A February 2003 trip
to Fort Lauderdale by Mary Dickinson
Quote: Discovering Fort Lauderdale should start with a visit to Las Olas Blvd. Discover the riverfront, the science museum, and best of all the restaurants and the quaint, very expensive shops. Bonnet House and surrounding land goes back to another era and is right next to resort.
Have the concierge arrange to have the casino bus pick you up and if your planning on trips to Miami or Key West use a tour bus. Its fun to take a water bus from the riverfront off Las Olas Blvd. or if you're interested in who lives where take a tour from the river front.
Hotel | "Sunterra Resorts Fort Lauderdale Beach"
A converted hotel, it doesn't have as fancy an architectural plan as a new gold crown condo, but the renovations are pleasing and expensive. New sliding glass doors lead to a covered balcony with a great view of the ocean or the Intracoastal Waterway. On the seventh floor we were just above the treetops. The living/dining room is spacious and the sliding glass doors allow an ocean view from anywhere in the room.
A Murphy bed and pull out couch allow sleeping arrangements for six people; however, the one bathroom might be uncomfortable for that many. For two people it’s a wonderful tropical island paradise and it's in the city with so many interesting attractions. The thick glass top dining table has a base that looks like a section of a designed stone architectural column. The chairs around it are dark bamboo as is the couch and side chairs. A white louver paneled armoire holds the big television. All the furnishings are in new condition as is the sea green carpeting. The bedroom has a white triple dresser and king size bed in new condition.
The kitchen has shrimp colored modern cabinets and new 8"ceramic tile on the floor. The dishwasher is new but the stove and refrigerator are dated. The bathroom is small and has a glassed-in shower and wall to wall vanity sink. There is ample storage space throughout.
On the bottom floor is a free laundry and well equipped exercise room. There is a gift shop and community room on the main floor. The maid cleans midweek and the activity center leaves a phone message every day concerning resort activities. We went to the Polynesian Show on Tuesday, learned through an expert how to hula and won the free raffle for a dinner show at the Mai-Kai Restaurant (worth $39). I wanted to catch the free Scuba diving lessons but no time. Maybe next time.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 21, 2003
Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort
909 Breakers Ave.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304
We made reservations for dinner and the show and eventually we were directed to our table. Several "rooms" are around the centrally located stage. They had names like The Tahiti Room, The Hawaii Room, etc. Of course, it all looked like the inside of a big tiki hut, with a variety of handmade lampshades dimly lighting the area. Genuine Polynesian items hung from the ceiling also. It's very South Seas-looking.
We got a menu with four entrees because we were staying for the show. I chose Beef with Mushrooms and my husband wanted to try Ginger Garlic Beef. The first course served was a Pupu Platter with 10 items for each of us. Three different dips were brought for them. They were very good, but with the drink, a little too filling. I wasn't really hungry by the time dinner was served. My dinner had large chunks of mushrooms with tender well-cooked chunks of beef. I tried some, and it tasted good, but I ended up taking most of it home. It was great when I had it for lunch the next day. My husband said his was delicious. It was served with big pieces of red and green peppers and very spicy. Two very generous scoops of sherbet were served for dessert.
The show was excellent. The singers, drummers and dancers were obviously natives of the Polynesian Islands. The performers did an exquisite rendition of the Hawaiian Wedding Song. It is one of my favorites and it was our wedding anniversary. The lead dancer had come to our resort the preceding Tuesday and taught Polynesian dance, so we knew what the dance was about.
There is a gift shop in the complex with a large selection of clothes, jewelry and gift items.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 29, 2003
3599 North Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33308
When we walked onto the dock, we noticed a lot of people sitting at tables on the wharf. I looked around for a door to enter the restaurant, but the only door went into the kitchen, so we found an empty table and a waiter brought the menu.
