Located on Florida’s southeastern coast, Fort Lauderdale is a great destination for families. Miles of beautiful beaches, water sports, boat canals, and shopping are among the many fun things to enjoy. The Harbor Beach Marriott Resort’s prime location offers beach fun and proximity to area attractions. Though peak season is December through April, when many people trade the snow for sun (at least for a few days), the rainy summer and fall months have fewer crowds and ocean water is warmer.
Up until a few years ago, our only exposure to Florida was hot, humid summer days running around Disney World in Orlando. Or when we traveled from our home in Los Angeles to the Caribbean, stopping to change planes in Orlando or Miami. But since then, we’ve had opportunities to visit some of Florida’s family-friendly beach resorts. I was pleasantly surprised by Fort Lauderdale, a bustling city with a population around 200,000 and one of the best Florida beaches. During our four-day stay in spring, we had some rain showers, but mostly the weather was sunny and just the right temperature to enjoy water sports and sightseeing,
Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa
Situated on a private stretch of golden sand just 10 minutes from the airport, the oceanfront resort is a destination in itself. It would be easy to spend your entire vacation right here. The luxury resort has large heated pools, a spa, fitness center (offering Zumba, pilates and boot camp), a year-round children’s program, and three restaurants. But it’s the beach and array of water sports that completes a family vacation.
For a reasonable fee, you can rent wave runners, kayaks, paddleboards, and Hobie cats, and sign up for para-sailing, snorkeling trips and banana boats. The ocean is as flat as a lake in the mornings, so that’s when I felt most comfortable paddling a kayak through water so clear I could see reefs just beneath the surface.
Lounge chairs and umbrellas are included in the resort fee. Beverage service is available on the beach from the comfort of your chair. As tempting as it was to stay at the resort, we couldn’t resist exploring nearby attractions.
The Marriott’s three diverse restaurants all offer ocean views, so meal times are always pleasant here. I especially liked the casual Sea Level restaurant, which as the name states, is on the beach. Burgers, wraps, tacos, salads and a bar make this a quick and easy meal option. 3030 Ocean is an upscale restaurant featuring a new menu daily. After a day in the sun or sightseeing, it’s nice to dress up and enjoy a more formal meal here.
In the Marriott’s Surf Club, kids ages 5 – 12 can participate in fancy finger painting, soaked shirt relay race, beach soccer, freeze tag, Velcro laser tag and beach volleyball. The open-door policy allows kids who are registered and wearing a wristband to come and go as they please.
It was about a 20-minute drive to the Sawgrass Recreation Park in Florida’s Everglades. The facility gives tours via airboats and has animal exhibits. On our tour through the river trails, our guide (Gator Tim) made a sound that attracted an alligator or two to swim toward our boat. It was an amazing experience to ride through the vast acres of Everglades and see these allegedly shy creatures make their way toward us.
After about an hour, we docked and visited the rescued and injured animals that live in the park’s exhibits. Among the numerous animals are alligators, leopards and panthers. The onsite Alligator Grill food truck serves gator bites, burgers and many other items. The most popular food item? Gator bites and tacos!
Sea Experience Glass Bottom Snorkeling Tour
It’s amazing that just a few miles from shore and with tall buildings in the background there’s really good snorkeling. During the short boat ride to the snorkeling site it rained. But by the time we got our snorkel gear adjusted, the rain cleared up.The glass bottom boat has views of the underwater world while cruising but the best part was jumping into the ocean to snorkel. Gear is provided and a crew member points out starfish and other creatures. The aquamarine water was warm and clear, making it easy to see the abundant colorful plants, reefs and sea life.
Water Taxi Tours
From the Marriott you can walk to shops and to the riverfront to board a water taxi. One flat rate ($26 adults, $12 ages 5 – 11) gives you unlimited boarding all day on narrated boat tours. These are a lot of fun! Hop on and off at any of the 15 stops or stay onboard for the full narrated tour of mansions, mega yachts (shown above is Steven Spielberg’s), restaurants and shopping districts. It’s a relaxing way to get around and learn a bit about the area. Plus, the boats are covered so you stay dry when it rains.