Fun in Ft. Lauderdale

If you want to enhance your next cruise, why not plan a pre or post-cruise stay in Fort Lauderdale? This small but tasteful city offers something for everyone; fine dining, first class hotels, museums, and 23 miles of sand and surf. It's especially appealing in the winter when the mild temperatures (average 80 degrees) give you a break from the cold northern climates.

The first step is deciding how to get there. Personally, I recommend flying, as Florida is a lot bigger than people tend to think. The Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport is very user friendly, and situated less then two miles away from the cruise ship docks at Port Everglades. No other airport in the country can get you from plane to ship faster!

If you decide to drive to Fort Lauderdale, understand that once you cross the border into Florida you still have 400 miles to go. All together, from Boston a clear shot down Route 95 is 1236 miles, it's 1165 miles from Chicago and 2319 miles from Los Angeles. I can't tell you how many times I have heard people tell me, "We drove it -- once."

The airport recently underwent a $695 million expansion program which includes a brand new Rental Car Center, where many car rental companies have made it much easier for travelers. There is also a variety of ground transportation available. Public buses, shared ride/private car and hotel shuttles.

Hotels for Every Budget There is a hotel to fit every pocketbook in this city. If you are looking to be as pampered on land as you will be on your cruise, then the high end of the scale offers the centrally located Atlantic Hotel at 601 North Fort Lauderdale Blvd. (also known as Highway A1A). There is a $27.00 a day parking fee, if you are leaving your car to board the ship, and no shuttle service is available -- but the concierge will be glad to help you with all transportation needs.

Another hotel, just opened this last December 15th, is the St. Regis Resort located at 1 N. Fort Lauderdale Blvd. This upscale hotel name is known for luxury and pampering. There is no onsite long term parking for guests with cars. Both of these hotels are non-smoking, as the Marriott and Renaissance are now as well.

Other well-situated hotels include Amerisuites, a Global Hyatt affiliate located at 1851 S.E. Tenth Ave., whose well-priced rooms include a microwave, fridge and free hot breakfast. There are still a limited number of smoking rooms available. Parking for cruisers is available, with a sliding charge scale that varies depending on month, cruise season, or conventions in town. Located in the same area are Embassy Suites and the Holiday Inn Express.

Motels in Fort Lauderdale

Parking During your Cruise If your hotel does not offer an affordable place to park your car while, there is Park 'N Fly, an off-site airport & port parking facility at 2200 N.E. 7th Ave. Located just minutes from Ft. Lauderdale - Hollywood International Airport at Port Everglades, exit off I-595. The cost is $51 per week. You can get directions here: /

Lauderdale by the Sea If you feel the need for a relaxing beach afternoon, Lauderdale by the Sea is the place for you. Drive north on A1A until you see a neighborhood that resembles a more quiet and gentle time in Florida. This quaint, family oriented area features boutique hotels, seaside shops, interesting dining options and Anglin's Pier, a favorite fishing destination. With hotel names like the Tropic Seas, the Windjammer Resort and Coral Key Inn, all located on El Mar Drive, you get the feeling of stepping back in time. The Aruba Beach Cafe is always hopping, and Damon's, a great place for ribs, will have your mouth watering.

Shopping Greater Ft Lauderdale I have a motto, "I land I shop." And this voice of experience will tell you that the Fort Lauderdale vicinity is a world class shopping capital. You ease into your shopping mood on Las Olas Boulevard, the main street in "downtown" Fort Lauderdale. This narrow street is full of pedestrians filling shops and restaurants night and day. There are art galleries and unusual designer wear, as well as a Chico's for picking up last minute cruise apparel.

The closest mall to the downtown area is The Galleria at 2414 east Sunrise Blvd, just 5 blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. There are many desirable shops, such as Neimans and Saks, to peruse. Plus, this "Grand New Galleria," has dining options to set your toes tapping as well! The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, and the new Palm Court offer selections for the gourmet, or a quick bite.

An easy ride up I-95 or the Turnpike, is the Festival Marketplace flea market -- an exciting place to shop. I have found better prices for my perfume here than I have in the Caribbean. $10.00 watches are available by the thousands! Cosmetics, boutique style clothing, toys, electronics, shoes... there is something for everyone! The food court offers standard food court food, but try the knishes, they are delicious. There are wheelchairs available, and plenty of handicapped parking. Hours are M-F 9:30 to 5, and Sat & Sun: 9:30 to 6pm. If you register at their web site,, you will find printable "money-off" coupons. Last time I went, I got $20.00 in one dollar coupons to use, and was I a happy shopper!

