By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Out and Travelin’
Fort Lauderdale deserves accolades for being one of the premiere places for the gay community to live and play, and also as one of the ideal ports (Port Everglades) from which to embark on a cruise. It’s easily accessible on a non-stop flight from Harford/Springfield’s Bradley International Airport and the cruise port is actually right in the city – close enough to the airport and an easy reach by a short cab ride from several hotels.
We wanted to extend our cruise vacation on the five-star MSC Poesia www.msccruisesusa.com , so we stayed three nights pre-cruise in the luxurious Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina hotel resort. Taking advantage of the HHonors program, we stayed in a spacious, airy king-bedded room on the 14th floor (north-side) of the hotel’s redesigned tower, featuring sweeping views of the hotel’s terraced pool area which is surrounded by lush landscaping, including sheltering palms, and a picturesqueinlet marina. The Tower also has breathtaking views of Fort Lauderdale. www.hilton.com/fort-lauderdale-marina. For stargazing, Steven Spielberg and Judge Judy’s yachts were docked within view of our terrace.
One of the coolest features of the Hilton Marina’s location (an IGLTA member) is it’s a major stop on the Water Taxi route. A one-day ticket can transport you from the Hilton to a dozen stops in Fort Lauderdale and four stops in Hollywood. Stop number 3 takes you to the fabulous ocean beach near Seville Street where you can have a quick bite and beer at the Deck restaurant or dine in the new and classy East End Brasserie in the Atlantic Resort and Spa – another IGLTA member. Back to The Atlantic in a minute!
Water Taxi stop 11 on the New River drops you a short block from tree-lined Las Olas Boulevard, one of the town’s beautiful and trendy shopping and restaurant destinations.
For a fun lunch, sit outdoors at Mangos Restaurant and Lounge at 904 Las Olas, and see if you can get bouncy coffee-hound Michelle Poverelli to attend to your outdoor table. She’ll steer you to the best menu items and brew up a fresh batch of truly delicious java. If you stop for lunch or a snack, tell her Don and Tony sent you!
Stroll a mile or two down the Boulevard, and you’ll be rewarded by being back at the beach once more! The Water Taxi people supply a map and approximate schedule. It’s become so popular a means of transportation that be forewarned of full boats on very busy tourist days! www.watertaxi.com
During our 3-night pre-cruise stay, we depended on the well-designed www.sunny.org/glbt website sponsored by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. The “Where to Meet Up” section has info about gay-friendly restaurants, dance bars and lounges throughout the city.
Don’t miss the major attractions featured on sunny.org such as the International Swimming Hall of Fame, featuring the Olympic gold medals of Johnny Weissmuller and Mark Spitz and their iconic swimwear, plus a life-size wax statue of Mark depicting his1972, 7 gold medal winning performance. MGM-star Esther Williams’ costumes from many of those water ballet movies add Hollywood sparkle and glamour to the Hall of Fame.
Staying close to our hotel, we water taxied one stop to the hugely popular 15th Street Fisheries Restaurant, a cheerfully noisy, bustling and touristy-but-worth-it spot serving the freshest fish in a very friendly atmosphere. We waited for a table “downstairs and outdoors” at the informal Dockside Café. Our waiter John recommended Joe’s Sizzler Skillet – a mélange of freshfish (mahi-mahi), shrimp, bay scallops, tomatoes and artichoke hearts served on a sizzling cast iron skillet, with a creamy white wine-sherry sauce. We don’t know who Joe is, but the Fisheries has been serving his skillet creation for 30 years!
At the Hilton Marina we ate a light dinner one evening at the dazzling China Grill, a Pan-Asian special-occasion restaurant where we opted tosplit an order of spicy beef and scallion dumplings with soy ginger sauce and a crackling calamari salad. Sharing is encouraged here. The Grill also serves as the Hilton Marina’s early morning restaurant – offering standard American breakfast fare. The Hilton Marina and China Grill are enthusiastically recommended on all counts.
On the morning of our check-out, taxis and vans were available in front of the hotel to whisk us to Port Everglades, less than 10 minutes away, for about $6 per person. The port is actually so close that if we were in tip-top condition, and were so inclined, we probably would have walked!
Fast-forwarding a week to the return of our cruise to Port Everglades, we left the MSC Poesia and got ourselves over to the Atlantic Resort and Spa www.atlantichotelfl.com on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard for our post-cruise night prior to flying back to Hartford.
The Atlantic is a luxury hotel/condo property, and our gorgeous studio suite was also available for sale. It had a huge bath, with separate shower and tub units, double sinks and marble floors. A kitchen area of dark wood and black marble had a microwave, refrigerator and stovetop, dishware, glassware, utensils and pots and pans for long staying guests. Of course, the suite also had the ubiquitous coffee-maker, a must-have for many of us who need that caffeine jolt in the morning. A spectacular private terrace overlooking the magnificent beach and the stunning palm-lined boulevard added to the glamour of the suite.
A new addition to the Atlantic Resort and Spa is the East End Brasserie, where Chef Steve Zobel offers a modern take on bistro menu fare. Food and beverage manager Andrea Augst suggested that we try the Charcuterie and Fromage for two which had a variety of artisanal salamis and cheeses, served with a great baguette and those delicious tiny pickles – cornichons.
As a main course we both “went Parisian” with classic steak frites- a prize 12 oz strip steak with béarnaise sauce. C’est si bon! The menu is a la carte, classic yet simple, and, as in most bistros, encourages local residents to just drop in regularly to have a drink and hors d’oeuvre or a cordial, dessert and espresso, inside or al fresco to hear the waves hitting the beach.
After dinner, while exiting through the front-room lounge of the Brasserie, we ran into actor Evan Jonigkeit and his lovely lady who were enjoying a libation at the bar. Evan was in Fort Lauderdale to star with Kathleen Turner at the Parker Playhouse in Matthew Lombardi’s “HIGH.” (They’ve gotten rave reviews across the country). We stopped to chat, having seen them in the world premiere in Connecticut at Hartford’s TheaterWorks last year. Graciously, the couple agreed to have us photograph them for this piece, and told us that the upcoming Opening Night party the following week would be held at right there at the East End Brasserie – a fitting place for a celebration!
Easy transportation, great restaurants, friendly people and comfortable hotels make Fort Lauderdale a must-extend-your-vacation destination. Pay one airfare, and take two holidays – one in Fort Lauderdale, and the other aboard one of the many cruise ships leaving and returning to Port Everglades. We’ll always remember what an old sage once told us – “You only regret the trips you didn’t take!”