For 76 years, the annual Progressive® Insurance Miami International Boat Show® has been the city’s crown jewel. For the past two years the show has taken place in the historic Virginia Key, a mini isle linked by the Rickenbacker Causeway, a road that connects downtown Miami to Key Biscayne, passing through VK.
Back in the 1940s Virginia Key Beach was a playground for many of the African American laborers who toiled to build Miami. It subsequently became a popular social gathering place for Caribbean, South American and Cuban immigrants too. That rich history led to VK being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Boat Show, in its new home, took place over the extended Presidents’ Day weekend, February 16th-20th. One hundred thousand boat lovers from 35 countries gathered around Virginia Key’s open-air Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin (the country’s first stadium built for powerboat racing and it’s due for a restoration). Gigantic exhibition tents displayed the most modern marine accessories, from fishing gear to propellers, diving equipment to dinghies, and, of course, new vessels.
Thirteen-hundred boats were on display on land or moored in 565 slips that were connected by temporary docks that provided pathways for thousands of visitors who walked around, viewed, visited, rode (200 sea trials) and bought boats. All under the ever-present sunshine, in a party-like atmosphere akin to a state fair, with food trucks and a fun vibe so strong you could almost touch it.
This was a great chance to ogle humongous, gorgeously crafted yachts, but to also see everything that is state of the art in the boat industry, courtesy of 1,100 exhibitors. That’s $3 billion dollars in total value of boats, engines and marine products.
Miami International Boat Show Highlights
Cigarette Boats — Formally known as “rum runners” during the prohibition era, these vessels are sleek speed demons distinguished by their long narrow platform and planing hulls that enable them to reach high speeds. Remember the getaway boats in the Miami Vice TV series? Now picture Detectives Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) in hot pursuit. These kinds of boats, modernized for the 21st century, still cut an impressive figure.
JetSurf — Motorized surfboards are the newest wave in ultra water sport technology. Hydro – mechanical engineering and daredevil riders have taken the sport of surfing to a new level, speeding around at up to 35mph, steering the board with their feet and regulating speed with a throttle. Jetsurfers even have their own MotoSurf Grand Prix Championship series in places like Cancun, Mexico; Paris, France; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Shenzhen, China. The international competitions, with their slalom courses, are at the vanguard of the sports world.
Multiple Outboard-Powered Boats — Powerboat lovers never get enough. That’s why their heads turn 180 degrees when they view three-, four-, five- and even six-outboard boats made by companies like Midnight Express, Deep Impact and Outerlimits. As boat buyers weigh the pros and cons, they consider maneuverability, fuel consumption, acceleration and maintenance costs. Even with those variables in mind, there is something just mind numbing and seductive about a boat with six glistening outboards.
That’s the great thing about attending one of the largest consumer boat shows in the world: fantasy can become reality with a simple purchase. Crowds also flocked to the sailing portion of the show, Strictly Sail® Miami at Miamarina at Bayside Marketplace where 130 sailboats were on view.
Dining, Hanging and Playing Around MIBS
There are thousands of other things to do when you come to the boat show in Miami. Dining, playing sports, staying in hip hotels, relaxing at luxury resorts and enjoying world-class entertainment are keen attractions too. Here are just a few:
- A Fish Called Avalon — If the thought of boating makes you hungry for seafood, you are not alone. The place to go on South Beach’s trendy Ocean Drive is this 28-year-old restaurant that is part of the Art Deco Avalon Hotel, which dates back to the 1930s. Ocean Drive has a reputation for being a playground for the young, but the sophisticated adult clientele here, who dine at sidewalk tables and are serenaded by jazz musicians, buck that trend.
Hints: 1.) The Seared Scallops appetizer that rests on a bed of Bibb lettuce are so tender and well seasoned you might consider getting two orders as your entrée. 2.) The delicious Macadamia-Crusted Snapper with spinach risotto will have you cleaning your plate. 3.) Roll the Pecan Crusted Key Lime Pie with fresh whipped cream around in your mouth and that taste will linger.