They feature fresh Florida fish, shrimp, conch, alligator, and steak. The house specialties are Coconut Shrimp ($13.95), Dolphin Sandwich ($12.95), Cracked Conch Burger ($9.50), and Shrimp Burger ($12.95). I settled for a Grouper Fingers Sandwich ($8.50-$8.95) with cheese, and my husband ordered Traditional Style Fish and Chips ($7.95).
Not willing to believe that was the only dining area, I looked around for an inside dining room while we waited for our lunch. Further along on the wharf was a large octagonal building with the wall open on one side. Inside is a bar and more tables. I noticed a gift shop nearby, and as I walked over there to see what they offered, I passed the swimming pool. The gift shop and pool are part of Shirttail Charlie's. If I had arrived by yacht, I would have realized we could jump in the pool and cool off before lunch, then we could sit at the tables next to the pool in our bathing suits and people would know we'd arrived by yacht. At night, the dining room over the kitchen is open. Also at night, they offer a free tour up the New River. Really!!!
The grouper sandwich with cheese was excellent. It was served with fries and coleslaw and lettuce and tomato, and the coleslaw was real good. My husband enjoyed the fish and chips and ordered Key Lime Pie for dessert. We shared it. It was the best I've ever tasted.
Eventually the water bus docked and took us back across the river.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 30, 2003
400 Southwest Third Ave.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33315
Attraction | "Swap Shop and Circus"
I like to go on Sunday around 9am. A large parking lot, intended for use as a drive-in theater, is filled with flea market venders. Items from many parts of the world are offered for sale by people from everywhere speaking a variety of languages. I usually can find a few things I just can't live without. My husband likes videos and adds significantly to his collection every time we go. When our legs can't stand anymore we go inside the big top.
The flea market continues inside with new items only but we cut right through the long aisles of venders to the center. We know when we're getting close because we can hear the mariachi, dressed in colorful costumes, playing their instruments and singing. All around the central area are booths with ethnic food. I have to walk around a couple times to decide what I really want. I tried spicy pork from a Chinese booth last time. It was delicious, but I was breathing fire for awhile.
The second floor of the big top has jewelry. Flea market jewelry venders are great. You have to know quality and style but you will find great bargains here. They can also fix jewelry while you wait. If you want to toy with an outlandish Guicci item they have great imitations at some of these booths, also.
In the center of the big top is the circus. You can watch it for free if you stand outside the bleachers or you can go in and sit down for $2. It’s a really good performance. The trapeze artists are professional. The costumes are excellent. The clowns are funny. Elephants dance. Lions obey their masters but roar just the same. Performers jump from one horse to the next as they prance and dance around the ring. We rest our tired legs as we watch the show.
The last thing we do before we leave is go to the Farmers' Market. We don't go first or we'll carry everything we buy all day or take it back to our car and let it heat up in the Florida sunshine while we walk the flea market. My niece lives in the area and assured me buying fresh fruits and veggies at the Swap Shop is safe and the produce is less expensive and better than anywhere else. I love fruit that has ripened on the vine. It has a better taste. At the Swap Shop I can buy exactly what I want. I bought a box of nine ripe mangos for $3 and ten tomatoes for $1 It lasted all week in the refrigerator.
The Swap Shop and Circus is open from 9am - 5pm every day, all year.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 22, 2003
Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop
3291 West Sunrise Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The property had been a wedding gift to her husband, Frederic Clay Bartlett and his first wife, Helen. Helen was the daughter of Hugh Taylor Birch. He gave his 180-acre estate to the State of Florida. It is now Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. The Bonnet House property was part of his estate before the gift. Helen died 6 years after she married. Evelyn was Bartlett's second wife.
There is a high cinder block wall on the north side of the property. We were staying on the 7th floor of Sunterra Resort Fort Lauderdale and it is located next to that wall. From our balcony we could see a lot of old tropical trees belonging to the Bonnet House. Although there are twelve monkeys still living on the grounds we didn't see any until we toured the house.
