It’s almost the time of year when Austin Meteorologist Allison Miller (who choreographs dances to the weather forecast) will sashay her way through Ice, Ice Baby. Winter is coming. But it’s still 80-degrees in Fort Lauderdale. For that reason, pack your bags; word to your mother, and continue to A1A: Beachfront Avenue!
Fort Lauderdale used to have a reputation as the Spring Break destination for college students. It has evolved. With hundreds of miles of man made waterways circumnavigating the city, it has more canals than Venice. Locals and tourists, alike, are now calling it “Venice of America.”
Hyatt Centric Las Olas opened in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale in April 2020. Initially, stakeholders expected the hotel would beckon business travelers. But the pandemic was a plot twist. According to Director of Sales, Katherine Beja-McLennan, leisure travelers seeking respite from cabin fever back home are the primary guests.
With beautiful water activities abounding, one could easily sit and stare from the hotel window. But winter is coming. We took a quick peek, then lathered on SPF for the Florida October sunshine, tossed on swimsuits, and started exploring!
Stand Up Paddleboarding
Because Fort Lauderdale has 156 miles of canals, many wealthy families own waterfront homes and dock their yachts in a canal behind their backyards. A great way to see quarter-billion dollar homes and boats that resemble petite cruise ships is to row, row, row your Stand Up Paddleboard gently down the stream.
Natasha Baker Williams owns a small houseboat on the Las Olas Canal. Her dog, Mr. Beaches, and she have lived there for nearly a decade. The duo operate the first black woman-owned paddle boarding company in the United States, SUP PUP. The 1-2 hour tour includes paddle boarding technique guidance, some brief information on the sights, but a lot of quiet time. There was great peace to be found in the quiet, easy flowing canal waters.
The closest thing most Texans have experienced to a gondola tour is a Riverwalk boat ride in San Antonio with a tour guide on a bullhorn. That’s a far cry from a transcendent gondola ride in Italy. But Fort Lauderdale is strikingly similar. That is why this rich Florida city is coined the “Venice of America.”
Our gondola tour began at 9pm, after the sun had set. Our guide welcomed us aboard with light jazz music and ample seating under a canopy. We boarded with a picnic basket full of wine, cheese, warm baguette, nuts, and just-baked red velvet white chocolate chip cookies. (You really should do the same – yummy F&B make everything better).
Fort Lauderdale Beach is a must-see. The best vantage point is from under the sea. We rented snorkeling gear from Aqui Water Sports, and a super-passionate guide named David led us through two hours of ocean exploration. David knows the fish in the ocean like Bubba Gump knows shrimp. It was my first time to experience snorkeling. David taught me how to freedive, meaning to swim down to the bottom of the ocean, like a scuba diver without a tank. There, I could see and hear fish nourishing themselves by eating the coral reef. We saw stingrays, thousands of jellyfish, three nurse sharks, sometimes called a dentist fish (because it cleans other fish’s teeth) — so many specimen of fish!
Although opportunities abound to experience Fort Lauderdale away from the hotel, sometimes it’s nice to just stay close to home. The aforementioned pool on the 8th Floor at Hyatt Centric Las Olas is attractive to lap swimmers. The heated saltwater pool can be enjoyed year round, but it’s most comfortable before winter comes.
The hotel welcomes guests to borrow a beach cruiser bike and ride 2-miles down to the beach. Two beach chair rentals are also complimentary to guests, courtesy of Hyatt Centric Las Olas.
If you happen to step outside to a little drizzle, you could make your way to the fitness center on the 8th floor. There you’ll find Life Fitness treadmills, pin-placed strength equipment, free weights, a Peloton bike, a recumbent bike, and a multi-station. There’s also plenty of space for bodyweight functional fitness, too. Come rain or shine, Hyatt Centric Las Olas has your movement needs covered.
(That means Goodbye, Beautiful)
All great vacations must come to an end. But save something unexpected for your last night: a razzle dazzle prohibition-esque experience at Hyatt Centric Las Olas’s speakeasy, Nine01. Hyatt Centric Las Olas opened when businesses had the fork put in them, due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It could have been the kiss of death. But there’s always a way to make limoncello out of lemons.
Heeding a suggestion from their PR agency, Hyatt Centric Las Olas renovated a guest room on the ninth floor to a speakeasy. They flew in Instagram-sensation bartenders (who had no work at their hometown bars, which had all been closed down), put them up in hotel rooms and contracted them to work for a week. The speakeasy lured a sell-out (12 people per 2-hour time slot) crowd. Nine01 – with its secret password, hush-hush entryway, and 1920s decor – just worked. It made trying times less tragic, and made a statement to other business district hospitality establishments dealing with the wake of COVID-19: the solution may not be what you had anticipated, but a stiff drink never hurts.
Cover Photo Brook Benten
Brook Benten, M.Ed., is a fitness expert in Austin, TX. She wrote a book on resistance training, low impact cardio, nutrition and wellness for active aging women that will be published in March 2023 (Hearst). Brook has over twenty years of experience as an exercise physiologist. She writes articles for Texas Lifestyle Magazine to spread love and enjoyment of travel and outdoor adventure.