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With its ritzy shops and well-heeled crowd, Bal Harbour (on the outskirts of Miami) isn't a place that usually evokes value in people's minds. Yet lately the community has been rolling out all kinds of amenities that I think will leave any traveler--whether she's staying at the super-swanky ONE Bal Harbour Resort & Spa or the more modest but still charming Sea View Hotel--feeling like she's gotten a great deal.
Less than a mile in square footage, but packed to the gills with designer stores (Prada, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent, Tiffany's, DVF, Pratesi, Harry Winston, and so forth), Bal Harbour is like the Monaco of South Florida, minus the royalty (Marc Jacobs doesn't count). While shopping is still activity #1, Bal Harbour is bolstering its offerings aimed at wellness, culture, and kids. And unlike shopping, these diversions either cost very little or nothing at all.
Several times a week, instructors lead free yoga and Pilates classes on the town's white sand beach for hotel guests and residents alike, waves crashing in the background. Not bad. Also, hotels guests are now privy to free lectures on well-being as well as healthy cooking classes.
Culturewise, there's no way that Bal Harbour can compete with Miami down the road, but that doesn't mean it can't borrow some of the bounty. Since January, the town has been staging complimentary cultural events every week ranging from outdoor movies to author readings, interactive art exhibits to opera and musical performances (including the New World Sympathy, the Gypsy Kings, and jazz flautist Nestor Torres). Meanwhile, Bonnie Clearwater, the executive director and head curator of Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), has been leading contemporary art "boot camps" at the local independent book store Books & Books. These sessions offer a crash course on different art subjects (with cocktails as learning aids). And yes, it's all free.
Finally, for the kiddos: The new Bal Harbour Kids Beach Camp is run by the world-class Miami Children's Museum, the museum's first off-site partnership with a children's program. It's not free but the price is a reasonable $25 a day. (Many other resorts might charge that per hour.) As you can imagine, the activities go far beyond watching reruns of Sponge Bob. Current themes range from Little Masters (art classes) to Nutrition Mission (cooking lessons). This summer's line-up (June 7 to September 3) includes "Green Team," which teaches kids about gardening; "Around the World in Five Days," which focuses on the cuisine and traditions of a different country everyday; and "Movin' and Groovin" where kids make their own instruments and then cut lose to music.
And last but not least, Bal Harbour has just recently unveiled an amenity that benefits everyone: A souped-up free shuttle that runs from the two hotels and shops of Bal Harbour to various spots in Miami Beach including the Fontainebleau, W South Beach, Delano, and Lincoln Theater (the ride is about 15 minutes). This way, those who are not staying in Bal Harbour can still spend a day shopping there, while Bar Harbour guests can easily zip over to South Beach for an afternoon on the sand.
Oh and don't forget that summer is off season in Miami and Bal Harbour, meaning that visitors will find hot, sticky weather, but also the lowest prices of the year.