Fort Lauderdale, a popular pre-cruise destination
Over 3 million people a year leave on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale, “The Venice of America”.
Fort Lauderdale has come quite a ways from its naughty past as a sandy magnet for poorly behaved college students on spring break. Today’s Fort Lauderdale is just the right amount of classier, prettier and more cultural. It’s sort of like finding out that your dirty joke-cracking, headed for Loserville cousin ended up graduating from a decent college, married someone devoid of piercings or tattoos, drives a Prius and sky dives and plays in a band. A good mix of regular life with just enough acceptable rebellion thrown in.
If you are going on one of the cruises from Fort Lauderdale we hope you will be sure to arrive at least one night, and preferably two, before your cruise departs. Swimming after a cruise ship has been tried recently but is not recommended. Give yourself a chance to experience Fort Lauderdale and catch up with your luggage so you can have a relaxed departure.
A sampling of things to do before a cruise from Fort Lauderdale
When we went to Fort Lauderdale to do our usual rigorous research one of the activities we enjoyed the most was a ride on the Jungle Queen. Luckily for us the embarkation point was an easy walk from the Marriott Harbor Beach where we were staying (more on that later). We did the 3-hour afternoon sightseeing and tropical island tour but if you’re pressed for time there is also a 90 minute tour that skips the private island.
If you enjoy gawking at expensive waterside homes and gargantuan private boats you will enjoy the tour. Our guide was hilarious and knowledgable (or at least sounded believable). He had the scoop on who owned some of the more outrageous homes, who had knocked down beautiful homes just to build another one on the same spot and other entertaining, and occasionally appalling, trivia.
The tropical island part of the tour is a stop at a private island owned by the Jungle Queen. There are some colorful parrots for photo opps, snacks for those in need and beautiful orchids growing in the trees. But the highlight is an alligator show where a young man briefly (but longer than recommended) sticks his head between the jaws of an alligator.
A nice way to pass some time and not spend any money is to do the walkway along the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Even on hot days there’s a breeze and there are rare (for Florida) shade trees. This is an area where residents congregate for various activities one of the most popular being the free, live outdoor jazz brunches held on the first Sundays of each month. Residents bring food, wine and folding chairs and enjoy the music and occasional dancers.
The Riverwalk area is part of an arts and entertainment district which includes the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Florida Grand Opera, Fort Lauderdale History Center, the Museum of Art and the Historical Stranahan House Museum.
If you are a lover of outlet malls Sawgrass Mills is a mall with more than 350 stores and the long hours necessary for so much consumption of unneeded stuff. They have a range of brands from Armani to Forever 21 (aka Wishful Thinking) so a determined shopper should have no trouble damaging his or her credit score.
If you’re a fan of thoroughbred horse racing we were told that Gulf Stream Park (sounds like a mobile home park but isn’t) is a lovely place to spend time and not have to pay an admission fee. (We like places with that feature.) You can watch the races, enjoy some of the restaurants and once again have the potential to leave poorer than when you got there. (We know your Uncle Bobby claimed to have made it big betting on the horses but we don’t believe him.)
If you have a rental car another nice thing to do (although not in the high season of January – March when traffic could be a nightmare) is to drive Route A1A north along the coast perhaps as far as Palm Beach. If you’re really horsing around you could drive a bit west and take in a polo match in Wellington or if Japanese gardens are more your thing stop at the Morikami Japanese Gardens.
If you head about 25 miles south you can drive to Miami but that’s a whole other story – or two.
Where to stay before a cruise from Fort Lauderdale
On the first night of our visit we stayed at the long-named Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa. When we saw the suite they put us up in we did everything but jump up and down giggling on the beds. The best feature of all was this balcony which was our personal viewing center.
In the evening we watched a lovely small wedding on the beach and in the morning we felt posh eating oatmeal out there for breakfast.
When we got to the resort we worried that some of the other guests (namely a large group representing a fraternity) would be noisy but we are pleased to tell you that not a sound penetrated the glass or walls of our room.
The resort’s setting on the beach is stunning, it has 2 swimming pools and unusually, in our opinion, actually gives you some value for the cost of the resort fee. We aren’t fans of resort fees (period) but at least here it includes high-speed internet, yoga classes, valet parking, a very nice fitness center overlooking the ocean and room service between 6:00 a.m. and 11 p.m.
If you want to look unnaturally good for your cruise from Fort Lauderdale you can get some preparatory pampering at the on-premise SiSpa which is an outpost of the seaside one ranked among Conde Nast Travelers’s Top 100 U.S. Resort Spas.
Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa
We spent 2 nights at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa and found its location to be convenient to the water taxis you can take around Fort Lauderdale, The Jungle Queen and the (former actually) International Swimming Hall of Fame. It’s in a perfect spot to enjoy the ocean but get wherever you want to get quickly and easily via different methods of transportation.
The property has a wide beach with a sandy bottom and clear water that we really enjoyed cavorting in. (Don’t sit down or you’ll have a sandy bottom too.)
We wished we knew how to take a Hobie Cat out in the ocean and look like Ralph Lauren models because at least the boat was an option even if the ability and looks aspects were not. Our timing was off but there are some fun water sports available, 3 alarmingly seductive gift shops (found the time for them), a Starbucks in the lobby, a top-notch oceanview fitness center, a spa that smelled and felt so serene we had to stifle ourselves and a very enjoyable outdoor restaurant. There are also a bar and 2 restaurants inside the property but the weather was too nice for us to check them out.
We already got our free stays so we don’t need to say nice things about the two Marriott properties but we are going to anyway. At both properties the employees from cleaning crew to concierge were unfailingly polite, helpful and cheerful. We know that training can help with that but someone is doing a good job of hiring here because you can’t train someone to have a genuinely nice personality (please review the current crop of Presidential candidates for proof).
Downside of staying in Fort Lauderdale before a cruise
Fort Lauderdale can be and is a vacation destination in its own right. If you are going on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale allow yourself enough time to enjoy at least the highlights of the area in case you don’t get an opportunity to return.
You are likely to leave feeling, as we did, that you needed a few more days.
Disclosure: We were given free stays at the two Marriott properties and a free cruise (for one of us) on the Jungle Queen. But we chose all of the above before being granted the freebies just so you know that!