Miami survival guide
Navigating Miami can be a chore for newcomers (longtime residents, too). Our guide to local airports, transit and customs is here to help.
By Rob Jordan
So, you've made it to South Florida. Confused yet?
Just navigating the airports here can be a significant undertaking for the uninitiated. From bohemian Key West to uber-wealthy Palm Beach, surprises (including the inconvenient kind) are everywhere. This short survival guide will help dispel some of the mystery and get you on your way.
With fourteen million people touching down every year in Miami alone, the airports can be cluttered, crowded and at times disorienting. Work on Miami airport's massive expansion and renovation can produce headaches. Thankfully, there are plenty of escape routes.
Miami International Airport
If someone is picking you up at MIA or if you're planning on hopping in a taxi, try exiting on the departures level instead of the covered and somewhat claustrophobic arrivals level.
Café Versailles (in concourses A, D, E, F and H) and Café La Carreta (in concourses D and E) are mini versions of Cuban-Miami standbys. Banks are in concourses A and C.
Taxis and shuttles
From MIA to South Beach, be prepared to pay $19 for a ride on one of the ubiquitous blue Super Shuttle (305-871-2000) vans. Stops along the way to Lincoln Road, SoBe's commercial heart, may slow the trip. To the same destination, taxis charge a flat rate of $32. There is no charge to share a cab. Downtown costs about $15 by shuttle and $22 by taxi.
Most rental car companies are represented and most of the big names (e.g., Alamo, Avis, Budget, Hertz) have offices at MIA. Compare rates here.
Buses and trains
A more scenic, albeit lengthy, way into town is by bus. (See Getting Around)
If you're headed north from Miami, try the shuttle (Route 133) to the Tri-Rail commuter train (800.TRI.RAIL / 800.874.7245). Tri-Rail can take you to various locations in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, including Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale.
Fort Lauderdale - Hollywood International Airport
Smaller, with a simplified layout, FLL has long been considered the easier gateway to South Florida, but as it grows in popularity, it can be just as hectic as MIA.
There's an ATM in Terminal 1, currency exchange in terminals 2 and 4, baggage storage facilities and information desks in every terminal and coffee shops in most. If you're confused, ask one of the red-jacketed ambassadors - they're around to answer questions and steer you in the right direction.
Taxis / Shuttles
From FLL, you can expect to pay $11-$20 to Fort Lauderdale, $9 for the cruise ship embarkation point at Port Everglades and $50 for the 30-mile trip to Miami. Cabs accept up to five people at no additional charge. Alternately, you can hop the Tri-County Airport Express van (954-561-8888 or 800-244-8252). It's $9-$13 to destinations in Fort Lauderdale. Hollywood is $11. Boca Raton and South Beach are $18 each.
FLL is well-stocked with wheels. Unless you arrive in Terminal 1, you may need to board a free shuttle bus to the rental car center in that airport. Compare rates here.
Buses and trains
Plenty of options, including buses and shuttles to Tri-Rail. (See Getting Around)
As far as transport goes, South Florida resembles Los Angeles, just with more palm trees. Cars are king here, and the sometimes confusing mass transportation options are generally geared toward locals. If you plan to do more than bum around relatively compact South Beach, you'll need a car. Park and walk to get the feel of places such as swanky Las Olas Boulevard, laid-back Coconut Grove and ritzy downtown Coral Gables.
From MIA, local city buses fan out in various directions from the Level 1 Concourse E, directly across from Customs. Check schedules and route maps here or call 305-770-3131.
A 7-Day Visitor Passport entitles you to a week's worth of unlimited rides on the area's Metrobus and Metrorail systems. The $19 pass is available at the Mercado Miami in Concourse F at MIA and various locations throughout Miami. Click here for details.
If you're navigating downtown Miami, take a futuristic ride on the Metromover, an elevated, nearly silent computer-driven train. Try it around dusk as the sun drops and the high-rises in the business district begin to light up. It's a lovely urban landscape, and it's free.
From FLL, you can catch Broward County Transit (954.357.8400 or 954.357.8320 for TTY) buses as well as shuttles to Tri-Rail. Bus stops are located at the west end of Terminal 1, between terminals 2 and 3 and between terminals 3 and 4.
As only heavily touristed areas see regular cab traffic, it's better to call ahead. Try Yellow Cab (305-444-4444) on mainland Miami and Central (305-532-5555) on Miami Beach. In Fort Lauderdale, try Yellow Cab (954-777-7777). In both areas, cab meters start at $2.50 for the first 1/6-mile and cost $2.40 for each additional mile.
Try the South Beach Local. For a quarter, you can ride one of these cute shuttles anywhere along a loop through the area. Click here for route maps.
Hard-packed sand, paved boardwalks and relatively low-key streets make Miami Beach ideal bicycle territory. You can rent one at most bike stores and scooter rental shops. Miami Beach Bicycle Center is a good bet (601 Fifth St.; 305-531-4161).
In Fort Lauderdale, you can travel between to downtown and the beach on the touristy Sun Trolley (954-761-1533) or the significantly more expansive public bus system (954-357-8400).
The Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi is a fun option (954.467.6677). Float along the Intracoastal making stops at various beach attractions, hotels and downtown areas. The ferry runs from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and an all-day pass is $11.
The best part about Miami is that it's so close to the U.S. You may be scratching your head at this oft-told joke, but you'll get it when you're here. A few lessons in local customs and etiquette:
Good news: it's legal on Miami Beach. But consider where you doff your top or flaunt your thong. Topless sunbathing is frowned upon at the stretch of sand around First Street, a decidedly conservative spot where the crowd consists of many Cuban and Brazilian families. On the other hand, if you doff your top around the Euro-heavy beaches near Lincoln and 17th Street, you'll be in good company. Just watch out for local pests (pervy gawkers with cameraphones and handycams) and keep a scarf or sarong nearby for quick cover-ups.
Guys, if you want to show off in that slingshot thong - or if you want to ogle other guys in similarly skimpy togs - you'll feel right at home at the gay-friendly beach at 12th Street.
The undisputed Latin capital of North America, Miami is the home of Spanglish, not to mention plenty of straight-up Spanish. Bring a Spanish-English phrasebook if you want to get off the beaten tourist path, amor.
Many restaurants in South Beach and other touristy areas automatically add a tip (usually 15-18 percent) to the bill, so keep your eyes peeled.
Typical fare at Miami's many cafeteria window counters includes cafecito, a thimble-sized shot of high-octane Cuban coffee, and cortadito, espresso with a shot of steamed milk. Click here for a full guide to local coffee culture.
Don't be a pooper-azzi
Snapping some pictures at the Ocean drive mansion where fashion superstar Gianni Versace once lived is fine. Re-enacting Versace's 1997 murder on the manse's front steps with a friend is decidedly poor taste, even on tacky-till-you-can't-stand-it Ocean Drive.
Fun with geography
North Miami Beach has nothing to do with sand and surf. In fact, it's a mostly landlocked neighborhood on the mainland. The area above South Beach is known as North Beach.
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