by Terry Ward
Once known as the ultimate spring break destination, Fort Lauderdale can still throw a good party. In recent years, however, this appealing stretch of coastline, 40 minutes north of Miami, has evolved into one of Florida’s best destinations for an urban, yet beach-oriented family vacation. Much of this is due in part to the pretty pedestrian zone of Las Olas, an efficient water taxi system plying the many canals (this is the Venice of America, after all), home to some of the country’s most beautiful waters for swimming. And for families looking to spend their vacation hopping easily between the beach and pool, with plenty of onsite recreational activities to keep kids of all ages entertained, the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa is pretty much the prime pick of Fort Lauderdale properties.
The first thing you should know is that we’re talking about a large resort with 650 rooms set on 16 oceanfront acres. The hotel’s sheer size makes it popular for meetings, weddings and corporate gatherings, so your fellow guests will be a mixed upmarket bag, and not strictly vacationing families.
But the family-friendly appeal comes from all the activities offered onsite — from water sports, tennis and basketball courts, to the kid’s club, excellent fitness classes, gym and luxurious spa — as well as the hotel’s quarter-mile private beach. Rooms are contemporary and upscale, and most have spacious balconies overlooking the ocean or intracoastal waterway. And with three restaurants, as well as a popular beach bar and a Starbucks in the lobby, the Marriott makes it easy to spend the bulk of your day and night dining and playing on property in case you can’t be bothered mobilizing your entourage elsewhere. And really, why bother? The property sits comfortably removed from the busier beach area just a few blocks north, with its cruising cars and popular pedestrian promenade for biking, rollerblading and strolling. The advantage of the location is that the beach in front of the hotel is usually sparsely populated, even during the busiest tourist times. Settle into one of the hotel’s complimentary lounge chairs on the beach, or stretch out atop one of the daybeds lining the beautifully landscaped pool to soak up what you came for — stress-free time in the Florida sun at a family-friendly property that really leaves very little to be desired.
Our Editor Loves
- Complimentary kid's club for ages 5 to 12
- Oceanfront location with free lounge chairs
- Short walk to water taxi to explore Las Olas Blvd.
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The property's 650 rooms include a good range of options for families of varying sizes, and most have private balconies with intracoastal or ocean views.
Standard guestrooms have one king or two queen beds, with one crib and one rollaway bed permitted inside. Note that the rooms with queen beds feel quite cramped with the addition of a rollaway. The standard rooms get upgraded in price and appeal depending on which view you choose -- interior, intracoastal views, partial or full oceanfront views. Spacious balconies with satisfyingly high railings are a nice place to sit outside and soak up the views if you book into the latter rooms.
In addition to the standard guestrooms, there are suites with two separate rooms -- one with a king bed and the other with a sofa bed. Since you can add a rollaway to these rooms and also opt for connecting suites, these are a good option if you're traveling with a family of five or even more. The Presidential Suite is the hotel's finest, and occupies the top floor with a king bed and 1.5 bathrooms.
All of the rooms have contemporary and clean-lined decor with luxurious touches, such as marble bathrooms, pillow top mattresses and duvets throughout. Shower-in-tub bathroom configurations are standard. Only the suites come with a refrigerator and freezer, and if you want a microwave in whichever room you choose, it must be requested in advance and is based on availability. In the standard guestrooms, there are fully stocked mini-bars that you can empty to stash your own things, but if you want a larger sized refrigerator with more storage space, you can request one for a fee. Be sure to make these requests when booking your room, as supplies are limited.
New (rude) management + new policies = not so happy guests. While a lot of the staff was rude and dismissive, I'm writing this review to acknowledge the few employees that were awesome! Archie continues to provide amazing customer service. Kristin, Trenton and Josephine were also some of the best employees you have at that property. I cannot remember the guys that helped me when there was a huge bug in my room but the maintenance staff is also awesome.
Also, if you haven't done so already, please bring back Happy Hour! Thank you!!
From the moment we arrived our experience was without any flaws. Located on the beach our room had an ocean view, was well laid out including the bathroom, clean and offered restaurants on site even the beach had a bar for guests. The pool had plenty of chairs around it and beach towels were always available.
This resort is a great choice not just for families.
Whether you're paddling a kayak through it, donning a snorkel and a mask for a look-see, or simply strolling along its edge, the ocean is what it's all about in Fort Lauderdale. And this property takes full advantage of its oceanfront setting to offer families all kinds of activities.
Aloha Watersports, at the end of the boardwalk that leads from the hotel to the beach, is independently operated and owned, but feels very much like the Marriott's own water sports kiosk. Pop into the wooden shack to rent masks, snorkels and fins, and maybe an in-water trampoline to bounce on with the whole gang. Or, feel free to rent an array of in-water toys, including jet skis, surfboards, catamarans, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. You can also arrange banana boat tours here. If you're more about the pool than the sand, the hotel's large free-form pool is surrounded by lots of lounge chairs (they're available for free to guests on the beach, too), and there's a hot tub as well. There is no specifically designated kid's pool here, but there's an additional pool and hot tub in the spa area (open to ages 16 and older only), which you can access for a day pass rate even if you haven't booked a treatment.
Sport and Recreation
The hotel also has onsite basketball and tennis courts, all of which are lighted at night. And if you or the kids are up for tennis lessons during your stay, there's a tennis pro available to strengthen your skills. Teen activities for those 13 and up include organized beach volleyball games on Fridays, pick-up basketball games on Saturdays and beach soccer on Sundays. Take the kids on shell-seeking missions with a walk north along the beach from the hotel, and you'll eventually hit the well-populated area of Las Olas Boulevard. Be sure to explore the beach, with its ticky-tacky souvenir shops, bars serving margaritas, frosty beers and casual cafes.
