News

At Leisure in Lauderdale

27 September 2011By Louisa Beckett

Many crew have homes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, one of two main U.S. superyacht hubs (the other is Newport, R.I.). But even if you don’t live in Lauderdale, there’s a good chance you may wind up there for weeks or even months while your yacht is in for service or a refit at one of the many local boatyards. Don’t panic — there’s plenty to see and do in “The Venice of America.”

While not as famous as Miami’s South Beach (a half-hour drive south), Fort Lauderdale is a year-round beach town. The main beach, across the street from Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show’s Bahia Mar Yachting Center venue, is a great place to catch some rays while watching cruise ships and freighters come in and out of busy Port Everglades. Many yachties prefer Hollywood Beach, just south of town, which is bordered by a paved promenade on which you can jog, rollerblade, bicycle or grab a beer at a tiki bar overlooking the waves. A note to Californian, Australian and Irish crew: South Florida’s version of surf will make you snort into your brew.

Shopping is another popular pastime in Fort Lauderdale, especially for crew with Euros in their pockets. There’s a wide range of options, from the trendy boutiques of Las Olas Boulevard to the upscale shops in the Galleria Mall on Sunrise Boulevard, to the lower-brow Sawgrass Mills Mall, an indoor maze of outlet shops in the western suburb of Sunrise (caution: it’s mobbed on the weekends). There is also an Ikea in Sunrise — even if you’re not in the market for furniture, it has great deals on all home furnishings and décor, and a cafeteria that serves low-cost, delicious Swedish fare.

Fort Lauderdale is filled with dining and drinking options for every budget. If you are in the mood to splurge, try Chima, a Brazilian steakhouse on Las Olas where the waiters tempt you with churrasco, perfectly grilled rotisserie meats. Also on Las Olas is the new Rocco’s Tacos, already a hugely popular hangout serving a long list of tequilas and guacamole made fresh at table-side. “Fort Liquordale” has several established yachtie hangouts, notably Waxy O’Connor’s (a.k.a. Waxy’s) on SE 17th Street, a friendly, reasonably priced Irish pub. If your boatyard is on the New River, you can go downriver by tender to Briny’s, another Irish establishment on the Las Olas Riverfront, and tie up for a meal.

Having access to a car is important in greater Fort Lauderdale, which sprawls out between the Atlantic coastline and the great watery wilds of the Everglades mid-state. If you have a hankering to see an alligator up close, consider a day trip to Shark Valley Visitor’s Center at the entrance to Everglades National Park, west of Miami. The oddly named Shark Valley is not in a valley and has no sharks, but it does feature is gators, and lots of them. At certain times of the year, you can rent a bike and ride it slalom-style through dozens of alligators basking in the sun right on the trail in front of you. No one has been eaten there — yet.

Fishing is a major activity in off Fort Lauderdale; take the tow-behind out Port Everglades Inlet or book a charter for the day. There are numerous charter boats and “head boats” to choose from docked just south of the Bahia Mar Yachting Center. Lauderdale also is blessed with a living coral reef, served by several dive boats. Scuba divers will find more abundant sea life in John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park off Key Largo at the top of the Florida Keys, however. You can drive there in about an hour and a half (take Florida’s Turnpike, not I-95). Largo is lined with dive shops that offer two-tank trips to the park.

If you are up for a three-plus-hour drive, take the Turnpike north to Orlando, home of Disney World and Universal Studios. Disney is a perennial favorite, but the hottest new attraction is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. If you are a fan of the books or the movies, you’ll find the full-scale replicas of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley uncanny. In order to avoid waiting in line for two-plus hours for each ride and experience, however, consider booking one of Disney’s partner hotels, which give you access to the park an hour before the rest of the visitors can enter.

A yard period in Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have to be all fun and games. It also gives you a great opportunity to conveniently upgrade your professional certifications. There are several well-established crew training institutes right in town that offer regularly scheduled STCW certification, captain’s and engineer license courses. Stews also can find classes in arranging flowers and pouring wine. Check out MPT (Maritime Profesional Training) at www.mptusa.com; International Yacht Training Fort Lauderdale at www.yachtmaster.com and SeaSchool at www.seaschool.com.