Cruising out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale is pretty easy — you can see your ship from the airport. But you shouldn’t rush right from your plane to the ship. Add a couple extra days before your cruise to get to know this Florida city’s sandy beaches, state parks, and historic sites. Families will find a lot to do here as well, including sailing the canals on a pirate ship and checking out the fossils at the science museum. Here, the top seven things to do in Fort Lauderdale.
1. Spread out a beach blanket.
The 23 miles of sandy beaches and aquamarine water along the greater Fort Lauderdale coastline — which extend from Deerfield Beach to the north to Hallandale Beach to the south — are a sunny (and free) option for swimming and simply soaking up some sun. There are also places where you can rent a bike, book a surfing lesson, or hop into a beach volleyball match.
2. Explore the canals.
Like Venice, Fort Lauderdale is known for its scenic canals. Here they merge into the Intracoastal Waterway instead of the Adriatic Sea, and rather than centuries-old palazzos, these waterways are lined with multimillion-dollar mansions. You can book a sightseeing cruise on a yacht as well as a paddlewheel river boat, a pirate-style ship, or even a traditional gondola. More adventurous types can get out on the water in a kayak, while land-based tours include Segway tours.
3. Visit the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens.
Bonnet House, listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was built in 1920. The estate and its 35 oceanfront acres were originally owned by artist Frederic Clay Bartlett. His works, as well as paintings by his third wife, Evelyn Fortune Bartlett, decorate the interior.
4. Get to know the Everglades.
Fort Lauderdale is a key gateway to the Everglades, Florida’s largest national park at 1.5 million acres. The park has lots of activities to kick-start your adrenaline (airboat rides, alligator spotting) and provide eco adventure (bird-watching and kayaking). A variety of tours, both daytime and nighttime, leave right from Fort Lauderdale.
5. Check out the Museum of Discovery and Science.
Bringing the kids? This interactive children’s museum in downtown Fort Lauderdale is home to animal exhibits, flight and airboat simulators, and an eco-discovery center. It also has a six-story-tall IMAX screen. As a bonus, the museum is a great place to escape the Florida heat.
6. Play in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.
Nestled between the Atlantic and the Intracoastal Waterway, the former estate of Hugh Taylor Birch is now a tropical parkland. You can explore via the two hiking trails, and there is a paved roadway for biking or inline skating. If you want to take a dip to cool off, a special tunnel leads right to the beach.
7. Shop Sawgrass Mills.
If you aren’t totally satisfied with what you packed for your cruise — or you catch a rainy day, or just can't imagine a better way to start your vacation than at a mall — shop for tropics-appropriate pieces at this outlet center in neighboring Sunrise. You can find higher-end brands such as Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs, and Elie Tahari in the Colonnade area, but the entire Sawgrass Mills complex has more than 350 stores to suit every budget.