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Ft. Lauderdale: All Grown Up

by Susan Campbell / Photos by Photo:www.sunny.org, Photo: Lori Keenan, Photo: Harbour Beach Marriot Resort, Photo: Luisa Yen., Photo: Susan Campbell

For many years, Ft. Lauderdale was considered a popular spring break party escape spot-copious beer and cheap spirits fueling students to go wild in the streets. But over the last decade they’ve been really trying to improve that perception and let the world know that the region has greatly matured and is now a much more hip, refined, upscale and cosmopolitan destination. And since I was heading there en route to a cruise aboard Holland America’s Eurodam, I was eager to check out  their newly minted “grown-up” vibe before I embarked. So I took a WestJet direct flight a day ahead and in only 3/12 hours I was out of the snow and into the sun.

Stay

I checked into The Atlantic Resort & Spa- one of the few luxury boutique hotels in the area. It’s a very special beachfront property and they were eager to host us and show off their most recent refurbishments. My standard room was exceedingly spacious and beautifully appointed with a full kitchen, and the sea view  from my balcony was postcard perfect.They also have massive  penthouse suites with two and three bedrooms and two full bathrooms with whirlpool tubs in each. Their outdoor pool and whirlpool crest a bar/cafe terrace flanked by a  full-service spa and fitness centre that also look out onto the sea. On site dining is at their East End Brasserie  that morphs from a fun friendly pub style spot in the day to a hip world fusion enclave by night. Though my stay at the Atlantic was short , it was also very sweet and I would love to return  for a longer holiday there.

A Tippling and Tapas Tour…

I met up with some local friends and we decided to do a progressive tour of Ft. Lauderdale hot spots.  We began at Harbor Beach Marriott’s Sea Level Restaurant & Ocean Bar to watch the sunset over the waves. It sits right on the sand of the hotel’s private 1/4 mile of beach. Once dark, I really appreciated having their LED menus that light up when opened! Their signature drink, the electric blue Tipsy Turtle (key lime rum, blueberry vodka and pineapple juice), came highly recommended with one dollar from each sale  going  to the local Sea Turtle Conservation Fund. It tasted as good as it looked. For snacks, we had gourmet flatbreads and creamed spinach.

Los Olas- Boulevard of the Beautiful People

Next we were off to the twinkling lights lining the palm-studded street  of the upscale nightly playground of Los Olas Blvd.  This is where the beautiful people  flock to patronize ten art galleries (open nights, too), shop at around 65 ritzy boutiques, and frequent some 30 al fresco dining rooms and bars. The atmosphere is energizing, and our first stop was The Royal Pig Pub & Kitchen. The joint was really jumping! Packed to the rafters inside and out with  fare like grouper with grits, mussels and mango piccadilly and killer burgers flying out of their open kitchen. Sports fans love this place for the multitude of  TV screens absolutely everywhere, and  though they specialize in crafted beers ( 20 kinds) I had to try The Filthy Pig (vodka martini with a bacon wrapped blue cheese stuffed olive)-certainly different. And it went well with their addictive Parmesan truffle fries! We continued on to YOLO (You Only Live Once) across the street for a comprehensive selection of fine wines and champagnes by the glass. I especially like their big open fire pit out front. Then neon lights beckoned us next door to see what was behind the velvet rope of Vibe Los Olas. VIP sections with bottle service and lounge music set the scene where we tried their watermelon margaritas. They could have been sweeter, but were refreshing all the same.

One evening is nowhere near long enough to really experience the new scene, not to mention all the beautiful beaches, but at least we got a small taste of it and will certainly return for a longer visit to explore it all further.  And, yes, I do agree that Ft. Lauderdale is all grown up now.

For more visit  Fort Lauderale’s website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter: @visitlauderdale