Family Fun in Fort Lauderdale

Once a Spring Break mecca, Fort Lauderdale has evolved into a family-friendly city with an overwhelming possibility for adventure.

Many of us remember the days when Fort Lauderdale was synonymous with Spring Break. Fortunately, this seaside Florida city shed its partying image and transformed itself into an upscale year-round destination suitable for families.

Prior to having kids, I visited Fort Lauderdale frequently as a cruise ship crew-member, and today I have twin 5-year-olds that know that there’s more to Florida than just Mickey Mouse.

Activities for the Whole Family

Fort Lauderdale Beaches

For most visitors, including myself, Fort Lauderdale’s 23 miles of beaches are the biggest draw of this city. My favorites lie within the two-mile stretch between Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and South Beach Park. This part of the beach features a pedestrian promenade and numerous lifeguard towers. Plus South Beach Park has a playground, perfect for families with small children.

Other family-friendly beaches are Deerfield Beach with its luxe resort properties, and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a laid-back beach village with no high rises. For current beach conditions, check the Ocean Rescue Web site.

Wannado City

This role-playing theme park offers kids a chance to try out grown-up jobs within a 140,000-square-foot indoor city. Kids can choose from 60 different pint-sized venues in which to participate such as a hospital, a commercial kitchen or the cockpit of a plane. Parents get involved too; I’ve been in the audience of a Broadway show and was also recruited as a juror in a courtroom. (Tip: After 4 p.m. the admission is 50 percent off and adults are free).

12801 W. Sunrise Blvd., at the Sawgrass Mills Mall. Tel. 954-838-7100.
Cost: kids $29.95 (ages 2 to 14); adults $7 (ages 15 and older).

The Sea Experience

The Sea Experience glass-bottom boat tour lasts 2.5 hours and stops at a reef that’s in about 12 feet of water. Although older kids will enjoy the snorkeling, non-snorkeling participants can still view tropical fish, colorful sponges and even the snorkelers swimming by the windows of the hull. (Tip: Although there’s plenty of shade on the boat, we preferred to sit at the front to catch some rays.)

801 Seabreeze Blvd. Tel. 954-770-3483. Boat departs from Bahia Mar Marina at 10:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. daily. Cost: adults $35; kids $21 (ages 5 to 12); children under 5 are free.

Miami Seaquarium and Dolphin Experience

About a 45-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale Beach is the Miami Seaquarium. Various marine animal shows are the main attraction, but kids will also enjoy the Dolphin Interaction Programs. Children as young as 5 years old can kiss, feed and touch them in shallow water during the Dolphin Encounter. Older kids can participate in the Dolphin Odyssey where they have the chance to swim with a dolphin across the pool.

4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami. Tel. 305-361-5705. Admission: general $35.95, child $26.95 (ages 3 to 9). Dolphin Encounter Admission: adult participant $139; child participant $99 (ages 5 to 9). Dolphin Odyssey Admission: participant $199.

Activities for Young Children

Butterfly World

Watch your child’s excitement as a butterfly lands on her shoulder. Buy a cup of nectar at the Lorikeet Experience and this tiny parrot-like bird will eat right out of your child’s hand. Another popular exhibit at Butterfly World is the Lab Encounter where visitors can see butterfly eggs, larva and caterpillars in different stages of growth. 

3600 W. Sample Road (located in Tradewinds Park), Coconut Creek. Tel. 954-977-4400.
Admission: adults $24.95; child $19.95 (ages 3 to 11); children 2 and under are free.

Flamingo Gardens

Visitors who want to see flamingos will not be disappointed at Flamingo Gardens’ 60-acre, botanical park and wildlife sanctuary. Don’t miss the Alligator Lagoon or the daily Wildlife Encounter show featuring birds of prey and reptiles. Kids will also like the 25-minute narrated tram tour that takes visitors throughout the wetlands and mangroves.

3750 S Flamingo Road, Davie. Tel. 954-473-2955. Admission: general $17; child $8.50 (ages 4 to 11); children 3 and under, free.

Activities for School-Aged Kids

Everglades Tours

Take an airboat ride through the grassy marshes of the Everglades for an opportunity to see alligators in their own habitat. The Sawgrass Recreation Park offers 30-minute airboat rides for 10 passengers at a time, with a boat departing every 30minutes. The speed can reach 35 mph, making a hot day feel a little chilly. (Tip: Bring a jacket and sit near the front where it’s not as noisy.)

1006 N. U.S. Highway 27, Weston. Tel. 888-424-7262. Cost: adults $19.50; child $10 (ages 4 to 12).

Snorkelling Day Camp 

At the Funky Fish Kid’s Day camp, children ages 4 to 14 can spend the day at the beach learning how to use snorkel equipment, looking for fish near the shore and hunting for shells. There’s also a pizza party for lunch, all the while parents can enjoy some time on their own.

Embassy Suites (Deerfield Beach) and Marriott’s Beach Place Towers. Tel. 954-712-9900. Cost: $59.

Museum of Discovery and Science 

Numerous interactive exhibits at the Museum of Discovery and Science include simulating a space mission to the moon in Runways to Rockets, programming a robot in Gizmo City or pretending to fly a DC-9 airplane in Aviation Station. Children under 7 will enjoy the Discovery Center, where they can climb a tree or hoist a sail or climb a tree. There’s also an IMAX theater featuring a 5-story-high screen and steeply sloped seats for optimal viewing.  

401 SW Second St. Tel. 954-467-6637. Admission: adult $15 (includes one IMAX film); child $12 (includes one IMAX film).

Young at Art Children’s Museum 

Young at Art Children’s Museum’s cultural interactive exhibits include playing the drums in an African Village or learning the art of origami in a miniature Japanese house. Included in the cost of admission is a free daily workshop for toddlers, exploring music and the senses. Kids ages 5 to 12 can participate in a full day or evening art camp that teaches painting, ceramics and sculpture.

11584 West State Road 84, Davie. Tel. 954-424-0085. Cost: general $8 (ages 2 and under are free); Art Day Camp: $50 per day (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.); Art Night Camp: $35 per evening (6 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

Exclusively for Teens

Ski Rixen USA

One of the only places to water ski or wakeboard in Fort Lauderdale is in Deerfield Beach. Ironically though, it is nowhere near a beach. There are also no boats, just a towrope attached to a series of cables to pull adrenaline-junkies around a small lake. It’s a great place for families to learn to water-ski and try wakeboarding, or for the more experienced, to improve their skills.

Quiet Waters Park, 401 S. Powerline Road, Deerfield Beach. Tel. 954-429-0215.
Cost: Prices start at $18 for a one-hour pass; All-Day Pass $38 (must be at least 12 years old).

Themes: Beach Vacations, Family Travel

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums, Parks and Playgrounds, Snorkeling, Swimming