Apr 22: Only One

Posted on April 22, 2015 7:45AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

There's a good reason President Obama is celebrating Earth Day here. Because South Florida is home to a place that's unique on Planet Earth: the Everglades. And because the long effort to preserve this remarkable environment goes on - and is showing signs of success. The Everglades quite literally is like nowhere else. It is, for instance, the only spot on our globe where both alligators and crocodiles coexist. It is a sprawling area that extends far beyond South Florida, with a wide variety of animal and plant life. And if you've never experienced the Everglades for yourself, you should. For sure. A visit to this wilderness is alone worth the trip to our region, especially when you do it by airboat. It is a World Heritage Site, very deservedly so. And it is an unforgettable sight to behold.


A friend of mine operates tours for Scandinavians who come to Greater Fort Lauderdale - and she always must include an Everglades excursion for her guests. I had dinner with her just the other night, in fact, and yet another Everglades airboat adventure was on her agenda for early the next morning. That's how the Everglades should be regarded by anyone who visits South Florida. It is a must-see.


Apparently, even President Obama agrees. The leader of the free world has at his disposal pretty much anywhere in ... well, the free world. He picked the Everglades for his 2015 Earth Day. This should tell you something. It surely tells me something. It tells me that the so-called River of Grass remains a natural wonder, despite development and foreign species that have threatened it. And it tells me also that the Everglades indeed is making a comeback as a result of federal conservation work over the years, work that will continue for many years more. That's an achievement for the government to rightly brag about. Greater Fort Lauderdale can do its own bragging about the Everglades, of course, with those airboat rides only a half hour drive from downtown Fort Lauderdale. I'm always amazed at how quickly I get there with out-of-town guests. The Everglades isn't far from any doorstep in Broward County. I recall taking a hot air balloon ride in Pompano Beach, floating high above this area for an amazing hour or so - and that's when something struck me. With lots of time to gaze at the horizon, I could see clearly that only a relatively narrow strip of land is occupied by humans ... and how much of the Everglades is left. This Earth Day is a good chance to recognize the spare beauty of that one-of-a-kind environment, just as our president is doing. And to make our own plans to see it for the first time or to see it again, soon.


Apr 20: Romantic Visitors

Posted on April 20, 2015 2:18PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Next time you see a cruise ship, look again. And for another moment, consider … Here in Fort Lauderdale, these vessels bring the world to our community. Most of us, though, never pause long enough to think about that as we pass by Port Everglades or notice a cruise ship in the distance off our coast. They are so very common in this, the city with the world’s second largest cruise port. Cruise ships seem just part of the landscape. I was reflecting on all this recently when I drove over the 17th StreetCauseway bridge in Fort Lauderdale and noticed a special ship in Port Everglades – a ship I know very well. It was the Silver Spirit, flagship of Silversea Cruises. That line is one of the top ultra-luxury cruise companies on earth, with U.S. offices here in Fort Lauderdale. 


I’ve sailed on the Silver Spirit all over the planet. On a three week voyage through the Middle East during the Arab Spring in 2011, from Dubai to Oman and then across the Gulf of Aden and up the Red Sea to Jordan and Egypt. I’ve savored the Spirit’s comforts out of Istanbul all around the Black Sea. And from Venice to Athens as well, making port in Croatia along the way. She’s a gorgeous ship with first-class service and amazing itineraries. 


Seeing the Spirit in Port Everglades, I suddenly recalled all those other ports too. Pulling up beside her in a Turkish taxi or returning by vaporetto to her dock in Venice. Or spotting the Spirit below us in Aqaba, Jordan after a full day at the extraordinary ruins of Petra. And I could imagine all the other places around the globe visited by the Silver Spirit since she was christened in Fort Lauderdale just a few years ago. The adventures this ship has gone through, the romance she brings to her passengers – and to each port wherever she stops. Of course the same could be said of most major cruise ships that come to South Florida: They are world travelers paying us a brief call on their way to somewhere else. Somewhere near perhaps, or somewhere very far away. Even their diverse crews remind us what a cruise ship really is. Look at the crew members sometime as they walk around the streets near our port on weekends, mostly young folks from Asia and Europe and South America. And from the United States and Canada and nearly any country you might name. Cruise ships aren’t just floating resorts, some mobile version of Disney World or whatever. They explore lands familiar and unfamiliar, and when aboard them we can explore these same exotic spots. And talk to crew who come from those spots. That’s the beauty of cruising. But even if we’re not traveling on a cruise ship just now, we can look and admire as they sail through South Florida. We know where they’ve each been, afterall. They’ve been everywhere.

