My Favorite Hotels
When picking a hotel in Ft Lauderdale, my thinking goes like this:
If I'm flying in late in the evening, going right to bed, and then checking out in the morning right after breakfast... all I need is a decent bed, and I'll be fine. Put me in any halfway decent hotel close to the airport.
But if I'm going to be spending a couple of nights there, and I'm going to have time to have some fun, it's time to live a little! Beachfront hotels in Ft Lauderdale are far from cheap... but a year or ten from now, will I remember what I paid? As long as I remember how much fun I had, it will be worth it.
On our first visit to Ft Lauderdale, in November of 2014, I stayed at one of the nicest (and most expensive) hotels I've ever stayed at: the Lago Mar Resort. It's an amazing luxury resort right on the beach, near where the cruise ships enter and exit the harbor. We had this incredible beachfront room that opened right out to the beach, and we were able to walk an easy distance to a perfect spot to watch the cruise ships come in at dawn and head out in the late afternoon. The only reason we were able to afford it was because it was considered "low season"... so the room rate was only a heart-stopping $350 a night.
I would have loved to stay at the Lago Mar again when we returned for another cruise in February of 2015, but February is considered "high season" in Ft Lauderdale... it's when all the people from the Midwest, Eastern US, and Canada try to escape winter and go on a cruise. So the Lago Mar was now charging an impossible-to-justify $500 a night. Fuhgetaboutit. I had to try something slightly less pricey, without totally slumming it and staying out at one of the hotels at the airport for $150 a night. I discovered the Courtyard Fort Lauderdale Beach, a Marriott hotel.
I'll tell you all about both hotels, but let's start with the Courtyard...
Courtyard Ft Lauderdale Beach
I'm sure you know the old line about the three most important things in real estate: location, location, location. Well, that's the big deal about the Courtyard Ft Lauderdale Beach. It's located right across the street from the beach, right behind the Bubba Gump Fish Company restaurant, and right along a very walkable street full of shops, bars, and restaurants. It reminded me of a more reasonably priced Ft Lauderdale version of Miami's South Beach neighborhood, without all the Art Deco stuff. It's also an easy cab ride to either the airport or the cruise port.
You can see the hotel rising up behind the restaurant in this picture I snapped from in front of Bubba Gump's...
We had a really nice lunch at Bubba Gump's.
It's a bit pricey, but I'd definitely go back there again. Delicious.
In the next photo, from about a block down the street,
you can see the Courtyard hotel and how close it is to the beach.
Also, notice that row of restaurants and shops along the street. That's just the beginning of it... it goes on like that for blocks and blocks. The quality and size of the restaurants gets a little nicer as you go further down the street. It's all little local restaurants down by the Courtyard, but 3 or 4 blocks further down you get in to some big chain restaurants.
Photo source: Panoramio.com
Let me just say that there was abundance of places within easy walking distance of the hotel where you could get breakfast, lunch, or dinner... and plenty of bars, too, if you just want drinks. There was also a 7-11 convenience store very nearby, which was perfect for me because I bought a few bottles of diet Pepsi to bring on the cruise ship... which only offers Coke.
You can see from the palm trees that it was a little windy the day we were there. It wasn't a cold wind, and it was still warm enough for bikinis...
To save a little money, we opted for a room with a view of the intercoastal waterway rather than a view of the ocean. It was still a pretty nice view, especially at night! Here's the view out the window of our hotel room...
I didn't take any photos of the interior of our hotel room. It was nothing special, but it was everything you would expect for a Marriott hotel and everything that you would need. For me, it really wasn't about the room or the hotel. The room and the hotel were fine. The reason I stayed there was for the view, the proximity to the beach, and most importantly the proximity to multiple restaurant choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So, the Courtyard worked out just fine for us, and I'd go back there in a heartbeat. But if price wasn't a factor (and when is price not a factor?) the place to stay before or after a cruise in Ft Lauderdale is the Lago Mar! Let me show you...
The Lago Mar Resort
Prior to our cruise on Royal Caribbean's "Allure Of the Seas", we spent the weekend at the nicest hotel we've ever stayed at: the Lago Mar Resort in Fort Lauderdale. We completely enjoyed it!
As you can see in the photo above, the pool area is totally gorgeous... and we enjoyed spending some time there. They even had a band that performed by the pool in the evening. But there's a lot more to the Lago Mar than that one pool!
For one thing, there's a second pool, which is deeper... and therefore better for swimming:
But more important than the pools, there's the beach! The Lago Mar resort sits directly on the beach, and it's actually a fairly private stretch of beach... so it's not particularly crowded. We were lucky enough to stay in one of the Lago Mar's beachfront rooms, right on the ground floor, so we had a spectacular view of the beach and we could literally get on the beach within seconds of walking out our patio door.
