On the Beach in Ft. Lauderdale
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Fort Lauderdale Overview
The "middle city" of Florida's Gold Coast, Fort Lauderdale sits between Miami to the south and Palm Beach to the north. The city blends in nicely with its metropolitan neighbors, and elements of Miami's chic vibe and the affluent nature of Palm Beach are recognizable here. But Fort Lauderdale is a destination in and of itself. Operating one of the busiest cruise ports in North America -- more than three million people pass through each year -- has helped to define Fort Lauderdale as a robust tourism spot in the United States.
Fort Lauderdale started out as a swampy outpost with a fort, built to protect against the Seminole Indians. The swamps were transformed in the late 1800's into a series of canals by scooping them out parallel to each other and creating long peninsulas in between them. This undertaking resulted in the city's more than 300 miles of navigable waterways (twice that of Venice) -- hence the nickname "Venice of America." The abundance of waterways that wind up and down the coast have made Fort Lauderdale a boating hot spot, with 42,000 registered yachts holding forth.
The community gained fame and some measure of disrepute when it was featured in the 1960's movie "Where the Boys Are," causing legions of college-aged boys (and, not coincidentally, girls) to descend for raucous spring break holidays. For decades, Fort Lauderdale was synonymous with spring break -- and the giddy wildness that accompanies this rite of passage -- until an effort by city leaders in the 1980's went into effect, in earnest, to tone it all down. Indeed, these days the fastest-growing market for Fort Lauderdale is actually the trendy high spenders that may once have gone south -- or north. Among new area hotels are the Ritz-Carlton, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and the W Fort Lauderdale.
Since shedding its "rowdy, college spring break" reputation, the city has grown into a more genteel community that's family- and boater-oriented. Beyond the canals, and the Intracoastal Waterway that runs through the city, a major development has been the redefining of Fort Lauderdale itself. Downtown -- especially around the hub of Las Olas Boulevard, with its cafes, galleries and boutiques -- feels almost as Miami Beach as, well, Miami Beach.
Greater Fort Lauderdale's 23-mile beachfront has also received a major overhaul, with lush landscaping and vivacious lighting complementing the expansive stretches of sand. In fact, since 1999, the beaches of greater Fort Lauderdale have earned "Blue Wave Beach" certification from the Clean Beaches Council, a designation awarded to the nation's cleanest and safest beaches.
Beyond surf, sand and Fort Lauderdale's role as cruise embarkation central, there are enough activities to entice travelers to spend a few days there before or after a voyage.
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Other U.S.A. Cruise Ports:
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Souvenirs in Fort Lauderdale range from cheesy T-shirts and trinkets to high-end baubles like jewelry and designer clothing.
English is primarily spoken in Fort Lauderdale, but you will likely encounter some Spanish-speaking natives during your visit.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
U.S. dollars are used there, and ATM's are readily available.
Where You're Docked
Port Everglades is located 10 minutes by cab or shuttle from the Fort Lauderdale Airport and about 10 minutes from downtown.
Cruise ships share Port Everglades with all of the port's commercial shipping traffic. It's an enormous and heavily guarded complex. Cruise terminals are located at the complex's Midport and Northport sections; several signs throughout the port will point you in the right direction. From the entrance at 17th Street, the Northport terminals can be accessed on foot in about 10 minutes, but with heavy bags, that isn't ideal. There are no snacking or shopping facilities, but most of the terminals do have vending machines.
At berth 18, a new, $75 million terminal was recently built to accommodate Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. This expanded terminal has designated 16,500 square feet of space to handle baggage for the passengers of these 220,000-ton ships. The terminal itself was designed with maritime influences -- 90 ticket counters will be constructed to resemble the bow of a ship, and the floor will be inlaid with a 3,000-square-foot epoxy and bronze art design of the earth. Other features relatively unique to Port Everglades' terminals include a kids' play area and free Wi-Fi.
To the Pier:
Cruise lines typically provide shuttle services between Port Everglades and the two airports that serve Fort Lauderdale (Miami and Fort Lauderdale), but you must sign up -- and pay for them -- in advance. Check with your cruise line for more specifics. If you're flying into Miami, the airport provides taxi and shuttle transportation to Port Everglades. Shuttles are about $30 per person, and taxis run about $75 for up to five people.
