and back, and it's especially beautiful first thing in the morning before the masses arrive. There is plenty of space for the kids to run and play on the beach itself, the water is warm and clean, and it's not as crowded as the pool. There is a gate that locks behind you, so you'll need your room key to return to the hotel.
When the kids get tired of hanging out at the pool and beach, consider signing them up for a day or two in the FB KIDS program. It's a fully supervised program for children ages 4 to 12 and 13 to 16, with many typical activities like scavenger hunts, sports, and jewelry-making, as well as some more interesting choices like mosaics, and candy-making with a Fontainebleau chef. You can choose from a full- or half-day session (full days are about $75 per child); and they also offer a four-hour parents' night out on Friday and Saturday nights, dinner included. The FB club room, where most of the activities take place, is sort of hidden away on the lower level of the Tresor Tower, and it's smallish (at least when considering the scale of the hotel), but it's cheerful, and the counselors are very friendly and engaging.
The restaurants and lounges of Fontainebleau are excellent. We stayed for four days and managed to eat at all of them. As much as we enjoyed the food, the service is fair at best; it's generally slow and sometimes comes with a touch of attitude. It's always expensive. While children are welcomed in the restaurants, they are not catered to.
Vida is my top pick for families because the food is great (not award-winning but delicious), it's affordable, and its menu has the most mass appeal. They serve everything from sushi (at dinner) and ceviche to tuna melts and pizza. There is also a full kids' menu with items like grilled cheese and spaghetti.
Gotham Steak was my favorite, oddly, since I don't eat meat. My husband devoured his steak, but I was psyched about the unexpected raw menu. I had yellowfin tartare and oysters. For the kids you'll find items like macaroni and cheese and onion rings.
Scarpetta serves outstanding Italian food, and has an impressive menu. The seafood choices were great (lobster, monkfish, cod, halibut).
Hakkasan serves Chinese/Cantonese food and has won loads of awards. It wasn't my favorite but my husband loved it. Hakkasan is open for dinner daily, with a Dim Sum menu available on Saturdays and Sundays from noon until 3 p.m.
This is the best for outdoor family dining and atmosphere. It's the perfect spot for lunch with the kids when you don't want to leave the pool area. The restaurant is two stories with awesome pool and ocean views, and has super comfy chairs and couches to lounge on while you eat, ideal for families. Along with a great vibe, La CÃƒÆ'Ã†'Ãƒâ€šÃ†'ÃƒÆ'Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ†'ÃƒÆ'Ã†'Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬Å¡ÃƒÆ'Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â´te has tapas, seafood and salads but the best item on the menu is the stone crab -- divine.
Quick eats can be found at Fresh, which offers snacks, salads and sandwiches.
A small coffee and pastry shop that sells cookies, cakes and other treats to go.
Planning & Tips
Fontainebleau has a well-known nightclub on the premises, Liv, which is open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and this may be a bonus or a deal-breaker, depending on your family. Late on these evenings, usually around 10 or 11, you'll start to see a parade of club-goers lining up in the lobby of Chateau to get into the club. At this time the lobby starts to turn into a place you might not want to be wandering around with your kids. There are scantily clad club goers, socialites, and I suspect a few prostitutes parading through the lobby until the wee hours. We stayed on through the weekend and noise wasn't an issue for us; but we did hear a few complaints from other guests. Double check that your room is not too close to the club and if you have teens, be aware that you might not want them wandering around the lobby late at night.
There is also a resort fee. As much as I hate them, this one really isn't as outrageous as I've seen. It's low-cost and includes gym and beach access, unlimited Internet (but only if accessed through the in-room iMac computer), daily newspaper, local calls and one beach chair (but no umbrella, that'll cost extra) per guest. At a place like this I assumed I'd pay that just for the beach chair. The expensive valet fee, however, is inexcusable. There is an 18 percent gratuity added to all charges made in the resort, so be careful not to over-tip in the restaurants.
All About the Extras
"Non-aggressive" pets are welcome, but you'll pay a mandatory cleaning fee. There is a pet park on the northeast lawn with benches and a waste station.
The resort offers a complimentary shuttle to three shopping spots in nearby South Beach.
Kids get a personalized key and a packet with activities when they check in, with coupons for free meals and snacks.
The Art of Smart Timing
Miami's weather is warm and sunny all year round, with the driest month being January. Peak travel season is January through April, and it's then you will find the highest rates. Generally summer is the least expensive and least crowded time to visit, and you can often find some great deals at Fontainebleau then. Hurricane season is June through November.
Miami International Airport (MIA) is the nearest airport and it's about a 20-minute cab ride to the hotel. From Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) it's about 35 minutes.
For Mom and Dad
The two-story, 40,000-foot Lapis spa is outstanding. There are 30 treatment rooms with all the services you'd expect (massages, scrubs, facials, hair, nails and make-up) as well as a small co-ed pool and lounge area. The hotel also has a great gym (5,800 square feet) with ocean views, and top-of-the-line cardio and strength training equipment, free weights and TRAZER 2 3-D interactive fitness.
From 7 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, Fontainebleau has a parents' night out, which includes dinner. This is a great opportunity to dine in one the amazing restaurants on the premises or head into South Beach for a few hours.