Mall of America

Published on Monday, March 4, 2019

Canalside stateside

Alligators, mermaids, cruises and canals, it's all about water in this Floridian city. TravelMole's Graham McKenzie dives in to Fort Lauderdale. 

In a nutshell: Often known as the Venice of the United States due to the network of waterways emanating from the intracoastal canal it could also be dubbed the Brighton and Hove because it has a truly inclusive attitude to visitors. No matter your religious beliefs, colour of your skin, sexuality, the way you dress or the language you speak, you will fit in very well in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Unlike Brighton, however, it has fabulous sandy beaches and year-round warm temperatures.

Why your clients should go: The city is a great base to enjoy all that Southern Florida has to offer without any hassle. Despite being a truly international destination, you never feel as if you are in a big city with the associated irritation factors such as hordes of people or miles of traffic. Even the international airport, where British Airways and Norwegian fly direct from the UK, is only a 10-minute cab ride from downtown.

Who will it suit: In the past Greater Fort Lauderdale has been dismissed as a hangout for snowbirds (sun-seeking North Americans from less temperate climates getting a winter fix of sun), or as a night stop before embarking on a Caribbean cruise (Port Everglades is within the city limits). But nowadays it is truly suitable for all: couples, families, you name it, they'll all be won over by its charms.

What to see and what to do: From this base you can easily visit the gator infested Everglades and take an airboat ride, enjoy a morning at world class art installation (NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale), swim, fish, sail, take the Riverwalk, shop at Las Olas Boulevard or simply take in the view across two of the best beaches in the US - Lauderdale and Hollywood. My personal favourite is to take a Segway tour where you not only get an informed excursion of the area but get some comedy thrown in as well.

The recent opening of the Virgin USA Train service (formerly know as Brightline) along the Atlantic coast also stretches the options for holidaymakers based in Fort Lauderdale. Go south and you can be in Miami in 35 minutes plus you get the joy of travelling through the famous wall art/graffiti area of Wynwood. Once at Miami's Central Station the local bus and Metrorail network is close at hand. Go north from Lauderdale and you can visit west Palm Beach with its arts and shopping facilities, not to mention fabulous food.

Eat and Drink: For upmarket cuisine and some of the best lamb cutlets (Chops in America) anywhere on the planet take a trip to the Italian eatery Casa D'Angelo. For something a bit livelier in the evening but still with decent nourishment YOLO never disappoints. Personally I like nothing better than taking an early morning stroll to a local diner or eatery for breakfast where you are more likely to see the locals in their own habitat. With jet lag the early mornings are not an issue and in Fort Lauderdale you should try El Vez. No, it's not a Mexican Elvis impersonator but a restaurant set on the beach that serves an excellent breakfast while you watch the sun rise to its full power above the Atlantic.

Where to stay: Although I have stayed at a variety of hotels over the years, during my most recent visit I slept at the B Ocean Resort Hotel which is ideally located at the southern end of Lauderdale beach and directly opposite the Marina. Built in the late 1950s to resemble a cruise ship it was originally called the Yankee Clipper and has welcomed such luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to perform there in the past. I had an Ocean View King Suite which costs between $200 and $300 per night depending on the season.

Don't miss: The mermaid show in the Wreck Bar of the B Ocean Hotel. It's one of only two still performing in the whole of the US. In a relatively small dark bar, the mermaids slap out of the water before the show for selfies and Instagram opportunities. The pool has windows into it from the bar and the mermaids swim around for maybe 20 minutes waving and smiling at the audience. Most appreciative of all are the children who seem fascinated by the aqua aerobics performed right in front of their eyes.

Top tip: Take a round trip on the Water Taxi. It's fantastic value and at some hotels it will pick up from the back. The taxi will give you a great insight to the waterways and the intracoastal that spans from the Boston along the Atlantic Seaboard, around the southern tip of Florida to the Gulf Coast and Brownsville, Texas. Most of all, though, it allows you to drool over some of the most expensive real estate in the US and learn from the normally chatty and informative water taxi skippers about who owns what. Go at night, it's more exciting and its only $18 for the evening from 5pm onwards.

Graham was provided with accommodation (and entertainment) by B Ocean Resorts, a car by Dollar and advice in the early days from Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB

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