Christmas in Fort Lauderdale

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Where I stayed
What I did
Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant,
Sawgrass Recreation Park
Jungle Queen Riverboat

Flag of United States  , Florida
Friday, December 23, 2016

My sister, Sherry and I decided to spend Christmas in the Fort Lauderdale area this year. It wasn’t a thought out vacation so our plans were pretty skimpy. I had been to the area several times, but this was her first trip. We pretty much stayed within Broward County, which covered Deerfield to the north and down to Hallandale Beach to the South. To the west, we went as far as Weston when we visited the Everglades Recreation Park. 

We even saw a lighthouse at Hillsboro Point. I did not know there was one in the area. It was a windy day and the “breaker” at the entrance of the harbor provided safe passage for the vessels. 

The weather was excellent except for a couple of thunder bumpers that did not last long. On Thursday afternoon, as I arrived, the traffic was pretty bad, but other than that, the airports we came and went from, the restaurants, streets, and the malls, were not bad at all. I was surprised. Traveling on Sunday, Christmas Day, went smoothly as well.

I had to chuckle at the Jacksonville Airport at their attempt to decorate with Santa’s sleigh and at the decorations on the Fort Lauderdale beach.

You will definitely not starve while visiting the Fort Lauderdale area as the restaurants are plentiful, especially of the Italian variety. But if you have a chance, give DaVinci’s Pizzeria, Casablanca Café or the Quarterdeck a visit in Fort Lauderdale. Down in Dania Beach, the food and service at Jimbo’s Sandbar were good and the atmosphere totally relaxing. They advertise “Hillbilly Cuisine” and I can simply call it “different”.

I did encounter one interesting experience which may benefit you in your travels. We rented our car through Ace Rent A Car, which we have no exception to, however, they do have a policy that took me by surprise. If you have a Florida drivers license you are only entitled to 150 miles per day; the standard “unlimited” mileage is not an available option. That initially concerned us because Sherry and I have a tendency to drive, a lot, but we went everywhere we wanted to go and still did not exceed our limits, so all worked out well. 

We stayed at a Travelodge that was about halfway between Fort Lauderdale and Lauderdale-By-The-Sea which turned out to be a perfect location for us. The hotel itself was an older establishment, but the room was clean and met our needs. 

On Friday evening we went to the Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant for a dinner and show and everything about it was fantastic. The food and service were excellent. Their gardens were a surprise and gorgeous – I wish I could have seen them in the daylight, but there was also something to be said about seeing them in the accented lighting. Everywhere you looked there were different plants, statues, and waterfalls. The floor show was spellbinding and, of course, Sherry ended up on stage learning how to dance Polynesian style.

On Christmas Eve we drove over to the Sawgrass Recreation Park to go airboat riding. This was a new experience for both of us and we thoroughly enjoyed the outing.  The guide was knowledgeable and though he did not let loose with the boat controls, he gave us a good ride. We learned that in the Park, there are roughly 20,000 alligators, but there is only about an 18% chance of survival of the newborn every year because of the natural eating habits of the older male alligators and other wildlife and preying animals and birds, such as the vultures and hawks.

To locate the alligators the guide locates where the birds are congregating. We located the birds and three alligators, two males and one female. The males are very aggressive and territorial. When their head and tail are raised they are establishing dominance and intent to protect their territory.

The distance between their eyes and nose indicates the expected length of the alligator; converting inches to feet.

There is only one small tree-line within the Park and it is an old Seminole trail used by the Indians as they traveled to Fort Lauderdale. Now the area is used by the birds and ducks, and the alligators will sun along the edges during the day.

The babies generally try to congregate around the camp / village until they are big enough to protect themselves from predators.

There was also a wildlife preserve where the park service has taken under their care reptiles, various cats, tortoises, fox, hawks and a few others. Some came in sick and others were abandoned. Now they have a home in which they are being well cared for.

