LauderBlog

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 sunny.org 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.


Mar 18: Funky Fest

Posted on March 18, 2015 11:48AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

The festivals just keep coming. Dania Beach offers up an especially fun fest if you're looking for something a little less flashy and a little more down home. It happens this weekend, March 21 and 22 - the Dania Beach Arts & Seafood Celebration. And it arrives in the heart of the South Florida festival season. Every year there's a kind of crescendo of outdoor events, beginning in early winter and continuing through the spring, festivals taking place all over the county. They start here and there, now and then, but soon seem like they're popping up everywhere weekend after weekend after weekend. I love it.

Last year I dropped into the Dania Beach Arts & Seafood Celebration and found it delightful. Lots of options for food and drink, lots of cool and unusual stuff to buy. And plenty of good ol' hard rockin' music blasting from bands on the big stage. It all goes on from 10 am - 7 pm both Saturday and Sunday.

I'm glad to see Dania Beach doing something like this. I live in that pleasant, somewhat funky community. There remains a charming small town quality to Dania Beach, a place mostly of mom-and-pop shops and restaurants. There's even a bait shack on Dania Beach Boulevard. City officials are working hard to preserve the quaint side of the city, at the same time making some much needed improvements in spots such as the beach and the downtown blocks. New businesses are showing up too, including the very popular Quarterdeck restaurant sitting on a pier over the sea. A great view with your meal, if you're in the area. Anyway, as a resident I've seen many changes during my eight years in Dania Beach - with many more changes still to come. One of the new arrivals in recent years has been the annual Dania Beach Arts & Seafood Celebration. It has a vibe much like Dania Beach itself. Charming, small town, somewhat funky. There'll even be a 100 ton sand sculpture. And this is most definitely a family friendly event, spreading out through Frost Park with a lovely playground and broad grassy areas just right for some kid fun. You can visit the festival's website at this link: http://daniabeachartsandseafoodcelebration.com. Check it out if this sounds like your kind of weekend entertainment. You know, charming ... small town ... somewhat funky. Personally, I think it's a hoot. I mean, seriously, a 100 ton sand sculpture? Come on. For sheer charming funkiness, that's hard to top.

Mar 16: Smiley Face

Posted on March 16, 2015 9:08AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

If you want to see smiles, go to the beach. Any Greater Fort Lauderdale beach will do. I was there just this morning as I write this blog on Monday, a lovely pleasant gorgeous sunshiny .... Well, okay, enough adjectives. You grasp the concept, no doubt. It's a pleasant morning to say the least. When I stopped to eat, the air temp was about 72 degrees with mostly clear skies, a few low clouds hanging over the seascape. A sweet breeze came off the water, cooling all those smiling faces.

Seriously, everywhere I looked people were smiling. I had popped into one of my fave cafes for breakfast on the Fort Lauderdale beach, ordering something substantial to last me a while. Along with a tall glass of fresh-squeezed Florida OJ - ah, most tasty indeed. I was alone and, being the curious sort, I began to glance around and eavesdrop a bit. A couple from Canada sat near me, talking with the waitress about the snow and cold they had just escaped for a vacation here. And yep, of course they were smiling. Wouldn't you be smiling if you were them?

Yes, you would be. The café was pretty full and getting fuller by the moment. And, okay sure, I guess a few folks here and there weren't actively and broadly grinning during their meals. But no kidding, smiles were the order of the morning. There was a vibe you could pick up around the beach, a sense that we had been joined by tourists who finally had a taste of sunshine and warmth to go with their scrambled eggs. After breakfast I took a nice stroll on the sidewalk that runs along the wave wall not far from the ocean's edge. I can still see some of the faces that crossed my path. There was the guy about my age, probably a businessman from the looks of him, and he was walking the opposite direction as me with his chin turned up toward the sun ... and smiling a very contented smile. There were the three women chattering away about people they knew or something, passing me at a brisk pace as they gestured energetically ... and smiled. There was the young attractive Asian couple. Smiling. And all the runners, young and fit and older and less fit but mostly all smiling in some form or fashion. Heck, even the wait staff at the café was pretty darned smiley now that I think of it. Look, it's been a very hard winter in much of the country. Everybody up there just wants it to be over. Now some of them have landed at FLL and suddenly it is over. They've gone from winter to summer. And they are happy about it. And I was happy to see so many of them all in one place during one brief breakfast outing. And oh yeah, definitely - I was smiling too. (Photo courtesy of http://twitter.com/ftlauderdalesun).

