IT WOULD BE EASY to fall into the shadows of its bigger sister to the south, but Fort Lauderdale continues to shine bright, just as it has since the 1930s. Last century, the destination solidified its place in spring break history with its sunny skies and sandy beaches. Today, Fort Lauderdale welcomes about 14 million visitors annually and is taking great strides to be sure it meets expectations while at the same time looking to the future.
Earlier this year, a new high-speed train began service with stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Brightline, the only privately owned, operated and maintained passenger rail system in the United States, operates daily, nearly on the hour, with expansion to Orlando underway. Brightline’s centrally located stations connect to existing public transit options including light rail, rideshares, taxis and even car and bicycle rentals. The Brightline station in Fort Lauderdale (101 N.W. 2nd Ave.) provides new access to the Museum of Discovery and Science, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, FATVillage Arts District and more.
Cruise Terminal 25 at Port Everglades, one of the top three cruise ports in the world, is undergoing complete renovations in preparation for the arrival of Celebrity Cruises’ new 2,918-passenger Celebrity Edge, scheduled to begin sailing in December. Also preparing to set sail from Port Everglades in December is Holland America Line’s newest Pinnacle-class ship, the 2,650-passenger Nieuw Statendam; Oprah Winfrey will serve as the ship’s godmother.
In addition to Brightline and the new cruise ships debuting this winter at Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale’s hotel scene is booming, with seven new properties opening or slated to open this year. In nearby Dania Beach, the 143-room Hotel Morrison opened with 1,500 square feet of meeting space, and the 111-room modern, boutique CIRC Hotel opened in downtown Hollywood, complete with a rooftop bar and 3,000 square feet of meeting space.
In Fort Lauderdale proper, the 150-room TRYP by Wyndham Fort Lauderdale Maritime Hotel caters to leisure and business travelers alike, with 3,400 square feet of event space. The Fairfield Inn & Suites Fort Lauderdale Downtown/Las Olas offers 108 guestrooms and 1,037 square feet of meeting space.
On tap, The Dalmar, part of Marriott International’s new Tribute Portfolio collection brand, is slated to open at the end of this month. The 25-story hotel will feature 209 guestrooms, as well as 9,000 square feet of event space and a rooftop bar with 360-degree views of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Floors seven through 12 of The Dalmar will house Element Fort Lauderdale Downtown, an extended-stay option with 114 guestrooms. Just steps from the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk, the Costa Hollywood Beach Resort, set to open later this year with 307 suites (studios to threebedroom), features a 25,000-square-foot rooftop pool deck with views of the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway. The Four Seasons Hotel and Residences Fort Lauderdale broke ground and is expected to open in late 2019 with 150 hotel rooms and 95 residences, along with meeting facilities.
Plenty is happening in the way of hotel refreshes, too. The historic Escape Hotel will transform into the Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences Fort Lauderdale Beach, with 96 guestrooms and 129 condo residences (opening early 2019), and the Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel is finishing up $7 million in renovations, including 25,000 square feet of meeting space. Elsewhere, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – Hollywood undergoes a $1.5 billion property-wide expansion, projected for completion in 2019, increasing the total number of rooms to 1,200 and featuring 120,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. Anticipated to open in 2019 with a $30 million renovation, Le Méridien Dania Beach at Fort Lauderdale Airport (formerly Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel) will feature 245 guestrooms and 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
For more insight into what is new and on the horizon in Fort Lauderdale, we checked in with Chintan Dadhich, general manager, Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach. The city’s first high-end resort opened in October 2017 and was the first to tap into the neighborhood’s luxury sector.
Asked how Fort Lauderdale changed over the past handful of years and how he thinks the city will evolve, Dadhich replied, “Fort Lauderdale has undergone a major evolution. Introducing new luxury hotels, airlift, public transportation, fine dining, culture and entertainment, Fort Lauderdale is now attracting travelers from around the world. The city has created new offerings that cater to the discerning visitors who have come to explore the neighborhood’s emerging luxury sector.”
Dadhich noted Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport added new flights from the Middle East, London and Cuba, “which has resulted in a direct economic impact from the increasing number of visitors.”
“As the number of yearly visitors continues to rise, the evolution of our city is progressing quickly,” Dadhich said. “Amid this resurgence of luxury tourism, we [Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach] will continue to provide travelers with experiences that cannot be found elsewhere in South Florida. We are honored to be at the helm of this movement and will continue to bring an unparalleled ambience to the city of Fort Lauderdale.”
If you would rather hop in a car and drive than take Brightline to Miami or West Palm Beach for the day, there are plenty of places to go, whichever direction you choose. Head north for about 30 miles and visit Delray Beach, boasting a European vibe with its main boulevard filled with boutiques, cafés and galleries in the Pineapple Grove Arts District.
For an outdoor adventure, point your car west and head about 30 minutes to the Everglades; after all, nearly two-thirds of the Greater Fort Lauderdale area is made up of Everglades protected wetlands. Once you arrive, explore the area by air boat or kayak, and get up close to its native inhabitants, from exotic birds to American alligators.
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