ftlauderdaleFort Lauderdale is for families.  And kids of all ages can find something interesting to do.  I was invited to visit along with my 9-year-old son as part of a press trip to sample of few of the activities that Ft. Lauderdale has to offer.

My son is the youngest of three and this was our first trip alone together. We both loved our hotel room at the Pelican Grand Resort, located right on the beach and about 15 minutes from the airport.  The first thing my son did when we entered our room was to claim his very own bed and then the remote control (boys!)  Our room was actually a suite with a separate living room area. It had plenty of space for my entire family if all five of us had traveled together.

Pelican_pool_200The private balcony overlooking the hotel’s private beach and ocean did not trump the Lazy River next to the pool.  We checked that out first thing.  Kids and adults are swept along the Lazy River in large inner tubes and when you tire of that, you can jump in the pool for a swim.

The hotel offered an elegant and unpretentious atmosphere where families with kids of all ages could feel comfortable. We ate terrific burgers grilled poolside at the Pelican Grand Hotel and the ice cream parlor in the hotel was a big hit.  Breakfast at the hotel was plentiful and tasty.  They were able to accommodate my special request of yogurt and honey and said that they were ready for all special requests but that they had no ready gluten-free or other specialty menus.

What to Do

My No. 1 most excellent favorite activity was surfing.  I have alluded to my wannabe surfer alter ego in several past articles and posts so I was excited to try it on the East Coast.

Our instructor, Big Kahuna, was a competitive surfer back in the day and now is passionate about teaching everyone how to surf safely.  There weren’t any waves to speak of but we still managed to stand on our boards, ride in some white water and, most of all, have fun.  I can’t wait to try it again.  I was told that Coco Beach is the place to go – I won’t get beat up like in sunny California and I can count on real waves consistently.

wannado_city_Ft. Lauderdale_150I would have thought surfing also would have been at the top of my son’s to-do list. But I was wrong. He picked the cool Wannado City, an enormous career exploration center for kids in Sunrise, FL (About 45 minutes from Ft. Lauderdale).  Kids can simulate being a doctor, fireman (with real water in the hoses!), criminal investigator, archaeologist and more.  Each career station is set up to be very realistic, including ways to spend and earn more Wongas, the Wannado currency.  It’s an incredible experience for kids 2-12.

Parents of kids over 8 years old can head to the attached Sawgrass Mills Mall while their kids explore Wannado on their own.  Parent and child are given WannaFinder bracelets that contain tiny monitors telling the parent exactly where their child is in WannaDo at any given time. I tested it and was amazed at the technology.  Wannado is everything a kids’ attraction should be – fun, educational and safe.

Second on my son’s list of cool things to do: Butterfly World, Coconut Creek, FL (10 miles from Ft. Lauderdale).

Butterfly_Ft._Lauderdale_200I don’t know if it was the butterflies or the Bug Zoo at Butterfly World that prompted my son to choose it as his second favorite stop on the trip.  But he loved it.  Our guide walked us through the metamorphosis of the caterpillar, pointed out the small and large hummingbirds and exotic butterflies.

Another of my favorite attractions is the airboat ride at Billie Swamp Safari. The ride is short but eventful.  We got up close to the alligators and our guide taught us all about alligators and crocodiles.

Billie Swamp Airboat Ft. LauderdaleFrom the airboat, we walked over to the swamp buggy (a raised tram-looking buggy) and toured several acres of swamp, learning about the native animals and foliage.  The most interesting part for me was learning about how the Seminole Indians communed with the land and used it to avoid the Trail of Tears.  Overnights are allowed in a native-style chickee but bring your own fan in the summer because there is no air conditioning.

What to Eat

Our tour guides proved that Ft. Lauderdale offers a wide variety of culinary choices. We tried everything from Bubba Gump Shrimp to pasta at H2O and Polynesian cuisine and an show at Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant (Mai-Kai.com).

Ft._Lauderdale_Mai Kai tiki_kitchen_200Mai-Kai is a MUST DO in Ft. Lauderdale.  If seeing authentic shrunken heads or gorgeous gardens doesn’t thrill you enough, just wait til you see the show.  Performers share dances from all areas of Polynesia, including fire twirling and juggling, beautiful women  and a solo drum dance competition.  Kids under 12 are free and audience members are chosen to participate. My son was completely mesmerized.

The bottom line is that Ft. Lauderdale is back on my map.  It’s no longer only for Spring Breakers.  I can enthusiastically recommend it for families.