Mar 11: Paddy's Parades

Posted on March 11, 2015 1:52PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

So this is the weekend to go green. As in, Irish. As in leprechaun hats and "Kiss me" pins and beer served in unnatural colors. As in, St. Paddy's Day. True, the actual day isn't until next Tuesday. But real Paddy's Day partiers never let something as insignificant as the calendar determine when to start having a good time. I consider myself a fine example of this, by the way. I had a small Irish-themed party at my place this week for some friends, complete with shepherd's pie and Guinness and Jameson and ... Well, you get my drift. Fun party. This all seemed appropriate because I am well-and-truly Irish myself - er, part Irish according to DNA tests my family recently carried out. Yes, I can claim a piece of Ireland's past as my own.

Perhaps you can too. Perhaps not. Either way, don't miss the chance to claim your own piece of Ireland for one weekend anyway, something you can accomplish wonderfully right here in Greater Fort Lauderdale. It starts on Saturday with South Florida's largest Paddy's Day parade. Followed by a grand Irish festival, all of it in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Head for Huizenga Plaza and the Riverwalk area around Las Olas and Andrews Avenue. The big parade starts at noon, but the music and general wackiness begin in the morning and continue until 7 pm. Organizers tell us to expect bands and dancers as well as "stilt walkers, leprechauns and cultural attractions." Love it - no one can say things will be excessively silly as long as we offer "cultural attractions," right? But of course, silliness is the reason for St. Patrick's Day in this country. Or at least the reason it's so popular, no matter if you're originally from Belfast or Bogota, Cork or Caracas, Kilkenny or Kingston. Even kids can get into the spirit at the Fort Lauderdale event, with bounce houses and face painting and pony rides and such like. For more info, check out this link: http://www.ftlaudirishfest.com. Then on Sunday, get ready to do it all again. The Hollywood St. Patrick's Day Parade & Festival runs from noon to 6 pm, with another large parade, more music, more dancers. And so on .. The organizers did not mention anything about stilt walkers and leprechauns but I suspect there's a good chance. Here's the link for the Hollywood par-tay: http://www.stpatricksparade.com. So, yeah, this definitely is the weekend to go green all right. Sip a Guinness or something. Sup on corned beef and cabbage or maybe shepherd's pie. Wear your "Kiss me, I'm Irish!" pin and prepare to pucker up. Cultural attractions or not, there's nothing serious about a Paddy's Day party. And that's just the way us Irish folk like it.

Mar 10: Moonscape

Posted on March 10, 2015 7:34AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

You can see the moon inside our library. Literally. Not from the library, but in it. A moon rock is the new visitor to Fort Lauderdale, housed temporarily here in the Florida tropics thanks to the Broward County Library's main branch downtown. I saw it myself over the weekend with my girlfriend, Gwen, when we arrived early for an event held in the library auditorium. After picking up our tickets, we decided to wander around the remodeled building. Then we noticed a sign that mentioned the moon rock, took the elevator to the sixth floor ... and there it was, along with a small exhibit about our nation's exploration of space. Naturally, the rock is carefully protected inside a case, all sitting on a tall stand that helpfully says, "Moon Rock" in large letters. You sure won't have to wonder where it is.

Gwen and I were fascinated. The rock is a small fragment, about the size of a broad thumbnail. It looks almost volcanic as though washed ashore on a remote island by the sea. But of course it wasn't - and that's the the fascination.

