by Terry Ward
Kid-friendly to the max, the sprawling Lago Mar Resort & Club has been owned by the Banks family since the 1950’s and is far and away the most family-friendly resort in all of Fort Lauderdale. You’re truly in your own resort world here, and many families won’t find the need to leave the hotel’s property during their stay, thanks to all of the included outdoor activities (tennis, mini-golf, pools and shuffleboard, to name just a few diversions) paired with the property’s prime oceanfront location. The hotel is located in a quiet and classic Fort Lauderdale neighborhood, lined with low-rise waterfront apartments, 1960s-era condominiums and understated homes. Ground lush with palm trees, sea grapes, staghorn ferns and bougainvillea surrounds the resort’s three main buildings, creating a tropical island vibe that’s complimented by huts with thatch palm roofs under which you can relax in the shade.
A stay here puts you just south of Fort Lauderdale’s busiest stretch of oceanfront (that would be where Las Olas Blvd. intersects A1A). And the advantage of being just removed from the heart of the action means fewer crowds on the beach, as well as a far broader stretch of sand to play on. The resort’s 204 guest rooms are, in fact, mostly suites spread between three low buildings. There are two pools, both of which are open to children but one that caters to a mostly adult crowd (note: there are still a few spots at this resort where you escape the all-family, all-the-time vibe).
While there are many ways to keep occupied away from the ocean, the resort’s beach is what really makes the place. Fringed with palm trees that offer plenty of shade to set up in for the day, the beach is located just north of Port Everglades, so you can watch cruise ships and container ships coming and going as you build castles in the sand. The holidays are feted in grand style at Lago Mar — from Thanksgiving and Christmas to Easter and the Fourth of July, every celebration has a theme and accompanying free activities for guests. And you’re just a short stroll to the nearest water taxi stop, where you can hail a ride to Las Olas Boulevard to experience Fort Lauderdale’s best shopping and dining.
Our Editor Loves
- Kitchenettes in rooms
- Beautiful, uncrowded stretch of beach
- Free outdoor games, such as tennis and mini-golf
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The hotel's 204 guest accommodations consist of mostly suites that are spread throughout the three main buildings surrounding the central pool area and hotel gardens. The emphasis here is on space -- all of the rooms offer ample room to stretch out and unpack all the trappings that family travel entails.
The hotel's standard rooms have two queen beds and balconies overlooking the pool or lush gardens, and these as well as all of the other rooms have pullout couches that can accommodate an additional two people.
If you opt for one of the traditional rooms with a king bed, you can have the option of one with French doors that works to close off the area with the couch from the bedroom, adding to the privacy factor if you're traveling with children.
The hotel's executive suites give you even more space, in a setup that feels more like an apartment than a hotel, as well as the benefit of a kitchen with a SubZero fridge and two stovetop burners, in addition to a microwave (ovens are not available in any of the rooms or suites). The kitchen's wet bar doubles as a handy area for food preparation. If you're traveling in numbers, consider booking two connecting executive suites to accommodate up to eight people. The poolside suites come in various configurations that include one bedroom with a king bed and full size sleeper sofa, deluxe one-bedrooms that have the king bed separated in its own room and two-bedroom suites with a king bed in one room, two queens in the other, two full bathrooms and a living room area with a pullout sleeper sofa.
There are a few oceanside suites at the hotel that give you views of the beach. These are usually in high demand, so you'll want to book well in advance if seeing the ocean from your room is a priority. The dÃ©cor theme throughout all rooms and suites is along the lines of Tommy Bahama resort casual style. Think floral prints, muted colors and palm tree and ocean motifs scattered about. Bathrooms all have plush robes at the ready and granite counter tops. And Keurig coffee machines (with your java rations refilled daily) are standard in all rooms and suites. All of the rooms have flat-screen TV's that can keep your kids busy with Nintendo game rentals ($9 per hour -- be careful, it adds up fast), but there are DVD players available, oddly enough.
We had an overall nice stay. Nice place for a family vacation. Very friendly service. Nice pool area. Restaurants were good. Great playground area for kids and things to do like miniature golf! Loved the hammocks. My son loved taking walks looking for lizards and iguanas. A few negatives: the room we had was the basic one and the bathroom was the smallest bathroom I have ever experienced in a hotel. It was ridiculous. The other negative was the beach was very dirty. There was garbage everywhere but it was from pollution in the ocean not from vacationers littering (can tell by what the garbage consisted of) So sad to see. But thought the hotel could rake the beach everyday of the garbage that comes in from the ocean? Not an expert on beach cleaning but something I think could have been done maybe on a daily basis.
