LauderBlog

Dec 17: Flight Paths

Posted on December 17, 2014 1:15PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

FLL is hopping. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, known in airport code as FLL, is taking off in a serious way this holiday season. That's because we have two major runways now, not just one. Which of course should make it quicker and easier than ever for you to get here, or to get from here back to there. Wherever "there" happens to be for you. I realized just how bustling this airport is these days when my sister and brother-in-law visited me last month. I live in Dania Beach, only a few miles from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. I can see planes taking off and landing all the time and, yes, I noticed the increased traffic for myself. But Sondra, my sis, put it in a clear perspective.

"When we used to visit you years ago, Fort Lauderdale seemed like a small airport," she remembered. "It was like one of those airports in New England or something. But now, it's gotten so busy. It's almost like a hub."

I felt the same way in the past about FLL when I landed in 1989 for my job interview as a reporter at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The airport seemed tropical and charming, but hardly like a hub of any kind. My landing in Fort Lauderdale back then also landed me that job ... and ever since I've been flying in and out of the airport toward destinations near and far, domestic and foreign. What a difference those years have made. Now Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is just as Sondra said it is: "It's almost like a hub." Only last night I watched two jets taking off simultaneously from the two runways, flying west to east over the ocean. At the same time, I saw another plane coming out of the northeast toward the airport and still another circling overhead. But the good thing is that the airport has expanded with the traffic. It can handle all that bustling - planes, cars and people alike. So if you're planning to come from there to here and back again, you can relax. Whether at the holidays or some time during 2015, FLL is ready to handle you and yours. Hey, our baggage claim carousels even play calypso music as well as the sounding of cruise ship horns. Very cool. You'll notice a difference if you haven't been at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for a while, but I think you'll like it. More runways but also more food and beverage options in the terminals. And a well-organized, easy to use airport that manages all those flights and human beings quite well. My sister likes it anyway - and that's good enough for me.

Dec 16: A Seaside Note

Posted on December 16, 2014 2:08PM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

I am sitting by the sea as I begin this blog. Where are you? Yes, I'm dictating a quick few notes into my new iPhone, looking out at a nearly flat, skyblue expanse of water. There is little distinction between the color of the Atlantic Ocean and the color of the sky above that ocean. They're separated by only a faint band of pale white clouds as well as a thin line of darker sea that cuts across the horizon in the distance. It is a beautiful morning, with the sun out full and only the slightest movement among the fronds of the coconut palm trees scattered around the beach.

It strikes me that this is a very good place to be right now. The temperature is probably around 70, predicted to rise a few more degrees until things cool off again by evening. Most of us, locals and visitors like, seem to think the weather is just about perfect for mid-December in South Florida. I haven't taken an opinion poll, of course, but that's the feeling of everyone I happen to talk with about the weather, anyway.

As I sit by this narrow stretch of beach in the northern end of Fort Lauderdale, runners and walkers and non-exercisers alike stroll past. Some of them make eye contact with me, or maybe smile and say hello. I always smile back. People definitely are in a good mood on this morning - and why not? Where else would any of us rather be? If you're not down here in Greater Fort Lauderdale with us, please don't feel bad about that. As an ex-northerner, I well remember many cold snowy winters and I even enjoyed some of them. Especially around Christmastime. But yeah, most definitely I feel grateful to savor the tropical sunshine on this holiday Monday. And I have to wonder again where you are, where you're reading this. Wherever it is, I hope you are having a lovely holiday season too. And I also hope this blog may make you feel a little warmer if indeed you are living somewhere in the cold climes. It might help you to know there's a place in the United States today that's soaked in brilliant hot sunlight, a spot where you can wear only shirtsleeves as you linger beside clear seas that flow across softsand beaches. As for me, I'm still sitting by the ocean, still dictating this blog into my phone. The sea and the sky haven't changed much during my visit, though the air feels a touch warmer now. It really is a beautiful morning in South Florida. Wish you were here - really, I do.

Dec 9: Before and After

Posted on December 9, 2014 9:19AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

There's nothing like a hotel stay before your cruise. Or after it. Or both. Last week, I was talking about Fort Lauderdale as a world cruise capital. We are second on the planet for the sheer number of passengers handled. But there's another thing to think about when cruising to or from this area. Our cruise port, Port Everglades, happens to be quite conveniently located, thank you - very near the famous Fort Lauderdale beach and our main downtown street, Las Olas Boulevard, as well as some wonderfully entertaining attractions such as the Bonnet House. So for sure it makes sense to plan your voyage to do at least one full day in Fort Lauderdale too. A short taxi ride can bring you to a lovely seaside lunch, for example, perhaps with some shopping mixed in.

