Travel: Sunshine state lives up to its name
THE wind and rain battered the car as my husband Billy and I drove from Clare to Dublin just before Christmas. Our wedding, 36 hours earlier, was a distant memory. But none of it mattered because it was honeymoon time and we were headed to Fort Lauderdale in Florida for a week of sunshine.
Picking a honeymoon destination for December isn't easy, but after a bit of research we concluded that Fort Lauderdale had everything -- an abundance of beaches, bustling nightlife, gourmet restaurants and plenty of places to buy Christmas presents.
Arriving in Fort Lauderdale was heaven, the minute we left the airport building we were hit by a wave of warm air. A quick transfer to our hotel, The Atlantic, revealed a further paradise.
The hotel was designed to resemble a stately Italian palazzo and in order to maximise sea views the 16-storey property is tiered, beginning at the fifth floor. Every room has a terrace with either ocean or Intracoastal Waterway views.
Our suite overlooked the pool and the amazing beaches. In the Fort Lauderdale area, from Deerfield Beach to Hollywood, there are 23 miles of beaches, catering for families, adrenaline junkies and spring breakers.
Fort Lauderdale is known as the Venice of America, as there are more than 165 miles of canals running through the area, and intriguing hours can be spent travelling through them admiring the houses dotted along "millionaires' row". From actors to basketball players, each superstar's property vies to be more impressive than the last. The ease of access to the ocean makes a canal-side residence most appealing -- the super rich can park their yachts outside their homes and take off to the Caribbean.
There are plenty of ways to get around the canals and we travelled on three different boats. One of the most popular modes of transport for tourists is the Water Taxi. It brings people along the Intracoastal, stopping at different hotels, shopping areas and marinas. There's on-board narration which can be a nice, relaxing way to find out about different tourist attractions, local history and my favourite, some intimate details on the mansions and their inhabitants.
Going along the canals at night is another option. We took the Spirit of Lauderdale, a catamaran, out into the ocean for sunset and back in around the canals to see the Christmas lights and the houses. It was like a scene from a movie. I was hoping to catch a look at Johnny Depp in his garden, but no joy.
We also took a trip on the legendary Jungle Queen, a riverboat that offers an all-you-can-eat barbeque and a variety show and is a great way to see the beautiful homes and enjoy the water.
We kept pretty busy on the honeymoon, took in the sights, went to museums and visited tourist attractions. One of the highlights was going to the Everglades. The Everglades is known as the "river of grass". This unique eco system is home to thousands of species of plants and wildlife including alligators, birds and panthers.
There are plenty of tours for visitors to chose from. We picked the Holiday Park Tour. It was an air-boat that flew up the Everglades at alarming speeds -- I felt like Horatio Caine in the opening scene from CSI: Miami.
The tour was narrated by the captain of the boat. He was at one with nature and was inclined to go off the track if he spotted an animal worthy of chasing. It lasted one hour and we got up close and personal with the alligators. On several occasions the boat stopped right beside them in the water. It was exciting and exhilarating, albeit a little bit scary.
Most evenings were spent relaxing on the ocean terrace by the pool at our hotel. The spa is adjacent to the pool and going along for a massage was just what was needed after a busy day exploring. Like the rest of the Atlantic Hotel, the spa was special. Along with the treatment rooms, there were relaxation rooms, hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms.
I opted for a deep-tissue massage during my stay. In the spa they have a holistic philosophy centred on blending innovative services and traditional practices.All the guests can choose from an array of 'journeys' to destinations that include Arabia, India, the Mediterranean and the Orient. I went for the Orient experience and I definitely felt transported. There was a 24-hour fitness centre which kept himself happy.
We moved to the B Ocean Hotel for the second part of our trip. Again, it overlooked the golden beaches in Fort Lauderdale; we were in a top-floor suite with views of the sky meeting the sea. It also had a fantastic spa and poolside area, perfect for honeymooners wanting to relax and take it easy.
The dining in both of our hotels was magnificent; we always got our day off to a good start with a hearty American breakfast and we often finished our day at our hotels too.
At the restaurant in the Atlantic we had the option of dining inside or al fresco. We mostly opted to sit outside to take in the beachside experience. The East End Brassiere, an AAA Four Diamond award winner for four consecutive years, had everything from steaks to pizzas and it all kept us going back for more.
At the B Ocean Hotel, our evening dining was in SAIA, which offered sushi and Southeast-Asian-inspired cuisine.
When we weren't eating at our hotels we went to Los Olas Boulevard, where there were endless dining options. It's a bustling area of the city where the busiest bars and restaurants can be found.
It's also a busy area during the day as there are many museums and shops dotted around, including the Museum of Art.
However it'snot the only place for shopping, the Galleria Mall is just a few stops away on the motor taxi and Saw Grass Mills, the second biggest outlet centre in America, is a half hour away. It was easy to take care of the Christmas presents.
Tour America (www.touramerica.ie / 01 8173535) offers seven nights in Fort Lauderdale from €1199 per person. Price includes return flights with Delta Airlines, all taxes and airport charges, four nights in The Atlantic Resort, three nights at B Ocean Hotel and car hire. Based on two adults sharing, departing in June 2014.
AND SOME HIGHLIGHTS WHEN YOU'VE ARRIVED
Although joining almost 50 middle-aged Americans on a boat to see the homes of the rich and famous sounds tacky, it was very enjoyable. We all oohed and ahhed over some of the most palatial homes in the world.
As a pasty Paddy, one of my favourite things to do when I visit a sunnier climate is to try and get a tan. Having the beach on my doorstep in Fort Lauderdale made that easy. There were also plenty of watersports on offer, such as jet skiing and paddle boarding. The Everglades
Getting up close and personal with an alligator wasn’t on my agenda, but a day trip to the Everglades knocked that on the head. We saw some of nature’s most amazing sights. We also went to a gator show, where we had the chance to hold a baby alligator, just for a few seconds but long enough for me to realise how lucky I am to live in an alligator-free country.