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.
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.
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.
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 are 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.
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.
Written by Jen Karetnick