If you are looking for a fun way to start your cruise vacation early when leaving a port in Fort Lauderdale or Miami, with just 2 days you can have a mini-vacation to start the fun!
Our family (2 adults and 4 kids) went on our second cruise ever. The kids were 8, 7, 4, and 2 at the time of our vacation. We decided to spent two days before the cruise to explore Fort Lauderdale.
Generally, I'm an A-type personality that has to have everything planned out to the minute for our vacations so that there was no second guessing. However, for this small portion of our vacation, I decided to throw all of my pre-planning out the window just to see what it would be like.
If you have younger aged kids under ten, here are some of the things that are family would recommend doing that also has a blend of things adults would want to do as well.
2 Day Sample Itinerary for Fort Lauderdale Before a Cruise
This two day sample Fort Lauderdale family with kids itinerary includes the arrival day. With little kids, trust me when I say I know how hard it is to include a ton of baked planned activities for your kids during the actual travel day.
I'll go into detail in my recommendations below as well as where to stay.
Day 1 - Travel Day
Lauderdale by the Sea
It's a small little area "like" a boardwalk (although it doesn't have a boardwalk) with access to the beach, restaurants, and shopping. There is also a fishing pier that they can walk along with gorgeous views and amazing photo ops.
Check out the beach and the pier while you are at it!
Eat Dinner or Lunch at a Lauderdale by the Sea Restaurant
There are some amazing reviews of Aruba Beach Cafe, Mulligan's Beach House, Blue Moon Fish Co, and BurgerFI. The ones with the best views of the beach would be Aruba Beach Cafe.
We went to Aruba Beach Cafe on a whim, and it did not disappoint. They had delicious penne pasta that my kids devoured. They had a large array of kids meals, so everyone found something.
Day 2 - Activity Day
Eat Brunch at Lester's
Lester's has rave reviews on Google, and again, it did not disappoint with a dizzying array of breakfast options!
Visit and Take Photos of Lighthouse Point
I'll talk more about this below, but if your kids have never seen a lighthouse, this would be amazing.
You can also eat lunch at Nauti Dawg, a local favorite for casual food.
Check Out Museum Discovery and Science
If you needed a break from the heat or swimming, this is a 85,000 square foot museum that your kids will absolutely love. It's a bit pricey for a family with multiple kids over two years of age.
Frolic On Another Beach
This post list some of the best beaches in Fort Lauderdale. Since you have already visited Lauderdale by the Sea, you can mark that off your list!
With kids, I would recommend Central Beach because of the water play area for the kids.
Where to Stay in Fort Lauderdale (even if you are sailing out of Port Miami)
If you are planning on sailing out of Port of Miami, consider staying in Fort Lauderdale because there are so many things to do with kids. In addition, the prices for hotels and vacation rental homes are a lot less expensive than those of Miami.
Choose a Vacation Rental Over a Hotel
Renting a vacation home often works out a lot less expensive than staying in a hotel and provides you a lot more privacy. You'll also choose homes that are in neighborhoods where locals live, so it helps you experience more of the city like a local.
However, hotels often provide a consistent experience for an overnight stay so you can know what to expect.
For our family's rental, we often have a ton of luck using VRBO. I've tried looking at AirBnB and I often get confused and stuck on whether I'm booking a "room" versus an entire "home" for the stay. VRBO generally has a home that is for rent that you aren't sharing with anyone else. I've used it for all of our family's stays since 2009, when we got married and rented a villa for our family.
Our Vacation Rental Experience and Review in Fort Lauderdale (a House with an Amazing Private Pool)
After searching for only a few minutes on VRBO, I happened to luck out and find a 2 day rental for a vacation home that has a heated swimming pool.
To give you an idea on what it cost for a stay for 2 adults and 4 kids, here's the breakdown of what it cost for us to stay in February:
- $225 per night
- $100 Cleaning Fee
- $67 Service Fee
- $71.50 Tax
- $200 Refundable Damage Deposit
That works out to be about $230 a night for a house with our own swimming pool!
This is the Fort Lauderdale vacation rental home in the images below.
It was a cottage style beach home that was less than 2 miles from Fort Lauderdale by the Sea. The are seemed like an up-and-coming locals neighborhood, and we loved that there were a ton of stores that we were familiar with close by (like Publix and Walgreens) for quick runs to grab something.
At the time of our writing, the reviews were five stars and there were 27 of them. Often, I'm weary of reading vacation home reviews that have less than 3 positive ones because I have no idea whether the owners may have paid a friend or relative to write the review just to get their properties listed on the site on a positive note.
When we got to the home, we were absolutely floored by how amazing it was. While it was small and nothing to write about for the front yard from curb side appearance, it was beautifully decorated inside.
I mean, look at these beds!
The bathrooms were clean.
All of the amenities were thought through. The owner even came by to say hi and provide recommendations.
They also had a flat screen television, internet service, beach chairs, beach towels, coffee, coolers, floaties for the pools for ALL of my kids (from two years to eight years). It was THAT impressive.
There was a large dining area for our big family:
The property had a beautiful setting with tropical plants around the pool, which provided a ton of privacy. The furnishings, amenities, fabulous private pool, lush and tropical landscaping was an amazing tropical oasis.