One great thing about having that patio right on the beach is that I had a fantastic view of the cruise ships arriving in the morning! As a cruise ship fanatic, it just doesn't get much better than that. Check out this shot, from the patio of my hotel room, of three cruise ships lined up to come in to the Fort Lauderdale harbor one morning:
Be aware that the cruise ships start arriving before dawn, so you can't sleep in and expect to see it! The early bird gets the worm. The first ships actually arrived long before sunrise, and it was so dark that I couldn't even get a picture of it. Once the sun started to rise, the photo opportunities were fantastic! Here's the best shot I got:
Caribbean Princess arrives in Ft Lauderdale at sunrise
The sight of the Caribbean Princess coming in to the harbor at sunrise was so spectacular that I also shot some video of it. Take a look:
Of course, seeing the cruise ships arrive is only half the fun. It's also a lot of fun to watch them head out to sea again in the afternoon. For that, we decided to get an even better view by walking just a little further down the beach to the actual harbor entrance itself. Its an easy walk from the Lago Mar. And it turns out that I'm not the only cruise ship freak out there... there were LOTS of people gathered at the cruise ship entrance to watch the ships head out to sea. In fact, it was a bit of a party! In the right side of this next picture, you can see all the people hanging out at the harbor entrance, watching the ships head out to sea... and then you can see the other party that was going on, over on the left side of the picture! These guys had dug themselves a big hole, and then they got in it and spent the next few hours drinking beer and smoking dope. I jokingly call this photo "dopes doing dope at the beach".
Personally, I think you really have to be a dope to spend your time dug in to Ft Lauderdale beach... because from down there, you will totally miss the view...
Damn it, Jim, don't get distracted! We're here to photograph cruise
Here's one I got a real kick out of seeing in November, because I knew I'd be sailing on her in February:
I got a kick out of this next one, too, because the very next morning I would be taking a taxi over to the cruise terminal and sailing away on her twin sister:
I'm going to resist the urge to make a dirty joke now, as I state my opinion that the rear end of this gigantic ship is more interesting than the front end...
Still pictures don't really do the whole Ft Lauderdale sailaway experience justice, though. I think maybe you'll appreciate it more with the help of a couple of videos. Let's start with a video I call "the parade of cruise ships". It's basically the highlight reel from watching all the cruise ships head out to sea...
Another fun part of being there to see all the ships sail away was listening to all the ship horns. Most of the Captains would give three short toots of their ship's horn as they sailed through the harbor entrance. However, there was one rogue among the Captains that day! Whoever was at the helm of Holland America Line's "Westerdam" must REALLY like the sound of his own horn. He blew it almost continuously, the whole way out of the harbor! Have your sound turned on, and then watch it on video:
Just in case you're wondering what the view looks like from one of those cruise ships as they sail away from the Port Everglades cruise terminal and head out to sea... here's a time lapse video I shot from our balcony on Allure Of The Seas as she sailed past that very spot on the beach where I had been standing the day before, watching cruise ships sail away...
Of course, there's a lot more to the Lago Mar than watching cruise ships. Even if you didn't give a hoot about cruise ships, it would be a great hotel. One aspect I really liked was the breakfast buffet...
They even had a chef standing by to make waffles on demand,
and to cook eggs to order, including omelettes...
So, our stay at the Lago Mar resort was a big success. We loved our beachfront room, their breakfast buffet, the swimming pools, and the view of the cruise ships. But the icing on the cake was the fact that the Lago Mar resort had the fastest Internet connection I had ever experienced. Period. I don't know if they had a fiber-optic connection to the net, or what, but it was a BLAZING FAST connection! Check out these results from SpeedTest.net:
A SpeedTest result faster than 96% of all the SpeedTests ever done in the USA! Wow! Not to mention an upload speed that was even faster than the download speed. I've never seen that before. I thought my 60Mb/s download speed at home, and 10Mb/s upload speed, was pretty impressive... but 88 down and 95 up?!?! That's one smokin' hot connection. I need to seriously think about retiring to Ft Lauderdale!
One really cool thing about the Lago Mar was that there were wild parrots hanging out in the palm trees near the swimming pools. My wife and I really like parrots... and this was the very first time we've ever seen wild ones flying freely. I'm told that they only visit the Lago Mar for a couple of months during the year. (We were there the week before Thanksgiving.) I totally failed to get a good picture of the wild parrots in the trees by the Lago Mar pool... but I sure did enjoy seeing them.
Here's one last picture from the beach out in front of the Lago Mar resort. I thought it might be useful to someone who was curious about what it would cost to rent a beach umbrella for the day. Most people just used the free blue and white chairs.
By the way, I wish I had framed that last picture a little looser... so you could have seen that they were flying two warning flags that day. One was a yellow flag for a medium surf hazard, and the other was a blue flag for dangerous marine life. I never asked what the dangerous marine life was that day... sharks, jelly fish, or what? I was glad that I had gotten a swim in the day before, when they weren't flying the blue flag!
Our Cruise On Allure Of The Seas
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