By Alexandra Cohen
With the weather having been so freezing lately here in Canada, I was thrilled to make my escape for a winter getaway in the sunny state of Florida. For the first time, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Lauderdale, which was a real treat (https://www.visitlauderdale.com).
Fort Lauderdale is the largest municipality in Broward County, which encompasses 1,197 square miles, with 24 miles of Atlantic Ocean beach. It has a resident population of over 1.95 million people.
While previously known as a quiet beach community, Fort Lauderdale has been known as a hot spot for Spring Breakers ever since the December 1960 film “Where the Boys Are,” which was shot on location in the Fort Lauderdale area. Outside of Spring Break, however, Fort Lauderdale is now known worldwide as a year-round destination with plenty to do for all age groups.
Fort Lauderdale has been nicknamed the Venice of America due to its 300 miles of inland waterways. There are plenty of ways to explore the Intracoastal, which is lined with impressive mansions and yachts – check it out on a paddleboard, water taxi, or even on a Las Olas Gondola.
The area is also known for its sea turtle nesting season, which takes place from March through October of every year. It is not unusual when going for a walk along the beach to encounter a nest – they will be well-marked due to a robust sea turtle conservation program in Broward County. We came across several signs raising awareness about sea turtles during our trip. These babies need lots of help and care, as sadly only approximately one in 1,000 survive.
If you are seeking out a free and sustainable method to get around town, look no further than the Micro Mover, which is a fantastic ride-share service available to those wishing to explore areas such as downtown, Las Olas, and the beach. Download the “Ride Circuit” app to book your ride.
For some family fun in the sun, you may wish to try out the local mini-golf experience. Pixar Putt is an 18-hole pop-up experience that will be open until March 26th. The experience features iconic characters from many of Pixar’s most beloved films, including Toy Story, Inside Out, Finding Nemo, Coco, and more. It is open 7 days a week and includes after-dark sessions for those 18+.
If shopping is something that you hope to do in Florida, look no further than Sawgrass Mills, the world’s largest single-story discount mall. Further discount shopping can be accomplished at the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop, which is the largest indoor/outdoor flea market down South. For a more traditional shopping experience, The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale is a more upscale shopping mall with stores including Macy’s, Michael Kors, and much more.
COMING SOON: The Florida Panthers organization is revitalizing the War Memorial Auditorium and is constructing a new state-of-the-art practice and community ice facility in Fort Lauderdale. This is slated for a 2023 debut, though the exact opening date has yet to be announced. Upon its completion, the new 144,000 sq. foot sports and entertainment venue will house South Florida’s first-of-its-kind ballroom-style concert and performance venue, capable of accommodating up to 3,800 people for intimate live music and events. The redesigned theater will carefully preserve the iconic War Memorial Auditorium’s classic art-deco character, while new enhancements and technical upgrades will modernize the space to accommodate global tour productions and larger-scale events. The addition of a state-of-the-art practice facility will feature two regulation-sized indoor ice rinks, including a dedicated public rink that will host a robust variety of youth and adult hockey programs, public skating, and figure skating for those of all ages.
INCLUSIVITY: “Visit Lauderdale”, the official Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for Greater Fort Lauderdale in South Florida, recently unveiled its new brand campaign “Everyone Under the Sun.” The vibrant campaign reflects Greater Fort Lauderdale’s welcoming and inclusive community. People from more than 170 countries speaking 147 languages call Greater Fort Lauderdale home. The brand campaign features plenty of surprising twists to not only highlight how different Greater Fort Lauderdale is from other destinations but to also invite “everyone under the sun” to enjoy its one-of-a-kind offerings. The new campaign showcases accessible beaches, thrilling outdoor adventures, immersive nature encounters, shopping, in-pool meetings, dock and dining opportunities, pampering, romance, and memory-making experiences.
WHERE TO STAY: There are close to 600 lodging establishments, with more than 37,000 hotel rooms in the area, ranging from luxurious high-rises to smaller boutique hotels and motels. The diverse mix of Greater Fort Lauderdale accommodations encompasses oceanfront and inland properties, specialized spa resorts, as well as meeting and convention facilities.
During my trip, I chose to stay at the B Ocean Resort (https://www.boceanresort.com/), which many people may remember as the former Sheraton Yankee Clipper.
The B Brand caters to the following aspirations through its signature elements and programming: B Nourished® as it relates to the mind, body and soul; B Adventurous by exploring the world and self-potential; and B Compassionate by actively caring for the community and the environment
Along with a fresh, contemporary design and a desirable beachfront location, B Ocean Resort offers a unique experience allowing both travelers and staycationers to fully immerse themselves in the destination from the second they step foot through the door. The resort is conveniently located in the heart of the city, around 15 minutes from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Port Everglades, downtown Las Olas Boulevard and along the famed coastal highway A1A.
