They say there's no such thing as too much fun, but in Miami, we wonder sometimes... Sure, it's an impressive place (that beach! those hotels!), but after a third or fourth (or sixteenth) visit, you might suddenly find yourself under-dressed, trolling Collins Avenue in hopes of finding somewhere to "relax" that won't charge you $20 at the door. Good thing Miami's friendly neighbor to the north offers an easy alternative to all the velvet ropes, Mercedez-Benz dealerships, and designer labels.
Fort Lauderdale, as accessible from all U.S. airports as Miami, is a laid-back, low-key, and – most important of all – cheaper way to do southern Florida. Here are just a few things we love about this beach-y, balmy paradise...It's the Gateway to Latin America
This year, JetBlue planned six new routes out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to some of Central and South America's hottest destinations: namely, Medellin, Colombia (began in June); San Jose, Costa Rica (began in June); Lima, Peru (begins next month); Port-au-Prince, Haiti (begins in December); Montego Bay, Jamaica (begins in May); and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (begins in May). En route, a 3-night stop-off in Fort Lauderdale is a great way to squeeze in a few days of lazy, poolside lounging, or maybe even take a cruise around the "Yachting Capital of the World."
You Can See It in a Day... from the Water
If you want to take in Fort Lauderdale's top sights (Port Everglades, Millionaire's Row, to name a few) without lifting a finger or pushing a pedal, a day cruise on the Spirit of Fort Lauderdale (from $45 per person) is probably your best bet. The 50-foot catamaran, staffed by licensed Coast Guard Master Captains and their first mates, offers a range of excursions – whether you're exploring deserted cays, or scoping out mansions on the Intracoastal Waterway, you'll end the day with a better sense of Fort Lauderdale's stunning scenery, not to mention a few shades darker after being out in the sun!
Sliders, Guacamole & $4 Cocktails
No offense to Miami's food scene (we've certainly eaten our fill at Richard Sandoval's Toro Toro and the Delano's Bianca), but there's something refreshing about choosing a restaurant without a boldface celebrity name attached to it. The seafood-centric Bimini Boatyard Bar & Grill has a fun, tropical vibe (not to mention a killer $4 happy hour), but newer openings also offer a an opportunity to sample the vibrant local dining scene.
The roaming Palate Party is a food truck that universally defines all of its dishes as "a party in your mouth." And once you've tried chef Robyn Almodovar's signature Crab Cake Sliders with red chili tomato jam and aioli ($12) and Mushroom Risotto Balls ($6), you'll understand why. Be sure to track the truck's whereabouts via their Facebook page. Meanwhile, the brick-and-mortar Rocco's Tacos is something of a south Florida staple, with locations in Orlando, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach. They list 200 tequilas on their drink menu, but it's the kitchen's fresh guacamole (pictured) and made-from-scratch tacos (from $2.95) that are the real draw.
Its Hotel Scene Is Growing
You'll be glad to hear that trading in Miami's iconic beachfront properties on Collins Avenue doesn't have to mean downgrading. At Pillars, which Conde Nast Traveler recently named the "Best Hotel in Florida," you'll find top-tier service and impeccable design in each of the hotel's 18 rooms, all of which overlook the Intracoastal Waterfront. What's more, the $219 rate gets you access to a small secluded pool and the 1940s-inspired dining room.
For $159 per night, try the brand new Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa, which opened in July and was the first hotel to break ground in the area since 2002. Each of the 219 rooms has a balcony looking out to the Atlantic, and the two pools, jacuzzi, and rooftop terrace mean you'll have to choose carefully between the beach or the hotel. Luckily, you'll have plenty of time to test out both. We also love the B Ocean Resort, which is offering rooms in November for $165 and gives guests the feel of a sleek 4-star Miami hotel without all the pretension. You're even greeted with a furry friend – a plush stuffed animal in the shape of a sea turtle – upon arrival. If you buy it during your stay, a portion of the proceeds go toward saving the local (real) sea turtle population.