An Iguana near FtLauderdaleMy remembrances of the Greater Fort Lauderdale area are 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!

The new moniker for Fort Lauderdale is the “Venice of America” due to the fact that visitors can see and do almost anything in the area without using an automobile. Modern Fort Lauderdale boasts over 3,000 miles of waterways and twenty-three miles of the top resort beaches in the nation.

Jungle Queen riverboatJungle Queen riverboatProbably the best way to learn quickly about the Greater Fort Lauderdale area and what is available in its waterways is by taking a 3-hour tour aboard the famous Jungle Queen riverboat (954-462-5596), which has been in operation for more than sixty years. During the trip, the constant commentary by the Captain gives visitors historic and current information about the ever changing surroundings. This trip up the picturesque New River takes sojourners through the plush waterfront homes of “Millionaire’s Row” right into downtown Fort Lauderdale beneath pink draw bridges. The boat passes near the great yacht and storage basins, and an eventual pause at the Jungle Queen Indian Village is both interesting and needed. At this stop, one becomes a part of a beautiful tropical island among rare trees and foliage, complete with macaws and rare birds from all over the world, iguanas, and an alligator show.

After seeing the beauty and many attractions aboard the Jungle Queen, it is best to leave the car parked and travel from place to place in Fort Lauderdale by Water Taxi (954-467-6677). These cute, but convenient, little boats provide easy transportation from 10:30 AM to Midnight for a low $11 fare, which allows a visitor to get on and off at 11 convenient stops for an entire day.

Bahia Cabana on the Waterfront in FtLauderdaleBefore even thinking about seeing all that Fort Lauderdale has to offer, one should have a central place to stay, and for me and Jimmy Buffett, that would have to be the Days Inn Bahia Cabana Resort (1-800-323-2244). It is located in the heart of Fort Lauderdale directly across from the famous Fort Lauderdale beach on the Atlantic Ocean and right on Florida’s Intra-Coastal Waterway. Overlooking the city’s largest boat marina, the property is a mile from the cruise ship harbor at Port Everglades, the convention center, and the Las Olas Boulevard Shopping and Entertainment area. Within a few steps, it also has a stop for the Water Taxi and is the home base of the Jungle Queen. For the sports lovers, beach volleyball and basketball courts are available. Though rustic by modern standards, the Bahia Cabana Resort offers a choice of guestrooms and penthouses that are both comfortable and well furnished. One only has to go downstairs from one of the rooms to enjoy a delicious dinner on the waterfront or relish world famous tropical drinks, at the on-site bar and restaurant. In addition, live entertainment is available at the resort, featuring tropical and popular bands for a truly extraordinary fun and entertaining experience. If you’re lucky, however, it could be Jimmy Buffett or some other celebrity singer jamming with one of the local bands.

Airboat rides at the Seminole Indian VillageThough the city of Fort Lauderdale is fantastic, any visit to this area would be amiss without a day trip into the Everglades and an educational and historical trip into the lands of the Seminole Indians. Big Cypress is the watershed of the Florida Everglades, and is home to the Seminole Indians and the Billie Swamp Safari.

Billie Swamp Safari (800-949-6101) opens 2,200 lush acres of the Big Cypress Reservation to the public. This is an unparalleled opportunity to experience first-hand, the majesty of nature and Seminole Indian culture. Daily tours into the reservation’s wetlands, hardwood hammocks, and sloughs, where wildlife abounds, is spellbinding!  Constant sightings of deer, water buffalo, bison, wild hogs, hawks, eagles, other rare birds, and alligators are common. These tours are taken aboard swamp buggies, which are customized motor vehicles specifically designed to provide visitors with an elevated view while comfortably riding through the wetlands and cypress heads. Also, visitors may choose to take an exhilarating airboat ride or simply walk through the cypress dome boardwalk nature trail. Regardless of what is chosen, the trip to Billie Swamp Safari is worth the drive!

Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding area is alive with style and sophistication in the cafes and shops that line the beach, or in a multitude of art galleries and boutiques along Las Olas Boulevard. Sidewalk cafes in Fort Lauderdale serve everything from Cuban-American cuisine to fresh seafood caught in the Atlantic Ocean. Also, Fort Lauderdale is the second busiest cruise port in the world and has become renowned as the “World’s Best Cruise Port.” Nevertheless, this old town has retained enough of its history and Indian heritage to make it an interesting cultural experience as well.

Since I had not visited the Greater Fort Lauderdale (954-765-4466) in more than twenty years, I had no idea that from the late 1980’s into the early 90’s, it was a destination in transition. The area’s success at ridding itself of Spring Break has made it one of the fastest growing travel destinations in the United States and an extremely diverse area that is well worth a visit!

Millionaires Row at FtLauderdale

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