April 17, 2008

Miami South Beach Hostels Reviewed
Miami Beach, United States

Before leaving Peru I'd mentioned to Tatiana that I was interested in checking out the hostel scene in Miami. I'd never seen a hostel in the United States, and hoped to find a fun bar or lounge full of backpackers where I could have a Coke and a smile, and socialize for a few hours each week.

Long before Tatiana and I met, I was mentally kicking myself a bit for never checking out the hostels in my "hometowns" before. Here's a building full of (female) travelers in town for only a few days (that are often outgoing and adventurous), and as a local you've got knowledge of the area, an apartment or home, and probably—most importantly—a car. The location stays the same, but the occupants keep rotating out. How could that not be entertaining?

These days I'm more interested in seeking out some new faces to verbally interact with—to reestablish some type of connection with the backpacker circuit while I'm temporarily stationary in town—and less interested in sexing up the Swede with the beta boyfriend back home.

The day before yesterday I spent a few hours walking around South Beach in the afternoon, visiting each of the six hostels that showed up on the Hotelz.com search results. I had two objectives in mind: To evaluate the cheapest living options as if a budget backpacker were going to spend a few days in Miami's South Beach on a layover, and to find a hostel with a proper communal lounge/bar scene that I could crash in on for some entertainment from time to time.

Hotels are listed in the order visited, from north to south. All were excessively expensive to the point where only someone traveling on a pile of currency trading significantly stronger than the dollar might feel comfortable. The word budget and Miami often don't find themselves in the same sentence for good reason—it's sickeningly expensive to be a tourist in these parts. …But I'm sure the entire country is this way—which is why I avoid traveling in the U.S. these days, and wouldn't be caught in London unless I was being paid to be there.

The Tropics Hotel & Hostel

Right in the heart of South Beach, the Tropics is a hotel that's converted a few rooms into dormitory living—done simply by removing all the furniture and tossing in a couple bunk beds from Costco.

The Latina housekeeper working in the long, dark, tired hallway was happy that I spoke Spanish, and told her that the front desk had instructed me to have her show me a dorm room. The two that I saw were completely barren except for the beds, occupant suitcases, and the overwhelming smell of cleaning fluid. Both rooms sported an attached bathroom and enough bunks to sleep four to eight travelers.

There were no security lockers/bins/cubbies for belongings in the rooms. No towels are provided.

The hotel highlight would probably be the "Olympic size" swimming pool in the back, but why bother when there's a beach a block away? Like most other hotels without dedicated lounges, the pool seems about the only place to meet and greet with others.

Dorm Price Quoted: $30/night

The Clay Hotel & Hostel

The Clay is another hotel turned opportunistic hostel, wrangling backpackers in with its proximity to the beach and the aesthetically pleasing Española Way (an enjoyable, sometimes pedestrian-only street that Tatiana was living on when I visited with her last year).

Walking into the wooden lobby of the Clay gives one the pleasing impression that you've found yourself in an established, well-oiled hotel. This is an impression that quickly faded for me.

One of the receptionists, a somewhat angsty little twenty-something male, didn't like the idea of making an effort to assist me, remarking to my inquiry to see a dormitory room with a "Sorry, I can't show you a room with people in it." (probably hoping that I'd walk away)

He got the hint to do his job when stood there and I said, "Well, how about you show me a room without people in it…"

Clay Hotel Keycard

The interesting thing about the Clay is that they use magnetic keycards for both access to the gate that allows people into the complex of rooms (entered not from the lobby, but a few yards down the street), as well as entry into the room itself. I've never stayed in a hostel that has employed this system before.

The staffer programmed the card incorrectly the first time around, requiring me to go back to the reception desk. I took him along with me on the second run.

The room I was eventually shown (404) was shaped like an elongated rectangle, and had more bunks than an army barracks (and about as much privacy)—somewhere on the order of 18 or so beds. It's hard to believe that the attached bathroom with single sink, toilet, and shower could service so many guests properly.

I asked why there weren't any storage lockers in the room, to which the staff member replied, "Some rooms do, some rooms don't."

There's no communal place to gather, which means that meeting and greeting other travelers is probably limited to the folks you find yourself sharing the room with.

Dorm Price Quoted: $30/night

Miami Beach International Travellers Hostel

The first thing that popped into my head when I walked into this place was, Finally, an actual hostel!

The lobby and small outdoor patio lounge were buzzing with different nationalities, and guests on laptops using the free wireless Internet. The French staffer in his late thirties that assisted me (and mentioned that he'd been working there for seven years) made sure to point out the numerous free pizza nights and in-house hostel activities. The atmosphere comes off as a social one.

