You would think the sheer beauty of Fort Lauderdale's sunny coast, with its palm trees and hibiscus flowers, sparkling waters and magnificent 40-kilometre stretch of Atlantic beach, would be enough.
Not even close.
Greater Fort Lauderdale, incorporating 31 communities from Hallandale Beach in the
south to Deerfield Beach in the north, pops with more than 500 hotels, 4,000 restaurants, 120 nightclubs, a wildlife sanctuary and the home ice of the NHL'S Florida Panthers.
The 100 marinas and 500 kilometres of inland waterways that harbour 50,000 sailing and power boats have inspired two nicknames for Fort Lauderdale: the Venice of America and the Yachting Capital of the World. And it's cruise territory, par excellence. The world's two largest ocean liners, both Royal Caribbeans, are based at Port Everglades and about 40 grand ships take to the high seas every week between October and April.
The spring-break college kids decamped years ago to Daytona and Panama City, and Fort
Lauderdale has evolved into a stylish, classy destination with great beachfront hotels, terrific boating experiences, power shopping at the Galleria, sport fishing and fashionable dining. Fort Lauderdale is at the top of its game.
It is the No. 1 winter destination for Canadians, drawing nearly one million vacationers annually from north of the border. To me, the allure is the vibrant, all-inclusive society of young and old, golfers and surfers, gays and straights. Above all, Fort Lauderdale is unpretentious and lighthearted, with a party culture that rocks on, swinging from beach-chic to luxurious.
Here's a peek at one of Florida's legendary towns. You can do it posh. Or you can party. Either way, it must be done.
Beach towns make me want to rent a Corvette or a T-Bird, but why take to the roads when there is sparkling, blue water everywhere?
Whatever your ride, from paddleboard to power boat, the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean are like Architectural Digest magazine come alive, with hundreds of lavish mansions of astounding size and opulence. Still, nothing says luxe like a yacht. Caution: as Gilded Age tycoon J. Pierpont Morgan advised, if you have to ask the price, you can't even afford the upkeep.
To buy into the opulent boating lifestyle, there is no better showroom than the annual Fort
Lauderdale International Boat Show. The world's largest, it displays $3 billion in mega-yachts and accessories, and even a personal submarine. The best of the best, perhaps, a 50-metre pedigreed lovely built in Europe, might cost $50 million to $75 million, plus that darned maintenance bill of $1 million a year, or more.
"But people who are not billionaires still can fulfil their yachting dreams," said Arnoldo Ramirez, chairman of Water Fantasies, whose splendid boats dock at Pier 66 and Bahia Mar Marina. "We charter 24-to-30-metre luxury yachts at $6,000-$10,000 a day and we are lucky to be cruising magnificently clean waters.
"Between 10 and 12 people can have an exceptional, five-star experience with a gourmet chef and they connect with the sea, the sky and their family and friends."
Perhaps I am a peasant at heart. I like the adorable, hop-on water taxis that tootle through the Intracoastal for $20 or less, stopping at Lauderdale landmarks such as 15th St. Fisheries where specialties are conch fritters and fried gator, and Las Olas Boulevard, the trendy strip of beach boutiques and hip restaurants.
The Lauderdale Luxe Collection offers the Vacation-Like-a-VIP package, May 1 to Sept. 30 with room upgrades, free valet parking and $100 resort credits. The Luxe Collection includes 11 posh palaces such as W Fort Lauderdale, the global hotel chain's largest cabana of cool; the Westin Beach Resort & Spa, another oceanfront biggie; the family-friendly Lago Mar Resort and Club, and the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale.
The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, which is in a class all its own, is the town's only AAA five-diamond resort. And it's a beauty, with unlimited opportunities for livin' large.
The Club Lounge, open to privileged guests of select rooms and suites, is the ultimate in belonging, with its impeccable personal concierges, all-day delicacies and open bar.
At the spa, the extravagant sapphire sea treatment will polish and cleanse your skin to jewel-like smoothness. Or have your massage in an outdoor cabana, soothed by the ocean breeze.
The Ritz-Carlton orchestrates culinary journeys by moonlight on Via Luna's oceanfront terrace or in the 5,000-bottle Wine Vault, where female patrons are offered faux fur stoles to ward off the chill and champagne sabering is a parlour game.
The Dinner Party
With a trendier, tropical-chic vibe, S3 restaurant in the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort is Fort Lauderdale's hottest party scene.
S3 stands for sun, surf and sand as well as steak, seafood and sushi.
I would add sexy, sultry and stunning.
S3's oceanfront full-moon parties, patio firepits and live music attract crowds of beautiful people, who are deeply bronzed, dressed for success and madly posting selfies to Instagram. With teams of chefs on the line in the busy, open kitchen, S3 cooks up small and large plates of lamb chops, rib-eye steaks, shrimp toast and grilled octopus, and serves Asian delicacies such as hamachi sushi.
It all goes best with creative, potent cocktails of tequila and vodka infused with lime, lemon grass and basil.
The Rainbow Party
Fort Lauderdale's gay scene is one of the most dynamic in the U.S. with nearly 20 resorts, 150 LGBT owned businesses and the United States' highest concentration of same-sex couples (2.8 per cent of a population of nearly 180,000), a slightly higher proportion than Seattle and San Francisco.
The "gay-bourhood" called Wilton Manors, exuberant and social, jumps with 24-hour merrymaking and cool hangouts such as Alibi or Rosie's Bar & Grill.
And community spirit will burst with Stonewall Summer Pride, June 21-22, when the streets will be closed for all-day entertainment, including a kids' zone.
Straight-friendly Lips is a local institution famous for its fabulous drag divas doing fabulous send-ups of Cher, Barbra Streisand, Madonna and Adele.
The writer was a guest of the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale.
The hotel did not review the story.
IF YOU GO
Air Canada, Sunwing, WestJet and Air Transat fly to Fort Lauderdale.
For all-Florida info, call 1-888-735-2872 or check visitflorida.com.
For venues mentioned, contact Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-356-1662 or 1-800-22-SUNNY/800-227-8669.
For hotel reservations, call 1-800-928-7583 or visit sunny.org. For the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, call 954-465-2300 or visit http://goo.gl/Lwo6G2.
In January, deluxe rooms approx. $549-$619 US per night or $799-$919 for an oceanfront suite, all incl.
Story by: ROCHELLE LASH, POSTMEDIA NEWS
Posted: January 21, 2014
Photo Credit: The full-moon beach parties at the island-chic S3 restaurant in the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort are the new be-seen scene for beautiful people. Photograph by: Dreamfocus Photography, Postmedia News