Fort Lauderdale for families

By: Jen Karetnick

July 28, 2015

What parents sometimes dream about on a South Florida holiday – a beautiful beach, a good book, peace and quiet and cocktails served beachside – is their kids’ idea of b-o-r-i-n-g. While visitors to Fort Lauderdale can keep the young ones entertained in the gentle surf for a day or two, in reality there are only so many sand castles that they might be persuaded to build. Keep everyone happy, then, with our guide to Fort Lauderdale for families.

Fort Lauderdale for families

The iconic Wave Wall along Fort Lauderdale beach is an unmissable welcome sign © Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Museum of Discovery and Science


The Museum of Discovery and Science in downtown Fort Lauderdale has long been a favourite of locals and visitors alike. Not only are the interactive exhibits – two floors worth – constantly updated, but they’re also informative about the region. For instance, kids can learn what it’s like to be a pilot in the Everglades in cockpit simulators, try to withstand hurricane-force winds, or dig for fossils next to prehistoric creatures. The Museum also offers an enormous living coral reef and an IMAX theatre for showing films in 3-D. Spend an entire day here or take a couple of hours during the hottest part of the afternoon. It’s a refreshing and educational way to avoid sunstroke.


Barbieâ„¢ The Dreamhouse Experienceâ„¢

Fort Lauderdale for families | Barbie Dreamhouse
The Barbieâ„¢ Dreamhouse Experienceâ„¢ is a pretty-in-pink way to spend the day © Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Without putting a gender to this activity, let’s just say that the type of child – or adult – who will appreciate a journey through a life-size Barbie dolls house is one who must always be thinking pink. Because that colour, in various hues, is certainly everywhere in this interactive installation, located at The Oasis at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise. (You should probably also have a high tolerance for trademarked and branded merchandise.) But for the guest who does adore Barbie and all her accessories, this 10,000-square-foot exhibit really is a dream come true. Not only can you explore the rooms and view more than 350 Barbie dolls on display, but you can also opt for special Barbie-themed visitor’s packages.


Water Parks

 Fort Lauderdale for families | Water ParksThe Pipeline is a popular attraction at Paradise Cove at C.B. Smith Park © Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

When the surf fails to thrill and the hotel pool has lost its allure, it’s time for the bells and whistles. And by that, we mean buckets that fill up with water and dump on your head, waterfalls that shoot out of barrels and towers, and twisty, loopy or just plain straight-and-steep slides. One of the best activities in Fort Lauderdale for families, Broward County Parks and Recreation Division maintains several water parks – Castaway Island Water Park at T.Y. Park in Hollywood, Tropical Splash in Lauderhill, Splash Adventure at Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach, and Paradise Cove at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines – that are appropriate for children of all ages, from very young babies who need zero-entry hard-bottom pools to older kids after some soaking thrills. As an added benefit, they’re all located in parks that also offer additional activities, including marinas with paddleboat rentals for when the little ones get tired but the bigger ones still have some energy left to spend. Quiet Waters Park also offers the first Ski Rixen water cable system in the U.S. – a way to ski, surf, wake board and kneeboard without a boat. If you’re planning on visiting all four, we recommend purchasing a Find It All pass, which can be used throughout your visit.


Butterfly World

Fort Lauderdale for families
Butterfly World is the largest butterfly aviary in Florida, with 20,000 butterflies on display at any given time and more than 150 different species © Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

The largest butterfly aviary in Florida, Butterfly World is a riot of brilliant colours and patterns. At any one time, approximately 20,000 butterflies are on display at this research and sustainment centre, which is responsible for bringing back the Schaus Swallowtail and helping establish butterfly gardens for free all over North America. It can make anybody’s mouth hang open, but close it, fast, before anything flies in it, because there’s three acres of butterfly aviaries, facilities for hummingbirds and tropical birds, a bug zoo, an interactive lorikeet encounter and plenty of other things with wings around here. In addition, there are beautiful botanical gardens and a tropical rain forest to enjoy, as well as a laboratory, butterfly museum and plant shop.


Flamingo Gardens

Fort Lauderdale for familiesSpend the day at Flamingo Gardens’ 60-acre botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary © Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

It’s hard not to envision iconic flamingos when you think of Florida. But you don’t have to settle for seeing plastic replicas on the lawns of locals. Instead, head to Flamingo Gardens, 60 acres of botanical gardens and an Everglades wildlife sanctuary. The gardens contain more than 3,000 species of plants, all rare, native, exotic and tropical. Kids may not find that so fascinating, but it’s pretty much a guarantee that the Arboretum, which has the largest Florida Champion Tree in the state – 102 feet high and 54 feet in circumference – will be awe inspiring. Flamingo Gardens also takes in native wildlife that has been permanently injured and can’t be released back into its habitat. Today it keeps more than 80 species, including endangered animals such as the Florida panther as well as bobcats, otters, eagles, alligators – and, of course, flamingos.


Connecting you to numerous destinations across the United States and Canada, our partnership with Delta makes it simple to book a trip to Fort Lauderdale, or direct to Miami with Virgin Atlantic.


What would be in your guide to Fort Lauderdale for families? Let us know in the comments section below.


Written by Jen Karetnick


Jen Karetnick

Miami-based poet, writer, critic and educator Jen Karetnick’s fourth chapbook of poetry, Prayer of Confession, is out now from Finishing Line Press, and her cookbook, Mango, is due October 7, 2014 from University Press of Florida. She also has a full-length book of poems, Brie Season, forthcoming from White Violet Press/Kelsay Books in late 2014. She works a million jobs, including Creative Writing Director at Miami Arts Charter School, dining critic at MIAMI Magazine, contributor to, mom of two teenagers, fur-mom to six rescue pets and caretaker of 14 mango trees. Jen is currently working on her twelfth book, From the Tip of My Tongue (Story Farm Press), a cookbook with Miami and Caribbean chef Cindy Hutson.