A flying visit can give you a feel for a place. Fun first impressions of Fort Lauderdale have certainly lasted long in the memory.
Few places have benefited from the cruise ship industry as much as the Floridian city of Fort Lauderdale. The city’s population was falling in the 80s but as cruising has enjoyed a worldwide boom, Fort Lauderdale has reaped the rewards.
Known as the Venice of America, for its 266km of canals, the city is a gateway to the Caribbean, the Bahamas are just 80km east. Its harbour at Port Everglades is home to the world's two biggest cruise ships, Harmony of the Seas and Allure of the Seas and 15 of the world’s major cruise lines are using it as a terminus.
An incredible 3.7 million cruise passengers come through each year, thankfully not all at once and on the day I was in town. But a good many had arrived early or stayed on after their voyage to explore the city which centres on the classy downtown area of Las Olas Boulevard with its succession of boutiques, art galleries, shops, nightclubs and bars.
Riven by canals lined by big houses and in some cases bigger catamarans and private yachts, the area has been home to the likes of duos Sonny and Cher, Lucille and Desi, the Million Dollar man Lee Majors and the man who couldn’t spell potato Dan Quayle.
For the record, Fort Lauderdale also has on the biggest flea markets on the plant and the world’s biggest drive-thru. The cities of Miami and West Palm Beach are nearby and immediately to the west is the sponge of swamp and sawgrass that is the world-heritage listed Everglades National Park.
With littIe more than 24 hours to recover from jet lag, I hadn’t much time to explore Fort Lauderdale but took a liking to the thick wet breeze that sweeps in off the Atlantic and the laid-back people that seem typical of many of the world’s ports. There are apparently 4000 restaurants in Fort Lauderdale and there seemed to be a busy eatery on every street corner. There could be four million palm trees. The place is like Riverside Drive gone troppo.
Musings from the States
It’s often said that Australia is becoming more like America, but each time I visit the States I’m struck by the differences rather than the similarities. Here are a few random notes.
- Yes, food servings are massive. Small is always big enough.
- I still have difficulty ordering coffee. Requesting a skinny flat white gets me nowhere but Blank Looks, population 1. I think cream is milk and I’m not sure what half and half is. Maybe half skim, half full fat? Either way, the coffee is strong, like it should be.
- Jet-lagged pedestrians and right-hand drive traffic are a recipe for disaster. It took me a while to anticipate where the traffic would come from. Being over-cautious when on foot is sensible.
- Denim jeans are high quality and very cheap, but it’s difficult to get a pair where the waist and length are both right.
- Beer is incredibly cheap. My favourite drop, Newcastle brown Ale, was selling for $9.27. It’s $25+ for a six-pack and hard to find back in Perth. I assumed $9.27 was the bottle price but when the attendant told me it was the cost of a four-pack, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. “Is it too expensive?” he asked at my stunned reaction.
- Just because the sign says "pharmacy" doesn’t limit the shop to selling Vicks VapoRub, fish oil tablets and ford pills. I walked into a pharmacy that sold DVDs and frozen foods and had a beer aisle. Pot plants, "Pepsi products" and pineapples were on the other side of the store from the cigarettes. The pharmacy was tucked next to pies, pastries and cakes.
- Fort Lauderdalians are, by and large, a friendly lot. "Sugar" and "honey" are used like we might use "mate", however it’s best to limit it to members of the opposite sex. Locals are very good at giving directions but finding one among the cruise ship passengers can be a challenge. Despite their convivial nature, Floridians are suspicious of men in over-size jeans taking notes on beer prices in a “pharmacy”.
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