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 nicely with its metropolitan neighbors, and elements of Miami's chic vibe and the affluent nature of Palm Beach are recognizable. But Fort Lauderdale is a destination itself. Operating one of the busiest cruise ports in North America -- more than three million people pass through each year -- helps define Fort Lauderdale as a robust tourism spot.
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 1800s into a series of canals by scooping out parallel waterways and creating long peninsulas between them. This created more than 300 miles of navigable waterways (twice that of Venice) -- hence the city's nickname "Venice of America." The abundance of waterways that wind up and down the coast make Fort Lauderdale a boating hot spot, with 42,000 registered yachts.
The community gained fame and a measure of disrepute when it was featured in the 1960s movie "Where the Boys Are," causing legions of college-aged boys (and, not coincidentally, girls) to descend for raucous spring breaks. 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 1980s went into effect, in earnest, to tone it down. These days, the fastest-growing market for Fort Lauderdale is the trendy high spenders who at one time might have gone south -- or north. Area hotels include Ritz-Carlton, Trump International Hotel and Tower and 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, major development projects have been redefining Fort Lauderdale. Downtown -- especially around the hub of Las Olas Boulevard, with its cafes, galleries and boutiques - gives off a Miami Beach vibe.
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.