It may not be as showy as Miami or Orlando, but Fort Lauderdale is the perfect base for a pre- or-post Caribbean cruise stay, says Liz Jarvis
Our tiny airboat is skimming through the Everglades so fast it feels as though we’re actually flying through the air, and all around us, lurking in the muddy water, are alligators. As thrills go it’s probably right up there with anything a roller coaster has to offer. Never mind that most of the alligators stay well hidden and are possibly even asleep; knowing that they’re right there and could probably snap us up if they wanted to is enough.
An eco adventure in the Everglades is just one of the highlights waiting for cruise passengers who decide to explore Greater Fort Lauderdale before boarding their cruise to the Caribbean from the Port of Miami or Port Everglades. Less than an hour from Miami airport, Fort Lauderdale has long been popular for overnight stays. Spend a few more days here, though, and you quickly discover that while it may not have the more obvious attractions of Miami Beach or Orlando, it does have lots to entertain, and plenty of opportunities to get back to nature.
One of the best experiences has to be kayaking through the mangroves at the Anne Kolb Nature Center. Kayaking can take a little time to master because you have to learn how to steer (it’s a fantastic workout for the arms and abs). It can get a bit hairy when you’re crossing open water; you also have to watch out for low-hanging branches as you can and probably will get tangled up in them. Most of the time, though, it’s just you and the sound of your paddle hitting the water and it’s wonderfully peaceful. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see manatees and turtles; you’ll definitely see spiders, hanging from webs high above – but don’t worry, they’re not interested in you.
Greater Fort Lauderdale’s tagline is ‘hello sunny’ and the whole time we were there, it certainly lived up to its reputation – warm, sunny days and glorious technicolour sunsets. The whole place has an appealing, laidback holiday vibe and it’s very seductive. My advice is to base yourself in Hollywood, which couldn’t be more different from its California namesake and boasts a glorious unspoiled beach. Popular with families, it never seems crowded, which makes it ideal for chilling on the sand. Or if you’re feeling more energetic, go for a cycle ride along the boardwalk (or hire a surrey bike with a fringe on top).
Take advantage of the water taxi system to visit nearby Las Olas Boulevard, a wonderfully stylish neighbourhood with fantastic boutiques and restaurants; along the way you’ll pass luxurious waterfront mansions belonging to the likes of Johnny Depp, and it’s fun to play Fantasy Homes (if you had a few million dollars to spare). Alternatively, go for a catamaran cruise and try snorkelling or swimming.
Or if you prefer entertainment of a slightly more musical kind, then the BB&T Center, home to the Florida Panthers NHL team, plays host to all kinds of concerts and events. The night we were there we got to see Cher and Cyndi Lauper perform, which was pretty special. Fort Lauderdale is Florida’s hidden gem, and it’s definitely worth staying just a little bit longer. You may never want to leave.