Cruise from Miami with Pre-Cruise R and R
by Deborah Grossman
Cruising has evolved into a delicious way to tune up the mind and body. Forward-thinking lines like Celebrity tempt with a mind-boggling array of learning opportunities, innovative dining and activity options on board in addition to ports along the way. But before diving into sea-bound adventures on the new Celebrity Eclipse, how about a few, relaxing days in the Miami area?
First pre-cruise stop—the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne. The bed and breakfast package includes overnight accommodations with a view, breakfast buffet for two in Cioppino restaurant or in-room dining, and overnight valet parking. If you arrive car-less, a Hertz rental location at the resort enables exploration of the Miami Seaquarium on Key Biscayne or an easy causeway drive to the clubs and attractions of Miami.
The resort’s special fitness options support a rapid rebound from the journey to Florida and to tune up for active cruising. Consider the Ritz-Carlton instructor-led three- mile Atlantic Walk amidst several terrains along the beach. The jaunt to the Cape Florida Lighthouse combines moderate exercise with spectacular ocean views spanning Coconut Grove to South Beach. Or, try “poolates,” a twist on traditional pilates in a pool setting. The tennis center at the Key Biscayne resort is the largest among Ritz-Carlton properties.
Booking a spa personal trainer is an extra bonus at the 20,000 foot spa and wellness center. The Legend package honors the 1513 arrival of Ponce de Leon at Key Biscayne seeking the fountain of youth. Seawater nutrients, plant essences and balms used in the treatments foster rejuvenation.
Dawn DuBroc from Texas relaxed after a spa treatment topped off with a soy wax rub. She was enjoying a two-bedroom suite as a girlfriends’ getaway. “We aren’t even leaving the property. There’s so much to do here and this will be a treat before a cruise,” said DuBroc. “This is the vacation before my vacation.”
DuBroc was also looking forward to dining at the resort. At signature restaurant Cioppino, the branzino with roasted fennel and capers, the signature seafood-laden cioppino, and pappardelle with duck ragu are paired with wines from around the world.
At Rumbar, the cocktail sommelier highlights the selection of 52 rums, cachacas and pisco. Coconut is featured in several creative drinks reflecting the heritage of Key Biscayne. The island once housed the largest coconut plantation in Florida
Speaking of coconuts, another pre-cruise “holiday” is a stay at the Mutiny Hotel a few steps from the CocoWalk in Coconut Grove. An ode to Art Deco and the Miami lifestyle, the CocoWalk harbors a cozy nest of buildings with shopping, dining, entertainment and a 13-theatre complex. The South Florida vibe is ever-present at this cultural nook, from the GreenStreet Café with its sofa-laden outdoor lounge to the surf stores and hip fashion venues.
Located on Bayshore Blvd. overlooking the water, the Mutiny Hotel is an icon of the disco days of Coconut Grove in the 1970s. Celebrities hung out at the hotel and spilled out into the clubs of the area. With a modern aesthetic, bay views and garden courtyard, the Mutiny attracts visitors and well-known guests alike who vie for the penthouse suites replete with rooftop hot tub.
The Mutiny Cruise Package is a handy ticket to relax and prepare for the cruise. The one-bedroom suite with a Bay-view balcony and full-kitchen allows for a quiet evening before boarding. The package also includes breakfast at the hotel’s Atchana East/West Kitchen with a broad, freshly prepared meal.
Refreshed after a stay in the Miami area, it’s time for a quick cab ride to the port berth of the Celebrity Eclipse,the third ship in the Celebrity Solstice line. The Eclipse departs from Miami during the winter from November to April. Dan Hanrahan, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, points to the newly designed staircase of the ship with its gracious curve as symbolic of the sophisticated changes onboard.
The ship also has one of the first iLounges where guests can hone their Apple skills and purchase products. The staterooms include curved beds giving a sense of spaciousness and amenities. The suites offer an array of concierge and butler services.
In the tasting arena, the Eclipse débuts the platform for Corporate Chef Jacques Van Staden’s cutting edge and delicious Q-sine restaurant. Called a 360 degree perception of global dining, Van Staden turns dining on its head.
As an example, Van Staden serves a tableau of Mediterranean mezze on shelves in a collage frame. Diners customize the mix of delicacies such as tabbouleh, eggplant, goat cheese cigars and falafel on their plate.
To navigate Q-sine, the server is called your “culinary tour guide.” The menu is an iPad application. The food options are shown as icons on a checkerboard. When clicked, the details appear. The wines are listed by style and country.
This makeover of food yields many whimsical touches. Meatballs appear after the culinary tour guide ceremoniously lifts a traditional French silver cover to reveal a complete meal in each round piece—think turkey meatball stuffed with cranberry and sage dressing.
From disco shrimp to a slider party and fish and chips served in a popcorn box, the meal, says Van Staden, is all about fun and diner interaction. Lava crab is served in a glass bowl with red marbles inside. Strips of baked phyllo dough are splayed lava-like over the side which you have to break to reach the crab. To decipher the dessert menu, you need to unfold a paper puzzle cube. You can then select from cupcakes served in a bento box or “strawberry fields” with the berries perched above the “grass.”
The quality of the main dining room food is very high with traditional eggs benedict and smoked salmon breakfasts available as well as multiple entrées for dinner. Tuscan Grille serves up regional Italian cuisine while Murano has a menu of contemporary French cuisine.
For healthy options, the breakfast and lunch at AquaSpa café serves artfully prepared delicacies. From the poached fruits in the morning to the checkerboard watermelon and feta squares and shrimp-cucumber salads for lunch, the café is conveniently located near the fitness center and spa for nourishment after workouts or spa pampering.
The coffees, teas and canapés at the Café al Bacio Gelateria over-deliver on flavor and ingenuity. Cones of ham wrapped around cheese, elegantly prepared smoked salmon and cheese and fruit crackers make due for an easy lunch or tea.
The ports of the Miami-based itineraries explore special nooks in the Caribbean including St. Kitts, St. Maarten, and Roatan, Honduras. Meanwhile the entertainment heats up on board. Between the Broadway “Ovations” revues and multiple clubs for dancing such as the Sky bar on deck 14 or the Quasar dance lounge on deck 4, the music, dancing, dining and learning rarely stop.
But before boarding to join the action, plan for an extra day or two on Key Biscayne or Coconut Grove for getting in touch with one’s inner vacationer.