Neither of us ever had seen a moon rock in person before. Knowing where it came from, and how it got from there to here ... well, it can give a person goosebumps if you really think about it long enough. We all remember the famous footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and their colleagues who walked on the moon after them. We've watched them collecting rock samples in those bulky white spacesuits. But most of us haven't seen a specimen from the moon for ourselves. Here's your chance. By the way, the exhibit includes a reproduction of one of those same bulky white suits as well as photos and videos and models that focus on our manned space program. If you have any interest in space, you'll probably find it's worth a quick visit to the Broward County Main Library at 100 South Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. Take the escalator to the second floor, then the elevator to the sixth floor. The moon is an important part of South Florida's tropical lifestyle, rising over the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and casting a pale romantic light upon the beach for us to savor during evening strolls. We look up at the moon through rustling palm fronds. We see the moon reflected in our warm waters. We hold hands under the moon and make promises to each other. The moon offers the night's cool counterpoint to our daytime sunshine. But the moon rock is a reminder that this nearby heavenly body isn't only a thing of romance and love. It's also a thing of science and exploration - and this exhibition is a chance to appreciate the scientists and explorers who brought some of it back to earth for us to see.

Mar 4: Foxy Lady

Posted on March 4, 2015 10:27AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

South Florida is a charming mix of urban and wild. Another reminder of this came to us recently with news that the long-absent gray fox had returned to a local park. A park that bumps up against the very heart of the famous Fort Lauderdale beach. This beach attracts tens of thousands of people, tourists and locals alike. Lots of cars also pass by all day every day as they tool up and down A1A to gawk at the ocean. Major hotels funnel guests in and out near the park - there's even a fire station just around the corner. Despite it all, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park remains a welcoming oasis of native plants and wildlife. Look for it at the corner of A1A and Sunrise Boulevard, stretching north from there.

So it was lovely to read a newspaper report about the gray fox. The last gray fox before now at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park was seen some eight years ago. Park rangers thought it was gone for good.

But no, it wasn't. In recent days, a maintenance worker spotted a gray fox and snapped a photo for proof. Since then, a few more turned up including one pregnant female. Pretty cool. Rangers caution us to keep away from any gray fox we may notice at the park - they're skittish around people. And please don't feed them either. They're doing just fine on their regular diet of tasty rabbits and rats and mice, perhaps supplemented by a course of crabs and lizards and iguana eggs now and then. When you visit the park, also look around for those mama and papa iguanas. You're likely to see wading birds or ducks or hawks too. Hugh Taylor Birch State Park has more than 200 species of them. Other creatures within the park boundaries are opossums and turtles, gray squirrels and gopher tortoises and indigo snakes. No worries - indigo snakes aren't poisonous, though they can grow fairly big. Personally, I've never seen one during many trips to the park. I've always found that Birch State Park serves nicely as a refuge from all those tourists and locals, all those cars and hotels and fire trucks. It's a throwback to South Florida as South Florida once was, a subtropical jungle. Today's South Florida looks very different, of course. For many excellent reasons we're a popular vacation destination, offering sunshine and warmth and sea and sand along with wonderful restaurants, unique attractions, top hotels. But I think it's nice to learn we're also still popular among gray foxes. Like the people, they know a good thing when they see one.

Mar 3: Roaming

Posted on March 3, 2015 9:22AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

The nice thing about Florida is that it's so close to Fort Lauderdale. You know, easy access and all. By which I mean to say a few things: First, that Greater Fort Lauderdale is a distinct region in a large state made up of many other distinct regions. Second, that we're located nicely for roaming around a bit, should you feel so inclined when you visit us. Third, that some roaming is well worth doing. Naturally, all of us in Greater Fort Lauderdale prefer that you come as a tourist and spend all your money within our county's boundaries. Many folks do exactly that. Thank you. But for others, a trip to the Fort Lauderdale area also includes side trips out and about, here and there, hither and yon. You get the idea. From Fort Lauderdale, Florida beckons these people.

Such wanderings are on my mind today because last week I did some wandering of my own, venturing well beyond my Dania Beach condo for a few days. I did this for a very specific reason. Ever since I was seven-years-old growing up in suburban Detroit, I've wanted to visit Lakeland, Florida to watch my Detroit Tigers in spring training. After nearly 26 years as a Greater Fort Lauderdale resident, I finally decided 2015 was the year.