Apr 15: Seasonings

Posted on April 15, 2015 1:00PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

This is a colorful time in South Florida. If you’re here, just look around. You’ll see what I’m talking about … and you’ll see it everywhere. For instance, I’m sitting in my home office right now typing out these words as I look out my window – well, actually it’s more like, “Typing, then looking. Typing, then looking, then typing.” Or something like that. Anyway, what I see without any special effort is a mass of pale red blossoms in the not-too-distant tree branches across from my place. They are royal poinciana trees just beginning to bloom. These are gorgeous trees with lacy green leaves and huge brown seed pods, up to two feet long. And during this season of the year, the royal poincianas come alive with spectacular red flowers that last for weeks. You’ll find these trees all over South Florida.  

And jacaranda trees too. Originally from South America, they have taken to our subtropical climate with great enthusiasm. Assuming trees can be enthusiastic. It sure looks like they are enthusiastic, with profusions of purple flowers covering their branches in the spring.  

And you thought Florida only had two seasons, huh? The old “wet season-dry season” thing … A natural counterpart to the “slow season-busy season” thing – you know, “no tourists” or “many tourists” depending on the weather. But the reality is different. Tourism may peak in the cooler months, but Greater Fort Lauderdale is popular year round now. Just take a walk down the Fort Lauderdale beach some July weekend and you’ll get my point. And as for our natural seasons, they’re much more subtle than most folks recognize. Spring is a good example. Typically we’re not into the tropical afternoon rains yet, those storms that come and go suddenly during much of the summer. But we usually do get some rain starting around this time. Temperatures slip back and forth from a.c. weather to open-window weather. You can spot birds mating and building nests. The buzzards that circle our skies all winter are pretty much gone but the mockingbirds are singing their songs night and day. Seasonal variations indeed do season our lives here in South Florida. Subtropical seasonings, if you will. Soon the fragrant frangipani trees will begin to blossom along with the royal poinciana and jacaranda … and the bougainvillea and the rest of our extraordinary foliage. Spring may start us heading toward the warmer months to come, offering hints of summery heat. But it also brings new colors, new life to our region. The mockingbirds know – spring in South Florida is something to sing about.

Apr 13: Ocean Art

Posted on April 13, 2015 12:30PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Only rarely do you need a tank of compressed air at an art exhibition. In Deerfield Beach, though, you will. A very cool artwork commissioned for a new artificial reef will be dropped into 70 feet of water just off the Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier this summer. Yes, it is art made especially for fishes. Oh, and divers too. Artist Dennis MacDonald of Zibitz Studios was asked to create a tribute to the famous stone statues on Easter Island, a far off South Pacific spot named Rapa Nui in the local language. Perhaps you know the sculptures I mean. They are giant expressionless faces that have peered into wind and wave for more than 500 years. And they are called moai - pronounced like the words "MOW eye," by the way.

These are remarkable artworks from a lost culture. But the new Deerfield Beach reef will bring 14 replicas here to Greater Fort Lauderdale, courtesy of South Florida resident and project director Margaret Blume. Divers are expected to visit our Rapa Nui Reef in large numbers. And they can plan on snapping selfies among sculptures that range from six to 22 feet tall, all situated to encourage marine life.

As I said, very cool ... South Florida's moai will be attached to a 150 foot steel barge, making the whole display more stable underwater. Organizers hope to sink everything on the morning of Sunday, June 7, though that could change. But whenever it goes below the breakers near Deerfield's pier, this should be a startlingly beautiful addition to the undersea world off our coastline. Imagine it. You strap on your tank, grab your mask and fins, then stride out into the water. In a few minutes, you're approaching a depth of 70 feet as you swim toward this unique permanent art exhibit. And suddenly, there it is: The famed moai of Easter Island appear to be staring back at you, expressionless as ever. As you come near, a barracuda slips quickly past and you notice grouper and amberjack too. You linger to explore the statues, long enough for that selfie and some shots of your dive buddy posing by the sculpture. And when you dry off, that selfie finds its way to your Facebook page even before you load your equipment back into the car. The Rapa Nui Reef will be one more big reason for divers worldwide to spend their time and money in Greater Fort Lauderdale, already among the most popular dive destinations. It will offer the dive community a small art gallery all their own. A very unstuffy kind of gallery, obviously, with your own personal supply of air.

