Just before you head across that arcing bridge to the Port of Miami, look to the right for a great view of Bayside Marketplace, a collection of more than 100 shops and 30 eateries forming a semicircle around the Miamarina. Bayside is a fun way to spend a day--or night--before or after a cruise, for it offers the full experience of this Salsa City: Cuban food, hot Latin music, local artists, and sightseeing schooners.
When I cruise out of Miami, I always arrive a day early just so I can spend time at Bayside. Not only is the shopping great, but it's fun to people-watch, because you never know when you might see a celebrity or two. On Saturday mornings, you'll find plenty of crew members in the crowds as they take a break from the cruise ships.
Strolling through Bayside at any hour is a delight, but especially at night when you will discover La Vida Loca is alive and well at one of Miami's hottest attractions. Live Latin music plays almost non-stop on weekends at several of the marina-side cafes. Indoor restaurants like the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Snappers Bar & Grill and Hooters all have waterfront views. The largest restaurant is the ever-popular Hard Rock Café, and there is a huge food court on the second floor of the South Pavilion. Bayside is one of the best places in Miami to find an authentic Cuban sandwich, and the mouth-watering displays in the bakery cases put you in the mood for all that rich cruise food you're about to enjoy.
I always find things at Bayside that are unavailable anywhere else in the U.S., because many shops offer imported goods. Besides standard stores like Brookstone, Bentley's Luggage & Gifts, Radio Shack, Sam Goody, The Museum Collection and The Disney Store, you'll find pricey European boutiques and specialty stores with unusual items like authentic stuffed wild animals, handcrafted wood and leather furniture, and nautical relics.
There's a myriad of kiosks selling handcrafted souvenirs, jewelry, collectibles, and fun items like temporary tattoos and made-to-fit toe rings. From bathing suits to luggage, and cosmetics to health products, this waterfront shopping mall has it. There's a novelty photo place where you can poke your head through the body of Arnold or Madonna, and for a few bucks, you can have someone use your own camera to take a picture of you with an exotic bird on your arm.
Take a stroll along the sidewalk to view the ships in port, sit for a while by the huge park fountain, or take a romantic harbor sightseeing cruise. Several boats offer day and night sailings, where you can dance to tropical rhythms and mix hot times with cool drinks and fabulous food onboard.
Near Bayside are several Miami attractions--the Seaquarium, Viscaya Museum, and the world-famous Parrot Jungle and Gardens, offering even more to do.
Bayside Marketplace is located at Biscayne and 4th Street in downtown Miami. Covered parking is available for 1,200 cars and valet parking is offered behind the Rock-n-Roll Pavilion.
My favorite place to stay in Miami is the Hotel Intercontinental (800-327-0200; www.interconti.com, within sight and walking distance of Bayside. I like seeing the cruise ships from the window of my room, and Happy Hour at the poolside bar offers a beautiful view of downtown Miami, as well as Biscayne and Bayside. But if you linger at Bayside well after dark, it's a good idea to walk back to the hotel with others. The park area seems isolated and gives me the creeps if I'm by myself, especially when panhandlers emerge from the shadowy clumps of palmettos.
Another hotel within walking distance of Bayside is the Everglades, 244 Biscayne Blvd (305-379-5461).
A cab ride across the bridge to or from the cruise ships usually runs less than $10.00, including tip, but you will see crew members walking.
Bayside Marketplace hours are Monday through Thursday: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturdays: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sundays 11a.m.- 11 p.m. For more information, check out the website at www.baysidemarketplace.com.