Budget Travel: Ft. Lauderdale

When we flew into Ft. Lauderdale, our original plan was to stay only long enough to drop our daughter and my dad off at their cruise ship before heading out of town for a couple of days. Instead, on a whim, we found ourselves checking into San Souci Resort Hotel for three nights and looking forward to coming back after a jaunt to Orlando once the cruise ship returned.

For an affordable vacation complete with beaches, places to stroll and shop, excellent food, and easy access to the Big Cyprus Seminole Reservation and the Everglades, consider Ft. Lauderdale as a non-fussy destination option. I didn’t expect to be so pleased. As a note, we were there a few days before Christmas and two days after. This was not the college Spring Break version.

Getting In: With AirTran Airways flights as a choice, Ft. Lauderdale can be a very inexpensive flight. Depending upon when you book, Delta and Continental may also offer deals. We flew on Continental for a song. Greyhound is also an option with a bus terminal that’s open 24 hours a day. You can also get here by train. Amtrak has a station.

Where to Stay: We found San Souci by turning left off of the Intercoastal Waterway to check out the retro style motels and hotels just two blocks away from the high-rise beach front versions. We opted for the kitchenette room which added to our budget since we shopped for breakfast and lunch food at a grocery store.

There are several hotels like this one in addition to more swanky options. According to the owner of San Souci, because so many people come to Ft. Lauderdale as a jumping off place for cruises and don’t stay in town, competition for business is fierce. That’s good news for bargain hunters.

Where to Eat: We found places to eat by asking for recommendations and being on the lookout while driving around in our rental car. Ft. Lauderdale is filled with places to eat, and in general, I’d say the competition keeps prices down.

  • Sukhothai Restaurant on E. Sunrise Blvd. We headed to this Thai restaurant twice. Once for dinner and the other time for lunch. Both meals were superb and I’ve been to Thailand four times, so I know good Thai food.
  • Mi Casa Su Casa on Griffin Rd. We went here based on a recommendation. On Tuesdays the margaritas are $.99 with a dinner entree. On Mondays, kids eat free. One adult meal= one free kid’s meal. Happy hour is 4-8 in the bar.
  • Flanigan’s Seafood Bar & Grill on West Davie Blvd. Ask about special deals. We ordered a pitcher of beer and ended up with a free order of chicken wings. This was a fun place to eat and terrific for kids.
  • Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine on E. Oakland Park. With a hankering for Cuban food, we had to head here.

What to See and Do:

In Ft. Lauderdale:

We spent much time at Ft. Lauderdale’s main beach by the Intercoastal Highway and at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

Besides the beach–there are eight in the Ft. Lauderdale area, head into Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. The park, located across the Intercoastal Highway from the beach, was a tucked in gem that I happened upon. The property used to be owned by Birch, but now offers canoeing, hiking, and places to bicycle and skate for a nominal entrance fee. We rented a canoe for an hour. Birch’s house has been turned into a museum that highlights the nature of the area.

If we had had more time, I would have gone to the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens. Hugh Taylor Birch first gave the property to his daughter as a wedding gift. Her husband, an artist, finished the house after her death from breast cancer. Now it’s on the register of National Historic Places.

Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to take a boat ride along the canals that go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Everglades either. Next time.

Here’s another detail to keep in mind. During March you can catch the spring training games of the Baltimore Orioles at Ft. Lauderdale Stadium.

Near by:

The Big Cyprus Seminole Reservation Along with the Billie Swamp Safari, the reservation boasts the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum with exhibits about the history and culture of the Seminole Indians. Give yourself enough time to walk along the nature trail to the living history Seminole village.

About the Billie Swamp Safari. What a blast! We sprung for the package deal that included the airboat ride through the Everglades, the swamp buggy eco tour and the animal show. The swamp buggy tour goes through wetlands and cyprus where bison, deer, water buffalo, wild hogs, hawks, eagles, alligators and more roam free. Some are native. Others are rescue animals.

Here’s a link of the Greater Ft. Lauderdale’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Web site that lists other inexpensive or free things to do. One item that caught my attention is the Old Dillard Museum, a historic building with exhibits that center on the African American heritage of Ft. Lauderdale.

As a note, if you book a hotel through the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Web site, you’ll receive a free Beach Starter kit that includes a beach towel, beach ball and flip flops.