    Here are directions:
  • From I-95: Exit Sample Road west. The Festival Marketplace is approximately 2 miles west of I-95 on the south (left) side of Sample Road.
  • From the Turnpike: Exit Sample Road (Exit 69) and turn east (right). The Festival Marketplace entrance will be the first right.

Another shopping option is the Swap Shop on Sunrise Boulevard, another easy drive from hotel row on Highway A1A. This shopping mecca is the second biggest shopping attraction in southern Florida -- so big, in fact, many hotels arrange transportation. 2000 vendors will make any shopper happy. The Swap Shop is located at 3291 West Sunrise Boulevard between I-95 and the Florida Turnpike in Fort Lauderdale. It is open 7 days a week including all holidays! will give you the hours, which are varied. If you don't have a car, visitors can take the Tri-rail on Saturdays, check with your hotel.

    Here are directions:
  • Via I-95 (North or South) take I-95 to the West Sunrise Blvd exit (29B). The Swap Shop is one mile west of I-95.
  • Via I-75 (Sawgrass Extension) take I-75 to I-595, then go east to I-95 north, the West Sunrise Blvd exit (29B). The Swap Shop is one mile west of I-95.

Do you still have the shopping bug? Drive further down Sunrise Blvd, to Sawgrass Mills. This huge outlet mall has something for everyone. Most of your favorite shops have outlets here. Ready for more? Adjacent to the mall is the new Colonnade with more upscale shops like Escada, St. John, Ferragamo and the newly relocated Neiman Marcus Last Call.

Once you have shopped till you drop, pop right over to Bahama Breeze for the very best cocktails and a wonderful meal. Or try Legal Seafood, a Boston tradition that has "gone Florida!" If you are like me, you probably need to ship all your purchases home because you went over the airline limit! Boy, I had fun though!

Sawgrass Mills is 11 miles west of the city of Fort Lauderdale, and a 30-minute drive from both Miami and Boca Raton.

    Here are directions:
  • Sawgrass Mills is at 12801 West Sunrise Blvd, Sunrise, FL 33323, two miles north of Interstates 75 and 595, just off the Sawgrass Expressway interchange.

Family Fun If you have kids, or maybe you are just looking for fun things to do, try these ideas:

The Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruise is a long time favorite Ft. Lauderdale attraction, right at the Bahia Mar Yacht Basin, 801 Seabreeze Blvd. The one I have done several times is the leisurely dinner cruise down the New River. With live commentary about this historic "Venice of America", the boat sails past beautiful homes, many owned by celebrities. Be prepared to wave and say "hi!" to all the friendly homeowners who come out to wave at you as the boat cruises by. As you pass by the yacht building area, take a glance at the mega-yachts in many stages of completion. You will be in awe of these magnificent vessels.

As you dock at your island destination, the air is filled with the aroma of ribs, chicken and shrimp, and all the fixins for a tasty family style, all-you-can-eat dinner. Just remembering this sets my tastebuds going! After dinner, a vaudeville style show that may be a bit hokey but still is lots of fun ends the night. Sail back with music and the sights of the river aglow. Website: My daughter still remembers the Captain and all of us passengers yelling "Helloooo Mr Johnson!" Find out what that means for yourself...

Museum of Science and Discovery, 401 S.W. Second St, Downtown Ft Lauderdale. The kid-oriented discovery museum offers many interactive exhibits. You can hang out with bats, alligators, turtles,and sharks! Or you can pretend to be an astronaut on the Mars Rover, or watch a movie on the five-story Imax Theater.

Native American tradition comes alive at the Seminole Okalee Indian Village. Tour the village and museum, check out the exhibits, and watch the alligator wrestling show with awe. This is something to surely captivate the kid in all of us.

Dinner Time You could spend a month this fair city, and still have restaurants to try! On my last visit in June I was taken to Catfish Dewey's,, a local place with an easy drive located at 4003 North Andrews Ave. This family-owned jewel has the casual country atmosphere of Old Florida. The waitresses are a hoot! If you are a catfish aficionado, [you know who you are] you can get "all you can eat fish" every night, The shrimp here was literally the best I have ever eaten, food is abundant and the menu variety will please everyone. My pre-cruise last December included a stop here.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed my guided tour of my most favorite place. The pristine beach awaits you if you choose some down time, or if you want a jam packed land itinerary, there is no better place. This is a sunshine kissed city, with so many things to see and do, for all ages.

Linda Pearl is a long-time CruiseMates staff member as a message board and chat hostess. She is also our resident shopping expert.

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