I'm trying to plan a vacation to Miami.  The flights are freebies, so it's just a matter of choosing a hotel.  Here's what I'm looking for: a beach/resort setting where the primary activity will be of a vegetative nature.  The rest of the criteria -- I'd like to minimize the number of days I need a rental car, and the distances I'll drive it to places like the aquarium.
Given those criteria, I started with the American Airlines vacations website.  They make it possible to use miles to pay for hotel stays etc., so I thought I'd take a look.  The redemption rate per FF mile is never very good, much worse than you'll get for flying, but if you want to save the cash out of pocket, it's an option.
One of the hotels AAvacations.com lists for Miami is the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne.  Even better, they have a 5th night free promotion for this Ritz.  I thought I'd take a look to see if that made it just pricey instead of exhorbitant.  Much to my surprise, for a "resort view" room, the net price per day ends up being a lot lower than I expected.  It's also a lot lower than the rates quoted when booking directly on ritzcarlton.com, Orbitz, or anywhere else -- by hundreds of dollars per night.  Well, I have to say, that set off an alarm.  How could it be that AA has such a good deal for this hotel?
The answer seems to be that, while it's a Ritz, it's not exactly the standard-bearer in the chain.  Reading the review sites, like tripadvisor.com, I painted a mental picture of being awakened at midnight by the noise from the band in the ballroom, smelling cigarette smoke in the bathroom, and breathing in the exhaust from the kitchen while sitting on the deck.  Read enough reviews there, on fodors.com, etc., and a pattern emerges.  It might work great for a business trip where I'm not going to spend too much time in the room, but the reviews certainly don't make it sound like a vacation heaven -- marble bathrooms or not.
There are two other resort hotels in the same general vicinity.  There's a decent-sounding Sonesta also on Key Biscayne (and Orbitz has a good deal for it going), and I'm reading more about the Grove Isle resort (though it's not clear they are on the beach).  Otherwise, in Miami, it looks like one has to look to the North Beach area to find a resort hotel... or further north towards Fort Lauderdale/Boca Raton, which isn't what I have in mind.  So at the moment, the Sonesta is looking like the winner.
The vacation will give me a chance to use the latest luggage upgrade in the household.  My primary "checked baggage" suitcase, a Travelpro I bought in '98 or so, has seen its last days.  Really wasn't all that durable, even considering the kind of travel I do.  So, like the Tumi before it, it was time to commit to a bag that is going to last.  I was pleased to discover this Briggs & Riley bag.  It has four features I really like -- a bracket-based expansion system, a removable suiter with its own hanging hook, big wheels, and a well-designed packing space.  Hopefully the last suitcase I'll have to buy for a long time.
I shouldn't wrap up today's only blog entry without continuing to acknowledge the sadness of the situation in Madrid.  Regardless of who and why, it's just plain senseless.

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