Polo Anyone? A Quick Guide To The World-Class Sport

The Miami Beach Polo World Cup is an annual event that draws players and spectators from around the world. Each year, more than 10,000 fans and competitors come from South America, Russia, Switzerland, Malaysia and other countries to be in and be seen at the world-class event. Done Miami-style, complete with fund-raising events, exclusive parties and fashion shows, tickets run up to $450 for a VIP pass. But unlike many other south Florida events, this one also has free general admission, enabling just about anybody to experience the Miami social scene.

Still, like experiencing other events while traveling, knowing a little of what polo is all about is not a bad idea.

Beach Polo is a team sport, played on horseback where winning means scoring more points (goals) than the other team. Goals are scored by driving the brightly colored, inflatable ball between goalposts. Each game has four, seven-minute periods called chukkers. Each team has three players and they change horses (polo ponies actually) after each chukker. Two umpires watch for fouls granting free hits. Fouls occur mainly when one player crosses another player who is following the ball on its exact line of trajectory.
While polo dates back 2,500 years, Beach Polo is a Dubai-created event that started in 2004, with the Miami Beach event beginning in 2005.

Actually two events, the Women’s Polo Cup takes place on Thursday, April 25, featuring eight women’s teams in a one-day series of round-robin championship matches.

The three-day men’s tournament runs Friday April 27 through Sunday April 29 with six teams that include some of the world’s top-ranked players. Sponsored by Argentinean sports and leisure clothing manufacturer La Martina, this year’s tournament will feature Miami’s DJ Irie, whose Irie Foundation will be an official beneficiary non-profit organization alongside Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami.

Beach polo is a lot like arena polo, but other forms include cowboy polo, elephant polo, camel polo, cycle polo, canoe polo and kayak polo as we see in this video:

[Photo credit – The Polo Life]

South Beach hotels not for everyone but great for some

There is a big difference between “going to” South Beach and “staying on” South Beach for spring break or just about any other time. A day or night visit is fun. Staying at one of the local hotels on or close to the action is a whole other experience that’s not for everybody.

Visiting for the day or night is fun and just about anything goes while police watch spring breakers, looking for the insanely crazy/dangerous ones. Those they will tend to. The rest are left to have a good time,

I was in town for the Cruise Shipping Miami convention, one of the premiere events each year in the travel business which just happened to fall during spring break. I chose a South Beach hotel, the Chesterfield Hotel, for three reasons; it is within walking distance of the Miami Convention Center, it is on South Beach a block away from the beach and because it was available.

Between conventions and spring break, hotel rooms were scarce.

This one I probably would not have picked as a first choice based on mixed reviews from TripAdvisor.com like this one:

“Worst experience ever!!!!!!!!! Run…..run away from any deal….you might be offered. Worst managed property in the free world.”

or this one

“The rooms were all horribly dimly lit, had questionable cleanliness and many were entered directly from the street and did not have dead bolts or chain locks. Most of us ended up propping chairs up against the doors and laying “booby traps” in case of intruders.”

But like reading directions prior to assembly of some device, I don’t pay much attention to hotel reviews either. Often, I find some unique properties that way and this is certainly one of them.

If someone were looking for a chain hotel with chain hotel amenities, this would not be the hotel for them. This is a small boutique hotel with a character of it’s own that is undeniably South Beach-flavored.

The hotel is located a block from the beach and a short block at that. Every hotel in the area is old and shows what one might call wear. To me, each one has a story that goes back a long time. If I get a chance to stay on South Beach again I’ll do some research beforehand or make time for one of the art deco tours that are available.

The room I had was a standard king room and it was small, very small, but just fine for one person. I had read reviews complaining about various things but had no problems. The room had a great, huge shower and the people who worked there were just as friendly and helpful as they could be.

