A Good and Very Bad Experience
- Visits most of the highlights of Miami
- Audio tour and live guide both available.
- Punctual with a bus every 20 – 30 minutes
- Horrible experience with booking
- Poor customer service off of the bus (read on for details)
I love Miami! During my three visits, it has really grown on me. North America, South America, and the Caribbean all combine in Miami to create a unique and vibrant melting pot. Cuban culture thrives in Little Havana; Haitian in Little Haiti. Hasidic Jews congregate in North Beach. All but one of my taxi or ride share drivers immigrated from Venezuela. The other was Haitian.
Visually, Miami thrills, also. Modern skyscrapers tower overhead. Art Deco hotels line boulevards with cafes spilling into the street. Graffiti art brightens up what would otherwise be dull streets. Beautiful beaches await just a short walk away.
Big Bus Miami Hop-on Hop-Off Tour
On this tour, you board a double decker bus with an open air second level. Tickets can be purchased online, aboard your cruise ship (more on this fiasco later), at one of two stands (Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami and Lincoln Road in Miami Beach), or with other independent tourist shops. 24 stops bring you close to most of Miami’s iconic sites. Busses arrive every 20 – 30 minutes, with the first stop of the day around 9:00 a.m. and the last 7:00 p.m.
For $50, you can get off at as many stops as you choose. Or, if you wish, you can simply enjoy the ride which takes 90 – 120 minutes. They provide earbuds which you can plug in and listen to an audioguide. A tour guide also rides with you and gives a running commentary. Of the five that I had, two were excellent, one good, and two just okay. You are given a handy map that also tells the time of the first and last pick up/drop off at each stop.
I had most of the day to explore. The five areas I most wanted to see were: South Beach, FountaineBleau Hotel, Wynnwood Walls, Brickell, and Little Havana. I was able to explore each of these with no problem or difficulty. I also saw many other areas and learned a lot about the history and mix of culture. It was a good tour. Here are the highlights.
I had been to South Beach before, but how could I pass it up. The beautiful beach, Art Deco architecture, and vibrant culture create a lively, pleasant atmosphere. This area thrived from 1920s through 1940s. After falling into disrepair, the renovated South Beach really shines
Miami Beach was the place to be in the late 50s and early 60s and the FountaineBleau was the epicenter, the largest and classiest hotel in Miami. Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack frequented here, as did Judy Garland and other celebrities. My interest came from Amazon Prime streaming. My favorite current show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, filmed part of season 3 here. I had to see it! The FountaineBleau did not disappoint: beautiful, iconic, wonderfully restored and dripping with class. I could see Midge (Mrs. Maisel) walking down the “stairs to nowhere.” Wonderful.
The Wynnwood neighborhood of Miami is a mecca of street art. Street after street serves as an ever changing canvas for artists. You could spend a whole day here exploring and admiring. For those of us with less time, Wynnwood Walls serves as a fascinating sampler. No entrance fee is charged. Just enter and explore. A couple of shops sell art if you are interested. I was truly amazed. Much was beautiful; some slightly disturbing; and others simple amazing. If in Miami, make sure to visit here.
I mainly wanted to stop in Little Havana for the food. I love Cuban food! We have a couple of excellent Cuban restaurants here in Louisville, but how could I not indulge? Near the bus drop off, I found a restaurant/bar/grocery with locals eating, laughing, and sipping beer. I ordered the classic Cubano sandwich. Oh, it was so good, and large. Plantain chips were also a treat.
The few blocks of Little Havana that I explored teemed with life. Musicians played in several restaurant bars with people spilling out into the streets dancing. At table after table, people filled Domino Park and played dominos. I am not certain how much of this is real day to day life and how much is staged for tourists, but I left smiling and glad to have visited.
Trendy Brickell boasts sweeping skylines of luxury mixed use buildings. A friend now lives on the 16th floor of one of Brickell’s high rises. So, I was glad this area was included. While I did not hop-off in Brickell, I enjoyed viewing the postmodern sky scrapers and architecture.
The Very Bad Part!
Stranded and Forgotten
Two other families and I from the Disney Magic scheduled the Big Bus Miami Tour for disembarkation day from our Marvel Day at Sea cruise. For $58, we were to be picked up at the port at 8:30, transported to Bayfront Park where our luggage would be stored. We could then board the Hop-on Hop-off bus and when finished, they would shuttle us to the airport. It sounded great.
We arrived at the pick up spot and waited. And waited. And waited. They did not show up. We called Big Bus Miami and were told they were not coming for us. They had left us stranded.
I was selected to find Disney Customer Service. They contacted Big Bus Miami and were again informed that they would not be coming. Big Bus had canceled our tours unannounced. Disney refunded our tour money and paid for a taxi for each of us.
Poor Customer Service
I had twelve hours still before my flight left. My taxi dropped me off at Bayfront Park. Why not try to do it anyway? I told the head person at the kiosk what had happened. He said that the person who was supposed to pick every cruise passenger, from all cruise ships (not just Disney), and store our luggage had not shown up. They notified neither ships nor passengers and just left us.
I then asked if they would honor the $58 price for the tour and shuttle to the airport. The kiosk manager rudely said that the deal was only through the cruise lines and he would not honor it. I would have to pay $50, either carry or pay another place to store my luggage, and then get a taxi or ride share to the airport. (On their website today, the ticket is “on sale” for $45.)
Fortunately for me, the pleasant tour guide heard our exchange and told me that I could easily use the public trains to get to the airport for $2.25. When my tour was complete and I exited again at Bayside, I asked how to get to the train system. The same grouchy manager came stomping over and yelled that they were not providing transport. When I told him that I was trying to get to the train, he calmed down and pointed me in the direction.
Big Bus Miami Tour Overview
I enjoyed the tour itself and visited every place that I had wanted. I enjoyed the view from the open air second level of the bus. The commentary of the guides about Miami’s history and pop culture added to the experience.
My interactions with their customer service and booking would have spoiled it all if I had allowed, though.
- Cruise passengers should not book the Big Bus Miami Tour from the cruise line.
- For those booking online or buying tickets and boarding locally, it is a good tour and well worth the money.
- I highly recommend my four stops.
- If looking for Cuban food, go straight to Little Havana. The authentic shops are better than those in South Beach or Downtown.
- Make sure to keep track of the last pick up and drop off times of where you want to start and end. You don’t want to be stranded.
Final Tip: Use the Public Train to Get to the Airport
If you are staying in downtown Miami or need to get to the airport after your Big Bus Miami Tour, forget the taxi, shuttle (unless it’s free!), or ride share. The free Metromover runs from Brickell through downtown. A pick up is just two blocks from Bayfront Park. Take the short ride to the Government Center. Exit there and buy a ticket for the Metrorail, $2.25, to the Miami-Dade Airport. Take the Orange Line North. The last stop is the airport. It is cheap, clean and easy.
You stand in the Metromover, but the Metrorail has seats. It took me less than 30 minutes to get inside the airport. Not bad and better than a car or bus during times of heavy traffic.