Another good option, whether you're traveling to or from the cruise port, is SAS Transport Service. Rides cost as little as $15 per person between the port and airport, but there's a minimum of three people. If services are only for two, you'll just end up paying for the price of three ($45).
As well, some hotels offer shuttle service to and from Port Everglades. Check with your hotel to see what's available. Comfort Inn and Ramada Inn are among those that provide free transportation to the cruise terminal.
Parking, for those who drive to port, is available at Port Everglades for $15 per day.
Several of the major car rental agencies -- Hertz (800-654-3131), Avis (800-831-2847), Budget (800-527-0770) and Thrifty (800-847-4389) -- operate out of Fort Lauderdale's airport, and Sixt (888-747-7498) has a location at Port Everglades. Free shuttle service is offered from the cruise terminal to the rental agency on days when ships are in port.
If you want to arrange private transportation to or from your ship, USA Transportation (800-872-1130) provides luxury ground transportation in South Florida and is equipped with a fleet of executive sedans, SUV's, limousines, vans and mini-buses.
Once in Fort Lauderdale:
Water Taxis, which ply Fort Lauderdale's canals, are a great way to see the best of Fort Lauderdale while getting around town. With 11 stops near many of the area's hotels, water taxis drop visitors off at popular shopping and dining sections -- including Las Olas Boulevard -- and beaches. Plus, guides give a history of the storied and once-celebrity-occupied mansions along the way. An all-day pass is $13, and taxis operate from 10 a.m. until midnight.
The Sun Trolley is a unique and inexpensive method of transportation in Fort Lauderdale -- when you see the trolley coming, just wave, and they'll pick you up! Three routes, which cover Las Olas Boulevard, the beaches, downtown and the convention center area, are available for $1 per boarding. Schedules can be found online (linked above).
Fort Lauderdale's beaches are among the nicest urban sand stretches in Florida. In the central area, between the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean, there are numerous casual eateries, bars, T-shirt and souvenir shops and even stores that sell essentials. As you go farther north, the nicer hotels offer more elegant restaurants -- most with oceanview seating.
Las Olas Boulevard (particularly the stretch between 6th and 11th Avenues, near downtown) is, as we've mentioned, a lively destination for shopping, dining and people-watching. During the day, you can hop a boat for a tour of the intracoastal canals that wind through this picturesque section of Fort Lauderdale, or stroll along the Riverwalk (U.S. 1, south of Broward Boulevard), a 1.5-mile stretch of boardwalk along the New River that links many of the city's historic and cultural landmarks.
At night, festive diners spill out of sidewalk cafes, and romance-seekers ride in horse-drawn surrey carriages.
Been There, Done That
At Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino (901 South Federal Highway, Hallandale, FL; 954-454-7000), you'll find a gamers' paradise. Live thoroughbred racing happens at the height of cruise season, from January until April, and there are also Vegas-style slots, no-limit poker, dining and entertainment -- all under one roof. This is a great spot for night owls; you can play here until 3 a.m. during the week and 5 a.m. on the weekends.
For a peaceful beach experience, head for the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park (3109 E. Sunrise Blvd.). Canoes are available for rent, and guided Segway tours are offered. This 180-acre barrier island is also a great place to in-line skate or bicycle along the scenic circular road or hike the trails at this 180-acre barrier island.
An easy "time stands still" getaway involves a visit to nearby Delray Beach. (You'll need to rent a car.) The heart of the community -- shops, boutiques, art galleries and fashionable restaurants -- runs from the ocean along Atlantic Avenue. Definitely check out Old School Square, which has a number of restored 1920's buildings.
For an authentically exotic and serene experience, drive to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (Morikami Park Road in Delray Beach). It's America's only museum devoted exclusively to Japanese culture, but even better is the beautiful Japanese garden, which includes everything from fish-filled ponds and Zen gardens to pathways that wind in and out of pine woodlands.
The Jungle Queen Riverboat (954-462-5596) has been a Fort Lauderdale institution for more than 60 years; it offers daytime sightseeing trips up the New River and evening dinner cruises with famed barbecued ribs and shrimp. All cruises include a stop at the Jungle Queen Indian Village. Day cruises (twice a day) last three hours. Dinner cruises leave at 7 p.m., last four hours and include an all-you-can-eat repast.