At the end of Birch Street, behind our resort, is a big beautiful black gate in the cinder block wall. Looking through that gate we could see a long drive lined with old giant Millalucca trees. It was locked so we had to go to the gate near the Intracoastal. Inside that gate is a big parking lot and the welcome center. Admission to the house tour is $10 for adults; $9 for Seniors. It is open Tu-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4 in winter months.
We then crossed a bridge next to the boat house and followed the trail leading to the house. We waited for the docent under a huge Banion tree that had limbs with a spread of over fifty feet. Once inside the front door we were in the courtyard. The Bartletts had collected treasures while travelling and displayed them near the walls of the courtyard where there is an overhead roof.
Frederic was an artist. His studio is off the courtyard. It is huge with a very ornate fireplace. The drawing room has a mahogany ceiling made from a log he found floating in the ocean. They liked to entertain on a small scale and there are only four chairs at the dinning room table. The music room is formal and has a beautiful Steinway piano. The bedrooms are upstairs and not opened to the public. There is a big veranda on the eastside of the house. Nearby is a fresh water pond with two magnificent swans. We sat out on the veranda and watched a video. More elaborate out buildings are around the house. A gift shop is located in the caretaker's cottage
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 23, 2003
900 North Birch Road
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304
+1 954 563 5393
Attraction | "Hugh Taylor Birch State Park"
The park is on a barrier island, one of the many long islands in Florida, separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway. You can enter the park from Ocean Boulevard - there is free parking along the boulevard, but not likely to be available on a warm, sunny day. Around the corner is the main entrance on Sunrise Boulevard. It costs $1 per person to get in and $3.50 to park a car inside the park.
Hugh Taylor Birch was a Chicago lawyer. In 1893, he decided to come to south Florida and bought up huge tracts of land for $1 an acre. He gave his daughter, Helen, and her husband, Frederic Bartlett, 40 acres for a wedding gift. Bonnet House is located on that land and is open to the public (see my Bonnet House journal). He donated his own home, Tarramar, and 180 acres to the state to be used as a public park.
You can ride a bike or car around the road in the park that circles the entire area. There is a jogging/hiking trail with 16 stops for exercise. There is also an exotic-plant trail. At the gate on the way in, we got a pamphlet to guide us on that trail. No. 8 plant is a Zulu Fig Tree. It has a series of stems that spread out 40-50 feet. The Swiss Family Robinson could have built a 10-room house in that tree. It is magnificent. No. 10, the Sour Orange Tree, had lots of ripe oranges on the ground. We tried one. Yuk!!! Tasty orange-tree branches can be grafted onto it and become hardy. Along the trail, large Milalluca trees had been girded and were dead. They're a Florida pest. We saw examples of the Strangler Fig, another Florida pest, actually strangling helpless palm trees.
Tarramar, Hugh Taylor Birch's home, is used as a visitor center. It is a typical 1940s Florida house. From the second-floor windows, we could see the ocean. On the first floor, displays told about Hugh Taylor Birch, the history of Fort Lauderdale, Florida ecology, and some good examples of Florida wildlife. Scheduled activities are planned and take place there. Although the park is open every day, in the winter the house is only open on weekends.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 28, 2003
Hugh Taylor Birch Rec. Area
3109 East Sunrise Blvd
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304
+1 954 564 4521
Attraction | "The 32nd Annual Winterfest Boat Parade"
It was about 2pm, so we decided to walk back to our condo nearby and have a late lunch. As we went further down the roadway, we noticed that some people were already claiming the free seating at the picnic tables along the Intracoastal Waterway. We packed a lunch and went back to the park and claimed a great site at a picnic table next to the water. We had to pay $2 to enter the park for a special event.
From our table we had a view all the way up the waterway to where the grandstand was located. For the rest of the afternoon, we watched as the decorated yachts and other vessels went down the waterway to Port Everglades where the parade was setting up. One vessel - it might have been an old tanker - was set up like a tiki hut village. In fact, it had Tiki Beach written on it. Of course, there was a pirate ship. Some big yachts had several sponsors whose names were in lights on the sides of the vessels. Businesses in Fort Lauderdale like to be represented in the boat parade. The Swap Shop had a huge vessel demonstrating their circus performance. Trapeze artists were swinging from high up while clowns did funny things. They even had some of their animals on their vessel. Some looked a lot better in the daylight than they did at night with their lights on. The theme of this year's parade was Once Upon A Time.
