Spotlight on Travel – Mike Cohen

SUNNY ISLES:   I recently visited South Florida for my first time in more than two years. Whereas I am used to going there over the Christmas holidays, this time my family and I chose to do so during the March School Break.

We were based in Sunny Isles Beach, known as Florida’s Riviera. Located midway between downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, with easy access to business centers, Sunny Isles also includes entertainment, sports and   recreational facilities and tourist attractions.  Almost one million vacationers visit here annually to enjoy the two and a half mile-long fine sand beach and outdoor amenities, such as water sports, boating, fishing, and tennis as well as the abundant shopping, dining and entertainment options nearby.

We spent part of a day exploring the Acqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach  (www.acqualinaresort.com), unquestionably the most extraordinary property in Sunny Isles Beach. A cozy poolside cabana shielded us from the wind and some rain on that day. It turned out to be a good spot to enjoy a delicious lunch of shrimp pizza, a jumbo shrimp cocktail, a club sandwich and a non-alcoholic pina colada smoothie from the poolside Costa Grill.

The Acqualina entered 2012 with a splash, receiving award recognitions from AAA, Spas of America, Trip Advisor and U.S. News & World Report. The award winning resort is a coveted member of The Leading Hotels of the World and a premier Florida retreat boasting 4.5 beachfront acres with 400 feet of stunning Atlantic coastline.

Our visit was just prior to the much anticipated opening of the Piazzetta at Acqualina, a modern marketplace concept which will transport guests to an Italian town square. The Tuscany-inspired marketplace offers light meals, bottled wines, olive oils, sauces, oven-baked pizzas, crostinis, paninis, salads, meats, teas and a coffee corner boasting 21 specialty coffees in a relaxed and inviting setting. It is open to the public and I hope to check it out next year.

The Acqualina is also home to the acclaimed Italian restaurant Il Mulino New York (www.ilmulinonewyork.com). Renowned for its bustling and energetic atmosphere, market fresh daily specials, extensive selection of fine Italian wines and an impeccably polished wait staff,  this is one of  more than a dozen (and counting) Il Mulino locations.  The 110-seat indoor restaurant spreads onto a 24-seat veranda overlooking the ocean.  Service here is absolutely spectacular. Experienced Maitre ‘D Tino Ponti Corvo is there to greet you.

The menu draws upon the rustic and hearty Abruzzi region in Italy with complimentary antipasto tastings of soppresatta, bruschetta, reggiano parmesan, fried zucchini and garlic/cheese bread sticks, and dishes like rack of lamb (a half rack will probably be sufficient), scampi oreganta, veal picata  and langoustines, with old-world service and tableside cooking provided by the staff.

Ask for the fish specials, such as Dover sole. Delicious sides include rosemary potatoes and risotto. The tortellini soup is simply the best of its kind I have ever tasted while the Caesar salad gets high marks as well. We tried the octopus this time, which everyone shared happily. I was astounded upon our arrival that despite a two and a half interval since the last visit, our section captain Gustavo not only remembered me – he recalled exactly what I ordered.

The wine list includes over 200 selections of Italian varieties and guests are offered a complimentary glass of signature house Grappa prepared by Tino himself.

AIRPORT PARKING: I have always been among those people who prefer to take his own car to Trudeau International Airport in Dorval rather than cabbing it back and forth.  The problem is the daily unaffordable price the airport charges. Enter the Sheraton Airport Montreal Hotel, which has convenient park and stay packages. Here you can relax in their newly renovated guest rooms and avoid the expense of airport parking. Spend the night (for as little as $144) with them before your trip, then park for up to eight, 15 or 22 days at no additional cost. You can book online (sheratonmontrealairport.com) or by calling 866-716-8101 and mentioning promo code SDQ.  If you just want to leave your vehicle there, minus the hotel stay, the cost is only $12.50 per night (taxes included). “This is absolutely a better value,” says Stephan Bricault, director of development and marketing, pointing to superior security with gates and cameras, a price lower than the $18 to $23 range at the airport and a complimentary shuttle which runs every 15 minutes.

Mike Cohen’s email address is info@mikecohen.ca.
Log on to his travel advice column www.sandboxworld.com/travel 
and on Twitter @mikecohencsl.

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