SURPRISING DIVERSITY IN FORT LAUDERDALE

By Bill Vanderford


Ft. Lauderdale Beach - Photo by Bill Vanderford
Memories of the Greater Fort Lauderdale area have always been filled with visions of lonely, old ladies looking for companionship or a bunch of wild college kids roaming the streets in search of girls and excitement. Boy...was I in for a big surprise! The new Fort Lauderdale is as diverse as a flea market and as exciting as a trip to Disney World! Simply stated: There is something for everyone!

With over 3,000 miles of waterways and 23 miles of resort beaches, it’s easy to see how Fort Lauderdale has earned its moniker: "Venice of America", and like its counterpart, Venice a Italia, visitors can see and do almost anything here without ever using a car. Instead of gondolas, however, water taxis are the favored way of travelling; many provide hop on-hop off shuttle services between approximately a dozen key destinations.

One of the best ways to get an overview of Fort Lauderdale is aboard the Jungle Queen riverboat. During the three-hour trip, the Captain gives a non-stop commentary on the ever changing surroundings, all dished up with lashings of humor, history and gossipy anecdotes.


The Jungle Queen Riverboat in Ft. Lauderdale-Photo by Bill Vanderford

The tour travels the picturesque New River beside the plush waterfront homes of "Millionaire's Row", past great yacht and storage basins, and right into downtown Fort Lauderdale beneath its flamingo-pink draw bridges. The turn-around point is the Jungle Queen Indian Village, a stop-over of 1.5 hours during which you can explore pathways among rare trees and foliage, complete with macaws and rare birds from all over the world, iguanas, giant tortoises and more. The alligator show is quite a treat.

A visit to this part of Florida area would be amiss without a day trip into the Everglades and a sojourn into the lands of the Seminole Indians.


Airboat Rides Start at the Indian Village - Photo by Bill Vanderford

Big Cypress Reservation is the watershed of the Florida Everglades, and is home to the Seminole Indians and the Billie Swamp Safari. The latter offers daily tours into the reservation's 2,200 acres of lush wetlands, hardwood hammocks, and sloughs, where wildlife abounds -- sightings of deer, water buffalo, bison, wild hogs, hawks, eagles, other rare birds, and alligators are common. The tours are taken aboard swamp buggies, custom-designed to provide visitors with an elevated view while comfortably criss-crossing through the wetlands and cypress heads. There’s also an exhilarating airboat ride to be had; or you can choose an easier pace: a walk through the cypress dome boardwalk nature trail. Regardless of choice, the trip to Billie Swamp Safari is worth the drive!

Although there are many fancy places to stay in Fort Lauderdale, the Days Inn Bahia Cabana Resort is iconic …. with an unpretentious air that’s made it a hang out for laid-back celebs. like Jimmy Buffet looking for old-style Florida. Overlooking the city’s largest marina, the Bahia Cabana is a mile from the cruise ship harbor at Port Everglades, the convention center, and the sophistication of Las Olas Boulevard shopping and entertainment area, as well as its classy galleries. It even has its own water taxi stop and is home base for the Jungle Queen. The Resort offers beach volleyball and basketball courts and a number of guestrooms/penthouses that are comfortably furnished rather than stacked with luxurious touches. You come here for value …. and for the Buffet-style atmosphere – an open-air bar and restaurant, great food, tropical drinks, live (usually local) entertainment which, if you’re lucky, might include a few numbers by a visiting Jimmy himself.


If you go:
Florida: www.visitflorida.com
Greater Fort Lauderdale: www.sunny.org
Days Inn Bahia Cabana Resort: 800/323-2244 or www.bahiacabanaresort.com


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