I asked the guide about the environmental conditions in the Everglades and was surprised by his answer – based on what I had previously read and heard. Captain John said he has been drinking the water out of the Everglades for the 11 years he has worked as a boat captain. He said that once the water is “strained” of the plant matter, it is safe and no different that bottled water you purchase.

The water is brackish water, which is a mixture of salt water and regular water. The only chemicals or pollution that has been a problem is the potassium products that leak into the Everglades from the sugar cane plantations. Most of that is controlled through natural plant filtering. Government regulations are changing the percentage allowed to drain from the plantations into the water.

The Everglades sole source of water is rain. The depth of the water within Park is controlled by the “gates” which are manipulated by the Corps of Engineers.

The salt water is the result of a fissure rupture many years ago in which ocean water was introduced into and resulting in an enlargement of the Park.

After our adventure at the Sawgrass Recreation Park, we went to lunch and then decided we needed to walk off the huge lunch so we ventured over to the Sawgrass Mill Shopping Center. Sherry and I are not shoppers, but I do believe that has got to be the largest shopping center I have ever been to or seen. Seriously, we walked for about two hours and covered only about one-fourth of all the stores. The only thing I did not see was a hotel for poor soles like us that got too tired to continue walking – or in our case, completely lost.

We did also drive by the Swap Shop which is a huge flea market. They proclaimed to have 13 drive-in movie screens. I wanted to see if that was true – it is.

Saturday evening we went on a river boat cruise on the Jungle Queen. The experience included a cruise past yachts valued in the hundreds of millions – which is hard to fathom or accept; and of course the multi-million dollar homes. Fort Lauderdale is considered the “Venice of America” and I can attest, the number of canals, is endless. It is hard to get anywhere without having to wait for a bridge to raise and lower for boats and yachts to move about.

It is impossible for me to rationalize someone owning a yacht that cost $200 million dollars let alone the fact that it rarely if ever leaves the dock. Many of the canals are so narrow and shallow that the only way, even a 50-foot yacht can be moved is by having it piloted / towed through the canals until it reaches the inter-coastal waterway or the ocean.

Marinas cost anywhere from $12 per foot for docking to $1,000 per day in boatyards. There are yachts in boatyards that stay there year after year.

After the cruise, we stopped at an island owned by the Jungle Queen Riverboat Company and had a barbecue buffet dinner and floor show that consisted of a couple of comedians, a magician, and Polynesian dancers. It was a strange buffet because it wasn’t a buffet. The servers brought the food to the tables. You were not limited but it was hard for the waitstaff to keep up with the demand. The offerings included slaw, baked beans, bread, ribs, peel-and-eat shrimp, and chicken.

Back in the 50’s the government of Fort Lauderdale was so anxious to develop the canal areas they actually had to give away the waterfront properties. No one would purchase them. The only condition attached to the “gift” was that the new owner had to agree to build a house. Frontage homes along the wider canals, in the 50’s and 60’s, sold for as little as $25,000. Now they pay that much, if not more, in taxes each year.

Along the ocean, a 2BR, 2 BA condo is selling for half a million and the annual taxes are about $10,000.

One of the things Sherry and I have always enjoyed doing is having our palms read or sitting for a tarot card reading. Well, it turns out there seems to be no end of the opportunities for readings in the Fort Lauderdale area so Friday we made an appointment for our “Past, Present and Future” readings. I take them with a grain of salt, and certainly, do not base my life on them, but they can be entertaining and informative, sometimes. Over the years I have on occasion been told things I am not about to believe and others, interesting enough I want to believe.

No trip could be completed without a walk on the beach so we could put our feet in the sand and wiggle our toes in the ocean. Lauderdale-By-The-Sea was the perfect place for our outing. The wind was not too brisk and the Park provided colorful alluring chairs to while away the time. The people were friendly and it seemed the ideal way to spend Christmas morning.

Despite the fact we went non-stop the whole time, we found the trip relaxing. Neither
of us is inclined to say we would ever want to live there, but it was okay to
visit – for three days, and three days was enough.

That’s all folks, until next time. 

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