There’s an old saying that it’s easier to get a reputation than it is to live one down but Fort Lauderdale has risen to the challenge. Just over 20 years ago the city on the sunshine state’s southeast coast was known as the Spring Break capital of North America, annually attracting thousands of college students who widely indulged in hedonistic revelry, alcohol, drugs and raucous behaviour causing significant damage to hotels, beaches and public property. The yearly influx of rabble rousing students escalated from the 1960s forward to 1985 when Fort Lauderdale had had enough and restrictions were put in place that sent Spring Breakers looking for more receptive venues.

Today the city that boasts one of the prettiest beachfronts in Florida is no longer tarnished by a yearly spate of rowdiness. Instead it is widely known as one of the sunshine state’s finest vacation destinations with wide white sand beaches, a waterfront promenade, miles of inland waterways and a host of other assets including its gateway location to the Florida Everglades National Park. This vast natural preserve covers well over a million acres and is one of the great North American ecosystems where airboat and walking tours provide visitors with an opportunity to observe exotic flora, a wide range of bird species and indigenous wildlife such as alligators, water buffalo and the Florida panther. For Canadian snowbirds, it’s good to know that the best time to visit is during the winter dry season when lower water levels make wildlife spotting easier and blood-thirsty mosquitoes are gone.

The Everglades preserve is also home to the native Seminole Indians tribe who have turned their Big Cypress Reservation into one of the most visited attractions in the park. One of the key highlights is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (meaning a place to learn) considered one of the finest American Indian museums in the U.S.

This 5,000 sq. ft. repository chronicles the tribe’s history and culture through film, rare artefacts and native craft demonstrations. Other Reservation attractions include alligator wrestling shows and snake handling demonstrations. Visitors can also take a swamp buggy eco-tour led by Seminole guides, and for the ultimate experience, the adventurous traveller can book an overnight stay on the Reservation where accommodations are traditional, dorm-style Seminole lodges with no electric or water.

While a day trip to the Everglades Park is a worthy addition to a Fort Lauderdale holiday, it is by no means the sole highlight. This is an exciting city where its pulse beats strongest on Los Olas Boulevard, known in Fort Lauderdale lingo as “the style mile.” This is a long, vibrant street lined with fashion boutiques, art shops, restaurants, lively lounges, sidewalk cafes and colourful nightlife.

Nicknamed the Venice of North America because of its network of inland waterways, the city that boasts 77F degree weather year-round is like a lot of popular vacation destinations–so much to do within a limited time frame. In the case of Fort Lauderdale, there are certain attractions that fall into the must-experience category.

Among them is the world headquarters of the International Game Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum. Within the $32 million building that opened in 1999 there is everything fish-related from a collection of antique fishing lures and rods to displays of life-sized mounts of world record sport fish. There are interactive fishing simulators where visitors get a chance to angle for marlin, sailfish, tarpon and trout without ever getting wet. This is a modern, state-of-the-art facility that is equally entertaining for adults and children alike. For those who want the real deal, the city has an abundance of outfitters who offer both deep sea and freshwater fishing charters.

Fort Lauderdale is also the world headquarters for the International Swimming Hall of Fame, keeper of the world’s largest collection of aquatic memorabilia contained in a 7,500 sq. ft. wave-shaped building. Among the plethora of displays are the Olympic swimming medals won by Johnny Weissmuller, probably best remembered for his movie role as Tarzan. Visitors who want a water experience without the swimming will find there’s a host of charter companies offering everything from ocean and inland waterway sightseeing tours to outfitters offering guided kayak eco-adventures. There are even gondola tours on the inland waterways aboard authentic gondolas imported from Venice. Land lubbers can opt for a two-hour trolley tour that captures all of Fort Lauderdale’s important sights including homes of the rich and famous. Alternatively, the physically fit and agile can even opt to book a Segway city tour.

Indeed, the town that proved it’s a comeback kid has it all from eco-friendly activities to performing arts, museums galore, casinos, abundant golf and every water-based activity imaginable. Admittedly Florida is rife with great vacation spots but Fort Lauderdale’s gateway to the Everglades and the city’s incomparable inland waterways definitely give it an engaging edge.

See or call 1-800-22-SUNNY (1-800-227-8669) for more Fort Lauderdale vacation information. See: for Florida Everglades information.