My goal was to see my baseball team fielding their grounders, shagging their fly balls, smacking a few in batting practice - and, I sincerely hoped, to meet my all-time baseball idol. The great Hall of Fame Detroit Tiger, Al Kaline. So I hopped on I-595 near the airport and headed west, out to the expansive Everglades only a half hour from downtown Fort Lauderdale. Still in Broward County, I slid on to U.S. 27 north and drove for the next five hours. I passed miles and miles of more Everglades before motoring into sugar cane country as I approached central Florida, then through endless acres of orange groves and still more acres of cattle ranches not far from the pretty lakes around Sebring. On the way, I spotted two bald eagles nesting high on a power pole. I stopped at a funky roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere for barbecue beef. I rolled slowly through small towns and large farms until at last I landed in Lakeland. The weather was much colder than in Fort Lauderdale but I did my thing, watching my guys field their grounders, shag their fly balls, smack a few in batting practice. And yes, I actually met and briefly chatted with Al Kaline, who graciously posed with me for a selfie despite the bitter wind. I'm back in Dania Beach now and I'm very glad to be here. It's warm and sunny, my windows are open and I'm wearing a t-shirt instead of a heavy sweater and leather jacket. But my getaway was a reminder that tourists also may enjoy exploring during their time in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Exploring within Broward County, perhaps exploring some outside it too. Florida is a uniquely beautiful state - so come to Greater Fort Lauderdale, stay in Greater Fort Lauderdale and consider taking a short trip beyond. You'll discover that Florida really is only a short drive away.

Mar 2: Women of Power Impact Greater Fort Lauderdale

Posted on March 2, 2015 10:27AM

Posted by Kitty Oliver - guest blogger

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau is gearing up to salute Black women in March with a lineup of events featuring some of the top movers and shakers in the U.S. today.

Black Enterprise magazine is predicting a record-breaking attendance of close to 1,000 participants for its 10th Annual Women of Power Summit March 2-5, convening for the first time on Fort Lauderdale beach with the CVB as host/sponsor. This year's event features a high-powered roster of top-level African American women in global finance, leadership development and training, business management, and mental health as well as women who have played pioneering roles in sports corporations, the military, diversity, and education.
Panelists, keynote speakers and award honorees include Susan Taylor, activist and change agent and editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence magazine; iconic film star Pam Grier; award-winning NPR journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault; Spelman College president Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum; "Good Morning America" financial contributor Mellody Hobson; and crisis communication expert Judy Smith, inspiration for the lead character in the TV series "Scandal."

"Each year we look for a warm place - since most people come from the Northeast and cold weather - and Fort Lauderdale certainly has it. And, we were attracted by the amenities and beauty of the area," said Renau Daniels, Senior Director Multimedia and Events Sponsorship and Sales at Black Enterprise.

The CVB is also partnering with the City of Miami Gardens this year for the Women's Impact Conference on March 20 preceding the 10th annual Jazz in the Gardens concerts March 21-22. The conference focuses on issues facing women in the workforce and community and will be held at the Miramar Cultural Center.

The women's conferences are in line with the CVB's tourism and economic development initiative which promotes innovative partnership opportunities for numerous upscale multicultural groups who visit the area. Participants vacation like VIPs while also interacting with and impacting the local community.

When the National Urban League brings its national conference to Greater Fort Lauderdale area in July for the first time, the focus will be on setting a national agenda for areas of concern in the Black community as well as conducting a job fair, health screenings, and projects for local youth.

Black Enterprise magazine has become a media partner with the American Tennis Association, the country's oldest Black sports organization, which attracts players from around the country to its annual championships each August in Fort Lauderdale. The ATA has plans to make the Greater Fort Lauderdale area its permanent home and nurture the education of young male players through partnerships with Black Greek organizations and HBCUs.

Organizations such as the National Black Accountants, the Sickle Cell Conference and the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) continue to flock to the area. "We are always supportive of events and conferences that bring affluent, high-powered African Americans to the area who can see all the wonderful things we have to offer and keep coming back,' said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development for the CVB.