A thinly populated riverside camp at the start of the twentieth century, Fort Lauderdale came to be known as “the Venice of America” when its mangrove swamps were fashioned into slender canals during the 1920s.
Beginning in the 1930s, intercollegiate swimming contests drew the nation’s youth here, a fact seized on by the 1960 film Where The Boys Are which instantly made Fort Lauderdale the country’s premier Spring Break destination. Hundreds of thousands of students (around 350,000 in 1986 alone) congregated around seven miles of sand for a six-week frenzy of drinking and lascivious excess.
Over the years the city has forged a new identity where larger-than-life beach parties are a thing of the past. Today liquid lovers visit Lauderdale to indulge via breezy beach retreat, luxury hotel pool plunge, champagne splashed sunset canal cruise, decadent beer infused spa treatment and top notch cocktail sips served at a handful of trendy restaurants. Lauderdale is also home to the state’s most vibrant LGBT community, Wilton Manors. Florida’s premiere gaybourhood is filled with a colourful selection of sud-sloshed nightlife options from bouncy disco beats to laid back watering holes which put Miami’s current offerings in the backseat.
The W Fort Lauderdale is the hippest luxury hotel on the strip. The property features 517 anything-but-typical rooms and suites which feature unrivalled ocean and inter-coastal views. An impressive feat yielded from the unique structure of the hotel and its two towers that sweep across the horizon like a wind swept sail. I stayed in the Mega Ocean View Room, a lovely suite featuring petite work station, comfy king sized bed, peek-a-boo bath and wrap around balcony outfitted with plush loungers that made soaking up the sun in privacy a breeze.
The hotels top attraction is its Wet Bar and rooftop swimming pool which on a sun splashed afternoon are undoubtedly packed with tan fans. The staircase leading to the pool from the lobby is surrounded in glass, offering guests an incredible transparent view of swimmers above as they take the plunge. The vibe here is decidedly cool with DJs playing in the eve amongst a stunning set of al fresco furniture which is perhaps best enjoyed with your sweet honey in front of the dramatic gas-powered fire pit. Sipping cocktails, wonderful warmth and swoon worthy kisses at sunset.
Sips & Nibbles: The W Fort Lauderdale’s Steak 954 offers the city’s fanciest fillets via pretty patio overlooking the beach. Those who appreciate a well prepared juicy ball will love the hip interior and playful cocktails at Forks & Balls. If you’re hungry at the beach head to Lauderdale’s staple Casablanca Cafe where massive margarita’s and fresh fish tacos hit the spot.
The best way to appreciate Lauderdale’s unique waterways is by relaxing on a private catamaran cruise at sunset. At 5pm we tip toed across a 50′ boat operated by Tropical Sailing and moments later I found myself lazing in a net which sat perched over the sea. The land which flanks Lauderdale’s famous canals is primo real estate lined with mansions, exclusive yacht’s and towering condo’s. Our skipper popped open a bottle of champagne just as we cruised below the 17th Street causeway bridge. Stopping traffic just so we can slide into the wide open Atlantic. Sunset splashes across the horizon. Hair rustles in the breeze. This is Fort Lauderdale’s warmest welcome.
Beer lovers who also share an affection for relaxing days spent at the spa will find happiness via The Atlantic Hotel’s signature beer treatment. The experience is broken into three stages, beginning with a vigorous citrus beer body exfoliation. My therapist then motions me to waddle toward a massive tub filled with warm water. He dumps two bottles of Budweiser and scatters a handful of fresh orange slices into the bath before skipping out the door and leaving me to soak from head to toe. An ice cold bottle of locally produced Orange Blossom beer sits on the edge of the tub. I grab it by the neck and slowly sip before allowing my body to lower below the dancing rinds which bob before me. I smell like a citrus spiked hefeweizen as I hop back on a treatment table and wait for my therapist to return. The finale to my hop-centric experience is a sensuous full body lotion application which helps loosen up my tight muscle, leaving my skin quenched and content.
Funky Buddha Brewery is located in the heart of Oakland Park’s new Culinary Arts District. The 40,000 sq-ft facility is powered by a 30-barrel, three-piece brewhouse, which feeds nearly 1,000 gallons of beer per batch into two 120-barrel and four 60-barrel fermenters – a capacity which makes Funky Buddha South Florida’s largest craft microbrewery. I felt incredibly lucky to be in town for the brewery’s wildly popular annual bottle release festival, an homage to their coveted Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. The team at Funky Buddha hosted an epic street party which had beer aficionados from across the country road tripping to Lauderdale for the event.
Outside the brewery a long line snaked outside of a white tent as porter pilgrims arrived to purchase their bottles. I had a chance to chat with a few of the brewery’s biggest fans and was amazed that some were up at the crack of dawn to pick up four of the coveted bottles. One rather enthusiastic tipsy damsel chirped, “I was here hours ago to purchase bottles for a friend of mine who will likely drink two and trade the others online.” These folks are the ecstatic “Beanie Baby” collectors of todays passionate craft beer generation.
In the parking lot hipsters stood in line to grab a snack at one of the city’s favourite food trucks while inside a massive crowd sipped from a colourful collection which reads as wonderful and wacky: Passionfruit Crusher IPA, Randy’s Old Fashioned (Jack Daniels’ Barrel-aged Brown with cherry and orange) and Chocwork Orange (chocolate covered orange milk porter). A select number of brews were released on the hour, a moment celebrated as staff hopped up on the bar and chanted a count down 10, 9, 8… which ended at 1 with a roar and an ocean of smug mugs.
I was excited when I strolled along the strip the following morning to meet up with the team at M Cruz Rentals. Over the next two hours I enjoyed my first Segway adventure via a private tour of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. I was amazed at how quickly my brain learned how to operate the two-wheeled wonder! We zipped under massive Banyan trees, scooted around lush marshland, watched locals fishing along one of the city’s canals and spotted bouncy fitness fans jogging, bicycling and rollerblading through the parks lush forest.
Fort Lauderdale is home to the highest concentration of same-sex couple households in America. To say the city is fabulously gay could only be described as an understatement. Gay bars and businesses are concentrated in the neighbourhood of Wilton Manors, all easily accessible on foot via quick hop, skip and a jump. Start your Saturday at The Village Pub, a local watering hole perfect for grabbing a pint and chatting with friendly locals (who I learned adore Canadians as well as men with long hair). A quick stroll down the street and you’ll find Rumours, a petite bar featuring a breezy patio. Finish off your eve under a flashy disco ball at The Manor, the city’s premiere gay nightclub. Go-go-dancers hop around on the main stage while smaller venues within the complex offer a spicy latin vibe and bubble gum pop.
The following morning drag yourself out of bed hungover and get yourself to church! Lips offers the “ultimate in drag dining” via its wildly popular Sunday Gospel Brunch. We arrive to find a long line snaking out the door and wrapping around the building. (TIP: I’m later notified that their two Sunday shows were totally sold out so be sure to make a reservation). Upon arrival a darling drag queen marched us to the bar where a choir of champagne flutes filled with sparkling mimosa sat eagerly waiting to be whisked away. I’m amazed that for under 20 dollars guests enjoy an entree, bottomless sparkling wine or mimosa cocktails and two hours of hilarious and spirited gospel spiked drag performances. A Whitney Houston impersonator threw her flamboyant hands above her head while I took a sip from my 4th mimosa (or was it my 6th?). It is at that moment I realized my headache had disappeared and all was right in the world.
My visit to Fort Lauderdale was a press trip coordinated by Greater Fort Lauderdale. Transportation, accommodation and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.