The Surf Club, housed in its own building near the pool, is the hotel's kids' area that's open to children between the ages of 5 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily. And the best part? It's free of charge for hotel guests. Kids get a wristband and can come and go as they please. And while the hotel does not tout the club as a babysitting service, there's always a staff member present to watch over things. The area has board games, video games (Xbox 360), a computer station with four computers, movies, an outdoor splash fountain and even a surf simulator for the kids to enjoy. And they can borrow underwater digital cameras to take photos in the pool or ocean, too. For an additional fee, you can sign your kids up for daily activities held here that might include making ceramics or creating their own stuffed animals or tie-dyed T-shirts.
A fun outing any time of the day or at night is to walk to the nearby marina at Bahia Mar hotel and grab the water taxi for a cruise through Fort Lauderdale's flush-with-money canals, where you can ogle some of the prettiest homes and yachts in the country. The water taxi is a practical service, too, and delivers you to Las Olas Boulevard, with all of its nice shopping and dining options. You can pay by the ride, but if you plan to take the taxi several times during the same day, there are passes that make it more affordable.
There are three main restaurants at the hotel, as well as a beach bar, and all offer special kid's meals in smaller portions and smaller prices.
Riva, the all-day dining option, is a relaxed restaurant with an Italian slant, located just off the hotel lobby. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and this is where you're most likely to start your day with a la carte breakfast offerings like banana buckwheat pancakes and French toast fingers for the kids, in addition to the usual egg and cereal offerings. A healthy option served up in a fun way for kids is the "breakfast sundae," layered with granola, yogurt and berries. On Sunday, a huge buffet spread that slants gourmet is the order of the day at Riva, with things like crab legs, carved meats and made-to-order omelet stations.
Sea Level Restaurant and Ocean Bar
Riva serves lunch, too, but most families opt for the outdoor setting of Sea Level Restaurant and Ocean Bar (open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., and seasonally for breakfast), with tables perched on an elevated boardwalk-style deck, just adjacent to the pool and overlooking the dunes and beach. On the kid's menu are the usual mac and cheese, hamburger and chicken finger options, in addition to hot dogs wrapped in wheat tortillas and salads topped with grilled chicken or steak. Standard side dishes include a choice of fries, chips or fruit salad, and for an additional charge, you can add on edamame, watermelon chunks, grape clusters or sliced apples with caramel sauce.
The hotel's fine dining restaurant is 3030 Ocean, an upscale but still beach-casual affair, where the chef focuses on regional American seafood specialties and seasonal ingredients. There's a special dinner menu here for kids 12 and under, which includes seasonal fish or grilled chicken breast with vegetables and mashed potatoes, petite filet of beef or noodles with butter or tomato sauce.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Wireless Internet is complimentary in the hotel's lobby, but there's a charge to access it in the rooms.
The concierge can arrange babysitting services through an outside service if you want someone to come to the hotel to watch your children.
Dry cleaning services are offered at the hotel, and there are many coin laundromats in the area should you want to wash your own.
Parking is available at the hotel in an underground garage and is free for guests.
There's an excellent onsite gym with top-notch cardio and weight equipment that's free of charge for guests. But where the fitness facility really shines is with its diverse schedule of classes (yoga, Zumba, boot camp and water aerobics) that are regularly offered for an additional fee if you really want to keep up with your workout while you're away.
The Art of Smart Timing
Fort Lauderdale is a year-round destination with extremely agreeable weather. And while the summer months do of course get hot, ocean breezes keep things quite comfortable when you're not cooling off in the water or afloat in the hotel's pool. Prices and crowds are at a premium during the busiest times around Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas and the New Year. But don't let Spring Break, another busy time (basically the entire month of March), scare you off. Fort Lauderdale still has a rowdy party scene, but the Marriott always has far more of a family vibe and you won't find spring break interfering with your relaxation on the property. Some of the most pleasant times of the year to visit are during the shoulder season months of late April into May, before school gets out for the summer, and also in October. Keep in mind that hurricane season runs from June through November in Florida.
Fort Lauderdale is located about 40 minutes north of Miami by car. There's an international airport in Fort Lauderdale (10 minutes away) that's serviced by most major airlines, as well as budget carrier Spirit Airlines, which has a hub in Fort Lauderdale. You can also consider flying into Miami or Palm Beach International Airport.
All of the major car rental companies have outposts at the Fort Lauderdale airport, and it makes sense to rent a car during your stay if you plan to venture beyond Las Olas Boulevard and the main drag along the beach. If you're content to stay within that area, you'll be fine grabbing a taxi from the airport and using the water taxi to get around once you arrive at the hotel.
For Mom and Dad
Fort Lauderdale is a fun town that buzzes nearly every night of the week, particularly along Las Olas Boulevard, the main shopping and restaurant drag that stretches west from where it intersects the beach along a pretty, palm-lined road.
The hotel's 22,000-square-foot spa, accessible only to guests 16 and older, is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, and is well worth a visit (body wraps, manicures and pedicures, massages and more). Purchase an all-day pass to take advantage of the private outdoor pool and hot tub area. Treatments take place in one of the 17 treatment rooms, or you can request an al fresco service by the pool.