The pool was heated at 83 degrees without paying any extra. How incredible is that? When we visited in February, it was down in the 60s, and having the water at a warm 83 degrees was absolutely perfection.
The communication was absolutely on point. They had details about the check-in process, how to access the property. When we got there, every switch and cabinet was labeled.
I could go on and own. So far, my experiences with renting from VRBO have been spectacular, and I have yet to have one regret.
Number of Days Needed to See All of Fort Lauderdale with Kids Before a Cruise
Two days is more than enough to experience what Fort Lauderdale has to offer you and your family of small kids. While I went with whatever the wind pointed us to do for those two days, I did do some research on some of the best experiences in town.
First, I'm going to share with you what we did in Fort Lauderdale before our cruise out of Port of Miami. I'll then follow it up with the recommended experiences from friends and others for things to do with a family with kids in this beautiful city.
In hindsight, I would recommend the sample itinerary listed above to get you a head start on what you need to do to get the most out of your trip.
What We Did Before Our Cruise in Fort Lauderdale
Lauderdale By the Sea
Lauderdale By the Sea is a small community with low-rise buildings and mid-century modern architecture. There is an adorable oceanfront gathering area with a bunch of colorful adirondack chairs that your kids will fight over who gets to sit in what color. It is just two miles of beautiful white sand.
The restaurants around there have AMAZING reviews, and the one we went to did not disappoint. There are tons of ice cream shops on that main strip that we didn't get to go to, including gelato!
While there is a handful of "touristy" things you can do like a tropical isle cruise, polynesian dinner show, flamingo garden & sanctuary, segway tour, paddle lesson, most of those aren't really geared towards littles with short attention spans.
When we got off of our plane, we headed right to Lauderdale by the Sea and right behind the Aruba restaurant, our kids were able to make sand castles, put their feet in the water, and I was able to get some amazing laughs and fun captured on camera.
Honestly, get the kids in swimsuits and have a blast. This could easily be a 3-4 hour fun adventure if you include having lunch!
Sought Out Cypress Tree Views in Fort Lauderdale
The hubs wanted to see if we could make a drive far enough to see the tall cypress trees inside the Everglades. The drive turned out to be not that great (just a bunch of swampland and no trees). We ended up driving as far as the Everglade Swamp Tours and went into the parking lot.
While reading the reviews there, we ended up turning around because I didn't really want to pay around $25 per person and the fact that my two year old would not make it through the tour.
I would not recommend this. Also, if you want to see Cypress trees, you'll need to have more than two hours to spare to go deep enough into the Everglades to see them.
Lighthouse in Fort Lauderdale
If your kids have not seen a lighthouse in person, this is their chance to see oen and climb on top of one! They must be 48 inches tall to climb the lighthouse tower to a beautiful view. It's the brightest light in the world! You need to make sure that you contact them ahead of time on their contact page on the lighthousescenictours.com site.
This is officially called the Lighthouse of Broward County, Inc. The lighthouse is on a Coast Guard base that is surrounded by a private beach club, so you can only access the lighthouse by water. There's a society that runs a water shuttle once a month (yes, I know), so if you can plan your cruise around this shuttle you'll be able to reach the top.
Even then, views of the lighthouse from the park are gorgeous and best of all free!
Again, photo ops galore in this area as well!
Museum of Discovery and Science
In late February, it was a little chilly outside for our kids (in the mid 60s), so we ended up going to the Museum of Discovery and Science. The kids had a blast.
Other Recommended Attractions in Fort Lauderdale before a Cruise
Bonnet House Museum and Gardens
You can take a tour of beautifully designed tropical landscapes with five different ecosystems while learning about Fort Lauderdale history.
Secret Woods Nature Center
This is a fun hike for kids that have wooden pathways - made especially for younger kids.
Tradewinds park is dedicated to thousands of butterflies, hummingbirds, insects, and lorikeets with gorgeous tropical plants.
There's so many more activities, but I just wanted to list out the few that I think would be appropriate for families with kids under 10 visiting Fort Lauderdale.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Lauderdale by the Sea the same as Fort Lauderdale?
No. Lauderdale by the Sea is in Fort Lauderdale, and represents a small community inside Fort Lauderdale.
Does Lauderdale by the sea have a boardwalk?
Lauderdale by the Sea does not have a boardwalk, but it does have a small community gathering area with colorful chairs and an area to access the beach.
The closest boardwalk by Lauderdale by the Sea is the Hollywood Boardwalk, which has 2.5 miles of stores, restaurants, three oceanfront parks, and a beach theater with free concerts.
Is Key West drivable from Fort Lauderdale?
Unfortunately, it is a 3.5 hour drive. It is not worth the drive unless you plan on spending the night in Key West after driving there. There's so much to do in Key West that going for just a few hours after arriving would not be worth it.
Final Thoughts on Fort Lauderdale Before a Cruise with a Family with Small Kids
I think arriving a few days into a town close to your cruise port is totally worth considering. The general recommendation for a cruise is that you should arrive at least the day before in order to hedge against any issues with your flight delays. With that said, why not book another day so you can check out what your sailing port has to offer and start your vacation with your little ones a little earlier in Fort Lauderdale?
Whether you are sailing out of Fort Lauderdale or Port of Miami, booking a couple night stay in this city is not a bad way to start your vacation.