Fort Lauderdale and the Water

Beachy Good Fun

The city's seven miles of pristine beaches are highlighted by Fort Lauderdale Beach's signature wavewall and promenade studded with swaying palm trees. The blue-green waters of the Atlantic and platinum sand beckon to sun-seeking parents and fun-seeking kids alike. When the family gets tired of swimming, sunning, and sand castle building, head to one of Aloha Watersports' three locations to get active. Their main outfitter is located on the beach next to the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort. We had an amazing time parasailing off their coastguard-certified boat. We brought our two-year-old son, Caleb, on the boat with us and took turns holding him. Aloha also rents jet skis, hobie cats, a water trampoline with a slide, and surf and boogie boards.

Undersea Adventures

We booked a snorkeling trip from ProDive, which also included a guided tour through the intercoastal waterway to see mega yachts and million-dollar mansions on our way to the open water. Caleb wore a life vest, and we brought him in the water with us and took turns snorkeling. The staff gave Caleb chunks of bread to feed the birds and the fish, which he loved. While we saw hundreds of fish, including angelfish, parrotfish, and trumpet fish, there was little coral but for a few sea fans along the mostly-sandy bottom 20 feet below us.

If you have the time to drive a couple of hours south, I highly recommend John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, home to the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. While you'll enjoy snorkeling in Fort Lauderdale, the snorkeling at Pennekamp is simply spectacular in comparison. Teeming with over 600 types of colorful fish and 50 kinds of coral, Pennekamp encompasses over 178 nautical miles of coral reefs, mangrove swamps, and seagrass beds. Glass bottom boat tours and scuba diving are also available.

Swim with the Fishies"€er, Dolphins

There are two dolphin encounter programs close to Fort Lauderdale. The first is the Dolphin Odyssey at the Miami Seaquarium. Participants are divided into small groups in shallow water where they touch, feed, and help train a dolphin with the guidance of a trainer. Admission to the park is included, so plan to spend a few hours enjoying the dolphin, killer whale, and sea lion shows. (Since you're already in Miami, head to the Miami Metrozoo after lunch to feed the giraffes and enjoy the animals in unique, cageless habitats.)

The second dolphin experience is at Dolphins Plus, an educational and behavioral research center in Key Largo where visitors can choose from two programs. In the 30-minute natural swim, participants don snorkeling gear and swim and dive alongside the dolphins, mimicking the way dolphins interact with each other in the wild. Although you aren't allowed to touch the dolphins, they'll swim so close you'll be a little afraid they'll bump into you (they won't). The structured swim allows physical contact, as each participant gets individual time in the water as they perform activities like belly rubs, kisses, and dorsal tows at the direction of the trainer. Kids too young to take part in the program can observe, although the staff was kind enough to let Caleb touch the dolphin and receive a kiss.

If you don't have a car, Dolphin World of Keys Adventure Tours provides transportation to both Dolphins Plus and the Miami Seaquarium.

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