That Old Florida Charm
The car moves with the stop-and-go of traffic along North Ocean Boulevard, past crowds of sunbathers and beachgoers searching for a piece of paradise between the sand, surf and palm trees. It’s mid-April, the tail end of peak season in the tourist haven of Fort Lauderdale. There’s plenty of excitement and energy felt from the upscale dining, shopping, and the odd dive bar along the strip — which is cool, if that’s your thing. But not for the wife and I. We’re looking for a bit for privacy, maybe a little romance. We’re heading to the Pelican Grand Beach Resort, one of only four full-service hotels in the area situated right on the beach. Because what the Pelican Grand has is what realtors champion year after year: location.
Only about a 20-minute cab ride from the airport, the Pelican Grand is considered one of the city’s premier hotels. With 156 rooms and suites, the cream-yellow structure isn’t one of the biggest, especially when compared to the 300-plus-room behemoths just south along the A1A, but that’s all part of the draw. There’s a welcomed exclusivity to it: warm and homey, with an unmistakable, classic charm pulsing through its walls, even though it’s only a decade old. Our driver Malcolm describes its esthetic as “Old Florida,” and you feel that vibe throughout: under the coffered ceiling and on the plush armchairs of the lobby, along the oceanfront veranda and within the island-feeling O2K Lounge. It’s like Humphrey Bogart or Ernest Hemingway could be relaxing with a chilled martini just around the corner.
We’re lucky enough to snag a premium oceanfront suite with a single king-size bed (dual queens are available as well). This is the option you’ll want. Beyond the bedroom and adjoining seating area, the mighty Atlantic ebbs and flows beneath our private balcony. It’s an incredible view, one that’s the perfect backdrop for room-service breakfast or sunset cocktails. But, it seems, my wife is more enamoured by the toiletries. “This is good quality stuff,” she says of the Spa Terre Coconut Mango shampoo and conditioner. “It smells like summer.”
Fort Lauderdale’s economy is heavily based on tourism. The “Venice of America” (as it’s known due to its over 480 kilometres of waterways) is bathed in 3,000 hours of sunlight each year and these tropical conditions draw millions of vacationers — over 13 million in 2013. It’s not a wild party town like Miami, instead attracting more affluent business types, older couples and middle-aged families. From the rooftop terrace of the 11-storey Pelican Grand, it’s easy to see the contrast between the crowded main beach and the Pelican Grand’s more open shoreline. And that’s one of its advantages.
At the north end of the main drag of Fort Lauderdale’s over 11 km of beach, the Pelican Grand is removed from the city’s busyness. Even this weekend, with a fully booked hotel and a wedding, there’s plenty of room on its 500-feet of sand. Just ask the helpful staff to set up chaise lounges and an umbrella for a calm afternoon in the sun and shade. They’ll even take food and drink orders. My wife goes with the Anti-Oxidant Mojito with pomegranate juice and fresh berries, one of the Pelican Grand’s specialty handmade cocktails (no syrups here), while I can’t resist the amusingly named local beer, Funky Buddha. There’s also a zero-entry pool, Fort Lauderdale’s only lazy river, and an old-style emporium, where you can grab ice cream, frozen yogurt, gelato, coffee, espresso, snacks and the rest, if you want a break from the sand. Sign the wee ones up for Funky Fish, the resort’s children’s day camp, for some private time, too. Renovations begin this summer to add a spa to the rooftop terrace, making the Pelican Grand 12 storeys, as well as a pavilion to host conventions, banquets and weddings on the main floor.
Despite its relative seclusion, the award-winning Pelican Grand is only five minutes by cab from the main drag. It’s easy to swing down and walk the boardwalk; shop at the boutiques on Las Olas; charter a boat and go snorkelling, scuba diving or deep sea fishing; or cruise the canals via the Water Taxi and gawk at the massive mansions of glitterati and business magnates (and their equally as gigantic yachts).
For breakfast and lunch, we opt to dine on the Pelican Grand’s charming veranda. There are staples such as omelettes and waffles in the morning, but we choose the elevated specialties, the Huevos Santa Fe (eggs with a Latin twist) and Smoke Salmon & Egg White Omelette. (Freshly squeezed Florida orange juice is also a must.) The Fish Tacos, Chipotle Turkey Club and O2K Burger were great midday meals. The resort’s brunch, featuring a seafood bar, waffle and omelette stations, all-you-can-drink mimosas, Bloody Marys and more, was voted best in Broward County two years in a row, and should not be missed. But be sure to make reservations.
For romantic dining, the Pelican Grand’s waterfront restaurant, OCEAN2000 is considered one of Fort Lauderdale’s best. After ordering a glass of Layer Cake, a California Cab Sauv, we open with the delicious Asian Seared Scallops. For our mains, my wife eyes the Filet Mignon and I’m leaning toward our waiter’s recommendation: the Florida Yellowtail Snapper. The filet is top-notch, tender and moist with a smoky barbecue taste, while the snapper balances fresh fish flavour with a zest of lemon and the sweetness of roasted tomato. For dessert, we go with our waiter’s suggestion a second time: the Pumpkin Amaretto Cheese Cake. It’s served over cranberry ginger compote, delivering a creamy and sweet, slightly spicy waltz across our tongues.
With bellies full, we drift back to our room for one more glass of wine on our private balcony. A pair of windsurfers bounces across the water as the champagne glow of the last light of day clings to silver clouds. With hands held tight I can’t help but think that, yes, this really is the perfect spot.