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Nina Burleigh Headshot

Soaking Up Florida

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I'm not usually a Miami girl, but I do love my Florida.

I used to run off to the Keys around my birthday in early springtime every year and check into the cheapest motel I could find. For native Chicagoans like me, after the long freeze, any old efficiency will do, and the more hot, humid and sea-moldy the better.

Last year, I took my son to Utah for some skiing on my birthday. This year, I owed my six-year-old daughter a trip. My dear friend S. and her daugher, Baby R. were game. We would rent a convertible, strap on the headscarves and head south on U.S. 1: Two mommies and their six-ish daughters, on the loose. Thelma and Louise meet Romper Room.

We convened in silken Miami and spent a day visiting friends with a cool townhouse on Aqua, a luxurious island in one of the canals, near the North Miami Beach strip. We biked along the beach, past the new hotels. Our host pointed out the Canyon Ranch Spa. A vast swimming pool at shore level caught my eye, at the foot of what used to be called the Carillon Hotel. Now it's a luxury hotel with a spa.

We got in our snazzy convertible, struggled for a while trying to figure out how to roll down the roof, and then motored south. Our little blonde girlies looked pretty cute in the back seat, with their hair flying in the breeze. We turned up the radio, which apropos of our trip was all Motown, all the time.

We made it down to mile marker 80 and Islamorada and booked ourselves into a motel called "Breezy Palms." Back in the 1980s, when I last fluttered down for my annual starter tan, Breezy Palms charged about $79 a night for an efficiency. No improvements have been made, but the rates have tripled.

Alas. Progress.

We spent an afternoon kayaking in the mangroves and spotted a loafing crocodile in the water, jaws not 20 feet away. On the dock, salty, tattooed dogs with beer cans in hand were unloading the day's catch. A dead barracuda with its rows of sharp teeth lay glassy-eyed on the wood. Pelicans dove in to eat the small fish we threw at a thrashing pen of tarpon.
That night at Breezy Palms, we listened to the sound of traffic. The empty limpid Canyon Ranch pool beckoned in memory. Since we were flying out of Miami anyway, it made sense to spend a night up there, and the ultimate press junket was available. At rates starting around $250, it wasn't much more expensive than Breezy Palms, although the top-end rooms are more in the hedgefund wives' wallet range.

We pulled in late in the afternoon, and unloaded our sandy bags and girls in a suite with two balconies. Not bad at all. Next thing on the agenda: get babysitter, provided by our lovely family friends over in nearby Aqua, and head for the four-floor spa. Called Aquavana Thermal Suites, this over-the-top pampering den is a temple of female bodily bliss, tended by Latina vestal virgins with long flowing hair.

Strip and enter the showers, testing out all three settings: Atlantic Storm, Caribbean Monsoon and Polar Mist, replete with different temperatures, bird and thunder sound effects and a light show. Stepping out of that, we were spoiled for choice with the foot spa, the Finnish sauna, the humid, sleepy "laconium" (from the Latin-rooted word "laconic" roughly meaning who cares?), a giant bubbling hot tub with nooks fitted to prone bodies, and finally, an "igloo" room that spews icy cold steam flavored in mint, eucalyptus or menthol, also replete with a light show.
The downside to the spa, for our purposes, was that children are not allowed. The vestal virgins looked the other way though, when I brought my daughter in, wrapped her in one of the fluffy bathrobes and let her check out the igloo.

We all agreed, we'd like to meet the people who dreamed up that spa. We only worked out way through one of the hotel's three outdoor pools that afternoon. There was another one on a rooftop, which we'd have liked to try, but it's a kid-free space. Didn't matter. Our daughters hopped into the beach-level pool, and couldn't be pried out until it was time to fly north later that night.

A trip to Florida after a long winter is still what the doctor ordered. When I sell the screenplay, I'll be somewhere between the laconium and the mint igloo next spring for sure.

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