Tropical sunshine, glorious sandy beaches and colorful local neighborhoods. What’s not to love about Fort Lauderdale?

Indeed, some 9 million cruise passengers choose to start their vacations from PortMiami and Port Everglades every year. But, here’s the thing: If you’re busy flying in or out, and getting on or off your cruise ship, how much of the city do you actually see? Fort Lauderdale has so much to offer that it makes complete sense to arrive early, or stay on a few days, or both.

Planning your pre- or post-cruise break can be overwhelming as there’s so much choice. Whether you’re traveling from the U.S., Europe or further afield, this is where Cruise Critic’s members come in: They’re a wealth of information on what’s hot and where to find a bargain. And, they’ve got some unconventional tips to save money. Here’s everything you need to know to start planning your South Florida pre- or post-cruise getaway.

The Where-to-Stay Debate

If your ship departs from Port Everglades, you’d be better off picking somewhere in Fort Lauderdale, with its gorgeous beaches, Venice-like lattice of canals and spiffy yachting scene. ‘JohninDC’ says the “Fort Lauderdale area is generally cheaper than comparable Miami Beach properties. We find the area more attractive and friendly.” ‘Janette34’ agrees: “Fort Lauderdale would be my choice. Loved taking the water taxi around and getting off in different areas and walking around.”

Where to stay, though? Member ‘Esmerelda’ answers that question: “We like to stay on the A1A strip [the 32-mile beachfront state road]. There are many hotels, shopping and restaurants all within walking distance. We love being right across from the ocean and having dinner with that view also.”

‘Royalcruz’ says, “Las Olas is a lovely old street downtown, where you feel like you are in Europe. It has boutiques, galleries, bars and cafes.” Indeed, Las Olas, with its boho vibe and pretty architecture is certainly the place for shoppers and foodies; hard to believe that 100 years ago, it was just a dirt road to the beach.”

On the other hand, dedicated cruise fans like to wake up in the morning and gaze out on their ship, in which case, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina is ideally located. It’s on the water, 10 minutes from the airport, minutes from Port Everglades and with its own water taxi stop. Want some beach time? There’s no shortage of choice: Fort Lauderdale Beach itself is 7 miles of white sand; or there’s pretty Dania Beach, with a long fishing pier and great seafood; or Pompano Beach, with its warm, clear water.

The Perfect Pre-/Post-Cruise Itinerary

Once you iron out where you’re staying, you’re ready to plan your pre-/post-cruise itinerary. What’s an ideal day in Fort Lauderdale like if you’re a first-time visitor? The “…water taxi is always fun; maybe a boozy lunch and some shopping on Las Olas,” suggests ‘JohninDC’, while ‘SandyMIA’ recommends the “Museum of Discovery and Science and Butterfly World are very nice if traveling with kids. Adults might prefer to head to the beaches or enjoy the local museums.” ‘BNBR’, meanwhile, adds, “I think the water taxi, and maybe hopping off at a couple of spots like Hollywood’s Broadwalk and Las Olas is going to be a great option for you. If you are looking for that thing to do in Fort Lauderdale when you have one day, then that’s pretty much it.”

Out-of-towners and overseas visitors, too, are often fascinated by the Everglades, where a tour involves zipping around in a high-speed airboat thrill ride over the sawgrass prairies, admiring gators and iguanas, and cruising the mangroves in search of manatees and sea turtles. If you don’t want to drive, there are plenty of local tour operators offering day trips and pickup from your hotel.

Dining Out

‘Royalcruz’ has several suggestions for member ‘agp_mzk’, a young, single woman enjoying a couple of days’ R&R in Fort Lauderdale before cruising and also in search of seafood. “Most of the restaurants are casual and chains in the area, but there are lots of choices. Some of the nicer ones very close are Coco Asian and Bistro Mezzaluna. Some that are very casual and popular are Southport Raw Bar, Kelly’s Landing and Bravo.”

Money-Saving Tips

Experienced Cruise Critic members are pretty canny in planning their pre- and post-cruise stays in Ft. Lauderdale. The perfect hotel, it seems, would have free breakfast, a free or reasonably priced airport shuttle, a free or cheap shuttle service to the port, a view of the port (being cruise nuts by nature, members enjoy ship-spotting) and proximity to decent restaurants and shops. And parking, of course, for those members who drive to the port.

Members have some intriguing ideas for saving money on your cruise vacation. Plenty specifically seek out a hotel near a drugstore or grocery store to buy toiletries, drinks and snacks for the cabin. Member ‘Bequia’ goes a step further, suggesting a clothes shopping spree at Sawgrass Mills, the luxury brand discount mall 15 miles from Fort Lauderdale. “It’s not too difficult to find substantial savings, enough to warrant leaving your clothes home and buying all new clothes for the cruise.”

The bottom line here is that there are plenty of pursuits and pastimes in Fort Lauderdale to keep you busy for days. The next time embarkation calls, earmark a few days before or after your cruise to fully explore the natural wonders and cosmopolitan beauty this area embodies.

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