Luxury comes in varying styles at Miami hotels

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MIAMI -- The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne and the Four Seasons Hotel Miami are both located here. They both boast sea views, and they both cater to a sophisticated, upscale clientele willing to pay upwards of $300 a night for a room. 

Yes, they both fit squarely into the luxury hotel category. But the two properties couldn't be more different. 

The Ritz-Carlton (despite its proximity to downtown Miami) is more like a leisure resort, a vacation destination in itself, with palm trees ringing its pools and tennis grounds. The Four Seasons (despite its proximity to the beach) is positioned to cater to demanding business travelers and another important Miami-based trade: the nightlife.

I ended up inspecting and comparing both hotels somewhat by accident: While I was looking for the newly opened Four Seasons, I overshot the property by several miles and ended up, not on Brickell Avenue, where the hotel is located, but at the 2-year-old Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne.

The mango-colored Ritz-Carlton, surrounded by other similarly hued condo buildings, occupies a prime spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Inside, it's more Southern elegance than South Beach art deco. Lobby windows open up to fountains, palm trees and the ocean.

I spent most of the impromptu inspection checking out the hotel's 20,000-square-foot oceanview spa, which boasts 21 treatment rooms. A 16-page brochure spells out all the treatments available, including signature treatments like the hotel's Key Lime Coconut Body Scrub and Soak, an hour-long, $120 indulgence. 

At the spa gift shop, bath products shaped like scoops of ice cream in flavors like strawberry kiwi and coconut grove sold for $8 apiece.

The resort is family-friendly; the hotel said it has organized children's activities daily.

A drawing room just off the lobby was pointed out as a favorite spot for kids' events -- for example, it can be decorated for holiday parties. There is a kids pool area with a rock wall.

Grown-up toys, meanwhile, include rows of Wave Runners lined up on the hotel beach (they rent for $65 a half hour).

Back across the Rickenbacker Causeway is the Four Seasons, which opened in October.

The emphasis here is on modern chic. 

The hotel starts on the seventh floor of a brand-new skyscraper, Miami's tallest building. The tower juts from the Miami financial district like a sword. Besides the hotel, 1435 Brickell houses office space, condos and a Sports Club/LA.

The elevator swept us up to the muted, neutral-toned foyer of the hotel, which is complemented by three onyx-colored sculptures by Fernando Botero.

Rooms are 500 square feet and larger and offer commanding views of Miami. The style, not surprisingly, is crisp and contemporary, and the hotel includes accoutrements such as high-speed Internet connections and multiline telephones in guest rooms and a 24-hour business center.

Guests looking to keep up their fitness regimen or indulge in a massage have a complimentary pass to the super-upscale Sports Club/LA, a $25 million, 40,000-square-foot complex.

The pool area is a certified winner. It features a gigantic terrace that opens off the end of the lobby. Wooden lounge chairs and greenery flank -- and often actually inhabit -- the pool (some loungers actually can be placed in the pool).

Because of the pool's elevation, guests can look out onto Miami and beyond to Biscayne Bay.

Bahia, a large, open-air bar on the terrace, ensures that this space has the potential to be a prime Miami party spot, if its off-Miami Beach location isn't too much of a hindrance. The Latin-themed Bahia serves up tapas during the day and cocktails in the evening; Latin music is performed live Thursdays through Sundays.

Like the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons also can be considered a family-friendly property -- there are kids' activities such as arts and crafts and a children's pool. And free diapers are available at the baby-changing station in the hotel lobby bathroom.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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