Had such a wonderful time, can’t wait to come back again!!! Service was excellent, their restaurant was awesome, soda shop is adorable, I love swinging in the hammock at night listening to the music! It’s just a fun and relaxing place to be!!! Our room was clean, and just beautiful!! Their beds are so comfortable. I can’t say enough about how much I love this place!
Where to start? There's so much to do on property at Lago Mar that you'd be forgiven for passing your first few days here without so much as venturing down to the beautiful beach.
Let's start with the pools. A 9,000-square-foot, lagoon-style, free form pool that maxes out at four feet deep is the main swimming area for families. There's a central island in the middle of the pool where you can sit on a lounge chair, and live Caribbean-style bands perform on the weekends. A separate pool, referred to as the Olympic pool, sits off to the side, overlooking the ocean, and is more popular with adults and couples looking for a little respite from the splash scene at the main pool.
Bridging the two pool areas is a big outdoor playground that's shaded and set in the sand with swings, slides and all kinds of climbing areas. Large hammocks strung from palm trees where you can relax while taking in the scene surround the playground. And right nearby is the outdoor activities kiosk, where you can sign out things like Ping Pong paddles for a game at the outdoor tables, rent tennis rackets and balls for free (there are four very nice courts, and playtime is limited to an hour if people are waiting), and grab some golf clubs and balls for a round of mini-golf on the nine-hole course near the lagoon pool. Older guests like the opportunity to play a game of shuffleboard or challenge the brain on the outdoor oversized chessboard.
The overall feel of the property is something like summer camp, with families hanging out together everywhere, from the beach to the pool, and enjoying good clean fun with the range of old school activities. When you're ready to head down to the beach, accessed by a short boardwalk in the sand from the pool area, you won't be disappointed.
The hotel fronts one of the most beautiful and uncrowded beaches in Fort Lauderdale, and there are beach volleyball nets at your disposal (check out balls for free from the activity center). Wooden chairs are available for free for guests to use on the beach, but you'll pay $25 per day if you want to rent two of the more comfortable lounge chairs and a beach umbrella for the day ($10 if you just want a single lounge chair). Palm trees grow thick along the beach's edge, which makes for plenty of shaded space for stretching out a towel or setting up an afternoon picnic.
Strangely, there are no water sports offered at the resort. The quiet streets fronting a canal right near the hotel are a great place to go bicycling with the gang, and the hotel can arrange for bikes to be delivered to you for between $15 and $30 per day (depending on the type of bikes available).
The resort's five restaurants include a fine dining option open for dinner only, beachside cafe, a poolside bar and grill, classic soda fountain and a casual restaurant with an outdoor terrace that serves breakfast and lunch. In other words, there are plenty of choices to mix up a day's worth of eating for the gang, without ever leaving the property.
A daily buffet breakfast is served at the Palm Garden Dining Room and Seagrape Terrace from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., with a good spread of classic breakfast items like cereals, bacon, eggs and fried potatoes, as well as pancakes and waffles for kids. Note that the buffet breakfast switches to a la carte on weekdays during times of lower occupancy at the resort (usually during the month of September and early October).
Lunch is also served at the Palm Garden Dining Room, but most families opt for something more casual and hang out by the pool or near the beach. At the Promenade Bar, a covered outdoor terrace right near the lagoon pool that's open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., you'll find a good range of burgers, sandwiches and salads. Classic kids items -- hot dogs, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs and more -- all cost $8 a pop and come with fresh fruit or French fries. The bar makes good frozen drinks for the 21 and up set.
For a cheaper option for lunch with the kids, hit the Ocean Grill (open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) it's a small shack of a restaurant, located where the hotel meets the beach, that has a bunch of outdoor tables with umbrellas (some inside tables, too) and things like chili cheese fries, hot dogs, burgers and grilled cheese on the menu, most for less than $5. You can get ice cream by the scoop here, too.
The Soda Shop, not far from the hotel's main reception area, is a good, casual, all-day dining option for family meals (open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Of course, there's ice cream and all kinds of fountain treats here, but this is a good breakfast bet, too. Kids also love the Belgian waffles with strawberries, blueberries or bananas, and get a kick out of eating on a stool at the big marble counter. Other breakfast items here include egg paninis, French toast and oatmeal. And lunch and dinner features the usual range of burgers, grilled cheeses, salads, wraps and hot dogs.