The occupied dorm room that I was shown had little natural light, felt damp (probably recent shower steam from the attached bathroom), and was cramped with six beds. It was no wonder that the lobby's lounge was so full—I wouldn't want to idle in the dorm rooms either. Online reviews caution of dingy, cockroach-filled conditions in the communal areas, though didn't overwhelmingly come off as such.

This was the only hostel that I asked to see a private room in, and was really taken aback with how lovely the living space was set up. Too bad the price of the room (for two people) turned out to range from $90 to 140 per night!

The staffer said that maximum hostel occupancy is around 120 people, and that the seasonal room rates vary "per day, weekend, and special event." No safety lockers are provided in rooms, though was told a $2/day/bag fee could be paid to keep packs in a storage room.

Dorm Price Quoted: $15-22/night

Ohana Hostel

Even though I was holding the address of the Ohana in my hand, I ended up walking right past the entrance of the hostel of my first pass. Tucked away in a narrow alley that juts off a busy intersection (flanked by stores with titles like Armani Exchange, Kenneth Cole, Express, Banana Republic, Guess, Ralph Lauren, and Quicksilver) is the inconspicuous door to the Ohana.

Inside a reception area the size of bathroom, a surly female punk rocker in her twenties scoffed at my request to see a dorm room, until I told her I was looking at places "for my friend coming into town." Hesitantly, she told me a room number and nonverbally motioned for me to head up a flight of stairs.

The entire second floor was under heavy construction, but looked like it was shaping up to be a really swanky looking place. I found out before leaving that the hostel is currently taking advantage of the low season dip, launching into a large-scale renovation that started about a week ago. When asked, the staffer wasn't forthcoming with the estimated completion date details of the construction.

The generally completed example dorm room I saw slept four, and had an attached bathroom, and no storage lockers. But what really set this apart from any other hotel dormitory that I've ever seen are the brand spakin' new kitchenettes attached to each room.

Now I think it's neat that they've included such a thing, but I've smelled some funky stuff that travelers (over)cook, and I'm not completely sure that I'd want to be smelling those foul meals all night long as I'm trying to sleep.

Dorm Price Quoted: $34/night

Jazz on South Beach Hostel

The Jazz is situated in a southern part of South Beach that comes off as more residential/retirement, than fashionable. The dorm room I saw slept eight, and was absolutely trashed with backpacker clothes and belongings—a very common scene. Small lockers about the size of a shoebox were provided in the rooms.

Outside the Jazz

It's got a good-sized patio outside, free wireless Internet, and a lot of energy. I get the impression that more than a fair share of male Brits are checking in here, getting drunk on the beach, and then rolling back into the hostel to continue the partying.

The female receptionists were flirty and bubbly, and looked like they actually enjoyed their jobs. Jazz can hold upwards of 70 guests, and is probably the hostel to be at if you're looking for organized group activities.

Dorm Price Quoted: $34/night

South Beach Hostel

I can't remember the last time I saw so many full-length mirrors in one place as I have at the South Beach Hostel. Walking around in the South Beach Hostel is like some kind of narcissistic dream.

The male staffer at reception was uninterested in helping me, but finally got around to showing me a miserably small sardine can of a dorm room that was under construction. No store lockers are provided, and bathroom facilities are communal (shared between all rooms).

The place generally came off like it took pleasure in overcharging guests on everything—plus tax.

I also walked away with the impression that people staying here leave wishing they hadn't—especially if they took the time to check out any of other hotels in the area. One online review had this to say:

To call this place a hostel is an insult to other hostels in Miami, first of all there are homeless people who beg the streets staying there, and the facility itself looks more like a jail… no that would be an insult to the jail, this place is filthy.

Dorm Price Quoted: $30/night

Thoughts on South Beach, USA Hostels

From a shoestring traveler's perspective, I'm revolted by the price of a dormitory bunk bed in this city; I'm awestruck by the audacity to regularly charge $1 for 10 minutes of Internet usage inside most hostels (when the service fee from the cable company is probably less than $40/month); and I'm depressed by the thought that the only budget backpackers who can afforded to travel in the United States (given the gas prices and room rates) are those coming from foreign countries. I imagine most guys are spending $80+ dollars a day here (for room with 13% tax, food, entertainment, and alcohol).

I'm also particularly unhappy with the lack of basic security considerations that every hostel visited displayed. Traveler-on-traveler crime is a sad thing, and with all the digital camera, iPods, alcohol, and guest turnover, it's amazing that more precautions aren't being taken or offered.

It's hard to say which of these hostels I'd recommend to someone—it really depends on the personality and budget of the traveler. Now that I'm traveling with a laptop, I'd opt for a location with free Wi-Fi and the lowest room rate—the amenities are simply not worth the additional expense. Knowing that, the Miami Beach International Travellers Hostel would probably be my top choice.

