Miami’s an amazing city. A shiny, futuristic mass of imaginative glass skyscrapers, piercing the azure skies at the edge of Biscayne Bay. Just driving into the city gives you a jolt of energy. But if you find yourself wanting a taste of Miami at a gentler pace, there’s a great way to do it.

Head for Bayside, the colorful, Caribbean-themed outdoor shopping mecca in the inner harbor. Go down to the docks. And hop aboard the “Island Queen.”

This boat is a Miami landmark…it’s been taking boatloads of people on a relaxing cruise among Miami’s swanky islands of the rich-and-famous for as long as I can remember. And you’ll emerge from the 90-minute cruise with a deeper understanding of Miami’s colorful history…and what makes this city so special.

The “Island Queen” is a double-decker boat – which means you have your choice of indoor deck (the bottom), and open-to-the-outdoors (but with a roof) on top. There are snacks and drinks onboard.

As you pull away from the Bayside docks, you get a new perspective on this sprawling waterside metropolis with a stunning skyline. And if you take your cruise on a weekend, you’ll glide past the majestic rows of ocean liners in town, getting ready for their next voyages out to sea.

After leaving the cruise port, you’ll pass the cargo area, where freighters from all over the world unload their cargo, with the aid of “elevators” as tall as multi-story buildings.

Then you’ll pass the Miami Coast Guard Station, with its sleek white cutters (much larger than you’d expect) sitting outside.

You’ll pass Fisher Island…accessible only by boat (and where some of the wealthiest people in the world live).

Then you’ll wander among the islands of “Millionaire’s Row,” with whimsical Mediterranean palaces and Moroccan castles and Spanish haciendas of stucco or Italian marble or quarried-stone, many with their yachts sitting dockside.

You glide past the stunning mansions (past or present) of people such as Sophia Loren, Emilio and Gloria Estefan, Sylvester Stallone, Shaquille O’Neal, Julio Iglesias, the Bee Gees, George Stafford Parker (founder of Parker Pens), and Leslie Wexner (founder of The Limited stores). Each one seems more amazing than the last.

And, oh, yes, there are other famous people who once lived – quite well – on these islands. One of them was mobster Al Capone, who lived in one of the more-interesting houses on the cruise (until he went up to The Big House, anyway!).

Then, as you turn back toward the city, Miami’s expansive skyline – fronted by the massive cruise ships – comes up to greet you.

The “Island Queen” is actually the flagship of Island Queen Cruises, which offers several different tour boats…and a variety of different tours. In addition, the company offers special holiday cruises (Father’s Day, etc.), and charter boats on which you can enjoy special theme sailings, such as “Champagne Sailings.” And you can even rent a boat from them.

Island Queen Cruises offer a variety of great ways to see Miami from a different angle. And to see it while enjoying wonderful sea-breezes and bright Florida sunshine aboard a comfortable vessel.; (305) 379-5119

Steve Winston ( has written/contributed to 16 books, and his writing has appeared in major media all over the world. In pursuit of “The Story,” he’s been shot at in Northern Ireland, been a cowboy in Arizona, jumped into an alligator pit in the Everglades, trained with a rebel militia in the jungle, flown World War II fighter planes in aerial “combat,” climbed 15,000-foot mountains, trekked glaciers in Alaska, explored ice caves in Switzerland, and driven an ATV to the top of an 11,000-foot peak in the Rockies, and – even scarier! – back down again, with the wheels hanging over the edge of a cliff with a 3,000-foot drop.

Steve Winston

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