The resort's signature restaurant, and a place you'll likely end up for a more dressed up dinner at least once during your stay, is Acquario (open nightly from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.). High chairs and booster seats are available for kids but, oddly, no crayons are given out to keep them occupied in the somewhat upscale surrounds. The main menu for adults has three-course options for $35, as well as a good selection of a la carte seafood and steaks. And kids meals are the same as elsewhere throughout the property -- chicken fingers, fish and chips, spaghetti and meatballs, and burgers priced at $8. During low season, look for special kids-eat-free offers from Acquario, where guests 12 and under get dinner for free with a paying adult.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Wireless Internet is complimentary and works well everywhere on the property, from the outdoor areas to inside the rooms.
Valet and street front parking are free for guests.
There's an ATM machine at the hotel in case you run out of cash, though you can charge everything to your room card while you're here.
There's a business center on the second floor with free access to computers for checking your email, and free use of printers, too.
Guests have access to free laundry facilities (washers and dryers) on the second floor of the main building (bring your own soap or buy it onsite).
Stock up on food at a Publix supermarket about five minutes by car from the hotel.
A small convenience store-like shop next to the Soda Shop sells things like hummus, cheese, crackers, beer and wine you can take back to your room or enjoy on the beach.
Holidays are celebrated in grand style here, with all sorts of kid-friendly activities and concerts free for guests.
Water aerobics classes are offered regularly during the busier months for $15 per class, and yoga is sometimes offered, too (Oct. through May).
There's a small but well-edited boutique onsite with clothing by Lily Pulitzer, Tommy Bahama and others, if you need a last-minute resort-casual outfit fix.
Special deals during the less-busy summer months at the hotel include Kids Eat Free specials at Acquario restaurant, valid for kids 12 and under (usually offered from June 1 through Oct. 22, excluding holiday weekends).
The nearest water taxi stop is a short walk away (10 minutes) at the Hilton Marina. It's a good way to explore the area and ogle the mansions and yachts lining the canals.
There's a small gym with Cybex cardio machines (stationary bikes and treadmills) and free weights, and there are separate steam rooms for men and women.
The hotel's spa offers manicures and pedicures and Swedish, aromatherapy and reflexology massages, as well as treatments designed just for men.
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, Christmas and the New Year. But don't let Spring Break, another busy time (basically the entire month of March), scare you away. Fort Lauderdale still has a rowdy party scene, but Lago Mar attracts mostly families looking to relax rather than party, and you won't likely find spring break revelry interfering with your relaxation on the property. The removed location, just south of Fort Lauderdale's main beach, also helps keep things calm here. 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. The resort is packed to bursting during spring break and especially the Easter holiday. And keep in mind that hurricane season runs from June through November in Florida. During the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat show, held in late October, the whole town is an absolute zoo.
Fort Lauderdale is located about 40 minutes north of Miami, by car. There's an international airport in Fort Lauderdale (20 minutes from the hotel by taxi) 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 and trolley system to get around once you arrive at the hotel. Count on paying $20 for a taxi from the airport to the hotel, and about $8 from the hotel to Las Olas Boulevard.
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. If you're visiting on a Sunday, make a fun lunch date out of a visit to the gourmet farmers market on Las Olas Boulevard, where fresh guacamole is pounded before your eyes and, during snowcrab season (from mid-October to mid-May), you can order cold delicious claws with sweet mustard sauce to snack on -- all right there.
If your kids are old enough to stay in on their own (the resort doesn't offer babysitting), plan an evening out on the town with just the two of you. Start with a drink at the Elbo Room, a dive bar across from the beach that's a real Fort Lauderdale institution. There's usually live music, and classic people-watching is guaranteed. Alternatively, Bimini Boatyard is a fancier cocktail spot, where you can watch the yachts passing through the adjacent canal. Then move things upscale by heading to one of the many atmospheric restaurants along Las Olas Boulevard. Chima Brazilian Steak House is a stylish rodizio restaurant that churns out piled-high platters of churrascaria meats and sizzling seafood. And YOLO is a full-on entertainment complex that includes a swanky club and cool lounge, in addition to its excellent restaurant, which serves tasty seafood like Sichuan calamari, fresh wahoo and grouper.