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Downtown Fort Lauderdale, photo by Wikimedia Commons

Fort Lauderdale - for the rich and famous!

© by Pat Brennan

With a subtle nod, she acknowledged my glass raised in greeting as our two vessels passed each other in the narrow channel. Suddenly, we were no longer strangers passing in the night, but fellow mariners mutually exploring the world of canals that makes this city so appealing.

Of course, it was closer to noon than midnight, and she was draped over a lounge chair on the poop deck, just below the helicopter pad on her $55-million yacht. I was standing by the bar up on the bow of a tour boat that charged $19.75 for a 90-minute cruise amid the mansions and mega yachts that line these canals. Still, I like to think her almost imperceptible nod was to say "welcome to my neighbourhood."

And what a neighbourhood it is. It's somewhat intimidating to roll slowly in your car past the manicured lawns and spectacular mansions here in one of America's most exclusive enclaves. It's as if you were casing the joint for a B&E.

But to stand by the railing with a beer in your hand and drift through the backyards and peer into the patios of the rich and famous just seems so natural when you're aboard The Riverfront Cruises 1.

Fort Lauderdale Florida, photo by Wikimedia Commons

That's the name of the tour boat operated by Capt. Barbara Woodcock, who knows all the rumours and scuttlebutt along the canals. Sunrise at Fort Lauderdale Beach, photo by Wikimedia Commons She points out the huge homes currently or once occupied by Rose Kennedy, Charles Bronfman, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Sonny and Cher, Gloria Vanderbilt, plus the families who started or own Wells Fargo, Radio Shack, Wendy's Restaurants and Alka Seltzer, which is conveniently located next door to Bronfman's Seagram's mansion.

Movie producer/director Michael Mann's large glass-fronted house is on the tour. It was often featured in Mann's TV production of "Miami Vice." Woodcock tells us the large house has only one bedroom.

As we sail past the mansion that actor Lee Majors shared with the late Farrah Fawcett, Woodcock explains why Major had trouble selling the place after their marriage dissolved. "The realtor told him it's tough to sell a house that has Major-Fawcett problems." Groans from the 40 passengers sweep through the boat.

Port Everglades, photo by Wikimedia Commons We cruise along the New River past the first condominium apartments built in America. In 1964 they sold for $6,000 each. Today they start at $350,000. Woodcock boldly ventures into Port Everglades, the world's busiest cruise ship harbour. On Sundays there can be as many as a dozen large cruise vessels loading passengers for week-long Caribbean cruises. It's also the home port of one of the world's most unusual freighters, The Super Servant 3.

This ship carries ships. It brought the warship USS Cole home from Yemen after it was heavily damaged by suicide bombers in 2000. This fall it brought more than a dozen large yachts to the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show from Mediterranean ports.

The Super Servant 3 floods its ballast tanks to sink its open cargo deck below the surface. Smaller ships or large yachts then float onto the submerged deck, the freighter fills its ballast tanks with air, and the ship rises and sails off with its unusual cargo.

Woodcock can give you all the details. She has sailed the Seven Seas as a crew member aboard the luxury yachts that we continually encounter in Lauderdale's canals.

More than 42,000 yachts are registered at 100 marinas in this city of 180,000. Among them are the $55-million Lady Christine and the historic La Maison Blanche. The 182-foot-long Lady Christine, built in Holland, has a crew of 11 and accommodates 10 guests in ultra luxury. La Maison Blanche looks very much like that other White House. It was built in 1938 by the guy who invented automatic transmissions. It sits on its own 1.5-acre island where the New River meets the Intercoastal Waterway. It has 20 square feet, 11 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, 5 powder rooms, a six-car garage with two guest suites, each with two bedrooms above the garage. It's on the market for $28.5 million. It was priced at $35 million a year ago.

Large yachts cruise up the river into the heart of Ft. Lauderdale to tie up behind some of the city's finest restaurants along Olas Blvd. To go that deep into the city, the vessels must sail over top of U.S. Highway 1, which starts at the Canadian border with Maine, and runs 3,218 kilometres south to Key West. A tunnel carries the highway under the river.

Woodcock boards her passengers at the Las Olas Riverfront Entertainment Complex on the New River, upstream from Highway l.

Fort Lauderdale Florida, photo by Wikimedia Commons

Fort Lauderdale New River

Cruising the Intracoastal Waterway

Photo Credits
Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.

Greater Fort Lauderdale which takes in all of Broward County hosted 12 million visitors in 2012, including 2.8 million international visitors. Hotels in the area recorded an occupancy rate for the year of 72.7 percent and an average daily rate of $114.48. The district has 561 hotels and motels comprising nearly 35,000 rooms. Forty six cruise ships sailed from Port Everglades in 2012. Greater Fort Lauderdale has over 4,000 restaurants, 63 golf courses, 12 shopping malls, 16 museums, 132 nightclubs, 278 parkland campsites, and 100 marinas housing 45,000 resident yachts.
Fort Lauderdale is named after forts built during the Second Seminole War. The forts took their name from Major William Lauderdale, who was the commander of the detachment of soldiers who built the first fort.    Wikipedia

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