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Ft. Lauderdale: Beyond the Pre/Post-Cruise Mini-Break

Ft. Lauderdal beachJust a short and scenic 30-minute drive is the vibrant community of Ft. Lauderdale, sandwiched between the go-go-go metropolis of Miami to the south and the upscale, swank enclaves of West Palm Beach to the north. This is a vacation spot for sun-seekers, nautical types, water-sports enthusiasts, budding naturalists, golfers and those inclined to shop 'til they drop. In fact, the communities that comprise Greater Ft. Lauderdale seem to have settled comfortably into a niche that is both family-friendly and sophisticated. All manner of lifestyles mesh comfortably - it's one of the (if not the) premier gay destinations in the U.S. - and yet the city is very family friendly and extremely accessible to seniors. Ft. Lauderdale is artsy, folksy, culturally advanced, gastronomically diverse and geographically gorgeous.

Ft. Lauderdale started out as a swampland nearly 200 years ago, with a fort built in 1828 by Major William Lauderdale to defeat the Seminole Indians. The swamps were managed by the building of a series of canals - and today, the city's 300 miles of inter-coastal waterways have earned it the nickname "The Venice of America."

As Ft. Lauderdale grew and became more attractive to developers and hoteliers, and as its fabulous expanses of beaches became renowned, the area turned into a magnet for the raucous spring break crowd. This lasted from the early 1960's well into the 1980's, when city management put its collective foot down and effectively chased away the riff-raff further north to Daytona Beach. Today "The Venice of America" is a magnet of a different sort - appealing to all ages - offering family activities, luxurious spa retreats, beachfront resorts and mom-and-pop motels, dancing under the stars, gay nightclubs and gay-friendly resorts, deep sea fishing excursions, art galleries, and theater.

Family venues have become the norm in Greater Ft. Lauderdale, from kid-friendly resorts to beloved attractions like Butterfly World and some amazing feebies worth pursuing: Anne Kolb Nature Center, Downtown A & E Trolley, Old Dillard Museum, watching the fishing boats come in with the catch of the day, enjoying the in-line skaters and street theater on the Hollywood Broadwalk, wandering the Swap Shop indoor/outdoor flea market, walking along the marina docks looking at the boats, gazing at the mega-yachts along the Intercoastal waterways, seeing a real live alligator at one of the parks.

Most Romantic Musts: Stunning sunrises over the Atlantic and equally stunning sunsets over the Intercoastal Waterway; kayaking at night; dancing under the stars in Hollywood, on the Broadwalk; walking along the pier at Dania Beach; picnicking in the shade at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park; ritzy shopping on Las Olas Boulevard; exploring miles of canals and waterways; visiting Millionaire's Row; playing jai-alai or watching a greyhound race; visiting world-class museums and live theaters; going casual or uber-elegant - your choice.

Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale is the year-round home for many cruise ships - including newest, largest and most elaborate. The beaches are lovely (Hollywood Beach, Ft. Lauderdale Beach, Dania, Deerfield, Pompano and Lauderdale-By-The-Sea are favorites), the golfing is great, the arts and entertainment are stellar, and the shopping - whether in the Sawgrass Mills outlet mall or the upscale shops along Las Olas Boulevard - is fabulous. Seniors, families and romantics will all find something to treasure in Ft. Lauderdale.

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