But when I cruise, which is often, I always prefer to spend some time wherever I start and end my travels. A hotel stay gives me the chance to experience a city more fully than I could manage through the cruise alone. This year I spent a couple of days in Hong Kong and a couple more in Bali before my South Pacific cruise, followed by a very full day in Taipei at the tail end of the trip.

If I were an out-of-towner cruising from Fort Lauderdale I definitely would book myself into one of the local hotels for as long as I could afford, whether before or after my vacation at sea. Or both. Why come all the way to South Florida and miss seeing everything except the airport and cruise port? The Everglades is an environment like no other on earth - and only a half hour from Port Everglades. Our community offers many more miles of canals than Venice, with lots of ways to float around on them. Sawgrass Mills is a popular outlet store mecca for serious shoppers. Our coastline glistens with Blue Wave beaches. And Greater Fort Lauderdale now rightfully can boast about memorable restaurants, top hotels, unique attractions. Seems a shame to come this far without checking them out, doesn't it? Luckily, special pre-post cruise bargains can help make that more affordable. Some hotels even provide free parking during your cruise and round-trip transfers to and from the port. Or snag discounted prices for things like a catamaran cruise just off our shores or bass fishing in the Everglades. Or a chance to go snorkeling or bicycling or ... Here's a link that gives you more details: http://www.sunny.org/cruise-and-play/cruisedeals/#attraction_deals. As far as I'm concerned, cruising is one of the best of all vacations. I love the opportunity to get back to sea, bobbing from place to place in my mobile hotel. But I also know a real hotel before and after the cruise makes my vacation that much better. A cruise is like a sampler of many spots on the map. An extended stay allows me to explore one spot in more depth. To me, that's pretty much the perfect combination for pretty much the perfect way to see the world.

Dec 4: Cruise Capital

Posted on December 4, 2014 7:52AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Every year, I watch it happen. The return of the cruise ships to Fort Lauderdale. Not that they ever really go away, mind you. Massive cruise ships still come and go all year round, even during our warmest months. (A tip for you to keep in mind: Summer cruising actually is wonderful. Seas are calm, breezes cool the islands and you often can find a good bargain.) But right now is when many folks from chilly northern climes want to come to South Florida, hop on a cruise ship and get away to the Caribbean. Who can blame them? So yes, starting each November, I watch Port Everglades as I pass by and then I count the number of ships in our harbor. This week, I counted five when I motored over the 17th Street Causeway bridge.

During the winter weekends, I typically spot as many as nine ships all in port at the same time. That's a rare sight anywhere in the world. How do I know this? Because I've cruised all over the world ...

I'm a very experienced cruise passenger, something I share with you only to help make my point. I feel extremely grateful for the travel opportunities I've enjoyed as a writer, including the remarkable cruises. Not just through part of the Caribbean or even the Mediterranean. But also the Adriatic and the Baltic. And the Red Sea and Black Sea and Yellow Sea as well as many many other seas, small and large. I've visited major ports throughout Asia and South America, Europe and North Africa and the Middle East. But I've never seen nine cruise ships in port at the same time anywhere else. That includes Venice and Tokyo and St. Petersburg and Hong Kong and Manila and Istanbul and ... You get the idea. Port Everglades keeps attracting new passengers year to year, with more than 1.8 million people passing through its gates in 2013. I expect that number will jump even more when the final figures for 2014 show up during the coming months. We're one of the top cruise spots, narrowly behind Miami and ahead of Port Canaveral as the three busiest ports in the world. Of course, cruising is best when you can add pre-cruise and post-cruise stays to the voyage. That's been my experience and I try to do this on every trip. As it turns out, Greater Fort Lauderdale is a terrific place to spend some extra time - and this website offers special deals to save you money before or after your big cruise. Next week, I'll tell you about that. Because, well, it's like I said. The most popular months for Caribbean cruises are just beginning. That means you'll be seeing a few more blogs from me about cruising during the busy season. Cruising is something I love to think about and especially something I love to do. Judging by the numbers of cruise passengers at Port Everglades, I guess I'm not alone.

Dec 1: Light Fantastic

Posted on December 1, 2014 7:34AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Here's an insider's holiday suggestion for out-of-towners: Come to Fort Lauderdale. Soon. If you can snag a quick airfare deal to make it by Tuesday, sweet. If not, then for sure fly in before December 13. Take it from someone who's lived here for 25 years and knows a charming Florida holiday tradition when he sees one. Two of them, actually. So consider this blog some advance warning about both Christmas on Las Olas and the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade. This is the 52nd time that Christmas on Las Olas has decked out Fort Lauderdale's main shopping street, Las Olas Boulevard. You can expect a huge and happy crowd milling among the wintry trappings, which will include electric icicles and soap snowflakes. Lots and lots of holiday lights. And a two-story sledding mountain of real ice.