As the day wore on, people gathered along the waterway until there were about four rows of people everywhere. At about 7:30pm, the 92 participating vessels started going past us, led by a tremendous display of fireworks in the lead vessel. David Cassidy, who played Keith Partridge in the Partridge Family, was the Grand Marshal. He had recently moved to Fort Lauderdale.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 29, 2003
Winterfest Boat Parade
1881 Southeast 17th St
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33316
+1 954 767 0686
The "captians" love to give an unofficial tour as t he bus travels along. In fact it’s a cheaper tour and more fun than if you pay a lot more for a water tour and you can get off and on when and where you want. Stop 2 is a whistle stop. We were told not to whistle to attract the water bus because no one will hear. You have to make a dramatic signal. Stop 3 is at the Double Tree Suites. You have to cut through the lobby. The bus stops behind that hotel. Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, The Bonnet House and the Galleria are at Stop 3. Stop 4 is near Shula’s On The Beach and The Sheraton Yankee Clipper Resort.
The "captains" take great pleasure knowing who owns what yacht or mansion along the waterway and how much they paid for it. Barbara Striesand bought her mother a house near Stop 4 and Nick Nolte owns the house next to it. One house in that area opens the entire east side of the house with garage doors. What a way to enjoy the waterfront.
At Stop 4 there’s a great ocean front restaurant, Casablanca Café. They offer a two for the price of one lunch M-F. Stop 5 is where the action is. Big yachts come in here. John Forsythe’s house is nearby. You know, Charlie’s Angels. Stop 6 is temporarily closed. Stop 7 is the base stop for the water bus. Here you can switch to the southern route. This is also the location of the Bahia Mar Marina, one of the biggest marinas in southeast Florida. The captain’s love to explain who owns what yacht, who used to own it, how they got their money, what they paid for the yacht and why (one owner buys yachts as a tax write off), where the yacht was made, how big it is and lots more great information. The Radisson Bahia Mar is at this stop also.
Stops 8, 9, 10 and 11 are on the southbound route. More yachts and mansions if you can handle it.
At this point the water bus starts up the New River. It's hard to distinguish one river or channel from the next because there are a lot of canals and rivers off from the Intracoastal Waterway. In fact there are around 180 miles of waterways in Fort Lauderdale. It is known as the Venice of Florida. The former home of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez is near the mouth of the New River. It is now owned by the daughter of Oscar Meyers. A gorgeous pink mansion is nearby. It is owned by Miss Cleo, the psychic, and of course we heard about what she's getting sued for now and why. I used to enjoy hearing her advice when every other ad on television belonged to her, but I would never think of calling her. Then there’s the former home of Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors. He got the house when they split and it's on the market but it won’t sell. When our captain told us why, everyone booed: You can’t sell a house without a faucet.
Money is all important if you’re planning on living on the New River. One resident, the third richest man in Fort Lauderdale, is Wayne Huiznga. The captains are intimately familiar with everything he owns, everything he ever owned, including businesses, houses, yachts, sport teams, ETC, and they loved to recite the list for us.
Stop 12 is convenient to the Shops on Las Olas Boulevard. See my write up under Birds in Flight. Stop 13 is near the Stranahan House, the oldest house in Fort Lauderdale.. More about that in Birds in Flight, also. Stop 17 is at the Downtowner Saloon. Stop 18 is at the Las Olas Riverfront. There are lots of great restaurants here and some shopping. It is on the beautifully landscaped Riverwalk and convenient to The Discovery and Science Museum. If you want to go to Shirttail Charlie’s, Stop 19 or Stop 20, beware of the fact the captains don’t like to go west of the draw bridge because it stays down too long and puts them behind schedule.