I’ve lived in Miami almost my entire adult life and I’ve never been to Vizcaya. Until today, I had only seen it in quinceañera photos.
For those of you that find your way to my website from Russia or Australia, allow me to elaborate. In Latin American cultures, when a girl turns fifteen, her family throws her a huge coming-of-age birthday party similar to a Sweet Sixteen. Since Miami is 85% Hispanic, these parties are very common. And since Vizcaya is one of the most beautiful places in Miami, quinceañera photos are usually taken there.
Alright, enough backstory. Let me guide you through what it’s like to visit Miami’s cultural gem.
As we made our way through the beautiful shaded drive up to the entrance, we could see the place was packed. When we got to the parking lot, we were turned away because the “lot was full,” even though I’m fairly certain I saw open parking spots beyond the rent-a-cop’s golf cart. But he was probably just too lazy to move the cones that had been placed there earlier in the day. So we had to park at a lot across the street from the grounds and walk. At least parking was free.
Tip: If you see a line when you drive past the entrance to park, drop someone off to get in line.
There was a semi-long line to get in which shouldn’t have taken more than 15-20 minutes, but took 40. If I didn’t have a Museum Pass from the Miami-Dade Library System that would get me in free, I would have been pissed about having to pay $18 after waiting in that line. Two museum employees walked around the line asking everybody how many people were in their party and handed out tickets with that number on it. It’s like pinning your drunken friend’s address to his shirt as you stick him in a cab, as if we might not be able to elaborate how many tickets we need when we get to the front of the line.
When someone behind us complained about the wait, the girl explained: “Well, we only have two cashiers today unfortunately. It’s also our high season.” I’m not sure if she realized that what she said made no sense, especially since having her and the other employee selling tickets instead of making small talk with people in line would halve the wait time. But if you haven’t been to Miami before, you can pretty much expect that lack of efficiency everywhere. Except at Pollo Tropical. Those people don’t fuck around.
While you wait, you can enjoy the arrival of Miami’s teen princesses. They’re the ones in huge ball gowns who look like they already resent their parents for throwing away $10,000 on this quinces when she’ll have to pay her own way through FIU. You will also enjoy the musical stylings of Juraj Kojs’ sonic installation (through May 2017) that’s supposed to sound like water passing through a moat but is actually a closer imitation of the smoke monster from “Lost.”
When we finally got inside, we made our way into the house. Before I continue, I’ll explain a little bit about what Vizcaya is. The estate was the vacation home of eccentric industrial executive, James Deering. It was built in the 1910’s and designed to look like a Renaissance-era Italian villa. And the look is pretty spot on.
The interior of the house is a bit gaudy when you consider the fact that it wasn’t built by Louis XIV in 1682 but in 1914. This is the kind of interior you might see in the contemporary Florida mansions of people who just came up on some money but have absolutely no taste. I mean, do you really need 12 gold statues in your breakfast hall? We get it, you’re rich.
The interior of the house is also used as an art gallery, which is a little bit jarring because there are tons of scattered modern art pieces in this Renaissance palace. Unlike the Getty in Los Angeles, for example, which features a more barren interior to showcase the art, the inside of the Vizcaya house is a hot mess. Though I support the idea of using spaces for art, when something is so unique and historically significant, it should really stand on its own. I’m not sure a generic neon sign adds anything to an ornate Renaissance dining hall.
Photography is not allowed inside the house, but you can check out some of the current exhibition here.
The sprawling garden is definitely the most worthwhile part of the visit. Behind the house, there is a huge sculpture called the barge that looks like a giant stone ship. It’s surrounded by striped Venice-style mooring poles that make you feel like you’re suddenly in Italy and not on Biscayne Bay.
On the side of the house is the long and perfectly manicured lawn with short hedges that is lined with sculptures. There are several fountains and large coral structures that I had seen hundreds of times in pictures. It looks beautiful in person from any angle. And because there are so many steps and hideaways, you can appreciate it in a million different ways.
Though I will say, some of the structures and sculptures are looking pretty beat. That look is beautiful in a haunting way when you see it in Italy. But again, this place was built in 1914. If the Italians maintained and restored their Renaissance works the way the people at Vizcaya do, Rome would be a pile of dust right now.
Exit through the gift shop
Even if you’re not eating or buying anything, make sure you pass through the gift shop because it gives you a great view of the indoor-outdoor pool that you can’t see any other way.
So is it worth a visit?
For being one of the only things in Miami that wasn’t completely renovated in the past decade, absolutely. I can understand why it’s a must-do for visitors. For me, it was worth it because it was free. (For more information on how to get the museum pass with a library card, click here.)
And the gnome has no complaints because he had himself a beautiful quinces photo shoot.