Originally built in 1956 as the Yankee Clipper, named after its ship-like structure, the hotel quickly became a popular place to visit for American favorites such as Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, and many more. As one of the few beachfront hotels in the city along the Atlantic Ocean, the B Ocean Resort has incorporated some historic elements and has blended them to create a more modern, sleek, and stylish feel.
The B Ocean Resort offers 481 spacious guest rooms and suites, ranging in size from 300 sq. ft. to a lavish 1,700 sq. ft. – all of which are inspired by the property’s serene oceanfront location. Guests can choose from room categories including the Chic Room, the Captivating Room, the Stunning Room, the B Enhanced Junior Suite, the Posh Suite, or the Master Suite. Along with the B Hotels & Resorts® signature Blissful Bed®, each room has sleek custom furnishings, a 55″ HD LED interactive flat-screen television, bath amenities, a coffee maker, an in-room safe and a mini fridge, as well as electrical power hubs equipped with convenient USB, USB-C, and international outlet plug-ins. We were very pleased with our accommodations.
Beyond the guestrooms, the B Ocean Resort features a spacious lobby and several meeting spaces. Guests may choose to relax at either of the hotel’s two outdoor swimming pools, one of which is a fairly large infinity pool conveniently located right on the beach. The private beach offers every guest two free beach loungers and towels per room, with the option to also rent umbrellas when the weather permits. Beach-side service is provided, with food and drinks from the beachside restaurant The Salty Siren being delivered right to your seat.
The hotel also includes a 24-hour state-of-the-art B Active® Fitness Center, two B Indulged® Spa Suites, and over 14,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space that has expanded onto the second floor. The second-floor Point Room offers floor-to-ceiling windows with an attached spacious outdoor beachfront terrace – it is an ideal venue for high-end corporate and social events. B Ocean’s private beach, pool decks, and first-level ballroom are also available for large group events, meetings, or weddings.
The hotel has five restaurants on site. The Salty Siren, as mentioned, is the hotel’s poolside restaurant. Otherwise, the hotel offers seafood and Mediterranean cuisine at the Naked Crab, drinks and brunch with mermaid shows and burlesque shows at the Wreck Bar, more drinks and cocktails at the Florida Bar in the lobby, and the grab-and-go Clipper Express, which includes offerings such as bagels, croissants, muffins, juice, coffee, and chips. Come by in the evening for grab-and-go sushi as well!
A little bit more about the shows:
Mermaid Aqua Burlesque Show: Perfect for those seeking a unique, next-level nightlife experience, the adults-only Aqua Burlesque show produced by MeduSirena promises to be an unforgettable night. The show starts every Friday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.), as well as every Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) and 11 p.m. (doors open at 10 p.m.)
Aquamen Underwater Boylesque Show: The only underwater male burlesque show in the United States, the adults-only Aqua Boylesque show produced by MeduSirena is also part of the Wreck Bar’s line-up. This show starts every other Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.)
Mermaid Elle & Friends: For an exciting mermaid encounter that the whole family can enjoy, the all-new, interactive Coral Reef Mermaid show follows the story of South Florida mermaids who need to find their magical gadgets in order to return back home. The show aims to both entertain and educate as it demonstrates how pollutants harm the ocean’s delicate ecosystems and explains how recycling aids in the continued protection of coral reefs. This exciting adventure starts every Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. and includes lunch (doors open at 11 a.m.). During my stay, I overheard a little girl exiting the show with her mother, enthusiastically proclaiming “the mermaid was real!”
Mermaids & Mimosas Sunday Brunch: During B Ocean Resort’s signature Sunday brunch, guests can enjoy a delicious meal with bottomless mimosas, while watching mermaids swim in the background. This takes place every Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Yoga, Mermaids and Mimosas: Every Sunday morning, B Ocean Resort offers a relaxing and restorative one-hour yoga class by the Atlantic Ocean. After the class, yogis are invited to join the Mermaids & Mimosas Sunday Brunch at the Wreck Bar. The class takes place every Sunday from 10 a.m. – 11: a.m.
Splash Into The Past: which takes place every Wednesday at Wreck Bar, is the newest show. Presented by Tropical Sirens Entertainment and directed by Leydis Castillo, the live, interactive show takes visitors on a voyage back in time through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s. Travelers can experience an unforgettable night of trivia, games, singalongs and dancing alongside the magnificent mermaid. Costumes are welcomed and encouraged, with prizes given to the most creatively dressed guest of the night each week. Doors open at 6 p.m. for drinks and/or dinner, and the show starts at 8 p.m. Admission is $45 per adult (guests must be 18+) with a $35 credit toward food and beverages purchased during the show. Advanced reservations are required for all mermaid shows. For more information or to reserve tickets, visit https://www.boceanresort.com/mermaids-at-the-wreck-bar/.