This hotel is part of the South Beach Group Hotels which are reciprocal with each other in several ways. You might book the Chesterfield Hotel and end up a building down the street in what appears to be a different hotel. A free happy-hour from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. is offered at any one of the five hotels in the group. Lightning-fast T1 wireless Internet access is free pretty much anywhere in the area and they provide beach towels too.

When it’s time to shop or eat, there are world-class restaurants and it seems every designer label made has a flagship store in the area. Add it all up and South Beach makes a great place to stay for just about any reason.

South Beach Spring Break 2011 is on fire- part one

This year in Florida, South Beach Spring Break is on fire as thousands of students take time off from school and descend on one of America’s most popular beaches. I was there this week and lived to tell about it. Follow along on this first part of the tale.

Flickr photo by Mumbojumbo22

Actually I was in town for a grown-up convention, Cruise Shipping Miami, one of the premiere events each year in the travel business which just happened to fall during spring break. More on that later.

The first two weeks of March traditionally bring the most action to Miami Beach in Florida, host to one of the biggest spring break celebrations in the world. This year was no exception and while crowds will dwindle as the month moves on, party people of all sizes, shapes and colors own the the streets, hotels, beaches and even parking garages.

I say spring-breakers “own the streets” but actually they own the sidewalks. The police own the streets and there are plenty of them on duty after a crazy spring break last year brought undercover cops this year.

“Tourists don’t come back after they see us taken over by brats from the mainland,” Frank Del Vecchio, an activist from the South Beach area told the Miami Herald. Locals who will be there long after spring-breakers have gone. They want the beach protected, trash controlled and behavior, specifically extreme cases of spring-break fever, addressed.

While an increased law enforcement presence seemed to eliminate most activities that would have resulted in a crime scene, pretty much everything else was allowed. Had I wished to buy any number of drugs, that would have been no problem. Drug-dealers on the streets of South Beach were operating at Jamaica-quality pestering level hawking everything from marijuana to Screaming Yellow Zombies, whatever those are.

Police searched coolers, some many times, coming up empty as beach party people learned to bury booze in the sand under a beach blanket or put it in their backpacks. Yes, just like on a cruise ship, there’s always a way to smuggle booze. I was proud of those kids, brought a little tear to my eye I must say.

Locals want it all under control but they also want money. In a struggle between “let’s keep the streets clean” and “we want money”, guess who came out on top?

Miami is set up to handle large crowds of people, this week was no exception and it was good to see a vibrant system operate at it’s peak of efficiency. Miami for spring break is near or at the top of everyone’s top-10 spring break list including StudentUniverse.com where Miami Beach comes in at #2. Miami offers a lot of attractions including a world-class zoo, seaport, museum, convention center and more. Number one on most To-do-in-Miami lists is South Beach which is not far from that convention center and Lincoln Road mall, a dining and entertainment complex frequented by tourists and spring-breakers.

Flickr photo by prakash_UT

Over at the grown-up convention, suited travel professionals (well, except for this one guy from Gadling in cargo shorts being all quirky and irreverent as those Gadling people are) from all over the world also descended on Miami’s convention center for a week of what is promoted as “the world’s most important and largest annual meeting for the cruise industry”.

This was an entirely different group of people.

Top executives from major cruise lines told of a unified cruise industry promoting a safe vacation experience on one of their safe ships in safe waters that lead to safe destinations. About halfway through the first day the theme was clear: Our ships do not believe in and stay clear of pirates, earthquakes, tsunamis and the Frito Bandito.

But far from all about business, attendees seemed to make time for fun too as seen in this video of the typically-Miami party hosted by Porthole Cruise Magazine and held in a converted parking garage.

Tourism here is down too like the rest of the world. Local people I talked to were glad to have the business and happy to put up with the mess it brings. Emilio Rodriguez, a Miami cab driver, told me “In a couple weeks it will be like somebody turned off the faucet and it will be slow again…but right now? Life is good.”

Indeed, hotel rooms can be as hard to find as parking spaces. But for those that stayed at a South Beach hotel, walking was the order of the day anyway leaving stumbling to be the order of the night.

