Por Georgina Cruz
For AL DIA TODAY
When many start planning a Florida “staycation” the first places they often think of are Orlando and Miami. And, of course, those are world-class and convenient destinations, but there is another nearby city (28 miles north of Miami) that although sometimes overlooked, also merits the attention of travelers. That is Fort Lauderdale, a city that typically attracts more than 13 million visitors annually. It is a mecca for beach lovers in South Florida as it lays claim to six “Blue Wave” beaches, a classification given only to healthy, vibrant beaches –and they extend for 23 miles of sun-kissed sands and surf.
Fort Lauderdale also has more than 34,000 rooms in a variety of lodging options, thousands of restaurants, a dozen malls including the Galleria in the heart of the city, 63 golf courses, a vibrant artistic and cultural scene, and more than 300 miles of canals and maritime highways that have earned it the title of “Venice of America.”
My husband Humberto and I chose the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina for a weekend escape this year. The hotel is located by the Intracoastal Waterway offering views of luxury yachts, sailboats and other craft that went by all day long.
What to see: When we decided to leave the hotel –its tropical pool and hot tub in a palm-dotted setting were an invitation to relax – we headed for the city’s multiple attractions. Since we are art aficionados and I served as a volunteer docent for the Vero Beach Museum of Art for two years, one of our first stops was the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale at One East Las Olas Boulevard, with excellent collection and special exhibits throughout the year. From the museum we enjoyed a stroll along the picturesque Las Olas Boulevard with its many cafes, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and antique shops. Our hotel is just a few minutes from Las Olas so perfect for shopping, dining and enjoying the nightlife of the boulevard.
Enjoying days of fun in the sun and the surf is popular in Fort Lauderdale with its miles and miles of beaches. Opportunities for fun activities include all manner of watersports such as kitesurfing, parasailing, jet skis, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving, among others –or just relaxing on the golden sands and going for a swim every so often to cool off. Diving enthusiasts may wish to try the Shipwreck Park, a mile from the Pompano Beach fishing pier. This attraction has a 324-foot wreck of the Lady Luck, and at least 16 other shipwrecks. For information, visit www.shipwreckparkpompano.org.
Other attractions include the International Swimming Hall of Fame, on the waterfront on highway A1A, the hall of fame of the sport of swimming, where “Tarzan” (Johnny Weissmuller) trained. There are exhibits themed to him and other legendary swimmers.
The Jungle Queen Riverboat is a popular, longtime attraction (founded in 1935) in Fort Lauderdale. It sails from the Bahia Mar Yacht Basin on sightseeing cruises (several times every day) so visitors can see the canals of the “Venice of America” and “Millionaires Row” (with the mansions of the rich and famous people who have lived or live here –among them, Burt Reynolds, Nick Nolte and Gloria Vanderbilt). A Barbecue Dinner & Show cruise is also offered.
Attractions for the whole family abound and include the Museum of Discovery & Science, 401 S.W. Second Street, with more than 200 exhibits in eight halls (including many hands-on activities) and it also features an IMAX theater.
For theatrical and other performances, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts is a world-class facility with two theaters in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District, an area that occupies 22 streets in the heart of the city and that sets the scene for many festivals and special events throughout the year.
“Venitian-style” transportation –The city has Water Taxis that recall Venice’s “vaporettos.” These are a convenient way to get from one point to another in the city and sightsee while you are at it. One of the stops is the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. And, yes, there are companies that offer tours on “gondolas” –perhaps the ticket for a romantic occasion? Visit http://www.lasolasgondola.com/.
Lodging: The Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina is a four-star property by the Intracoastal Waterway, a few minutes from Las Olas Boulevard and near Port Everglades, so very convenient for travelers who wish to combine a visit to Fort Lauderdale with a cruise. The hotel’s marina is a stop of the “Water Taxi” that takes to various points of interest in the city and the hotel offers a free shuttle to the beach. Hotel amenities include swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center, walking/jogging track, and its romos and suites received a remodeling this year. Visit https://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/florida/hilton-fort-lauderdale-marina-FLLGRHH/index.html.
Dining: The city has more than 4,000 restaurants featuring every cuisine imaginable. Whenever we visit, we like to patronize one or more of the eateries on Las Olas Blvd. The latest we tried was B Square,1021 East Las Olas, with delicious salads and sandwiches including a “Decadent Dog,” a foot-long hot dog (Kobe beef) with sauteed lobster, Parmigiano-truffle fries and homemade chips. Visit http://bsquareburger.com/.
Fort Lauderdale information: visit www.sunny.org.