As for socializing, the International Travellers Hostel would be good to drop in on without Aidric, while the Jazz would be good to socialize at with him in tow. The other four are pretty much a bust when it comes to meeting and greeting with others.

Side note: There was an Aussie with a pack on his shoulders in front of me (checking in) while I waited to speak to the staffer helping him at the International Travellers Hostel. I tend to involuntarily size up/evaluate people's backpacks when I see them, and this one really caught my attention. It appeared to be particularly well designed and functional—so much so that I went home with the hope of examining one in a store, only to sadly discover they were sold exclusively in New Zealand and Australia. The brand was a Black Wolf (model Cedar Breaks). I'd love to get my hands on one of these for Tatiana.

Comments:

The United States

Renee

April 17th, 2008

Hey stranger!

First I wanted to say Happy belated birthday! I hope it turned out better than you originally thought it would be. :)
On another note….So you've have me intrigued. After reading your comment on hostels I started doing some research on them. I don't know that there is a real need for a hostel in Arizona, or at least not so much in Scottsdale. or do you think? since everything else in this part of town is outrageous. But I'm trying to understand the basics of a hostel. I noticed most of them are run down. Does someone just take on an abandoned building and fix it up a bit and make it liveable? I'm assuming its not the nicest of places as the prices wouldn't make it hold up. But i just love helping people or things. And what a fun job that could be to talk to travelers all the time? I dunno I was just curious

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

April 17th, 2008

Howdy! Thanks for the b-day well wishes.

Hostels don't have to be run-down, or expensive… I could open a successful hostel that charged just a few dollars a night in most places in the world. $10/night for a dorm bed is plenty; anything more is greedy.

Visitors to the USA who touch down in LAX would jump at the opportunity to stay in Phoenix and trip up to the Grand Canyon and back.

As for the places here in Miami… I wouldn't consider any of them dilapidated… just very over-priced for what you're getting. We're staying in a room much, much bigger than what these kids are getting for $40/night… which I still think is way over-priced. The fact that the Clay is squeezing well over a dozen travelers into a single room at $30 a pop (in the low season) is abhorrent, but you have to remember that many are traveling on euros and pounds, and many remark at "how cheap things are" when they visit Manhattan (SCARY). Few would say the same after they've traveled in Latin America for a spell.

I would totally think about working part-time as a bartender or manager in a hostel in my hometown… Colorful people and new faces and stories from around the world. Good times.

What constitutes the foundation of a good living environment—a home away from home:
1. Location—its proximity to the big three: a grocery store, Internet access, and local points of interest
2. Safety and Security—with regards to both the traveler and their belongings
3. Cleanliness and Comfort—well maintained bathrooms and clean beds

The United States

Eric

April 18th, 2008

Hey Craig,

Sounds like the birthday turned out to be alright… happy belated 28th!

In regards to the overpriced… I'm not sure if I would agree with you on that. Yes, I consider myself a world/budget traveler, but also understand business. It's supply and demand… if you are able to charge $30 a night, I think you should… that is if you are in business to make profit. If you charged less than $30 a night, the hostel will always be packed, and in the case of Miami, if it's too cheap, you have homeless people staying there. As the demand increases, or supply decreases, prices should go up. There is obviously high demand in Miami (I'm not sure about supply). Yes…. those crappy hostels should try to improve their conditions… yet at the same time, I completely understand their reasoning for pricing the way they do. It's business my friend…

Thoughts?

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

April 18th, 2008

One hostel I visited made a point of saying you needed a passport to check in. I think that would pretty well eliminate the majority of the homeless factor.

I also understand that most businesses are out there to make money, and when a traveler in Miami Beach is faced between a $30 dorm room and a $100+ hotel room, they're going to be happy the option is there.

But what's wrong with a hostel that's full all the time? Problem with people living there too long? Limit how many days a person live in the hostel in a row or per year — 60 or 90 days, for example. Keep the prices low, the beds and bathrooms clean, and guest's belongings safe… the equation is simple. A full house all year with low prices can bring in plenty of money, while still providing a happy home for people who are traveling in an already expensive country.

Putting eight kids in a room at $30 a pop is $240/night — much more than the average room rate here on the strip.

It's a state of mind, I suppose.

…Perhaps we need a Web site for traveler's that wish to join together to check into a nice hotel room for the same price as a dorm.

Jamaica

kris

April 21st, 2008

thanks for the hostel review, i've been using miami as a hub and the regular hostel i've been using, sth beach hostel, has raised it prices everytime i return, a couple of dollars about every 3 months.. now its at 30 dollars and see that one on 9th street is much cheaper, i will go there early next month, you have saved me at least 30us.. thanks

oh yeah.. let me add, that everytime i've stayed there it's never even half full.. maybe if they weren't so greedy by raising prices they'd have more heads on beds..

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