Fort Lauderdale and Miami in South Florida both contain fantastic beaches and beautiful scenery, they’re both rife with a variety of hotels and resorts, as well as top-notch dining and shopping opportunities. They also host a vast selection of unique tourist attractions. As a result, many people have difficulty deciding which of the two should be their vacation destination.
Well, here’s the good news: they’re only 30 minutes apart drive time, so no matter which city you might choose to book your accommodations, there’s really no reason why your To Do list needs to be limited to only one locale. Why not expand your vacation experiences by incorporating tours and adventures that encompass both destinations?
Having vacationed numerous times in both cities, our Been Here Done That contributors have compiled a Top 10 list of Things To Do, all of which are sure to please.
Day Cruise To Bahamas: Taking into account that both Fort Lauderdale and Miami host major seaports (Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and Port of Miami obviously in Miami), it’s not so surprising that there is plenty to choose from in the way of cruises, one of which is a convenient and affordable Day Cruise to the Bahamas, with destination choices of Bimini, Freeport, or Grand Bahamas. This is the perfect side-trip with an approximate 3.5-hour cruise time that offers a major change of scenery and the chance to spend the day in the beautiful Caribbean. Depending on the tour operator you choose, vessels range from small ships to modern 1000-passenger ferries complete with onboard casinos and lounges. Tickets are easy to come by and vary in price, with additional variations during peak travel seasons. Upon arrival at your chosen destination, passengers are given a 4-5 hour window in which they can explore the local marketplace, head to the beach, embark on an eco-tour, scuba dive, try their luck at a local casino, or take yet another short boat ride to Big Major Cay to swim with the pigs. Then it’s back on board the ship for a fun-filled return cruise. Your day starts at 7:00am, which is boarding and prep time for the 8:00am departure. At 10:00pm your boat will arrive back at its originating port. Depending on your needs and budget, some operators also offer 2 to 3-day layover cruises at Bahamian resorts that are partnered with the cruise line.
Jungle Island: Jungle Island is a beautifully landscaped zoological park located between Downtown Miami and South Beach, and it’s sure to keep you happily busy if you love animals, birds and lots of gorgeous scenery. Formerly called Parrot Jungle, the park is home to some of the world’s most exotic animals. Visitors can enjoy entertaining and educational animal shows and exhibits while strolling through a rainforest atmosphere of tropical foliage, streams, and waterfalls. Park goers have the option of participating in hands-on animal interactions or going on a guided behind-the-scenes VIP tour, both of which come at a premium over and above regular admission tickets. Additionally, Jungle Island features a unique floating waterpark for the kids.
Airboat Tours of the Everglades: Whether you’re staying in Fort Lauderdale or Miami, there are plenty of outlets offering airboat tours of the Everglades. A quick Google search will turn up everything from private charters to traditional 4-passenger airboats to multi-passenger vessels featuring an awning covered seating area to protect tourists from the sun, wind, and rain. Most of these tours offer hour-long rides through lush Everglade canals so passengers can observe the wildlife, in particular, alligators. These adventures are exciting and educational and tend to be reasonably priced. To learn more about a tour of this kind, check out our in-depth coverage of Gator Park, Miami at this LINK.
Dine at the Mai Kai: If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, then check out the Mai Kai. Located at 3599 North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, this Polynesian-themed restaurant opened in 1956 on the heels of the post-war tiki culture that inspired similar establishments, such as Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood, Bali Ha’i in New Orleans, and a worldwide chain called Trader Vics. Today, most of the forerunners have disappeared, while the Mai Kai now holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Since its inception, this establishment has grown to include eight dining areas, the Molokai Bar, a nightly Polynesian Revue dinner show of island dancers and fire eaters, and a walking path through vibrant tropical gardens, waterfalls, tiki artifacts, and secluded outdoor dining areas. There is also a quaint gift shop with plenty of unique Polynesian-inspired gifts to take home. For more information, check out our in-depth review of the Mai Kai at this LINK.
South Beach: This region of Miami is famous for its pastel Art Deco architecture. Over the years, the Ocean Drive area of South Beach has become a popular backdrop for videos, movies, and TV shows, the most trendy of which was Miami Vice – a 1980s police drama that triggered a significant boost in Miami tourism as well as a pop culture phenomenon, with fashion and lifestyle inspired by the region. This distinct and highly recognizable area features an eclectic mix of boutiques, galleries, and hotels. It’s also an influential culinary destination. Dining al fresco is prevalent here with an abundance of outdoor patios lining the streets. At night, the pastel is replaced with neon lights, and South Beach comes alive with dining and clubs made famous for their notable nightlife. So notable, in fact, the vicinity has become well-known as a celebrity magnet. Day or night, South Beach is a world-class hotspot and a definite must-see.
Jungle Queen Cruise: Partake in one of Fort Lauderdale’s most established tourist attractions – the Jungle Queen Cruise which allows tourists to travel the region’s waterways on a riverboat. The cruise lasts approximately 4 hours with a stopover at the ‘Jungle Queen Indian Village’. It is here that visitors can enjoy a Barbeque and Shrimp dinner amidst a tropical island environment of plants, birds, and wildlife, including alligators. For more than 50 years now, visitors to South Florida have enjoyed this scenic tour which offers 4 different cruise packages with day and evening excursions, including the aforementioned dinner cruise. Located at Bahia Mar Yachting Centre at 801 Seabreeze Blvd, the cruise is easy to find and hard to resist. Tickets vary in price depending on which cruise you choose to take, but an easy Google search will yield Groupon discounts and printable coupons from online sites such as Destination Coupons.