Apr 8: Distracted Gawking

Posted on April 8, 2015 1:38PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

So this guy was driving by the Fort Lauderdale beach and ... Almost sounds like the setup for a joke, right? Except the joke was on me. I was driving by the Fort Lauderdale beach one spring day, got distracted by the very beautiful aqua sea and a very beautiful woman standing near that aqua sea - and bam! Before I knew it, I'd smacked into the bumper of a formerly nice new Infiniti. Yikes. This happened to me several years ago and I have learned an important lesson from it. The obvious lesson: Pay attention while driving. The less obvious lesson: South Florida is a very distracting place ... for all the right reasons.

How can you drive and not look around? At that very beautiful aqua sea and all those very beautiful people? At the pretty sun and the pretty moon and the pretty stars? At the palm trees and the bougainvillea? We have wild parrots flying all over the place, for Pete's sake, and canals and megayachts. And cruise ships, lots and lots of very distracting cruise ships. Wow, what's a good driver to do?

Yep, we all know the right answer: Pay attention while driving. I mention all that for a couple of reasons. First, because this is national Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Second, because I happen to be the founder of a nonprofit group with its own cool anti-distracted driving program for teens, something called "I Care: Just Let Me Drive." In my own defense, I must add that I helped create this driver safety program after my oceanside fenderbender. And I really do try to keep our program in mind when driving. But again I have to say, wow ... It's tough for me in South Florida. No kidding. Not so much on I-95 or whatever high-speed highway, but those smaller roads such as A1A offer so many gorgeous sights to see. Even Federal Highway has more than its fair share of distractions, from new restaurants to dive shops to Ferraris and Rolls-Royces. And don't get me started on the distractions that come from every direction along Las Olas or downtown Hollywood Boulevard. Great people watching places, these streets... And of course there's the 17th Street Causeway bridge in Fort Lauderdale. Every time I go over this span I glance at the cruise ships docked in Port Everglades - quickly looking once, twice, three times. Yes, my cellphone isn't the main distraction for me when driving. It's South Florida. To be honest, I'm all for these self-driving cars the techies talk about. I mean, wouldn't that be great? I could program my Mini Cooper for the Fort Lauderdale beach, then just sit back and relax and gawk all I wanted. Gawk at the very beautiful aqua sea and some very beautiful person standing near that aqua sea, all without putting any nearby Infinitis in danger. Until then, I'll simply have to be as attentive as I can be when behind the wheel. I truly do care. And this is national Distracted Driving Awareness Month, afterall. I also can hope the techies of the world hurry up with the self-driving cars. That sea and those people are very beautiful indeed - just made for serious gawking.

Apr 6: Ready to Rock

Posted on April 6, 2015 12:11PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

The stage already is going up. And Rock the Ocean's Tortuga Music Festival is coming back. You might remember that the 2014 edition was a big deal - with some very big names in music. In 2015, it's a big deal again. With some very big names in music, again. Like, how about folks such as Kenny Chesney and the Zac Brown Band? How about other folks such as Jake Owen, the Band Perry, Little Big Town, Trace Adkins? The Doobie Brothers will be there too for those of us into some great oldies rock-n-roll. Remember their song, "Long Train Running"? A classic ... Anyway, you can find the complete list of performers along with the other details you'll need at this link: Even their home page is kinda cool, a drawing of a tropical beach scene with puffy white clouds and orange blimps floating by.

I drove past the real Fort Lauderdale beach on Sunday, a very busy Easter by the ocean for sure. When I came to Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, there it all was: A partially erected stage and white tents and a grandstand and heavy equipment like earth movers and such. Preparations are underway, as they say.

Actually the Tortuga Music Festival will have three stages cranking out the tunes, with country and rock and roots music starting at 11:30 in the morning on Saturday and ending at around 10:15 on Sunday night. Very cool. But do you want to know one of the coolest things about this event? The festival again will raise awareness about marine conservation. The organizers have partnered with the Rock The Ocean Foundation to get us thinking about problems facing our seas around the world. The foundation also supports scientific research, ocean conservation and education efforts. The 2014 Tortuga Fest raised more than $100,000 toward that work. This year, more money will go to help save our oceans. All in all, then, not a bad way to spend your weekend. The forecast is for continued lovely weather, meaning the Tortuga Music Festival offers a chance to hear some of the top names in popular music ... on the Blue Wave beach in Fort Lauderdale ... under a bright sun or crystalline stars. Wow. Talk about a music experience, huh? For now, the construction goes on to get things ready in time. But, trust me, things definitely will be ready in time. Like I said, one stage already is going up. Preparations are underway. And Rock the Ocean's Tortuga Music Festival is coming back.

