Creating a tailor-made add-on in South Florida is straightforward, with a bit of research by Gary Buchanan
Modern-day cruising began in 1972 when the start-up Carnival Cruise Lines’ first ship, Mardi Gras, set sail from the port of Miami. Within a couple of decades, this South Florida gateway had been transformed into the world’s busiest cruise port. To cope with demand, the city of Fort Lauderdale – just 24 miles to the north – developed an equally impressive cruise facility.
As there are no flights direct from the UK to Fort Lauderdale, Miami International is the only flight arrival point for cruises departing both Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades) and the Port of Miami. With most cruises departing in the early evening and flights arriving in the late afternoon, same-day sailings are out of the question. Most cruise lines offer an overnight stay in the Miami Airport area if agents book a flight-inclusive package. On the return, when cruises disembark in the early morning, there is often a long layover before the UK-bound flights depart Miami in the evening. While many cruise lines offer the facility of a shared dayroom in a Miami Airport hotel, savvy agents can create extended stays for their clients to enjoy the wealth of attractions this sunny corner of Florida has to offer.
The sun-kissed images of CSI Miami are everywhere: supermodels in black Porsches, vast Italianate mansions, partygoers parading along pastel-clad South Beach, glass-encased skyscrapers soaring into the clouds. Fort Lauderdale is more sedate but enjoys a lively beach scene, with superb restaurants and topnotch shopping as well as easy access to the Everglades National Park.
Agents can tailor-make a pre- or postcruise stay that will not only earn added commission but is easy to arrange through specialist operators.
Where to stay
Miami has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to international standard hotels. top of the range is the Mandarin oriental (mandarinoriental. com/miami) with its private beach on Brickelll Key, while the landmark 1926 mediterranean-style Biltmore in Coral Gables (biltmorehotel.com) has its own par-71 championship golf course. south beach is the trendiest area of Miami and nowhere is the vibe more real than at the boutique raleigh (raleighhotel.com) – an icon since 1940. For a budget hotel brimful of character, the Clay Hotel on Miami beach (clayhotel.com) cannot be beaten as it was the headquarters of Al Capone’s gambling ring in the 1930s.
The first choice for many cruisers staying in Fort Lauderdale is the hyatt regency pier 66 (pier66.hyatt.com), just minutes from the cruise terminal. True luxury is on offer at the ritz carlton (ritzcarlton.com) with a superb location on beach boulevard. boutique hotel devotees can’t go wrong at the pillars (pillarshotel.com), a chic bolthole in the heart of the city, while the budget option of the ocean breeze hotel (oceanbreezehotel.com) is hard to beat.
transfers from the Fort Lauderdale area to miami International Airport take around an hour and keenly-priced shuttles – costing around $20 per person – can be booked through Cruise Shuttle Florida (cruiseshuttleflorida. com) and south Florida shuttles (southfloridashuttles.com).
Where to eat
The Mc Kitchen (mckitchenmiami.com) in miami’s design district is the in place for refined Italian cooking. In South beach, the rat-pack head for tantalize (tantalizemiami.com) for acclaimed pan-Latino cuisine, while primrose (primrosesouthbeach.com) on Collins Avenue is a great choice for indulging in seafood and Kobe beef burgers with the hipperatti.
Las Olas Boulevard is the epicentre of fine dining in Fort Lauderdale. Celebrity photos adorn the popular Floridian diner (thefloridiandiner.com) where the unfancy cuisine is top-notch. At mangos (mangosonlasolas.com), diners can indulge in people-watching from this cosy, inexpensive choice with live music. the high-end Johnny V’s (johnnyvlasolas. com) is unmatched for mediterraneaninspired cooking.
Top sights and how to book them
intercruises (intercruises.com) offers a wealth of innovative, commissionable shore excursions in the south Florida region. these tours place an emphasis on the ‘local experience’ with excursions that enable guests to try out the local life. there’s also a range of adventure tours such as treasure hunts, thrilling skydives or offroad explorations.
The original Miami tour offered by Cruising excursions (cruisingexcursions.com) lasts 4½ hours and costs £54 per adult and is a perfect introduction to this city. For those in a hurry there’s ‘tour and Go’ which is ideal for clients killing time before flights home.
the Online ticket store (onlineticketstore.co.uk/ region/florida) offers the ‘Go Miami Card’ which includes admission to 34 attractions such as miami seaquarium, Vizcaya museum, biscayne bay sightseeing boat Cruise, plus everglades airboat adventures. Offering savings up to 55%, the one-day pass costs £48 per adult / £40 per child; there are also two, three and five-day passes.
Another popular option is the 2½ hour Miami Culinary tour of Little Havana (miamiculinarytours. com/tour/little-Havana-food-tour) which costs $59 and runs Thursdays to Sundays. Dedicated bargain hunters should hop on the sawgrass express shuttle (sawgrassexpress.com) that runs from south beach, Downtown Miami, sunny Isles and Aventura to sawgrass mills – the largest mall in Florida with over 350 stores.
History comes to life at Fort Lauderdale’s stranahan House and bonnet House museum and Gardens. Other attractions include Butterfly World, Flamingo Gardens and Jungle Queen riverboat trips through the InterCoastal Waterways. One of the most popular trips for families is an airboat ride through the everglades which includes an alligator show (destinationlauderdale.com).
Beyond the cruise hubs
Many cruise clients are keen to add on a visit to the huge variety of attractions on offer in Orlando, 230 miles north of Miami. One of the best options is Virgin Holidays (virginholidays. co.uk) which offers inclusive tours to Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. Another useful resource is Tailormade Florida (tailormadeflorida.com) which offers add-on trips to Busch Gardens in Tampa and the relaxing Florida keys.