Family spring breakers should head to Fort Lauderdale if they want guaranteed fun in the sun and activities to keep kids busy from dawn to dusk.
The faint mist that sprinkles the tropical air has been known to cause contagious giggles along south Florida’s Gold Coast. That joy in a family beach vacation can also be credited to the aqua waters that wave to the cotton-puff clouds in the pale blue skies, or the apricot sun smiling on the miles of sugar white sands, or even the ocean breezes that cause swaying palms to dance.
Whatever the reason, greater Fort Lauderdale is where a magical underwater world, tropical flowers and cultural delights are a natural way for the whole family to enjoy a family beach vacation. This is the place where everyone can pick their own passion and set it in action!
Lauderdale Beaches & Water Sports
The palm-fringed Fort Lauderdale Beach is a long time favorite and the site of the now classic 1960 movie “Where The Boys Are.” Hollywood Beach is also special because of its walk and bike run along the 2½-mile oceanfront Boardwalk that parallels the beach. In addition, thanks to recent redevelopment, this area is complete with Old Florida dining, shopping, and a variety of accommodations. The 3½-mile Pompano Beach, with play areas and ongoing family festivities, is always active and a major attraction.
If paddle power is the preferred means of getting around, Greater Fort Lauderdale will please the most ambitious canoeist or kayaker. Mangrove-lined coastline, endless rivers and canals, lakes and ponds provide the opportunity to enjoy nature in the company of dolphins, manatees, ospreys and pelicans. It’s also an ideal setting for water and jet skiing, scuba and snorkeling, and is considered one of America’s best dive destinations.
One of the newest adventurous water sports is kite surfing, a mix of kite flying (in this case a giant one) and surfing. Riders are fastened to the surfboard and are propelled across the water and into the air, often higher than 100 feet, by the kite. If that’s so not your speed, consider YOLOing, a gentle paddling journey by longboat across inland lakes.
Nature & Adventure in South Florida
The Everglades, an incredibly diverse flora, fauna and rare ecosystem, is one of America’s greatest treasures. There’s no place better to share a family experience than throughout this last great remnant of Florida’s untouched Eden. You’ll enjoy a perfect day at Everglades Holiday Park, the gateway to 750,000 acres of unspoiled Everglades. Every age group will thrill to the breathtaking narrated ride on an airboat skimming across the top of the water through the “River of Grass.” Be set to view up close, gators of all sizes, baby crocodiles, and a variety of waterfowl and eagles in their natural habitat. Further adding to everyone’s delight, an amazing alligator show and presentation will take place on your return to the park.
For another great experience head to Butterfly World/Tradewinds Park, one of the country’s most unusual “zoos.” The flowering tropical rainforest setting showcases a screened habitat for thousands of live rainbow-hued butterflies, hummingbirds and lorikeet in a beautiful, and peaceful environment.
What trip to Florida would be complete without a glimpse of a pink flamingo? Flamingo Gardens, 60 acres of lush gardens devoted entirely to wildlife preservation, offers a variety of exhibits centered around birds. Attractions include a “free flight” aviary, a facility that features one of the largest collections of wading birds in America (children will learn and experience five different ecosystems); Bird of Prey center where South Florida’s rare birds are on display in naturalistic habitats; and of course, Flamingo Island, a tropical oasis for flamingos complete with exotic vegetation and sparkling waterfalls.
For those who prefer hiking and walking, there are 300 parks and nature preserves to provide the perfect venue. Lace up your hiking boots and enjoy the Hugh Taylor Birch State Recreation Area, a rambling preserve with woodlands, freshwater lagoons, picnic facilities, hiking trails, and a self guided nature trail. For the bikers, Fort Lauderdale’s Markham Park is considered one of the best areas for mountain biking offering a number of new trails and trail markings. The anglers in the family will be thrilled that freshwater and salt water fishing are within 20 minutes of each other, and for more serious fishing, deep water fleets and charter boats are available by the half or full day.