Apr 1: Hopeful Song

Posted on April 1, 2015 12:52PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

As we approach Easter and Passover, even South Florida birds are hopeful. If that sounds like something I'm saying just to be cute, it's not. Quite literally, it is true as I'll explain in a moment. But first let me wish our loyal blog readers the best in a season of hope. Whatever your beliefs, whatever traditions you follow, this is a moment to savor each year. In the north country, snow disappears. (Fingers crossed on that one in 2015...) Crocuses bloom and temperatures begin to warm. Here in the subtropical south, we enjoy blooms of our own as mango trees and bottlebrush trees and trees of all sorts blossom under our sunshine. The weather is about as perfect right now as weather can get. And no matter where you live, spring clothes and spring colors come out of the closet to raise our spirits. Whether you worship or whether you only eat Peeps from a grassy basket, this holiday weekend is a joyful time.

Mockingbirds find their own brand of hope during this period every year. You can hear the endearing sound of their feeling late at night ... if you listen for it.

Male mockingbirds without mating attachments go singing for a significant other in South Florida, night after night after night. Start listening at, say, 11 pm or so and check for birdsongs every now and then until you go to bed. There's a good chance that you'll hear the lonely but eager mockingbirds if any of them live in your neighborhood. And in the Fort Lauderdale area, most neighborhoods seem to attract these birds. The official state bird of Florida, the mockingbird is as common as it is lovely. Shhh, just listen ... At a time of night when birds almost never sing, you will hear a mockingbird working through its vast repertoire to impress any single females. I noticed another male last night, starting around 11:30 and going until early in the morning. As usual for these remarkable creatures, this mockingbird would warble his tune a few times and then begin a new song. Typically, they repeat one bird-melody three or four or five, sometimes six times before starting all over again. Each mockingbird can belt out as many as 200 songs and other sounds, even learning to imitate mechanical noises sometimes. But on pleasant early spring nights you will hear them singing beautiful tunes, melodies that somehow feel inspiring in their hopefulness. These are songs, not of love, but of confidence in finding love. At least love in the way that mockingbirds experience it. And for the rest of us the late-night mockingbird songs are reminders each spring, urging us to keep hoping too - something better may be waiting nearby if we'll try to find it.


Mar 30: Montreal Ici

Posted on March 30, 2015 11:13AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Amazing new stat: 1 of every 3 French-Canadians visited South Florida this winter. Wow, huh? Truly, it was "Montreal ici," as they would say in French. "Montreal here." Though the statistic from the French-Canada/Florida Travel Association surprised me when I read it this morning online, I suppose I shouldn't have felt so shocked. As I looked around Greater Fort Lauderdale, the license plates alone told the story. In my Dania Beach condo parking lot, more than half the plates said, "Je me souviens" on the bottom and "Quebec" on top. No kidding, I counted ‘em one January morning - more than half the license plates. But it turns out, all those Quebec cars were only the tip of the iceberg.

Mind you, I'm thrilled to see so many French-Canadian visitors. So are businesses in South Florida, where their annual pilgrimage contributes a lot to our economy. Merci beaucoup! But it seems the brutal winter forced many more Quebec residents to our sunny beaches than ever. Yes, we set a huge new record from November 2014 - March 2015: Nearly 2.7 million Quebecers in about five months. That's out of a total Quebec population of 8.18 million. Again, wow, huh?

By mid-January, the normally hectic roads in Montreal began to look deserted. Saint Catherine Street welcomed fewer than 23 shoppers a day from mid-January through mid-February. But here in Greater Fort Lauderdale? So many Quebecois brought their sunscreen and Speedos to the Hollywood beach that lifeguards were required to take French lessons. "Excusez-moi monsieur, attention se il vous plait." Dania Beach-Hollywood-Hallandale Beach formed a joint municipal task force to ensure the massive French-Canadian snowbird migration was properly protected, hiring some 73 Montreal police officers this winter. I often saw the Montreal police cars patrolling from Dania Beach Boulevard south to the county line. Yes, this was one incredible busy season for our many many Quebec friends. And they left a big impression on South Florida as they flooded the highways and airports to escape the endless Polar Vortex. They arrived in such huge numbers that local Starbucks began to serve poutine. Some seaside cafes in Fort Lauderdale crossed "ham and eggs" off their morning menus, replacing that breakfast standard with "jambon et oeufs." Even Pompano Beach saw the impact in ways they'd never experienced. After Pompano city officials spotted parking lots filled with those "Je me souviens" license plates, they removed three beachfront "Stop" signs and installed the French equivalent: "Arret," read the new red signage. But you wanna know the most incredible part about all of this? Haha ... It's not true. None of it. Happy (slightly early) April Fool! Yes, we have a kind of tradition here on the website of April Fool blogs. I've written them for the past several years now, with only the best of intentions naturally. So if we pulled you into our little jest, please don't feel silly. That was the idea. There's nothing foolish about being fooled on April Fool's Day ... er, or something like that. And hey, feel free to pass along the link to a friend, perhaps a good-natured French-Canadian. Quebec really did send a wonderfully large contingent to South Florida this winter - and who could blame the Quebec folks for being here instead of there? Even a Starbucks poutine tastes good when the weather is 75 degrees and sunny.

