Miami Tour has more positive reviews on TripAdvisor.com than Zoo Miami, the Seaquarium and Vizcaya; attractions that have been a part of the Miami tourist scene for decades.
I asked Gus what his secret to success was. His answer was simple and direct: "Michelle and I have always loved to show people how to have a good time," he said.
(Miami Tour's Facebook page also offers proof of the company's great service.)
Not bad for a company that just celebrated its second anniversary.
Gus and Michelle hit upon the idea for starting the company when they both worked at South Beach's Tuscan Steakhouse.
In 2002, while working at the steakhouse, Gus and Michelle launched MiamiBeach411.com, a website designed to give visitors information about Miami Beach.
The couple sold ads on the site. One of the early advertisers was a tour company. They looked at the tour company and knew they could do better.
Gus learned alot about what visitors to South Florida were looking for by talking to people who came to Tuscan. One of the things that stood out was that most had no clue about Miami Beach.
"I'd ask them if they'd been to Ocean Drive or Lincoln Road and they'd tell me they didn't know where those places were." Gus also learned that "most people visiting Miami weren't 22 year-olds wanting to go to Opium. They were 45 year-olds who wanted to see the city."
And so, the seed for the Miami Tour Company was planted.
In 2005, Gus and Michelle left Tuscan to focus their efforts full-time on the website and to start planning the launch of the Miami Tour Company.
In August 2008 the company's first bus hit the streets of South Florida.
By November 2008, Gus and Michelle formally announced the launch of the company on MiamiBeach411.com.
In September 2009 Gus persuaded me to take the Miami tour and cruise. Even though I've called Miami home for quite a few years, the tour opened my eyes to some things about this place we all call home.
During my chat with Gus he asked me if I was ready for another tour. "We've made quite a few improvements since you last rode with us."
"We've added front view video cameras and flat screen TVs on the buses. We've also installed an entirely new Coach Sound system with overhead speakers and individual seat-back passenger controls," Gus explained.
"That's great," I said, "but how are you going to celebrate your second year?"
"That easy," he said, "We've launched versions of the Miami Tour Company website in Spanish, French, German and Italian."
And while Gus and Michelle have made changes to their company, the one thing they haven't changed is the level of service they offer their guests. Because Miami Tour is a family-run business, attention to detail and customer service is a top priority.
I took Gus up on his invitation and booked the Miami Tour and the Everglades Eco Adventure.
A few weeks later I met the bus in South Beach.
Behind the wheel was one of the reasons why Miami Tour is a success. Shortly after he started the company, Gus convinced his father, Jim, to be one of the company's drivers. Jim, an Army veteran, runs a tight ship as I would later learn.
Then, as we cruised the streets of Miami Beach, it was soon evident that Jim's knowledge of South Florida is encyclopedic. At various points along the way, he supplemented the narrated tour with his own observations.
As we breezed towards Miami via the MacArthur Causeway - we passed Fisher Island - and we learned the exclusive conclave "has the highest per capita income in the U.S. according to the U. S. Census Bureau."
We got off I-95 and cruised leisurely down tree-shaded streets past million dollar homes. Two of those homes used to belong to Madonna and Sylvester Stallone. The stars are gone but the glamour remains.
|Former home of Sylvester Stallone|
Next, Jim guided the bus towards the heart of Coconut Grove - one of Miami's most colorful neighborhoods - and pulled over and parked.
I put in a quick call to Gus to let him know how things were going. Without missing a beat Gus says, "You must be in the Grove by now. Try the turkey sandwich at the bookstore." Gus knows every inch of the tour by heart.
Bookstore in the Grove which serves up some of the best coffee and sandwiches anywhere.
After 30 minutes or so we were off again. Jim drove slowly through some of the Grove's most charming neighborhoods. Some of the houses we passed are almost 100 years old.
And then we headed towards Cocoplum Circle which offers a magnificent view of some pricey Coral Gables waterfront real estate.
|Coral Gables waterfront homes|
Jim guided the bus away from Cocoplum Circle and drove past some more homes right out of Architectural Digest. Before long we pulled up in front of the stately Biltmore Hotel. First opened in January 1926, the Biltmore is a keepsake from a more elegant time.
|Historic Biltmore Hotel|
Next stop, the Venetian Pool, another South Florida gem. Time to get out and take pictures of this beautiful spot.
Jim pulled over at a spot on Calle Ocho where old meets new. In a park, old Cuban men play dominoes and a half block away kids stream out of a McDonald's. I opt for some Cuban coffee.
Once back on the bus, we headed back downtown to the Bayside Marketplace where some got off to take the world famous boat tour. The rest of us stayed on Jim's bus. We were going to the Everglades to see some 'gators!
Minutes later we were on the expressway headed for the Everglades, about 40 minutes away.
As we neared the Everglades we learned about the Everglades ecosystem and exactly why it's called "The River of Grass."
Jim pulled the bus into the parking lot of Gator Park and soon we were on one of the park's air boats.
Within minutes we were transported back in time. The Everglades, virtually unchanged after hundreds of millions of years, teemed with wildlife of all kinds and sizes.
Much of the wildlife along the route is accustomed to the air boat traffic. As a consequence, we didn't have to look for the animals. They found us.
And it wasn't long before an alligator lazily approached the air boat. And while we were just inches from the reptile, no one had to be told to keep their hands inside the boat!
A little farther on a Purple Gallinule and one of its young bounded across the lily pads to greet us. The Gallinule is one of the 'Glades most colorful and beautiful birds.
After about 40 minutes, we headed back to the dock and there we were treated to a show by one of the park employees. It was a chance to get up close and personal with some more of the park's creatures.
|Don't try this at home!|
Finally, we headed back to Miami and modern civilization; Leaving behind the Everglades, which will likely remain unchanged for another 200 million years.
As Jim drove back to Miami, I found myself recalling the first lines of Marjory Stoneman Douglas's book, "The Everglades: River of Grass":
"There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them..."Marjory was right. I make a mental note to return soon.