Five-hundred years ago (April 2, 1513) Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De Leon sighted Florida, and the following day landed on its golden beaches, seeking the fountain of youth. These days, billionaires arrive on their multi-million dollar yachts, opting for the luxurious port of Fort Lauderdale, where the secret to eternal youth lies in its rejuvenating lifestyle. That lifestyle comes with a bounty: Fort Lauderdale has the most magnificent weather in the country with over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. Day spas, organic gastronomy, championship golf, sustainable tourism, and clean living are the hallmark of today’s Lauderdale; it’s the antithesis of anything you may have seen in movies from the 1960s.
The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale is the flagship resort along this stretch of Florida’s Gold Coast, where guests bask in tropical breezes and enjoy million-dollar views of the turquoise ocean. Oenophiles delight in selecting fine wines from the Ritz’ 5,000-bottle collection in the warm and elegant wine room; Lauderdale’s Ritz-Carlton is a nod to days gone by when refinement was not a luxury but a mere lifestyle. The Ritz is perfectly located in the heart of Fort Lauderdale, close to museums, symphonies, and high-culture events.
Families seeking a chic tropical lifestyle hotel in the moderate price ranges will love the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel. Also known as the Yankee Clipper, this building takes the fanciful shape of a clipper ship. I love to stay here when I visit, and I always ask for the beach house behind the main building; I believe it provides the best location possible for a beach holiday. When I open the drapes in the morning, I see athletes enjoying volleyball and runners darting along the seashore accented by the Florida sky’s famous pinks and golds.
Throughout the day, families discover fantasy adventures, like seeking treasures long lost at sea aboard Blue Foot’s pirate ship, or diving “under the sea” with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” performed at Fort Lauderdale’s Children’s Theatre. For mermaid enthusiasts, MeduSirena and her troupe are a unique and memorable experience at the Yankee Clipper – adults enjoy lemonade mojitos each Friday night at 6:30 pm in The Wreck Bar while reliving the sub-aquatic shows of tourism’s Golden Age. For country music fans, enjoy a concert by Grammy-winning headliner Kenny Chesney at Rock The Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival, a beach party hosting 25,000 eco-oriented revelers; this year, the Sheraton partners in a one-of-a-kind Conservation Village located on site, which will educate audience members about ocean conservation.
Culture aficionados will love the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District. Populated by “The Beautiful People” and fitness enthusiasts on parade, the District is a Mecca for art, dance, festivals, history, music, opera, theatre, and family fun. The crown jewel of South Florida is located at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts; this world-class complex hosts the Miami City Ballet, Broadway Across America, Florida Grand Opera, Gold Coast Jazz Society, Symphony of the Americas, Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida, and countless other high-culture events. The Broward Center is the proverbial Fountain of Youth: art is a lifelong challenge and infinite intellectual puzzle – art keeps you young – and The Broward Center is overflowing with opportunities for enrichment. Presenting more than 700 performances each year to more than 600,000 patrons, the Center offers one of the largest arts-in-education programs in the United States, serving more than 150,000 students annually.
The new Club Level at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts is the ultimate experience in world-class hospitality. Located on the mezzanine level of the Au-Rene Theater, Club Level is the first of its kind in a performing arts venue, featuring a private lounge and dedicated seating section with extra-roomy red velvet theater seats. The experience begins an hour prior to performances, and includes complimentary valet parking, premium beverages at an open bar, plentiful hors d’oeuvres, coffee, and desserts. “The Club Level is far more than an all-inclusive package. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for patrons to enjoy live theater in an exclusive environment all season long. Club Level guests will find attentive service and attention to detail at every turn,” said Sophie Grabinski, Broward Center’s Premium Sales and Service Manager. I was fortunate enough to have Club Level tickets to a magnificent performance by nine-time Grammy® award-winning singer, songwriter and performer Natalie Cole. Enjoying this classy, talented, and inspiring artist in the luxurious Broward Center was like dying and going to gay Heaven.
Fort Lauderdale is a creative community, where sustainable tourism, recycling, and green living is the standard. Carmen Ackerman, Project Manager for the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District created a practical and attractive line of colorful tote bags constructed from recycled banners which previously “danced in the wind” above the District and lined the historic New River. These all-purpose totes are excellent for shopping the myriad of designer boutiques in the area. Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research has amazing coral nurseries off the coast of Fort Lauderdale; the endangered baby corals are subsequently relocated throughout the Caribbean in areas where the reefs have suffered the greatest devastation. NSU offers a fascinating public lecture series led by world-renowned researchers at the Center, free of charge.
You can get a comprehensive view of the Riverwalk by taking a delightful excursion on The Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruise to Indian Village, where you can learn about the Seminole Indian tribe and see macaws, rare plants and birds, and traditional alligator wrestling. Evening excursions include an all-you-can-eat dinner of BBQ ribs, chicken ,and shrimp with all the trimmings. This is a wonderful excursion for children of all ages. Another family-friendly favorite is the Mai Kai Polynesian Revue Dinner Show, a throwback to the classic tiki bars of the 50s and 60s; the dancers are energetic and enthusiastic, and put on a great performance. The highlight is a riveting Samoan fire and knife dance, guaranteed to make the experience memorable.
My favorite venue for a beautiful Lauderdale morning is a visit to Butterfly World, the largest butterfly park in the world, featuring thousands of gorgeous papilioniformes from more than 80 species, charming hummingbird and lorikeet aviaries, and tranquil Grace Gardens. The conservatory houses one of the largest collections of blooming passion flower vines in the world, inside the Wings of the World Secret Garden. On select dates, this elegant avicultural research center hosts concerts and musical events ranging from choral programs to classical arts.
The Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale is a leader and vital cultural educator, stimulating dialogue about the meaning and significance of visual art. Now on exhibit is “Wari: Pre-Inca Lords of Peru.” The Wari (Huari) reigned for 400 years, between 600 and 1000 CE, as the first, largest, and most-dominant culture in the prehistoric Andes (until the rise of the Inca centuries later). This carefully assembled exhibition of art presents a vision that is simultaneously ancient and contemporary; pieces created over a millennium ago – textiles, ceramics, precious ornaments, and small-scale sculptures tell a human story that resonates clearly in our modern world.
The creative minds in Fort Lauderdale have a magic touch that can render even millennium-old relics ageless and appealing, as if drawn directly from the fountain of youth. This is a town that overfloweth with ingenuity, sagacity, and warmth. If you seek the fountain of youth, you will find it in Fort Lauderdale.
The author, Anton Anderssen, is a member of Mensa, Triple 9, and Prometheus High IQ Societies. Follow him on Twitter @Hartforth or at Facebook.com/teddybears.