Sloppy college students sporting beer bongs, wet t-shirt contests and MTV dance fevers may not be your bag and you may be like me in the desire to find a place to vacation that isn't overrun with twenty-somethings flexing their muscles and other body parts. Most especially during the two week period that has transformed itself into a quarter of the year, the season that has hoteliers and bartenders rubbing their greedy hands together and college students stuffing thongs, condoms and Advil into their little carryons; the time of year that many locals in Daytona, Cancun and South Padre Island batten down the hatches and lay up comestibles in the bomb shelters: the dreaded Spring Break.
"Where oh where, wise travel sage, may I enjoy the sun and surf and not be overrun by teeming hordes of horny youth on break from their laborious studies of underwater basket weaving and the literature of 17th century Botswana?" Well, Grasshopper, the answer may surprise you, for I have found a veritable treasure trove of fun stuff to do in one of the nation's original Spring Break destinations. A place replete with museums, sporting attractions, nightlife and most especially fine dining, and it is all aligned alongside over 23 miles of beautiful beach and crystal clear water. Greater Fort Lauderdale is the name and grown up, non-"Yeee Haaaw!! Let's get wasted!!" fun is the game.
I was lucky enough to be able to, on the dole, spend a few days in the area while my lovely and well employed significant other attended a conference. For four days, while Cindy labored to learn about city administration, I meandered some of the areas and attractions around town and then we were able to dine and explore together at night. On the whole I had an excellent good time and left many of Ft. Lauderdale's draws unexplored, reason enough to return and get some of those other things done at a later date.
A couple of hours searching and asking around did get us into a wonderful hotel that was very reasonably priced and located right on the beach. The Merriweather was a great place to stay and inexpensive to boot. Our room was actually somewhat unbelievable for what we paid for it. For less than $100 a night we had a setup that boasted a full front room, a separate bedroom, a well appointed kitchenette, two bathrooms, two TVs and a stereo. We were charged a one time cash fee of $25 for the pet and that went directly into the pocket of our housekeeper (ya gotta love that). The staff was extremely friendly and the feel of the place was like family. By the end of our three days we knew half the staff and a dozen guests by name.
Alhough there were pets allowed the management was very discerning on admitting only well behaved animals. The pool was deep and clean and I had a fully functional blender on my kitchen counter. Truly, what more could you ask for? Boat drinks poolside! They even provided a Tupperware pitcher and glasses so you can take your home ground libation down to the pool with you. I loved it and I highly recommend this place for families and others who enjoy an extremely friendly and easygoing place to stay. The beach was right across the street; within walking distance were beachside clubs such as the Elbo Room, Sloop John B, Lulu's Bait Shack, and a number of affordable restaurants also dotted the area.
One last note on pets: we found but a few hotels that allowed pets and considered ourselves extremely lucky to have stumbled upon the Merriweather as most pet friendly lodgings were nowhere near the beach and not necessarily of a quality I would recommend. One should also know that the beaches in Ft.Lauderdale and even the sidewalks lining them are prohibited to pets. This is not an idle restriction; I was stopped by police every time I tried to sneak my pooch down the sidewalk. They were very friendly about it and I was not ticketed but if a romp on the beach with your dog is what you have in mind I am here to say you will not find a conducive environment in Ft. Lauderdale for this. Pitiful as it is, I am overly connected to my dog, yet I can understand and even agree with this policy. The beaches in Ft. Lauderdale are beautiful and extremely well groomed but they are also busy. It doesn't take much of an imagination to see why they don't want hundreds of dogs and the attendant detritus that dogs leave behind on their scenic beaches. Also one is in something of a quandary as to where to carry that doggie doodie bag while clad in Speedo or bikini. I did not research this, I am sure there are places that welcome dogs along the beach but it might be best to make arrangements to leave Fido behind if visiting the Greater Ft. Lauderdale area.
I have avoided the teeming teens and found luxurious surroundings. now what shall I occupy my time? Where to start? Let us speak of things that I accomplished and then look to the future. While exploring the area I found more to do than I had expected and I left much undone. I hit both the Museum of Science and Discovery and the Museum of Art, both located within a few blocks of the Riverwalk District. The Museum of Science and Discovery is a great place to visit, especially if you have some kids to entertain. The museum has a massive clock run on the old mousetrap principles out front - kill time watching the ball make all the little thingies move. There were a myriad of interactive displays explaining scientific principles that were fun and informative even to a big overgrown kid like myself. Exhibits showcasing Florida's tidal regions and wildlife are stocked with actual critters and were highly interesting and educational. The facility is topped off by an IMAX theater that I was unable to attend, but past experience tells me that these are always worth the time and expense for a visual feast.
Las Olas offers varied cuisine opportunities, from Cheeburger Cheeburger to the pepperoni sticks at Riverfront Pizza. A walk around to the western side of the Riverwalk will put you at Two Street Coffee Garage where Dave will pull you a massive mocha amid the stylish zinc tables and a beautiful mural taken from a turn-of-the-century coffee advertisement.
Our favorite plate was served up on Las Olas at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Noodles & Panini.
Another local attraction that we were able to get to that should be mentioned was the Jai Alai games in the Dania section of town. I hooked up with a couple of old friends and the four of us made our way to Dania and we decided to satisfy our curiosities as to the break neck sport of Jai Alai. We met outside the facility and had hoped to dine there but were informed that men in sandals could not enter the dining room inside. After finding a nice little restaurant amid the many antique shops in Dania we made our way back to Dania Jai Alai and settled in for a few rounds.
The Dania Jai Alai fronton has pari-mutuel betting for both the games being played in house and for horse races being broadcast on monitors throughout the expansive building. Food and drink are served at either end and there is a large seating area. We beered up and made our way to our seats.
We never really deciphered the game in our brief outing but had a lot of fun nonetheless. Our giggling was only overshadowed by our cheers and howls of protest as we joined the crowd in expressing ourselves. After watching just a few games we were ready to place bets - we had figured that much out at least. We did not win any money, but we had a good time cavorting with old friends and getting to know a new sport and one that seemed to move at the speed of sound at times.
In an effort to slow down our relaxation, the following day we made our way north to Butterfly World in the suburb of Coconut Creek. If you are, a bird watcher, like myself, this facility is a must see. There are a number of enclosed spaces exhibiting hummingbirds and smaller birds, tropical plants and butterflies, from all over the world. This place was a gas, watching the butterflies flit through the air amidst the strains of relaxing classical music. In one of the following displays, a number of parrots that were available for photography decided that the sweater Cindy was wearing was a good place to hang out and she was mobbed. Hilarious. I really dug this place, the colors were unreal, and one could learn a ton about butterflies, or just sit and watch them on their untroubled, jangled path through the air.