See our interview with Leydis in costume: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3qR6Jx-khw
In terms of accessibility, the hotel has ramps at the pool, as well as connecting the pool to the beach. There is also a ramp available to connect the hotel’s different towers. Both pools feature ADA Pool lifts. The resort offers valet parking at the main entrance to the lobby. There are guest rooms available that feature roll-in showers or accessible bathtubs.
The CEO and founder of B Hotels & Resorts are Ayelet Weinstein, who started working in multi-family and condo conversions in 1996. In 2004, she became interested in a local building that she assumed to be an apartment building. After pursuing the building and learning it was, in fact, a hotel, she discovered a passion for the hospitality industry and has remained involved ever since.
“I was immediately intrigued,” Weinstein told Lodging Magazine. “I was fascinated by the hospitality business model and the industry’s depth and complexity. During the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, InSite Group, where I was a senior vice president, started to look more into hotels and basically switched its focus from multi-family to hospitality.”
“B Hotels creates an environment that encourages living life to its fullest potential. It’s in our blood,” Weinstein described. “Life in general is a collection of experiences. Travel and work play major roles in that experience, and we were able to bring these components together.”
The B Hotel and Resort is located at 1140 Seabreeze Blvd. For more details go to www.boceanresort.com or call 1-954-524-5551. B Hotels also has locations in the Florida Keys and in the Disney Springs area in Lake Buena Vista. Visit http://www.bhotelsandresorts.com.
BOUCHER BROTHERS ON THE BEACH: We were thrilled to discover that The B Hotel & Resort partners with the award-winning Boucher Brothers Management (www.boucherbrothers.com) in order to pamper guests while at the beach. I have had the pleasure of experiencing their fantastic work before during previous stays at hotels in the Hollywood and St. Petersburg areas.
Boucher Brothers is a Hospitality Management Company that specializes in a variety of outlets including pool, beach, food and beverage, water sports and team-building activities. They are a forward-thinking and proficient hospitality company expanding across North America. The company currently owns a portfolio of over 100 hotels and condominium properties, 45 blocks of public beach throughout Florida’s east and west coasts, 50 blocks of public beach in Virginia Beach, and four beaches around Lake Michigan in Chicago. They also do corporate team building and team events.
The Boucher Brothers know that when you come to the beach, you want to relax and feel pampered – their courteous and friendly staff does just that. The Boucher Brothers team provided excellent service during my stay. Upon your arrival at the beach, they will set you up with your free beach chairs, as well as an umbrella if you wish. Further, you have the option to rent the more luxurious sun loungers, with comfortable cushioning and unobstructed views of the ocean. Servers from the hotel restaurant, The Salty Siren, come right to your seat to take your order, further enhancing your relaxation.
In terms of beach sports, the Boucher Brothers have collaborated with BouYah Watersports. If you wish, you can arrange for jet skis, kayaks, banana boat rides, or paddle boards. The closest BouYah Watersports location to the B Ocean is at the Marriott Harbor Beach, which is a six-minute walk from the hotel. Guests can reserve their adventure directly online at https://bouyahwatersports.com/marriott-harbor-beach/
In terms of special needs, the Boucher Brothers have teamed up with the City of Miami Beach in offering immobile guests an easy transition to the beach. The Miami Beach Ocean Rescue team is considered the best in the United States. With them, they are able to partner up and offer beach-friendly wheelchairs, which are equipped with large wide wheels that can roll across the sand at ease without sinking. “We take the Americans with disabilities act very seriously and that’s why we have joined forces with the city to help everyone enjoy their experience at the beach,” the company states. If you are in that area, make sure to call ahead and reserve your beach wheelchair since quantities are limited. The number is (305) 673-7714 and you can pick it up at the Beach Patrol Headquarters located at 1001 Ocean Drive.
DINING OUT: There are more than 4,000 wining and dining establishments and 132 nightclubs in Broward County. The culinary scene is filled with rising star chefs, exciting restaurants, breweries and pubs, coffee houses and scenic dock-and-dine eateries, along with many great hotel restaurants.
I experienced a few places during my stay.
The Naked Crab Seafood Kitchen + Cocktail Bar
Let’s start off with the Naked Crab Seafood Kitchen + Cocktail Bar, which was conveniently located right in our hotel lobby at the B Ocean Hotel and Resort. It was the most convenient place to dine after checking in right at dinnertime. The Naked Crab embodies authentic, local dining on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Executive Chef David Morales conceptualizes slightly different menus every season and blends together fresh ingredients and spices in order to create contemporary Mediterranean dishes influenced by the flavors of Europe, and North and South America. The menu is sourced locally using fresh seafood and produce from local farms.
