By Christopher Ludgate
Waking up to the sound of cerulean waves thrashing onto the sunbathed sands of Florida’s Gold Coast outside our balcony above the palm trees perched by our room was like therapy; a refuge from the winter months we tend to endure up north.
My friend, Pascale, and I were tempted to bask in that warm spot at Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa all day, but the sweet smelling breakfast buffet at the in-house McCoy’s Oceanfront and the subsequent lounging by the beachfront pools with sunshine on our shoulders before hitting the Spa or fitness center was not a bad way to start the day.
Often eclipsed by a reputation for spring-breakers, the Sunshine State seemed to offer an alternative immersion into its newly booming arts scene, ecological diversions, and some intriguing local history according to what I’d been reading at Sunny.org curious for a quick getaway.
The southern part of the peninsula has EcoEscape experiences, but in the offing for us that morning was an afternoon excursion to nature beginning on what is sometimes referred to as ‘the Venice of the US’ aboard the world-renowned historic Jungle Queen Riverboat.
Our concierge, Jason, informed us that “Boat-taxi transportation all along the inter-coastal waterways has multiple stops, including the Jungle Queen, with all day passes available.”
Sightseeing on the Jungle Queen Riverboat
We hugged the coast with our rental, opting for a scenic trek to where the ornate riverboat is docked. It was worthy advice to heed to book tickets in advance and to get there early to ensure convenient parking for the afternoon which incurred a modest fee.
We chose the leisurely three-hour tour along the historic New River with its spectacular views of Millionaire Row’s mansions and mega-yachts. Pedestrians waved at us as we glided by – also taking in views of Fort Lauderdale’s Riverwalk – a popular stretch for strolling, skating, lounging, or a boozy lunch at the popular Briny Irish Pub. It is also where the festive monthly outdoor Sunday Jazz Brunch transpires which was in full swing at that moment.
After docking at the Tropical Isle – home to a variety of rare birds, monkeys, lemurs, and more – the remote jungle habitat proved a welcome excursion from the cold urban jungle we escaped from.
Once a village and trading post for native Seminoles selling crafts, the island became increasingly popular with tourists as a moonlit cruise and venue for an exotic tropical dinner theater and vaudeville beginning in the early 1930s.
Entering Butterfly World in Coconut Creek really was like walking into an enchanted Disney movie, especially for those of us hibernating inside a cocoon during a brutal winter.
As the soothing music piped through the ethereal facility, we were met with the colorful flutters of Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, and Nymphalis antiopa etc… With every turn an unexpected find.
“I have lived in the area my entire life and never knew what a delightful place this is inside,” local resident Maureen shared with me.
The adjacent nursery provides the opportunity to learn and purchase fragrant host plants like Fennel, Wild Cherry, and Poplar.
In Butterfly World’s newly expanded bird aviaries we encountered several species of pastel flurry chirping all around us. In the interactive Lorikeet house, Pascale had the colorful ‘keets literally eating out her hands.
Dutch immigrant and hobbyist, Ronald Boender, was inspired to create this three-acre botanical habitat as an effort to prevent species endangerment to “reverse the ongoing destruction and dwindling of butterfly habitat in their respective region,” says lab technician, Espirito.
A Burgeoning Art Scene
Along the coast of greater Fort Lauderdale, the art scene has been garnering an enthusiastic reception. FAT Village and The Downtown Hollywood Mural Project in the warehouse district have become draws for tourists and art lovers which provides support to many gifted local artists, designers, and graphic artists.
We had just missed Artwalk, an event created to “enhance and enrich the existing cultural fabric of the community” the last Saturday of each month when food trucks line the streets for visitors leisurely strolling through galleries and exhibits open to the public. But the plentiful murals on the warehouse exteriors exhibited themselves freely as we explored the streets.
Near to the four-block radius of FAT Village is The NSU Museum where we enjoyed the colorful Frank Stella Exhibit and Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrie’s bold installation. Galleries along nearby trendy Las Olas Boulevard and MAC Art Gallery also have an integral presence in the growing arts landscape.
An Intimate Look into the Bonnet House
While history was not on my radar visiting area, Pascale and I discovered some interesting places such as The Bonnet House Museum & Gardens nestled in a still maintained 35-acre beachfront on Birch Road in Fort Lauderdale.
Early settler, Hugh Taylor Birch, bequeathed the estate he built on the grounds as a wedding gift to his daughter Helen and her husband, Chicago artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, in 1919. After tragically losing Helen as well as a second wife to illness, Bartlett married artist, Evelyn Fortune Lilly.
As worldly artists, the talented Bartlett couple created a highly prolific treasure trove of art, furniture, and collectibles. In multiple mediums from ethnic to quirky, the impressive cache “contains many duplicates, which Frederic very much favored – he liked pairs – like these life-sized African giraffes with glass eyes that seem to follow you,” our docent, Cay, informed our small tour.
It was a fascinatingly intimate and romantic look into the house’s Gatsby-era history.
Dive-in at Singer Island
Exploring Florida’s Gold Coast further, we ventured towards Palm Beach’s Singer Island. The barrier island offers a more unique and remote feel than some other Florida destinations. And it has its own unique eco-system.
The area’s MacArthur State Park & Beach creates an opportunity for a little eco-tourism of its own with its estuary.
The island’s family-friendly gem hotel is the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa with a grotto-style pool that hosts fun activities and a cantina with the backdrop of a palm-fringed beachfront.
Following a little decompressing R&R in the hotel’s SiSpa, we enjoyed the panorama from our balcony at our stylish condo-style quarters as evening set on the inter-coastal waterways and as the glowing waterfalls below by the grotto were readied to welcome guests for some fun that night at the ‘dive-in’ movies.