Tuesday, March 2
See that pic of Alex Guarnaschelli and me? I bet you think I had to call her press people and arrange a photo opp weeks in advance or buy an expensive festival ticket to an event I knew she was going to be at just to get this picture, right?
WRONG. I got that picture without any pre-planning or cost on my part (apart from the cost of getting to South Beach)... and you can too!
But first, let's look at the opposite side of the financial spectrum.
The ticket prices at the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival can be very steep--outrageous some might say. While the events are packaged up and divided well enough that it is possible to get in a pretty good festival experience on a budget, if you want to attend even a few of the bigtime parties and events you better be ready to throwdown... and Bobby Flay ain't footing any of the bill. I checked.
So, I thought it would be interesting to look at the price breakdown of an ultimate festival experience. After I pull the numbers I urge you all to call Suze Orman and ask "CAN I AFFORD IT?" (Let me know if she does approve any of you 'cause we need to meet.)
THE ULTIMATE SoBe FEST PACKAGE
This is what I'm guessing would be the average cost for a couple to travel to South Beach and attend several of the big festival events.
Economy Airfare for 2: $600
Hotel for 4 nights: $250/night (For a boutique hotel. Luxury ones will run you much more.)
Rachael Ray Burger Bash (2): $400
Wine Spectactor's Best of Best (2): $700
BubbleQ (2): $700
Grand Tasting on Saturday (2): $425
Tribute Dinner (2): $1050
Paula Deen Brunch (2): $250
Guy Fieri Closing Party (2): $150
Meals (not all events provide food): $200 (and that's being frugal)
Airport Transfers: $80 (cabs from MIA to South Beach are about $32/each way + tip)
... all that FOR A GRAND TOTAL OF: $5555!
Those are just some of the events that go on during this massive festival. I have no idea what the cost would be if you managed to go to multiple events, ditching one for another as the next one began, for the entire multi-day festival. Nuts!
So here's my little secret if you don't want to spend five grand on tickets, but still want to see some stars: stay at or stand outside of the Loews Miami Beach Hotel at 16th & Collins.
Over the years I've either seen or talked to Morimoto, Sunny Anderson, Tyler Florence, the Neelys, Al Roker, Alex Guarnaschelli, Michael Symon, Duff Goldman, Bobby Flay, and more... all while just hanging out in or around this hotel. If you're lucky enough to catch them when they're not in a hurry, you have a great chance of getting a photo, autograph, etc.
Getting that close really isn't that possible during the actual festival events. The crowds are intense and, as is the case with most of the more popular personalities, they aren't strolling around the beach unguarded all that much. Instead, they're whisked from their hotel to the event via golf carts.
To me, there's something a little less pathetic about bumping into someone into a hotel lobby and letting them know how much you enjoy their show than it would be to try and chase down a golf cart. ;-)
So that's tip #1 on how to save money in South Beach if you still want a small taste of the festival.
You could try to go to the tents the day after everyone leaves...
... but I wouldn't recommend it. Stay in (your expensive hotel room) and just watch Food Network.
UPDATE: Sunny Anderson was nice to remind me that, although expensive, the festival benefits FIU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Teaching Restaurant and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center. Lots of students are present and get hands-on experience and scholarships.