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Fort Lauderdale – America’s Venice

Connie Francis immortalized Fort Lauderdale in 1960 with the release of “Where The Boys Are.” Since then, this South Florida city has grown up and so have the boys. And a few own homes along Millionaire’s Row in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Fort Lauderdale is no longer an “in” destination for kids on semester break. It’s become a grown-up place where sophisticated adults gather to enjoy the great weather, outdoor activities and world-class dining and shopping.

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As early as 6 a.m., the 22-block boulevard stretching along the waterfront comes to life with people traffic. Cyclists, roller bladders, walkers and runners all head to the beach for their morning exercise before the sun blazes. The perfectly groomed beach is wide enough for volleyball courts, picnic tables and grills for cookouts, and the emerald, 80-degree water is irresistible to swimmers.

Fort Lauderdale, the American version of Venice, is in the middle of expansion, and the evidence is seen in the construction of new hotels and condominium complexes that line the beach. Donald Trump has gotten in on the act with his $200 million, 24-story Trump International Hotel & Tower. The complex, still under construction, encompasses two buildings on a two-acre city block and has 200 feet of direct ocean frontage and a building plan that maximizes the ocean and Intracoastal Waterway views from almost every room.

Visitors to Fort Lauderdale who prefer a smaller, more intimate hotel will find accommodations and service at Starwood’s luxury hotel The Atlantic, next door to the Trump property, charming and impeccable. The Atlantic’s interior blue and violet lighting gives off a soft glow in the lobby and bar areas, providing a chic appeal. The Atlantic has trained its staff in how to provide extraordinary service, from the valet parking attendants to the concierge. At The Atlantic, the staff makes it a point to know your name.

This sophisticated hotel, built terrace style, sits directly across from the beach and is within walking distance of outdoor cafes, restaurants, night spots and boutiques. After a relaxing lunch in the hotel’s Mediterranean style restaurant Trina, a swim in the pool on one of the upper floors is one way to burn off calories.

Afterwards make your way to the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens–a must-see for everyone. Built in 1920, this breathtaking estate is the former home of artists Fredric and Evelyn Bartlett and a remarkable tribute to a bygone era. The plantation style home, reflecting the Bartlett’s penchant for European art and architecture, overlooks a lagoon and comprises 35 acres of lush botanical beauty, wetlands, fruit grove, lily pond, boathouse, shell museum and theater surrounded by a moat. There is a walking trail and swans, monkeys and other wildlife live on the property.
Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway, or Millionaire’s Row, is best explored by glass bottom boat or the Jungle Queen River Cruise from the Bahia Mar Yachting Center. An evening cruise takes tourists past homes owned by Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, actor Nick Nolte and Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors.

While the setting sun presents its glorious colors, the sternwheeler cruises past Venetian Isles, New River and downtown Fort Lauderdale with a final stop at Indian Village for an all-you-can-eat chicken, ribs and shrimp dinner accompanied by baked beans, cole slaw, bread, pina coladas, beer and soft drinks. The three-hour cruise is narrated by a captain whose corny humor entertains while gliding along. A homespun variety show tops off the evening before the boat returns to Bahia Mar under twinkling city lights.

Visitors looking for something off the beaten path are only a half hour drive from the pre-historic Everglades National Park and “anything goes” South Beach, Miami. An hour’s drive farther south at the end of Route 1 is Key West where there’s something for everyone – street entertainers, Ernest Hemingway’s home and the coolest of all bars, Sloppy Joe’s.

Unlike other Floridian cities, Fort Lauderdale is not a place where senior citizens live out their years. It’s a hip, happening place for people of all ages. Even the boys.

What & Where:
The Atlantic
(601 N ft Lauderdale Beach Blvd; 954-567-8020)
Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruise (801 Seabreeze Blvd; 954-462-5596)
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens (900 N Birch Rd: 954-53-5393)

Current Atlantic Hotel Special:
A special Sea Escape Spa package currently being offered including one spa treatment per person per day (choice of 50-minute deep sea facial or 50-minute body scrub, daily breakfast and taxes). Special is scheduled to run through 2008 and most of 2009. Call for exact details.

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