Spring break in full swing, budget considered

Around the world, concern over rising prices is high on the list of concerns with travelers, but with spring break in full swing U.S. college students take to the beach. Somewhere. Maybe not where they initially had planned.

If the price of gas at the pump is cutting back on spring break travel you’d never know it at Miami’s South Beach, a perennial favorite among spring breakers. Crowds of party-goers are clogging the beaches by day and streets by night as thousands stream in. But higher fuel prices and a recovering economy are having an effect whether they come by air, land or sea.

Skyrocketing prices at the pumps are modifying plans and adding on additional costs for travelers. Gas prices nationwide are averaging right at $3.53 a gallon right now, up from $2.75 a year ago says GasBuddy.com who has been tracking prices since 2000.

As much as spring-breakers want to get away from world events, they can not escape the effects of a world in turmoil on several fronts. It’s been nothing but bad news coming from the middle east starting with Egypt unrest then Libya and the potential threat to oil supply that could result. As the massive earthquake then tsunami rocked Japan yet another wild card was thrown into the oil game.Airlines too are adding on or increasing fuel charges. In a revised profit forecast, the International Air Transport Association said it was downgrading its airline industry profit outlook for 2011 to $8.6 billion from the $9.1 billion it had estimated just last December.

Cruise lines, with a system in place to recoup rising fuel costs, are holding off on adding back in their rabidly unpopular fuel surcharges for the most part. Based on the price of crude oil, while the threshold for when a fuel surcharge can be added has already been exceeded, cruise lies are not anxious to pull the trigger in fear of slowing down solid bookings that are filling ships at a record pace.

Yesterday, we were in Fort Lauderdale at the premiere of Royal Caribbean’s short film series Ocean Views (#Oceanviews) where packed ships were full of spring breakers and their families at Port Everglades.

The Ocean Views series itself, directed and starring Jenny McCarthy and James Brolin along with some other big-time Hollywood stars is a comment on a world in transition. In the well-done 10-minute films, available on YouTube and the cruise line’s website, top names in entertainment are, well, working on a cruise ship, something none of them would have imagined a short time ago. Still, it’s where the future is headed and the social nature of a short film is right on track. In a question and answer session following the premiere, 40-year veteran Brolin admitted being a bit hesitant to take on the project in the beginning but acknowledged that “it felt right” after production began.

Filmed on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, Brolin’s film has to do with multi-generational (3G) family groups, a segment much sought-after by travel sellers. 3G travel groups, backed by grandparent’s secure funding, have a better ability to weather unanticipated increases in travel costs. The all-inclusive nature of a cruise vacation is appealing too as grandparents get out the checkbook to pay.

Still, with spring break in full swing for many, bringing along the parents and grandparents is about the last thought in a spring-breakers mind. Adjustments in the budget category for students on South Beach this year means maybe another person or six in a car coming down here or in the hotel room, not always a bad thing.

Flickrphoto by Gubatron

Daily Pampering: Mandarin Oriental Miami offers private beach experience

Life’s a beach at the Mandarin Oriental Miami. Their new Oasis Beach Club combines South Beach‘s already spectacular white sand beaches with a private cabana offering. Whether you’re looking for fun in the sun relaxation for the whole family, spa serenity or a total techie retreat, there’s a package just for you.

Available by rent for the whole or half-day ($150 and up), the cabanas include a personal beach butler, welcome oshibori towels, Evian bottled water and exotic fruit platter. Cabanas are stocked with amenities including a flat-screen TV, mini refrigerator, sunblock, iPad and Powermat electric charger usable on most electronic devices.

We’d suggest you upgrade to the Spa Serenity package ($600), which adds on two 50-minute aromatherapy massages, green iced tea, a spa lunch bento box for two and cool mist sevices throughout the day.

We just have one more question – where are our peeled grapes?

Get more luxury travel ideas from daily pampering.