Miami: A grown-up nightlife playground...
Jason O'Brien embraces his inner 'Miami Vice' for a visit to this iconic and fun US city
THE actor Will Smith, not long out of his 'Fresh Prince' days, had a music hit that cheerily extolled the virtues of the hedonistic Miami nightlife - and I'm humming it during the interminable queue at border control.
"I only came for two days of playing/But every time I come I always wind up staying," I mumble, half in expectation, half in hope.
The guy representing US customs, as ever, isn't amused.
Miami is probably one of those places with a distinct identity in your mind, even if you've never been. It's the glittering Art Deco hotels. It's the posing in the open air gyms on Muscle Beach.
It's the slightly menacing backdrop in 'Scarface'. It's A-list celebrities sunbathing and partying behind red ropes. It's Ali training at Fifth Street gym. It's day-glo, high fashion and histrionics.
It's a little gaudy, a little dangerous, a little decadent, and potentially Disneyland for grown-ups. I couldn't wait.
THE footpaths are red. Apparently this is to better reflect the heat.
Many of the iconic visuals you had in your mind - the palm trees, the buildings bathed in neon lights, the flash cars - are ubiquitous.
Spanish comes in handy.
The restaurants on the 'strip' along South Beach are thronged with revellers drinking luridly-coloured alcohol out of goldfish bowls.
You are going to need a bigger wallet.
Where to stay
WHILE the brochures may wax lyrical about the rebirth of downtown - complete with its futuristic skyline - you need to be bedding down in Miami Beach.
More specifically, you need to be within walking distance of the Art Deco District of South Beach where those beautiful buildings from the jazz age - almost 800 of them - have been restored, and where the city comes to life at night.
But that same nightlife may not always be conducive to sleep, so basing yourself in the new Lord Balfour boutique hotel on south Ocean Drive (lordbalfourmiami.com) means you can be close to the action, but not too close - and just a stroll from that world-famous beach.
The 64 rooms in this beautiful Deco building feature original features such as the terrazzo floors but also edgy contemporary design including wall-sized murals of tattooed models, and nice touches such as 40-inch flatscreens.
Plus the hotel bar does a nice line in gin cocktails.
What to do
WHERE do we start? Probably at the beach - miles and miles of perfect sand leading to the Atlantic Ocean, with temperatures averaging around 27C at this time of the year. Miami is justifiably beach-crazy.
To get your bearings, jumping on a city tour bus (miamicitysightseeing.com) is not a bad idea, as it takes you leisurely around the various sites of downtown and across the bridge back into South Beach, allowing you to pinpoint the location of Gianni Versace's former mansion, for example - yours for $40m.
Indeed depending on your budget, you could also do a similar tour by bike (decobike.com) or Lamborghini (imaginelifestyles.com). The prices vary. Wildly.
Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of shops to indulge your love of high-end fashion, or technology, or jewellery, especially in the Bal Harbour end of Miami Beach.
But if you're saving the dollars and are mildly adventurous, a visit to Little Haiti and/or Little Havana is a must.
Over 70pc of the Miami population speak a language other than English, and these two crowded outposts showcase some of the best aspects of Caribbean life: close community, an altogether slower pace, and mouth-watering food.
And you might pick up a 'genuine' Cuban cigar...
If that isn't enough to sate your inner culture vulture, there are numerous museums (worlfsonian.org) and exhibition spaces - it is the Art Deco capital of the US, afterall.
And for those who are a tad more adventurous, it is only a short trip to the famous Everglades (evergladessafaripark.com).
ACCORDING to TripAdvisor there are more than 800 restaurants in the Miami Beach region alone, so you won't want for choice.
Most on the 'strip' along Ocean Beach are, unsurprisingly, busy, loud, expensive, and high quality, with seafood a speciality.
A couple of streets back, on Collins Ave, however, the mood is quieter, and the quality may be even higher at the Bazaar (bazaar.com), which is Brazilan, and specialises in tapas. Recommended.
Harder to find - for an Irishman at least - is a decent boozer, but perhaps we were unlucky.
Instead, the emphasis is undoubtedly on the clubs.
Expect to pay $30 and up to get into the more-famous venues such as Space (clubspace.com) or Mokai (mokaimiami.com), and to queue, and to very possibly be turned away for not being 'correctly' turned out.
If that doesn't put you off, the best of them all is Liv at Fontainebleau (livnightclub.com), where superstars like Tiesto and Paris Hilton strut their stuff regularly.
You can reserve a table for $1,000 and up. Or just stand, and dance. And look at the beautiful, rich people. And cry.
AER Lingus flies direct from Dublin to Orlando, which is about 235 miles away. Aer Lingus do connections, or you could rent a car and see a bit of Florida, perhaps.
In fact, no-one flies direct Dublin to Miami but both British Airways and Air France also offer one-stop options starting at approximately €600 return, including taxes and charges. Lufthansa, American and United can also get you there.
All these airlines also fly out of Shannon.