Choirs from local churches and schools will help entertain, outdoor bars will offer another variety of entertainment and good times will be enjoyed by all, whether families or friends, couples or singles. There's just a thoroughly delightful vibe to this event, a public holiday party among the palm trees. This link has more info about the December 2 Christmas on Las Olas, which runs from 5-10 pm: http://www.sunny.org/includes/calendar-of-events/Christmas-on-Las-Olas/18648.

Then there's the main holiday bash held annually in these subtropical parts, the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade. In 2014, it will fall on the auspicious date of 12.13.14. Cool, eh? And this really is something to experience if you haven't before. Even if you have. I'm not aware of anything quite like this boat parade anywhere else. To get a mental picture, first think of highly decorated homes you've seen around your area in past holiday seasons. Then imagine them floating down the New River through the heart of Fort Lauderdale before heading north up the Intracoastal Waterway. It's kinda like that. Kinda. Some 100 boats are expected for this year's parade, many of them beautifully gaudy and some of them beautifully loud too, with holiday music pumping through their speaker systems to the throng lining the water's edge. Check here for more details about the boat parade:http://winterfestparade.com. As with Christmas on Las Olas, the boat parade is so memorable because of the feeling in the air that night, its unique vibe. I really think that has something to do with our weather, so unholiday-like in any traditional sense. Hardly Currier and Ives stuff. But these two Fort Lauderdale events remind us no one needs snow to have a blast in December. Believe me, I lived in Vermont for a long time before Florida. Often, that December blast was from air so cold it quite literally froze my nose hairs. Call me crazy but I think a holiday parade watched in t-shirt and shorts is better than freezing my nose off. Or any other part, for that matter.

Nov 20: Oh Canada

Posted on November 20, 2014 9:35AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

They're the most reliable of snowbirds, our Canadian friends. And this year, they're already migrating back in a big way. Early. Each autumn we permanent Floridians notice their return, normally just after Thanksgiving. In Greater Fort Lauderdale, many of these folks are French-Canadians and their presence is obvious. The sound of French wafts more frequently through grocery stores and restaurants and bars. Cars with white license plates that proclaim "Je me souviens" pop up everywhere. The phrase translates as, "I remember," by the way - and apparently no one is quite certain of its exact meaning. Perhaps it means they remember to leave Quebec before the snow flies. Lots of Quebecers try to do that. Well, in 2014 many have been successful. Just barely.

I'm not sure if these French-Canadians are very smart or very lucky or both. But they managed to escape harsh northern weather just before autumn unexpectedly transformed into winter. Early, very early.

As I write this blog, the temperature in Montreal is 26 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 3 Celsius. Look at that any way you like, Fahrenheit or Celsius. It's darned cold. On Thursday morning, snow showers are predicted. Of course, Canada is hardly alone in shivering through mid-November. We all know about the new polar vortex, which now seems to be called the "polar plunge" for some inexplicable reason. Before 2013, everyone simply referred to these events by another term, perfectly fine if less exotic: "winter storms." Maybe today's northerners feel better about the whole thing if they call their storms something that sounds unusually fearsome. I can almost see the t-shirts: "I survived the 2014 Polar Plunge!" Ah, but not South Florida's Quebecers. No, no, no. Many had nestled into their wintertime houses and condos and apartments before the plunge. That's especially true in my part of town. Dania Beach, Hollywood and environs - we have a high concentration of Quebecois snowbirds here. Just the other day, I took a stroll around my condo complex and spotted those telltale "Je me souviens" license plates everywhere. It seemed as if every third parking space had a Quebec car. As I said, these people are either very smart or very lucky. Or both. Right now the temp outside my condo is 61 degrees, high of 68 expected today. Chilly for us, summer for everyone else. Tomorrow our weather climbs back into the mid-70s, then soon into the 80s again. The Canadian exodus to Florida is likely to accelerate if this continues for long, with it all warm down here and all cold up there. I can imagine scores of parents and grandparents waving an early pre-holiday goodbye to their families before motoring south for the next six months. A whole bunch of kids may not have Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma around this December. But that's okay. By February, that same whole bunch of kids will pack their own bags and fly south for a week or two. It's nice to have parents and grandparents smart enough to live in South Florida, even if they're really only lucky.