- Cibo Wine Bar South Beach — If you’re looking for a fun rustic Italian restaurant, with a lively bar scene, a cool vibe and an open-air rooftop dining room, come here. There’s also a dramatic piece of eye candy in the industrial designed main dining room where a temperature-controlled glassed-off wall of 3,500 wine bottles is accessed by a “Wine Angel,” who is harnessed on a rope supported by a hydraulic system. She swings up, down and over, like she’s on a rock wall, retrieving white, red and rose wines for patrons.
Hints: 1.) If you’re in the mood for something light and fried, dig into the Fried Jumbo Shrimp with zucchini strings. 2.) If you love homemade pastas, check out the Ravioli stuffed with lobster, accented with lemon, béchamel and lobster cream sauce. 3.) The hearty Pappardelle pasta, with slow cooked lamb ragu and pecorino shavings, is equally tasty.
- La Mar by Gaston Acurio — Latin influenced cuisine in Miami, often conjures visions of Cuban, Brazilian or Argentine food. Now, Chef Gaston Acurio has firmly brought Peruvian cuisine to the forefront. His innovative restaurant sits indoors and on outdoor patios at the uber swank Mandarin Oriental Miami with breath-taking views of Biscayne Bay and Miami’s business district’s skyline. Acurio’s eclectic blend of novo-Andean fare, Asian-Peruvian fusion and classic seafood cebiche (raw fish) makes La Mar the most elegant and upscale Peruvian dining experience in all of Miami.
Hints: 1.) Start with the Empanadas (ají de gallina, chicken, ají amarillo, pecans, manchego cheese). 2.) The Whole Fish Nikkei entrée (yellowtail snapper, Peruvian-Japanese spicy sauce, bok choy and white rice chaufa) is served mounted in a U-shape standing up on a plate. 3.) Splurge on dessert. Pair the Los Picarones (crispy soft sweet potato and pumpkin donut-shaped fritters with honey sauce) with the Los Sorbetes Segun La Estacion (blood orange, coconut and guava sorbet).
- Fisher Island Club Hotel & Resort — The 216-acre Fisher Island, which is off the coast of South Beach, was first owned by real estate developer Dana A. Dorsey, southern Florida’s first African-American millionaire. Carl G. Fisher subsequently purchased it in 1919, followed by William Kissam Vanderbilt II, in 1925, after a legendary trade of Vanderbilt’s 250-foot yacht, Eagle, for the island. Today Fisher Island is a secluded enclave for an ultra wealthy, international crowd who reside in condos and a few stand-alone homes. They enjoy a serene, private beach and a very fancy spa. The hotel and resort entity is comprised of 15 very romantic and impeccably, decorated Beverly Hills-looking cottages that offer vacationers private courtyards with Jacuzzis. Homeowners and resort guests arrive on ferryboats, or they sail their massive yachts up and dock, which is especially apropos during the boat show.
Hints: 1.) The 9-hole P.B. Dye designed golf course has dramatic views of the Miami port and South Beach. 2.) The Racquet Club uniquely features all Grand Slam surfaces: “French Open” style red clay courts; “Wimbledon” like grass courts; and “U.S. and Australian Open” cushioned hard courts. It’s a tennis player’s paradise. 3.) Dinner at the Italian restaurant Porto Cervo should start with the very novel Scampi Fritti (delicious tempura langoustine tails). 4.) At the City View eatery order the meaty and flavorful Colorado Lamb Chops, then end with the creamy Mile-High Key Lime Pie.
- What’s New on South Beach — Amidst the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s most famous and well-traveled beaches are new pop-up meditation classes sponsored by Innergy Meditation, Miami’s first meditation-only studio. Many of the classes take place on the sandy shore, where participants hear the ocean roar as the instructor encourages the group to “Breathe. Feel the sensation of sitting at the edge of the water. These transcendental moments are meant to reset your mind, body and spirit.