Mar 25: Pretty Port

Posted on March 25, 2015 8:57AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

ports are more than a place for vessels. They are small and pleasant resting spots for people too. These ports are different from most - not the vast areas of concrete with imposing docks for ships that transport thousands of passengers. No, they can host only a few boats ... and dozens of lucky customers. Of course, I'm talking about the restaurants and bars and clubs built waterside all around South Florida. Lovely places for a meal or cocktail, many of these. Here in Greater Fort Lauderdale, my own favorites include Bahia Cabana, 15th Street Fisheries, Shooters. And Southport Raw Bar, one of the best.

Just yesterday I popped into Southport Raw Bar for lunch with a view. It was another reminder that this restaurant is a local gem. I love it.

When you go, by all means make sure to sit outside if at all possible. The back deck bumps up against the deepest canal in Fort Lauderdale, a short channel running south of 15th Street to the Intracoastal Waterway. Years ago, I lived on that canal only paces away from Southport. So yes, I'm very familiar with this raw bar. The food is reliably good, the staff nearly always helpful. But the setting makes Southport what it is. I grabbed a wooden table beside the water near some tourists who talked about the bad weather back home. To them, no doubt, this seemed paradise. It felt much that same way to me. I peered down the canal, past the marina and the apartments and the yachts. The waterway twinkled with sunshine, looking clean and inviting. The sky reminded me of a seaside scene, all blue with rows of wispy clouds that appeared like gentle breakers rolling in toward shore from the ocean. To one side, a cook worked at Southport's outdoor grill, smoking up burgers and fish beneath an old seagrape tree. Near him two cabbage palms rustled lightly in the soft seabreezes. A few motorboats came and went during my lunch, one of them carrying a large family of hungry kids. They quickly hopped off and made their way toward the food. I sipped on a lemonade-and-iced-tea, an Arnold Palmer as it's called. My spicy conch chowder was terrific and the tuna salad sandwich most tasty. But that view ... I find it utterly charming, the very image of South Florida. That view shows us why visitors come here from all over the world. That view helps us remember why many of us move here and never leave. Ah, that view. On an early spring day, it's all you really need.

Mar 23: Cruise Cusp

Posted on March 23, 2015 12:50PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Some big cruise news in recent weeks - and I do mean big. Big, like biggest cruise ship in the world. Yep, there soon will be another and even larger ship to take over the top spot from the existing biggest, baddest passenger ships afloat. But the new ship has two things in common with the old ones. It is part of the Royal Caribbean line. And it will sail in and out of Fort Lauderdale. The news is timely too, coming as it does just as the traditional winter cruise season winds down and the fun summer season for cruising is about to begin. We're on a kind of cusp between these two periods right now, meaning it's a good moment to think about a summer voyage.

Okay, so let me back up a bit. First, a little more about that new ship ... It will be called Harmony of the Seas, with a massive amount of room - enough to hold 5,479 passengers. That's more than the fleet's two other huge ships by about 80 passengers. Those two ships, of course, are Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. And indeed, both now use Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale as their home port.

I spot Allure and Oasis often as they sit docked to the south of the 17th Street bridge. They're hard to miss. And I'm looking forward to the arrival of Harmony of the Seas, scheduled for next winter. Should be something to see, for sure. Meantime, Port Everglades continues its very busy season for a few weeks yet, the most active stretch of months at the world's second largest cruise port. Which leads me to my second point - you know, summer cruising. I've sailed the Caribbean during the summer months and loved it. Ships generally are less crowded, shore excursions often are cooled by island breezes. It's delightful. There's something else that most folks forget when planning their cruise vacation. Summer seas in the Caribbean are much calmer than in the winter. So if ship motion is an issue for you, go in the summertime. Should any sort of large storm kick up while you're at sea, the ship has plenty of time to change course in order to avoid problems. Oh yeah, I definitely recommend summer Caribbean cruises. We may be on the cusp of the summer season here as we also approach the chance to welcome a still-larger ship to Port Everglades. But one thing won't change no matter what time of year it is. A holiday at sea is among the very best ways to relax and forget about the hectic world for a while. I'm guessing we all could use a little of that.