Nov 17: Time Out

Posted on November 17, 2014 9:38AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Sometimes you have to stop so you can move forward. And sometimes you have to stay put so you can end up some place worth seeing. That's certainly true of life in South Florida. Here's what I mean. In today's frantic, do-it-yesterday, device-obsessed society, we're all so busy that we miss a lot. Tearing from here to there while sending two texts and answering a phone call. Sitting in a meeting while setting up another meeting and thinking about the meeting that starts in an hour. I'm sure you know the feeling. And folks under age 25? I'm not certain they can walk unless they're also looking down with both thumbs punching at a smartphone. So ...

Yes, so ... I'm just saying that sometimes we can find better alternatives. And whether you visit or live in South Florida, this tropical region offers many opportunities to stop, look and listen. You may be amazed what you'll discover.

Many of these blogs are about just such things. The things in Greater Fort Lauderdale that we usually don't notice. The subtle pastel shadings of the sea immediately after dawn. The salt scent that wafts through our air even many miles inland. The sound of rain as it patters off palm fronds. There's so much going on around us all the time that's worth our time, perhaps a few minutes or perhaps an hour. Or perhaps a whole morning or afternoon or evening now and then. Try hanging beside the New River to watch the wild variety of boats that will pass by you. Go to the beach, sit on a blanket and just observe. You're likely to spot seagulls and pelicans as they float overhead elegantly or plummet to the water fiercely to catch a meal. A downtown park bench makes a great vantage point for South Florida peoplewatching - the hurried, well-dressed business types forever on their phones ... the moms and dads with their energetic kids ... the couples who can't get close enough to each other. Whenever I do stop like this, I come away enriched somehow. I understand something or somewhere or someone in a new fashion. And that's always worthwhile. Give it a try, maybe. Turn the smartphone to vibrate and put it away. Scout out a place that feels inviting and plant yourself without doing anything except simply being there. Stop, look, listen. Have a few deep sniffs while you're at it. South Florida is extraordinary in many ways. But you have to find a way to find those ways. And the only way I know is the oldest and simplest - taking the time to appreciate what's right in front of us.

Nov 12: Flip the Script

Posted on November 12, 2014 11:00AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Film FestivalThe scene: Fort Lauderdale. The time: Today. As our film opens, we see a long shot that pans across the famous Fort Lauderdale beach. Then the camera slowly zooms in on an attractive young couple who are sunning themselves on a blue blanket spread out among the golden sands. A young man is texting someone. The scene cuts to his smartphone screen, where we now can read his text. It says, "Weather is great down here in Fla! How's life in Chicago? Haha!!" Hard cut to another smartphone as the camera zooms out to show a different young man in a heavy sweater typing his reply. His screen reads: "Chicago is freezing, smart guy! Wish I'd flown down there with you when I had the chance!! Fla sounds real good right now!!"

That may read like the opening lines of some fictional movie script. But my guess is that it's not far from reality at the moment. Tourists visiting Greater Fort Lauderdale from northern states likely are gloating for the folks back home, sending a barrage of texts and emails and photos and videos. All with one basic message: "You're stuck in the November freeze - and I'm not!"

If those same folks back home have a clue, along with the money and time, they really might want to consider joining their pals in South Florida. Our weather is ... well, just about perfect. I'm looking at a weather map that shows current temps around the nation as I write this blog on Wednesday morning. Chicago: 25 Fahrenheit. Detroit: 35. And farther west, lots of teens and 20s and even single digit or subzero temperatures, with the polar vortex spinning its way toward the northeast. From northern New York to West Virginia on Thursday, highs are predicted only in the 30s. Brrr. So I say rather than suffer obnoxious texts from vacationing friends in Fort Lauderdale, why not flip the script? Come on down and join ‘em - and maybe take in a real flick or two while you're at it. As it happens, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival is going on through November 23. This 29th edition features lots of terrific movies, naturally, plus some fun events to check out. Learn more about the festival with a quick click: http://www.fliff.com/. Then maybe snag a few tickets for the films of your choice, make those airline and hotel reservations and escape this very early wave of winter. If you're shivering in the frigid north somewhere, I can tell you that there's an alternative for sure. The current reading in Fort Lauderdale is 79, highs in the low 80s expected. Not a cloud in the sky. And, trust me, that's not fiction.