Sawgrass Mills (12801 West Sunrise Blvd, Sunrise, FL; 954-846-2350) is a huge outdoor outlet mall, about 20 minutes west of the port, and houses more than 350 designer shops like Burberry, Calvin Klein, Coach, Kenneth Cole and many more at uber-discounted prices.
There's also the more mainstream Galleria Mall (2414 East Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale; 954-564-1015), Broward county's largest upscale shopping center, which is about 10 minutes north of port, just minutes from the beach and which offers name-brand stores like Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as restaurants and refuge from the sun.
Go early to the Festival Flea Market Mall (2900 West Sample Road, Pompano Beach, FL; near the Florida Turnpike; 954-979-4555), where more than 800 vendors are featured, along with complimentary valet parking. Weekends are busiest, but the mall is open daily, from 9:30 a.m. You can browse stalls with antiques, new electronics and designer clothing; there's a farmer's market on weekends and also an international food court.
If you've rented a car, take a drive north along Interstate 95 to Palm Beach, about 50 minutes away. There, you'll find unrivaled shopping and the world's priciest boutiques and designers lining Worth Avenue, also known as the Rodeo Drive of Florida.
There are more than 40 golf courses in the area. Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa (501 Diplomat Parkway, Hallandale, FL; 594- 457-2082) is the only five-star course in south Florida. The 6,728-yard, par-72 course has been around since the 1950's, but was recently redesigned by Joe Lee. Rental equipment includes Callaway clubs, carts with Prolink GPS systems and FootJoy rental shoes.
No time for a full 18 holes? Not enough money for a country-club outing? No worries. Eco Golf Club (1451 Taft Street, Hollywood, FL; 954-922-8755) is the way to go. This little nine-hole course not far from the port has great greens, really reasonable rates and a full-service restaurant for breakfast or lunch.
Located just a few minutes away from the port, the 7,280-yard Club at Emerald Hills (4100 N. Hills Dr. Hollywood, FL; 954-962-7888) was designed by Bruce Devlin and Robert Von Hagge and has been rated one of the best places to play by Golf Digest for the past eight years. Challenging and demanding, with water on 12 holes, the course is also spike-less, so plan accordingly.
Best Beach for Action: Fort Lauderdale Beach bustles with activity. Lined with waterfront hotels and an array of restaurants with oceanfront patios, this beach is where you'll go to see and be seen.
Best Low-Key Beach: Compared to other beaches in the area, Lauderdale By-The-Sea, located just north of Fort Lauderdale beach and south of Pompano Beach, is a nice, quiet hideaway. Though still close to hotels and beachfront dining venues, it's less frenetic and makes a great place to spend a lazy afternoon. Plus, conditions for snorkeling and diving are ideal there -- in fact, a reef is within swimming distance.
Best Beach for Watching Cruise Ships Go By: If you're in town for a pre- or post-cruise stay, go to John U. Lloyd State Park's beach on the corner of the inlet. The mangrove-lined waterway is a great place to be active or just relax. There, you can rent canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, sailboats, pontoon boats, gazebos, barbecue grills and volleyballs.
Best Beach with Small-Town Charm: Dania Beach, just south of the cruise port in Dania, is one of the area's best-kept secrets. Warm sands, shady palms and a quaint fishing pier characterize this calm beach, and with just a little legwork, you'll discover a historic arts and antiques district, ice cream parlors, pubs and seafood restaurants, all encompassed in a small beach town with big character.
Best Beach for a Half-Day Visit: Hollywood Beach with its famous two-and-a-half-mile "Broadwalk" -- an asphalt strip along the beach that is filled with street performers, couples walking hand-in-hand and families with young children meandering along in the sunshine -- was featured in the film "Marley and Me." It's the perfect setting for an ideal day at the beach. Get involved in sports of all sorts (bike-riding, roller-skating, kayaking and beach volleyball), or simply soak up the sun -- loungers and cabanas are available for rent. Shops and restaurants are close by, too. There's something for everyone at this popular Florida beach.
On Las Olas Boulevard:
Mangos (904 E. Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale; 954-523-5001): Take the opportunity to enjoy some people-watching during your pre- or post-cruise shopping on trendy Las Olas Boulevard. You'll find reasonable prices and inside (air-conditioned) or outside (sidewalk) dining; the restaurant serves everything from seafood to steak.
