Seafood and river cruise

We had no actual plans for Saturday, so we headed out on a mission to find a few things friends had asked us to bring back to Finland. On the same adventure we also did some more shopping for ourselves at Pembroke Lakes Mall and the Shops at Pembroke Gardens. While there we enjoyed a spot of lunch at RA Sushi Bar Restaurant. After lunch and a partly futile search for requested souvenirs we decided to drive back to downtown Fort Lauderdale and check out the Riverwalk. I am sure the Riverwalk would have been a nice experience haven’t it been for all the construction going on. We started at Esplanade Park and checked out the old buildings of History Fort Lauderdale but trying to venture further down the river we had to go around one construction site and once we got back to the river it wasn’t long before we encountered another construction site and decided to turn around and head back to our car.

Opposite bank at the start of Riverwalk
Buildings of History Fort Lauderdale
Buildings of History Fort Lauderdale
Buildings of History Fort Lauderdale
Buildings of History Fort Lauderdale

Saturday evening, we had a dinner reservation at Boatyard. When we arrived at the restaurant and checked in with the hostess, I was a bit taken aback by how loud the restaurant seemed. However, we were seated outside on the patio, which was much quieter so we could actually carry on a conversation while dining. Once again, we kicked off the night with drinks; I tested something called Minty Melon (Absolut grapefruit vodka, jalapeño, watermelon, mint) and hubby stuck to his trusted Dry Martini. For starters we ordered the jumbo lump crab cake with oaxacan mole, avocado crema and sweet corn, and the tuna tacos with yellowfin tuna, mango, hot and sour sauce and crispy wonton. Both were excellent. For mains we chose the grilled bronzino & gulf shrimp with fingerling potatoes and roasted tomato-fennel sauce, and the grouper piccata with wilted spinach, cured tomato, caper berries and lemon chardonnay butter both accompanied with a glass of pinot grigio. The mains were delicious even though the bronzino dish was far too big and I had to leave almost all potatoes uneaten and hubby had to eat a few of the shrimp. The service at Boatyard was friendly and professional, the food was tasty, and the setting was nice, so I would recommend the restaurant for any seafood lover.

My Minty Melon
Crab cake
Tuna tacos
Grilled bronzino & gulf shrimp
Grouper piccata
Boatyard restaurant

On Sunday, we kicked-off the morning with another breakfast at the Courtyard Café after which we returned to Sawgrass Mills as we realized we had forgotten to look for a few clothing items. Our supplement shopping was successful and once back in Fort Lauderdale we had planned to visit Bonnet House. However, when we arrived, we found out that the guided tours were already fully booked until 3:30 pm, which did not fit our schedule as we had a linner (lunch + dinner) reservation already at 4:30 pm. The option would have been to tour the grounds without a guide, but we felt the USD 10.00 price per person to enter the grounds without any access to the house seemed a bit steep, so we skipped the entire experience and headed back to the house. Our linner reservation was at El Camino, one of the two Mexican places we tried unsuccessfully to visit on Friday. The reason for such an early dinner was that we had booked a Holiday Lights Cruise with Riverfront Cruise that started at 7 pm. We started with a couple of margaritas while studying the menu. As we saw food being served at other tables and realized the portions were big, we decided to skip any starters. We ended up ordering a smoked brisket burrito and chihuahua cheese enchiladas. When the food was served, we ordered a second round of margaritas. The food and margaritas were excellent, and the service was super friendly, the only small complaint would be the noise level but that is something you would expect at this type of laid-back place.

Margaritas
Chihuahua cheese enchiladas
Smoked brisket burrito

After dinner we walked to the new river and stopped for a drink on the way at the Royal pig pub. Once we arrived at the riverfront and it was time to board the boat, we were told we should have exchanged our online reservation printout for some kind of chip at the Riverfront Cruise “office”. There were no instructions to do this anywhere (not on the website, the reservation printout nor outside the entrance to the boat), so we were a bit surprised at such a procedure. The man checking the chips was kind enough to let us board the ship and take care of our “registration” for us. We never really understood the purpose of having to get a chip but maybe it was to make the boarding procedure easier for the crew. The cruise itself lasted two hours, there was a cash bar onboard and plenty of upper deck seating. We cruised around on the New River ogling at the houses on the millionaires’ row and their Christmas lights. The cruise was fun, but it would have been interesting to learn something about the area we were cruising in and the houses we saw but I understand the regular 90-minute cruise includes commentary.

