If merely sailing from the second-largest cruise port in the world isn’t enough, this is also one of the Sunshine State’s most distinctive holiday playgrounds, a beachside jewel on the Atlantic coast with a myriad of attractions within easy reach, including magnificent shopping, dining and the immense Florida Everglades.
Cruise port location
While Port Everglades is not quite within walking distance of the beach, it is hugely convenient for everything else, just four miles equidistant between Fort Lauderdale’s international airport and the city centre. It boasts nine cruise terminals and caters to 10 lines, including Royal Caribbean International’s mammoth duo Harmony and Allure of the Seas, sailing to the Bahamas, Caribbean, Central and South America.
With everything so close, getting to and from the port is a breeze. Taxis are efficient and inexpensive, with most local journeys costing less than $20, while some hotels have a free shuttle to the port. From the prime hotels on Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood or Hallandale beaches, you are at most 12 miles away. A seven-day bus pass costs just $20, while there is also a high-speed rail service south to Miami and north to West Palm Beach. The ideal way to get around the ‘Venice of America,’ though, is by the water taxi system, which is both fun and user-friendly.
Because this is such a major tourist destination, the choice of hotels close to the port is varied and dazzling, with big-name upscale brands like the Ritz-Carlton, W, Marriott, Renaissance, Westin and Sonesta, as well as budget-friendly choices such as Holiday Inn, Fairfield Inn and Hyatt Place. The Renaissance Fort Lauderdale Cruise Port, Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina and Pier 66 Hotel are all within a 10-minute walk of the port. But, for the ideal stay, you want to be on the beach at a family-friendly resort like Margaritaville (Hollywood Beach), the W Fort Lauderdale or The Atlantic Hotel & Spa.
What to see and do
This is ideal territory for a pre- or post-cruise stay, with a fabulous array of activities and amenities in the area, including some of Florida’s best beaches. In truth, you’ll be spoiled for choice, while even a week is barely enough to see the highlights.
What can I do with one extra day in Fort Lauderdale?
Given just a day, you should focus on downtown Fort Lauderdale, with its many shops, restaurants and galleries. Take a ride on a water taxi, stroll along The Riverwalk and take the children to the Museum of Science and Discovery, all of which are within easy walking distance. Las Olas Boulevard is the epicenter, with fabulous boutiques and restaurants as well as lively nightlife, including the bar scene of American Social, Mangos, O Lounge, Big City Tavern and Cash Only. Some of the best dining can be found here, with Royal Pig Pub, Timpano Chophouse, Chima Steakhouse and Rocco’s Tacos all being a memorable dinner choice.
You should also find time for some serious shopping at one of the glittering malls. The Galleria is as chic as it gets and is only one block away from a water taxi stop, while Coral Ridge Mall has a wide selection of big-box stores and smaller-scale choices, as well as a cinema multiplex. For the serious shopaholic, a half-day at Sawgrass Mills is an absolute must. It is 18 miles to the west but well served by various shuttle and bus services as it boasts a staggering 300-plus shops, including 10 department stores.
What can I do with two or three days?
With more time to spare you can afford some proper chill-out time, as there are fully 23 miles of beaches to enjoy along this stretch of coastline. You can even combine some beach time with sight-seeing by taking a Segway Fort Lauderdale tour on the fun, two-wheeled Segway transporters. Once you are suitably relaxed, you can also take in some of the area’s more cultural attractions, like the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society campus, 19th century Stranahan House, the elegant 1920s estate that is the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, and the NSA Art Museum. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts also raises the bar with a series of great concerts and live theatre, from classical events to the latest Broadway shows.
For an afternoon or evening with a difference, head to fabulous Gulfstream Park and enjoy Florida’s premier horse-racing venue, along with a smart Casino, concerts, karaoke and more. You can even add to your shopping quotient here, with more than 20 unique stores to choose from, take in some excellent dining at the likes of Brio Tuscan Grille, Cantina Laredo, Texas De Brazil and Yard House gastropub, and then dance the night away at Club Fate nightclub.
What can I do with a full week?
Having seven days is highly advisable, even if you’re not one to just lie on the beach. Nature parks are a big draw, and you can get a flavour of what’s on offer at the small-scale Hugh Taylor Birch State Park on the water taxi route. The big opportunity, though, is the chance to explore the nearby Everglades, the vast ‘River of Grass’ which covers much of southern Florida. Take an airboat ride, tram tour or go hiking, kayaking or fishing and discover real Florida through its incredible wildlife, as well as the story of the Seminole Indians at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.
Eat and drink
Fort Lauderdale boasts an international culinary line-up, but excels in Latin American and Caribbean flavours. Seafood is omni-present, but some of the must-try cuisines include Peruvian, Mexican and Cuban, with Canyon Southwest Cafe a great example. A burgeoning craft beer scene includes several dozen breweries, notably the wildly successful Funky Buddha.
Don’t leave without…
Taking a walk along artsy Las Olas Boulevard, especially in the evening. This palm-tree-fringed avenue is designed to be inviting and walkable, hence the impressive array of shops are all original one-offs, and you can browse both high fashion and local art in the space of a few hundred yards.
Need to know
Flight time from the UK
British Airways and Norwegian fly direct from London to Fort Lauderdale (flight time around 9.5hrs), but there is more choice flying to nearby Miami, which is a 40-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale.
All holiday visitors to the US must apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) at least 72hrs in advance, at: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Fort Lauderdale has its areas to avoid, like any big city, but the beaches and downtown areas are very safe, especially along Las Olas Boulevard.
When to go
Peak cruise season is November to April, when the Caribbean weather is calmest (June to November is hurricane season), but ships still sail from busy Port Everglades year-round. Be aware summer temperatures usually push 35C, with high humidity to boot, and the Caribbean is even warmer.
Shops stay open seven days of the week, all year, but museums will close for the major public holidays.