To sample some items on the menu, I tried the crab cake as an appetizer, as well as the scallop risotto and the particularly tasty branzino. This was capped off with some tiramisu for dessert, which was also delicious.
Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a weekend seafood brunch, locals and guests can relish in a seafood tower to share with the table or take advantage of the dry-aged prime steak. For breakfast, guests can enjoy a full menu of traditional staples and specialties, including lump crab benedict and crab avocado toast.
We also experienced Matchbox Restaurant (www.matchboxrestaurants.com), part of an American chain that first opened in 2003. Matchbox currently has 15 locations, including Washington, Maryland, Virginia, and of course Florida. Matchbox is part of Thompson Hospitality, one of the largest retail food service management companies in the USA.
The Matchbox in Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale, opened in early 2022. It is located in a particularly trendy area that features dining and entertaining on the New River, with lovely water views.
Since its debut, Matchbox has become known for brick oven pizzas, mini burgers, fresh salads, and chef-inspired entrées, like Miso salmon and chimichurri steak frites. Diners can enjoy elevated American bistro fare crafted from high-quality ingredients. I particularly enjoyed their delicious cocktails, including the strawberry rose margarita and the peach lemon drop, as well as the spinach and artichoke dip, the aforementioned Miso salmon (a menu highlight!), as well as the chicken pesto pizza.
Warren Thompson, President and Chairman of Thompson Hospitality, started the company in 1992. It is built on values gained from 30 years of client, customer and community relationships. Veterans in the hospitality industry, the company currently owns and operates over three dozen restaurants. Other company-owned restaurants in the area include Big Buns and Willie T’s Seafood Shack.
The restaurant offers several handicap-accessible tables and a lowered bar area, as well as compliant restrooms. In order to enter, as you come out of the parking area, the sidewalk/courtyard has a ramp.
Matchbox is located at 221 SW 1St Avenue. You can call 954-751-5959 for a reservation. Visit https://www.matchboxrestaurants.com/.
The Lobster Bar and Sea Grill
When seeking out places to eat in Florida, one would be amiss to forget about the fantastic local seafood scene. I had the privilege of enjoying a meal at the Lobster Bar Sea Grille while in Fort Lauderdale (https://lobsterbarseagrille.com). The restaurant, located at 454 East Los Olas, offers an extensive selection of seafood, including, as mentioned in its name, a large array of lobster dishes.
The dining room features soft white herringbone subway-tiled walls and arched ceilings. Warm custom lighting creates an intimate and inviting ambiance. Clusters of sofas are located near the bar for cocktails before or after dinner, making it the perfect place to meet friends or business associates. Adjacent to the lounge is a fully covered outdoor patio with cushioned furniture, ideal for cocktails and light dining. Walls can be brought down in this outdoor space as well on a windy day to preserve client comfort.
During my meal, I had the opportunity to taste some oysters, the restaurant’s famed lobster morsels (lightly fried lobster with Greek honey-mustard aioli), Dover sole served with brown butter and a side dish of quinoa mixed with kale, the decadent Whole Lobster & Black Winter Truffle risotto dish, as well as some profiteroles to end the meal on a sweet note. Everything was delicious!
General Manager George Mollas notes how the restaurant presents freshly caught, both locally and internationally, whole fish. “Our seafood is as fresh as fresh can be; 48 hours from the water to the table,” he said. “The atmosphere of the Lobster Bar Sea Grille is a very swanky, upscale and sexy environment”
Mollas says that his team’s goal “is to exceed our guests’ expectations. We go the limit for our guests. Whatever they need we can deliver. As guests leave the restaurant, they let me know how much they enjoy the food we prepare for them and the wonderful atmosphere. In particular, they love our attention to detail.”
The restaurant is fully code-compliant with regard to handicapped accessibility.
It seats about 175 indoors and 50 outdoors and also features two private rooms (one seating up to 60 and one seating up to 80).
The Lobster Bar Sea Grille is part of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, which also owns eight other restaurant brands. You can purchase the Ultimate Dining Gift Card, which never expires and can be reloaded.
For reservations call (954) 772-2675. The restaurant is open for lunch on weekdays and dinner seven nights a week.
On the famous Fort Lauderdale boulevard that leads to the beach, you will find the Friendship Café, which is situated right next to the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center. Part of The Friendship Circle, a local non-profit here in Montreal, the kosher Mediterranean restaurant and coffee bar serves lunch and dinner options, from falafel hummus plates and salads to kebab pita sandwiches and vegetarian shawarma. They offer training and employment opportunities to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.