This popular South Florida airport yields many an affordable airfare, meaning that plenty of travelers heading anywhere from Palm Beach to The Keys or on a cruise end up treading its concourses. Here's a mini-guide that'll have you navigating Fort Lauderdale like a pro.
South Florida is no transit wasteland; arriving passengers at Fort Lauderdale can hop a free shuttle bus at their terminal and, within a few minutes, be standing on a platform waiting for their train to Miami or West Palm Beach. It will likely come as a surprise to no one, however, that negotiating both the Broward Transit system (they're the bus people) and the Tri-Rail schedule (that's the train) takes a fair bit of focused energy. Sure, they both operate on reasonable schedules, all day long, and sure, you'll save money – the bus shuttle is free, fares to Miami are just $3.75 each way – but at what real cost? Besides the waiting you'll do, also know that the Tri-Rail stations are mostly in terribly inconvenient (and generally terrible) locations that require yet another bus ride or train ride or a potentially expensive taxi ride, once reached. If you're just sticking around Fort Lauderdale, you may be interested to learn that there's no direct bus to the beach area from the airport. You have to catch Broward Transit's Route 1 bus into town, then transfer at the rather colorful downtown transit center. Bonus: It doesn't even pick you up at your terminal – you have to walk or shuttle over to the Rental Car Center departures level to the airport's only public bus stop. Taxi!
Cruise passengers departing from Port Everglades or sun seekers just heading for certain local hotels may be all set with pre-booked or complimentary transfer services; for the rest of us, there's GO Airport Shuttle, the exclusive operator of shared-ride services from Fort Lauderdale. They operate vans all over South Florida and promise a wait of no more than 30 minutes from the time you check-in at their arrivals-level desk; fares to Fort Lauderdale's beach hotels average around $15, with Miami Beach not much more expensive at a little over $20 (fares may fluctuate depending on exact distance.)
Fares are regulated by local government and can be rather reasonable – approximately $12 into Port Everglades if you don't feel like standing around waiting for your cruise shuttle bus, often under $20 to the beach hotels in Fort Lauderdale.
If you're renting a car, it is worth considering how much you'll be paying to park at your destination. Valet parking, often mandatory at downtown hotels and beachfront resorts, can run you upwards of $30 per night. If you decide to opt for a car rental at Fort Lauderdale, head down to the arrivals level and catch the airport's one-bus-serves-all shuttle. If you've arrived at Terminal 1, you can walk directly into the rental car center, conveniently located at the heart of the fairly compact airport.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International is all about getting you in and out – hanging around, not so much. But there have been, in recent times, a couple of admirable attempts to boost the airport's culinary cred. Take, for example, the recently-opened Food Network Kitchen. This sleek, test kitchen-ish space in Terminal 3 features locally inspired eats – try the decent Florida Shrimp Po'Boy – and healthy takeout items that include a baby kale salad and steamed edamame with sea salt. Stuck in Terminal 1? Head to Concourse B where Pasha's, a popular local chain does Mediterranean fast-casual fare that won't leave you with a food hangover. (The hummus is pretty good.) Need a good Café Cubano? Walk over to the rental car center, where the tiny Cuban Corner on Level 2 will fit the bill.
Where to go drinking
It's almost painful to recommend any of the on-premises watering holes, considering your proximity to some seriously fun beach bars, like the out-there and fun Le Tub on Hollywood Beach, just a few minutes away by taxi. Forced to stick close to the terminals, there are places that ought to be good – let's not even mention them – but they just plain aren't. Seriously – you should just go to Chili's, located pre-security at Terminal 3. It's fine. Have a margarita.
Shopping at the airport is almost exclusively limited to newsstands and other uninspired fare. This is pretty surprising, considering the hordes of bored cruise passengers who often spend hours here, waiting for their flights home. A couple of interesting shopping options exist, though – in Terminal 2, for example, the automated U*tique Boutique vends high-end essentials, from sunglasses to perfume.
Free, throughout the airport – can be slow at busy periods.
Get away from it all
It is South Florida – get out into the sunshine! The airport's Sunny View Sitting Area isn't quite as glamorous as you're probably expecting, but it is a pleasant, grassy spot located outside of Terminal 3, within walking distance of the rest of the airport. Grab a table and have a picnic, or just work on your tan. Need air conditioning, but can't bear the crowds? Buy your way into one of the airline lounges – airlines sell day passes for as little as $25.
The long layover
With four hours or more to kill before your check-in time, the choice is clear: Go do something. Dump your luggage at the airport's convenient Bags to Go service ($6 per bag for the day), grab a cab and head over to Fort Lauderdale's beachfront, barely six miles from the terminals. Hop out as soon as you can for a scenic beach hike up to the very popular W Hotel, where the pool bar and café (opens 11am) is a great spot to while away whatever time you have left, indulging in cocktails and people watching. When you're done, just head downstairs and have the bellman hail you a taxi. Best mini-vacation to Fort Lauderdale, ever.
Best airport hotel
There aren't any hotels on airport property, which isn't a big deal, considering the airport’s proximity to most of the beach hotels and resorts. But if you want to cut your travel time in half, and some do, go ahead and check into one of the hotels close to U.S. 1, a short drive north of the airport entrance. The smart Hyatt Place Fort Lauderdale 17th Street is tops in the affordable category; it offers the best value, with free wireless internet, breakfast, an airport shuttle (7a-11p), Hyatt Grand beds (very comfortable) and pleasant, modern room décor (www.hyatt.com).
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