10 Free (or Almost Free) Things to Do in Fort Lauderdale Before or After Your Cruise

by  Kristine Hansen | Aug 17, 2018

Cruising from Fort Lauderdale is convenient, especially for those already on the East Coast. That convenience, however, can be marred easily by long layovers, which are often unavoidable when you're booking flights around embarkation/disembarkation times.

Fortunately, Fort Lauderdale has no shortage of fun and affordable things to do—from historic gardens to guided bike tours—and it's easy and cheap to navigate on your own. So ditch your suitcases (Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport offers storage for $7 per day), and take advantage of these 10 inexpensive activities before or after your sailing. 

1. Go for a swim

The Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex contains a trio of pools and charges non-residents just $5 to use them (plus its lockers, showers, and changing rooms). The facility is attached to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, which is worth a peek for its collection of aquatic Olympic medals—the world’s largest—and 40 exhibits dedicated to the history of the sport ($8).

2. Browse vintage clothing boutiques

While most people associate South Beach with designer goods, Fort Lauderdale offers its own impressive cache of high-end apparel and accessories—on consignment. LuLu’s Vintage—formerly on Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue—features covetable couture finds, such as Art Deco hair combs and bejeweled, 1980s dresses from Saks Fifth Avenue. The best part: It's only a block from the beach (via Earl Lifshey Ocean Park), so you can squeeze in a walk on the sand afterward.

3. Eat at an old-fashioned diner

Fort Lauderdale is filled with old-school diners that offer a relaxed, air-conditioned haven for parents with restless kids in-tow, or anyone craving comfort eats at all hours of the day. Among the best are Peter Pan Diner, a no-frills local favorite, offering Greek specials and indulgent desserts 24/7; and the infamous Floridian Restaurant—a Fort Lauderdale fixture since 1937—which displays photos of its celeb clientele on the walls.

4. Stroll down Las Olas Boulevard

The best way to experience Fort Lauderdale's buzzing retail and dining district is to window shop and people watch. The historic, palm-tree-lined strip features more than 120 shops, galleries, sidewalk cafes, and adorable bars and eateries, leading all the way out to the beach on its Eastern end. For an inexpensive bite, stop into La Bonne Crepe or Nanou French Bakery & Café for delicious, moderately priced French fare.

5. Explore the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens

Built in 1920, this historic estate now operates as a non-profit organization and is open to the public. Guided, 90-minute tours of the meticulously preserved interiors cost $20, or you can opt to explore the gardens only for $10. Among the highlights is an impressive art collection, including works by the home's original owners—important patrons who gifted Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist” to the Art Institute of Chicago. Quite a few paintings of similar caliber remain throughout the house. The property is open Tuesday through Sunday.

6. Spend the afternoon at a resort

Want to extend your time in the sun? While some hotels charge extravagant prices for a day pass (e.g. The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, $300), others are quite reasonable. At the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach, which opened last fall, $75 includes access to the Sky Deck’s pool—plus a towel, chair, and bottled water—for the day.

7. Ride the trolley

You can't miss the Sun Trolley, with its bright red-and-yellow exterior, circling downtown Fort Lauderdale. It covers seven routes (including one from the airport to Las Olas) and costs just $3 for the day, or $1 per ride, making it the easiest and most affordable way to get around. Note that luggage is not allowed on the trolley, but if you’ve left your bags with the airport’s storage service, you’ll be fine.

8. Take a guided bicycle tour

If your legs are itching to move, Riverwalk Rec offers two-hour bike tours ($39) covering Fort Lauderdale’s downtown waterfront (including charming neighborhoods like Colee Hammock and Sailboat Bend), with a stop for gelato or at a bakery along the way. If you'd rather strike out on your own, the company also rents bikes at $5 per hour. Keep an eye out for forthcoming themed tours, including the three-hour FTL Burger & Brewery Bike Tour ($45) and a four-hour ride along Fort Lauderdale's beaches ($79).

9. See the city by boat 

Assuming you’re not sick of being on the water, another great way to see Fort Lauderdale is on a narrated cruise. Carrie B Cruises offers a 1.5-hour sightseeing tour on its 112-foot boat (with an upper deck) that takes you past yachts and lavish homes for $23.95 per person. Dates vary by season.

10. Hike Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

On Taylor’s former estate lies this state park, between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, next to Fort Lauderdale Beach. In addition to a 1.9-mile paved road, there are two hiking trails. Drop by the park’s visitor center to learn more about the natural habitat. Entrance fee is $6 per vehicle.

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