Fort Lauderdale Family Fundays with Arts & Culture
Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District is a 22-block district along the New River in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Running from chic Las Olas Boulevard, stroll along the meandering brick lined walkway offering shopping, dining, waterfront parks and an action packed recreation center that provides hours and hours of fun for the entire family. The Museum of Art/ Fort Lauderdale, housed in a building designed by renowned architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, plays host to major blockbuster exhibitions.
Of special interest to “waterbugs,” the International Swimming Hall of Fame has over 40 exhibits and displays that illustrate the history of aquatic sports by recognizing the world’s greatest swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming performers. Old Fort Lauderdale Village and Museum takes the history buffs a step back in time. Highlights are the 1899 Replica Schoolhouse and 1907 Pioneer house. They’ll also enjoy a tour of Stranahan House the oldest residence in Fort Lauderdale, furnished with antiques of the era.
Young at Art Children’s Museum is a hands on venue with art and multi-cultural activities. Budding young artists and talented tykes can take a class or workshop creating imaginative art.
All the world’s a stage at Ft. Lauderdale Children’s Theatre, where crew members ages 6-18 take charge of the productions. Check our their site for a list of current productions.
For the daredevils in the family, visit Xtreme Indoor Karting. With karts reaching up to 45 mph, everyone will surely feel like a real Nascar racer for the day.
Fort Lauderdale Trip Planning Details
It’s easy to get to Fort Lauderdale and it’s usually cheap. Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport is served by most major airlines and both it and nearby West Palm Beach are hubs for JetBlue. Nearby families can consider AMTRAK (800/USA-RAIL), which stops at Deerfield Beach, Pompano Beach and Miami-Dade on its run through the state.
You’ll find that the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa (800/222-6543) is a wonderful homebase and springboard that the whole family will love. A destination in itself, its spectacular location on a quarter mile of wide sandy beach is the focal point for activity with parasailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, catamaran sailing, wave running, and surfing all available.
The 602 guestrooms, including 35 luxurious suites, have up-to-the minute amenities such as new 32-inch flat screen TVs, as well as PlayStation capability. On the resort grounds there’s an 8,000-square-foot lagoon style pool that’s flanked by cascading waterfalls plus four tennis courts, a 1/4 mile private beach, a basketball court, and a fitness center with whirlpools. Championship golf and world class deep sea fishing fleet are nearby. Poolside activities for the whole family include tie-dying your choice of shirts, hats and flip-flops, and painting and decorating a wide selection of ceramics, picture frames, magnets and sculptures.
For kids only there’s Surf Club, a free-standing clubhouse with supervised activities program for ages 5-12. Sports, arts’n’crafts, movie theater, media room and games are all under the supervision of the recreation staff. Surf Club is available for additional fees: $25 registration fee (and first two hours) plus $10 for each additional hour. A 4-hour block can be pre-paid for $50.
The Spa at Harbor Beach is a luxurious refuge and quiet haven designed to pamper and impress. There’s a wide menu of treatment and signature services along with the traditional Swedish Warm Stone Therapy and Shiatsu Massages, and a complete selection of salon options.
The Resort’s 3030 Ocean restaurant has won wide acclaim for its fresh seafood creations by Executive Chef Dean James Max. The perfect meal begins with selections that include chilled mussels, jumbo Gulf shrimp, carpaccio of fluke, and the signature Ahi tuna ceviche that’s made to order. Roasted banana crÃ¨me brulee, passion fruit tart, and watermelon soup with lemon ginger sorbet are some of the yummy dessert offerings. An all-purpose eatery features all day family dining, with spectacular breakfasts and sumptuous Sunday Brunch buffets. There is also a poolside spot for light snacks and a Starbucks located on the lobby level.
For more information on the area, visit Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau or call800/22-SUNNY.
Photos by Mel Greenberg
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.