Cute hotel spotted on Las Olas
Some houses were really lit up
Lights around palm trees were popular
Some even came with colors
There were some superb mansions

One more Florida post to come.

Everglades and heavy shopping

On the second morning in Florida we had breakfast at the house and hopped in the car to head to the Everglades. We had bought tickets online for Coopertown Airboat that has been in operation since 1945. We arrived at Coopertown Airboat around 11 am and there was already a bit of a line to the ticket booth. We joined the line and once it was our turn, we showed the receipt for the online purchase and paid a USD 3.00 per person Everglades National park entrance. Having bought the tickets online we saved three dollars per ticket so if you want to save a bit it makes sense to buy your tickers in advance. After a quick restroom pit stop, we entered the dock area, first we were directed to attend a short show where we were told about the alligators and snakes they had in enclosures on the premises and those who wanted could touch a baby alligator and a snake. We sat in the backrow, so we did not pet either of the animals. After taking a look at the animals on show it was time to board the airboat. Before taking off the guide passed around some cotton to put in our ears as the boats are quite loud. Then we took off “into the wild”. The tour covers approximately 9 miles of this unique environment and lasts for one hour. First, the guide zoomed us through some vast open saw grass, which was fun especially when the boat went sideways. After a while we slowed down for the first time so the guide could tell us about the area and the birds we were seeing. The guide would drive the boat faster for a while and then slow down or stop so we could keep an eye out for gators and the guide could inform us with facts about the place. We did manage to spot three gators during the ride and plenty of birds, the nature in itself was also impressive. There is no guarantee you will see gators during the ride, but I am pretty confident the guides are able to spot at least one gator for you on every ride as they know where to look and have a trained eye. Once we docked you had the chance to again pet a baby gator if you wished. Before leaving we strolled through the gift shop that was full of gator themed knick-knacks, clothing, toys, etc. When we exited the area sometime after 1pm the line to the ticket booth was super-long so I recommend going early in the day if you don’t want to queue for a long time. I would wholeheartedly recommend going on an airboat tour to explore the Everglades if you are in the area as you get to see some stunning nature and interesting wildlife. There are numerous airboat tour operators in the Everglades, we picked Coopertown due to its long history and were satisfied with the choice, but I am sure there are other good operators out there too.

Rescued gators at Coopertown Airboat
Rescued gators at Coopertown Airboat
Learning more about gators and snakes
We saw many birds
Our airboat guide
Spot the gator
Loved the nature in the Everglades
This guy greated us when we returned to shore

After driving back to Fort Lauderdale we scoped out the local Macy’s and mall, The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale and grabbed afternoon coffee from the Starbuck’s at Macy’s. That evening we had a dinner reservation at Serafina by the water. We had requested outdoor seating in our reservation, which was actually good because the indoor space was very limited with around 20 seats. It started raining just before we got to the restaurant and while we were waiting to be seated a couple of groups of diners moved indoors, which had me a bit worried. It turned out that part of the outdoor seating had problems with a protective tarp and thus water got in but the area where we were seated was fine and we managed to stay dry. We kicked off dinner with an aperitif and some starters. I ordered the Tonno Tartar consisting of sushi grade yellow fin tuna, marinated with sesame oil, over a bed of thinly sliced avocado and hubby enjoyed the Carpaccio Di Manzo, of thin sliced cured filet mignon served with arugula, truffle oil and parmigiano reggiano shavings. Both starters were excellent, which set our hopes high for the mains. We both had a pasta, mine was the Ravioli del Giorno which was lobster filled ravioli with a lobster bisque while hubby’s was Capellini fra Diavolo con Gamberi, angel hair pasta, sautéed with jumbo garlic shrimp in a spicy san marzano sauce. I can honestly say this was the best pasta I’ve ever had in a restaurant outside Italy. The service was super-friendly and the staff really made us feel at home.