Nov 10: Compassion Passion

Posted on November 10, 2014 9:33AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

Greater Fort Lauderdale has a heart. Often, a very big one. Don't believe everything you hear. Or read. I can speak to this issue with first-hand knowledge because I'm not only a writer - I'm founder and president of a federally recognized nonprofit organization based right here in, yep, Greater Fort Lauderdale. My group, the Humanity Project, has an extensive website at www.thehumanityproject.com. We offer acclaimed programs for kids, helping them to stop school bullying and drive without distractions. We also have a special website for socially isolated teens, with an emphasis on the LGBT community at www.thp4kids.com. And we do all this for free - no charge for any of our programs or materials. I tell you that not to plug my group but to make a point. I know my community from the perspective of someone who's working to help people. That's why I can say, honestly and with confidence, Greater Fort Lauderdale has a heart.

Of course, I'm mentioning this because of some recent less-than-stellar PR about the City of Fort Lauderdale. City authorities are dealing with a difficult issue that confronts many communities around the nation: how to deal effectively and humanely with the homeless. Those same authorities have made efforts to handle things and, let's be honest, some of those efforts didn't go well. Media madness ensued.

I'm definitely not writing this blog to defend those efforts. And I'm not writing it because someone asked me to. No one did. Rather I'm hoping to add a little perspective for those who may visit Greater Fort Lauderdale without having the chance to understand this place more deeply. I've been here for 25 years. I see the massive amounts of money donated to nonprofits and other worthy causes. I see the enormous number of volunteer hours served by our residents, full-time residents and part-timers alike. A couple of specific examples also may help make my point. In last week's elections, local voters overwhelmingly approved an expensive school bond issue and another tax to support the Children's Services Council of Broward County, which helps fund the Humanity Project among many other groups. In both cases, roughly three out of every four voters reached into their pocketbooks to say yes to kids. See what I'm saying? To me, this suggests a community that's far from heartless. Quite the opposite. I'm sure city officials can and will find a better way to help homeless people soon. Clearly there's room for improvement. But I'd hate for anyone to get the idea that recent events are a true indication of our character in Greater Fort Lauderdale - or the City of Fort Lauderdale. They're really not. Many many many residents in this county of more than 1.8 million find ways to do something that improves our society. Among the spate of jokes and commentaries lately, that's worth remembering.

Nov 5: Gator Gaze

Posted on November 5, 2014 8:57AM

Posted by LauderBLOGGER

The eyes were barely visible now. The eyes of an Everglades alligator, about six feet long - small by the standards of the Glades. Not so small, though, when he's staring at you from the water a very short distance from your airboat. That's what was happening on Monday this week, when I took some visiting relatives to the Sawgrass Recreation Park in far west Broward County. People often forget that Greater Fort Lauderdale includes the Everglades, a unique environment that also stretches far north and south and west from us. But only a half hour drive from the Fort Lauderdale airport brings you to places where you can venture safely into the Everglades ... and perhaps meet eye to eye with a gator.

My sister, Sondra, and brother-in-law, Jack, are staying with me for several days after flying down from Raleigh, North Carolina. We're very close, the three of us, and love spending time together. And so we're doing local restaurants and water taxis, strolling our downtown streets and driving off to check out the alligators. We've done all this on previous visits but it doesn't get old for us.

So yes, Monday afternoon ... There we were, out among the sawgrass to search for those gator eyes peering from black water. "I see one, off to the right. He's at least a six-footer!" our airboat captain announced over the furious whir of his motor. We then slowly edged toward the alligator before coming to a stop - when the gator began to swim. Toward us, closer and still closer until the captain said, "He's big enough he could hurt ya if ya fell in." Which was when I reminded myself, "Do not fall in." The gator moved to within two feet of our airboat, a steady sideways swishing of its tail propelling this impressive creature. I've seen many larger alligators in the wild, up to 13 feet long. But there was something different about this one. He floated now, near us and motionless, staring from the water as the captain noticed that this gator was unusual indeed. "He's missing a front leg," the captain said, "and he's got some chunks from his tail. He's been in a big fight." Jack and I were snapping photos as the gator patiently waited, as if posing, and then the airboat motor fired up again. We repositioned our earplugs to block the noise, soft rubbery plugs thoughtfully supplied by the park as part of the admission price. And before long, we were back on shore, Jack and Sondra and I all smiling after our latest foray into the Everglades. This had been a good trip highlighted by a memorable if damaged gator. Next time they visit, we'll head for another ride into the Glades no doubt. I look forward to it already. You can do it too, starting with the info at this link: http://evergladestours.com/. With some luck, you'll see them for yourself - those eyes, a pair of cold eyes gazing from the dark quiet waters of the Everglades. I have no idea, of course, what a gator may be thinking when he looks at us. But I know what I'm thinking, every time I look back at a pair of eyes like those: "This is something everyone should see."