Flamingo Gardens: Florida is known for having one of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States, not to mention one of the only tropical backdrops. And Flamingo Gardens in Fort Lauderdale is a prime spot to experience such an atmosphere. Located in Fort Lauderdale, this is a not-for-profit botanical garden and Everglades wildlife sanctuary, with over 3,000 species of flowers and plants on display. Also on the premises is a vast number of birds, alligators, otters, and other assorted animals found injured in the Everglades and unable to return to the wild. As a result, over 90 types of animals that are native to Florida can be found here. The park is open daily from 9:30am to 5:00pm and ticket prices are as follows: Adults are $19.95, children 3-11 are $12.95, 2 and under are free. These prices include a narrated tram tour. Flamingo Gardens is a picture-takers paradise.
Hop On Hop Off Bus: If you want to bundle several attractions together, consider the Miami Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. It’s one of the best all-inclusive tours you will find in Miami. Been Here Done That experienced the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus in New York City (read about it HERE) and the Miami component is every bit as interesting. Complete the journey in three loops— the Beach Loop, with incredible views of the Miami skyline; the City Loop’s high-rise business district viewpoint and the Brickell/Miami Seaquarium Loop from downtown Miami to Key Biscayne. Select the 2-day pass, then board at any of the 13 stops and get to know the city, with live onboard commentary from the tour conductor.
Deep Sea Fishing: As most fishermen know, fishing in lakes and streams is vastly different to fishing in the ocean, where the catch can include massive trophy fish such as sharks, marlin, tuna, sailfish, tarpon, and swordfish. And the battle to haul them out of the water can last for hours. Luckily, there is no shortage of deep sea fishing charters when it comes to Fort Lauderdale and Miami so no matter which city you’ve chosen as your destination, you’re sure to find a company that suits your needs and budget. Private charters and group expeditions are available with full day, half day, and three-quarter day options. It’s also your choice as to whether you want a trophy fish or a catch and release experience. Deep Sea Fishing can be an expensive adventure so be sure to research all tour operators and outlets in order to compare experiences and prices before you commit to one.
Boat Cruises: With so much water in the vicinity, including The Everglades, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, it stands to reason that a great number of tourist attractions come in the form of boat tours. And as locals suggest, if you truly want to see the area, you need to get out on the water. Although we’ve already discussed the Jungle Cruise dinner excursion, there are so many other tour options available, each with their own unique spin, that it’s difficult to choose which one to embark upon.
Fort Lauderdale offers the Las Olas River Cruise and Food Tour, as well as a family-friendly Pirate Ship excursion, canal sightseeing, party boats, sunset tours, and Hop On Hop Off Water Taxis that allow riders to explore several areas and set their own pace.
As for Miami, yacht cruises include Biscayne Bay with views of Star Island and Millionaire’s Row, which puts tourists up close to the numerous celebrity homes that dot the shoreline. The Miami Duck tour serves up an amphibious vehicle that takes passengers on a guided exploration of South Beach before diving into Biscayne Bay and continuing the narrated adventure on the water. And then there is our personal favorite – the Thriller Miami Speedboat Adventure, which starts off as a slow and informative sightseeing cruise through the waters around Bayside Market Place, featuring extravagant yachts and ships heading out to sea, and then into Biscayne Bay for a lap around Star Island and Millionaire’s Row, all of which is a relaxing, narrated ride. After that, the powerful speedboat completely switches gears as it revs up to top speed and heads out to the Atlantic Ocean to give tourists an unforgettable ride of their lives.
Certainly, with so many different boat tours to choose from, it’s worth the time and effort to research them all and make an informed decision based on your needs and budget.
But wait, there’s more: Heaven knows that our Top Ten suggestions were just the tip of the iceberg because Fort Lauderdale and Miami are hosts to numerous walking tours, museums, eco-tours and adventure sports, including parasailing, Segway tours, paddleboarding, jet skiing, and Flyboard experiences. For attractions, there’s the Miami Zoo, Monkey Jungle, and the Seaquarium. If you have a need for speed, there’s an Exotic Auto Racing experience in Miami, a Rusty Wallace NASCAR Ride-Along experience hosted at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and numerous helicopter tours that allow travelers to explore from the air or to quickly access surrounding destinations.
As for shopping, South Florida is a haven with unique and high-end stores and boutiques on Las Olas Blvd in Fort Lauderdale and in South Beach, Miami… and don’t forget the CocoWalk in Coconut Grove or Downtown Miami on Flagler Street. And when it comes to dining, the options are limitless.
Choices of side trips include a 2-day tour that extends to the Gulf Coast of Florida and allows for time on Sanibel Island. If you don’t mind committing to a 12-hour excursion, there is an opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. There are also day trips to Key West to be considered, which are always a lot of fun with plenty to see and do.
When you start putting together a list of everything you want to experience while on holiday in South Florida, chances are that your one or two weeks of vacation won’t be nearly enough to accommodate everything, and you will quickly realize the need for a follow-up trip.