Tuna tartar
Carpaccio
Lobster ravioli
Shrimp pasta

On Friday we geared up for a heavy day of shopping at Sawgrass Mills outlet mall. Before driving out to the mall we decided to arm ourselves with a hearty breakfast and found the perfect spot in Wilton Manors only a couple of blocks from the house called Shawn & Nick’s Courtyard Café. We immediately fell in love with the place; its vibe, staff and food were excellent. I feasted on pancakes and hubby had Eggs Benedict. The quality of the food was really good, and the prices were more than fair. We ended up spending around four hours at the mall as it was huge and simply getting from one store to the next on our shortlist of favorite stores sometimes took ages. By the time we were done, we were happy with our haul. We had not made a reservation for dinner that evening so we simply took an uber to downtown and strolled around Las Olas looking for a place for dinner. We had our sights on a couple of Mexican places but by the time we had stopped for a drink at a pub and strolled around a bit, both places were packed, and the wait would have been over an hour. As it also started raining, we were not in the mood to explore the place any further, so we ended up at the same pub where we had the drinks for some food. The place was called Bo’s Pub located below The Balcony. As we had had a late lunch on the way back from the mall, we figured we’d opt for something small and ordered some pub bites: a pretzel with beer cheese and mustard sauce, Bo’s buffalo wings served with celery & blue cheese dip and some parmesan truffle fries. Turned out these weren’t really small bites so we couldn’t even finish off everything. The food was good for what it was, pub grub, the drinks were good and staff friendly. Two more posts to come on our Florida adventures.

Colorful Wilton Manors, Courtyard Cafe on the right
We did some shopping…
Las Olas Boulevard at night
Christmas decor Florida style
The pub grub

Seeking sunshine in Florida

Last year, Christmas awarded us three mid-week days off, so by taking a couple of vacation days we managed to get a long enough vacation to seek sunshine a little further afield. Our choice was Florida and more specifically Fort Lauderdale. We had booked a flight for the 24th as this was clearly cheaper than e.g. the 23rd. As we had a super-early morning flight to Munich and further to Miami, we decide to splurge on a hotel night near the airport on the 23rd. We booked a room at Scandic Helsinki Airport. We checked in at the hotel in the early evening and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. The food was good and once our stomachs were full, we did a test walk to the check-in area to see how much time we would need in the morning (the walk took around ten minutes). The following morning, we had an early breakfast at the hotel (they start serving breakfast at 3:30 am, which is really convenient for early flights) and then proceeded to the airport. We will definitely stay at this or some other airport hotel again next time we have a super-early long-haul flight.

Restaurant and bar at Scandic Helsinki Airport
The hotel had some fun decoration ideas
Part of the hotel used to be a police station and the old holding cells had been turned into meeting rooms with various themes.

We arrived in Miami around 5 pm, collected our luggage and picked up our rental car. Before heading to our house in Wilton Manors that we rented through Airbnb we stopped by a grocery store to get some food and other essentials for our stay. We eventually arrived at the house after 8 pm due to some difficulties with finding an open ramp to the interstate (the navigator kept telling us to head to the same closed ramp several times), as well as in finding the house as the navigator refused to recognize the address. Once at the house, we got settled in, unpacked, familiarized ourselves with the house rules, took a shower and had a bit of a bite before hitting the sheets.

Our little house for the week
Master bedroom
Second bedroom that we used for storage
Living area
Dining area
Kitchen

We had decided to spend the following day lounging at the house as it was Christmas Day and we assumed most places would be closed. We started the day with a hearty breakfast and then took a walk around the neighborhood to see where we had landed. It was a residential neighborhood that seemed calm and quiet. Back at the house, we jumped in the car and drove to downtown Fort Lauderdale to have a look around. We drove around for maybe an hour and then headed back to the house for some R&R. We spent the day reading, watching TV, making plans for the week, cooking dinner and enjoying the sunshine in the backyard. We had purchased tickets online for an airboat tour in the Everglades and that’s were we headed the next day, but more on that in my next blogpost.

Found this oasis just around the corner from the house.
Chilling in the backyard