The EazyO app lets guests who are lounging on the beach order food, track their order from receipt, to preparation, to delivery and pay for the meal, too. It’s as simple as an iTunes download. The app is currently available at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, The Raleigh Miami Beach and public beach areas serviced by Boucher Brothers. The latter handles most of the concessions on the beach.
If you’re yearning for brunch, segue over to Bakehouse Brasserie, a Parisian style bistro opened 7am to 5pm. Beachgoers looking for daytime munchies are known to gather around its large pastry display counter (pastelitos, cookies, cinnamon rolls) or sit and order menu items like Gravlox Benedict, Baby Kale Salad and Panther Coffee.
- Shelborne South Beach — Driving onto the U-shaped driveway in front of the bright white Art Deco Shelborne hotel is like walking back in time. You fully expect an Edsel or an old Cadillac to follow you in from the street. The front of the 200-room hotel (including 18 lux suites with penthouse and townhouse suites) still has a vintage 1950s look. The long lobby, colored in earth tones, is peace inducing. The rooms tend to be deceptively and refreshingly modern. Walk out into the pool area, where white lounge chairs abound, pop music plays and the beach comes into view, and the aura of nouveau Miami takes over.
Hints: 1.) The chef’s tasting menu at the Sarsaparilla Club poolside restaurant consists of appetizers like Drunken Deviled Eggs, followed by second courses of Pork Belly Bacon Steam Buns, graduating to third courses of Green Curry Fried Chicken Drumsticks. 2.) For those with highbrow tastes, the hotel can arrange yacht charters and private jet rentals. 3.) The location at Collins and 18th St. makes walking around South Beach or over to Lincoln Road a breeze.
- STK Restaurant — Ever hunger for a delicious, aged ribeye? Then pull up a seat at this trendy eatery at the base of the ME Miami Hotel on Biscayne Blvd. in downtown Miami. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s easy to look down the street and spot the American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat basketball team. This is the kind of place, with its cool DJ music, where millennials, generation X & Y and baby boomers can converge comfortably and chow down on some Prime A meat.
Hints: 1.) Try the Crispy Rock Shrimp with chili remoulade appetizer. 2.) Prep yourself with these sides: Sweet Corn Pudding, Lobster Mac & Cheese and Grilled Asparagus. 3.) Now cut into the 14-ounce Dry-Aged Delmonico Boneless Ribeye Steak that is well-marbled, soft as butter and lightly seasoned to perfection. It’s enough to make a vegan have second thoughts.
- Brava by Brad Kilgore — The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts consists of three theaters: Ziff Ballet Opera House, Knight Concert Hall and Carnival Studio Theater. On the weekend of the Miami International Boat Show, Chaka Khan brought her funk and soul to the Knight Hall; the touring show of Beautiful the Carol King Musical thrilled audiences at the Opera House; and Haiti’s dynamic Ayikodans Dance Company gyrated across the stage at the Studio Theater. Before those shows, patrons dined at the Center’s elegant restaurant Brava by Brad Kilgore. Kilgore, a very talented and innovative chef, was recently named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs for 2016.
Hints: 1.) Savor the Veal Raviolo “Saltimbocca” with cave aged Gruyere, crème de cèpes, sage and prosciutto croqaunt as a starter. 2.) The Poulet Rogue, a moist chicken breast with rosemary and preserved lemon coated in hollandaise sauce and dotted with popcorn, is a vision to behold. 3.) And make sure dinner gets topped off with the fireworks of all desserts: Ask for the vividly red Mascarpone Mousseline, which is layered with French vanilla sponge cake inside and topped with berries, raspberry cremeux, whipped yuzu and rhubarb sorbet. It’s a knockout.
The Progressive® Insurance Miami International Boat Show® is a good reason to go to Miami in the dead of winter. It’s a playground. And, the fine dining, lush hotels, sports opportunities, entertainment choices give you lots of reasons to enjoy the city before, during or after the show.
Visit travel writer Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.