La Bonne Crepe (815 E. Las Olas Blvd., Ft Lauderdale; 954-761-1515): This charming French provincial country restaurant offers alfresco dining on its terrace, situated on enchanting Las Olas Boulevard. Watch the town come alive while dining on an assortment of cheese-, chicken- or seafood-filled crepes. Plus, this quaint restaurant has been recommended many times over as a "don't miss" for breakfast. It serves up waffles, French toast, eggs and -- of course -- crepes, so you can't go wrong.
Johnny V (625 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-761-7920): Johnny Vinczencz is Fort Lauderdale's celebrity chef du jour. The popular restaurant is expensive, but the decor is chic. His signature "Floribbean-style" menu is compelling, with ingredients like mango chutney, roasted corn sauce and barbecue demi-glace flavoring plates.
The Floridian (1410 E. Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale; 954-463-4041): Open 24/7, this Las Olas landmark is renowned for its breakfasts, but it has great burgers too, plus meatloaf and other "American diner" favorites. Besides, you can order breakfast at any time of the day or night, so if you suddenly develop an urge for an omelet, head on over. This 60-ish old gal has held her own as Las Olas has become trendier and trendier; some of the waitstaff has been there since it opened.
Yolo (333 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-523-1000): Find your Zen at Fort Lauderdale's newest contemporary restaurant located downtown. Yolo, which stands for "you only live once," is an energetic place with a simple menu. Items range from Yucatan dolphin tacos and veggie burgers to prime rib. At night, the place transforms into a hip spot to clink cocktails and toast your vacation, and the outdoor fire pit makes for a nice place to sit and chat.
Close to Port:
15th St. Fisheries (1900 S.E. 15th Street, Fort Lauderdale; 954-763-2777): Located on the Intracoastal Waterway, with glorious views, this fish-'n'-chowder house offers both casual dining downstairs and more formal meals upstairs. The 31-year-old landmark serves up fresh fish, stone crab claws and other seafood delights.
Bimini Boatyard Bar & Grill (1555 Southeast 17th St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-525-7400): Fresh seafood -- like mahi mahi, local Pompano fish, swordfish and more -- prepared on a wood-fired grill is the specialty here. If you want a taste of true Caribbean cuisine before boarding your ship, this is a great option, since it's practically across the street from the cruise port.
On the Beach:
Istanbul On the Beach (707 N. Broadwalk, Hollywood Beach; 954-921-1263): What fun to sit right on Hollywood Beach's Broadwalk, watching the skaters, mimes and kids having fun, with a yummy kebab in hand. This is cheap, casual beachfront dining at its finest. Plus, following Turkish and Mediterranean influences, the fare is light, featuring choices that range from cucumber, tomato and feta salad to baba ganoush and hummus.
H2O Cafe (101 South Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard Fort Lauderdale; 954-414-1024): This breezy, modern cafe serves mostly Italian cuisine and supplements its menu with Cuban- and Asian-inspired dishes. Situated just off of Fort Lauderdale Beach, H2O Cafe offers outdoor dining with beautiful views of the ocean, and it's also a great place to watch passersby. Priced in the mid-range, everything -- from hot and cold antipasti, salads, sandwiches and pastas to chicken, seafood and steak -- is available here.
Casablanca Cafe (3049 Alhambra St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-764-3500): This brilliantly restored Mediterranean-style home that dates back to the 1920's, has been voted Fort Lauderdale's most romantic restaurant. The menu is comprised of meals from Spain, Italy, France and even Africa, and live jazz/contemporary music fills the air Wednesday through Saturday nights. After dining, take a romantic stroll on the beach -- this restaurant is located on the peninsula between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Watching Your Ship Come In:
Hyatt Regency Pier 66: (2301 S.E. 17th St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-525-6666): This 22-acre hotel complex at the edge of Port Everglades got its start as a gas station; now it's a recognizable 388-room landmark, with a 17-story tower and lanai rooms that rim the pool. It's a lush environment with a spa (Spa 66) and privileges at the Grande Oaks Golf Club. There are five restaurants, a "three-pool oasis" and a 40-person hydrotherapy pool. Plus, if you're lucky enough to get a view facing Port Everglades, you can watch your ship come in.
Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina (1881 S.E. 17th St., Fort Lauderdale; 888-554-2131): Formerly the Fort Lauderdale Marina Marriott and the Fort Lauderdale Grande Hotel and Yacht Club, this 14-story hotel has been renovated from top to bottom -- to the tune of $70 million -- with a fresh, contemporary design. Situated right on the marina less than five minutes from port, it offers a water taxi stop just outside its front doors, and China Grill serves Asian-inspired cuisine with great views of the Intracoastal Waterway. However, complimentary transportation to the port is not listed as one of its services.
Embassy Suites Fort Lauderdale (1100 S.E. 17th Street, Fort Lauderdale; 954-527-2700) is an all-suite hotel that accommodates families with free, made-to-order breakfast each morning. For parents, there are complimentary cocktails in the atrium from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. This option is also conveniently close to port, and cruise packages -- which include transportation to and from port -- are offered.
Lago Mar (1700 S. Ocean Lane, Fort Lauderdale; 954-523-6511 or 800-LagoMar): This sprawling, family-owned resort is ideal for families, since almost all of its accommodations are suites with kitchens. It's located on a private beach in a ritzy part of Fort Lauderdale, just a mile or so away from Port Everglades, and has a beachfront playground and lots of family-centric activities.
The Pelican Grand Beach Resort (2000 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-568-9431) is one of a few hotels that has the beach right in its backyard (as opposed to other oceanfront hotels, at which an ocean visit involves crossing the street). Its Lazy River tubing ride and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor make this hotel a great choice for families, and the wrap-around verandah, lined with white-washed rocking chairs, is ideal for catching a sunrise.
Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort (3030 Holiday Drive, Fort Lauderdale; 954-525-4000) has all of the trappings you expect at a family resort, including a kids' club for children (ages 5 to 12), tennis courts, two pools, playgrounds and a European spa, plus beach sports, toys and activities that you'd usually find at a much more expensive Caribbean resort.
Ritz-Carlton (1 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale; 954-465-2300), part of the eponymous five-star chain, has a sprawling, rooftop pool area that touts cushy Balinese beds, private cabanas and a great view of the ocean. There's a skywalk, providing Ritz guests access to the beach below, and a full-service spa. Richly decorated, the hotel boasts marble flooring and mother-of-pearl accents, a brown onyx bar (that lights up at night) and sparkling crystal chandeliers above the bar in the Wine Room.
The Pillars at New River Sound (111 N. Birch Rd, Fort Lauderdale; 954-467-9639): This award-winning little inn with only 23 rooms and suites allows infants and kids older than 12 only. The whole place is non-smoking and offers complimentary, high-speed Internet access in every room and breezy patios that overlook the Intracoastal Waterway. Pre- and post-cruise packages are available and include transportation by towncar between the hotel and the airport, as well as breakfast for two.
Holiday Inn Express Convention Center (1500 S.E. 17th Causeway, Fort Lauderdale; 954-728-2577): Located just a block from the entrance to Port Everglades, this is a handy "cruiser-friendly" economy option, since it offers complimentary transportation to and from the airport and free Wi-Fi. There are coffee makers in the rooms, and a complimentary breakfast -- featuring bacon, eggs and other goodies -- is provided daily. A bus stop is located just outside its doors, and the water taxi is three blocks away.
Also close to port is Comfort Suites (1800 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale; 954-767-8700), which offers transportation to the cruise port for a fee, as well as continental breakfast.
Staying in Touch
Broward County hosts several free wireless Internet "hotspots": the section of Las Olas Boulevard between Andrews Ave and 10th Ave., all of the county's libraries and the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
If you have your own computer, Brew Urban Cafe (209 SW 2nd Ave, Fort Lauderdale; (954) 523-7191; Web site) has free wireless Internet access, or you can rent a laptop for $5 per hour.
As Fort Lauderdale is primarily a turn-around port (rather than a day-trip for ships), cruise lines typically offer just one tour. (Usually, it's limited to passengers whose flights leave later in the day.):
Explore the Everglades on an exhilarating airboat ride. Skim across the water, and encounter the region's wildlife (ahem, alligators!) on an excursion that is offered through most cruise lines and can also be paired with transfers to the airport. If your cruise line does not offer this tour, companies like Everglades Holiday Park and Sawgrass Recreation Park offer airboat adventures, as well.
For More Information
Call Ft. Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at 954-765-4466
On the Web: www.sunny.org
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The Independent Traveler: Florida Exchange
--Updated by Kim Kazell, Assistant Editor
--Photos appear courtesy of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.