In the middle of all the action, this beachside resort also can serve as a quiet haven for family fun.
If Fort Lauderdale is the hottest nightclub in town, the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa is that roped off area where guests can lounge in calm and comfort, knowing that the party is right outside, waiting for them.
Harbor Beach is steps away from the lively restaurants and bar scene on Las Olas Boulevard. But this 15-story resort also boasts a private beach, highly-rated restaurants of its own, and plenty of options for family play.
Where to stay?
Breathe in a unique, soothing scent as soon as you step into the lobby of this newly-renovated resort. The staff greets you with a warm welcome and directs you around the easy-to-navigate property.
Since my husband and I were traveling with our daughter, we thought that we’d need two double beds in our room. The hotel recommended another option: an oceanfront room with a king-size bed and lounge chair that converted into a twin bed, the perfect size for our child. If you desire more privacy, there are also two-room suites with a full-size sleeper sofa in the living area.
The bathroom was modern and clean with a dual-head, walk-in shower. The closet had a low rung for those who need it; touches like this made my daughter feel special and included. The balcony overlooked the beach and gave us a glimpse of the palm tree-ringed pool. The room was both quiet and private.
What to do?
The family that lounges together can find collective bliss in and around the perfectly-heated lagoon pool and nearby whirlpools. And the family that plays together has enough options to stay busy for days. An outdoor foosball table caught my daughter’s eye on the way to the pool. If your kid is competitive, like mine, or just needs a break from the water, basketballs are begging to be picked up on a court close to the pool area, along with paddles at an adjacent ping pong table. Borrow a couple of racquets and reserve time on one of the hard or clay tennis courts. All of these activities are included with your daily resort fee, plus a beach umbrella, beach chairs, and access to non-motorized beach sports; two members of your clan can surf, kayak, boogie or paddle board for one hour per day. A free snorkeling tour (for two) is also included in your resort fee; reserve in advance.
Kids (ages 5 to 12) can ditch their parents for the day or just a few hours by joining The Surf Club. Activities include sandcastle-building contests, sports competitions, computer games, and arts and crafts. Surf Club cost: $20/half day;$40/full day.
While the kids are busy, enjoy a little time to yourself. Couples’ Zumba, anyone? Your resort fee covers two fitness classes per day for two people. Or use the spa facilities (sauna, steam, lap pool, Jacuzzi) for $15/evening or $30/day. A full spa menu is available for booking.
KidTripsterTip: There’s a required, 12-hours-in-advance fitness class registration. Most days the resort offers two or more fitness classes. You may want to register before you check-in.
If beach activities are your family’s main priority, get out early when the water is remarkably calm. Remember, this is the Atlantic Ocean that you’re diving into. Staff at the Aloha Water Sports hut will keep an eye on the current. If it gets too windy, they may shut down the board sports and kayaking for a period of time.
If your family likes to sleep in, there are other water sports that can handle the waves like Waverunners, parasailing, water tubes, catamarans, and a water trampoline (a very popular Saturday attraction), all for added fees.
Every Friday and Saturday night, a movie screen stretches between the palm trees for a family “dive-in” movie. You’re welcome to watch from the comfort of your chair or in the pool. Or gather around for a late-night bonfire near the beach.
You can easily spend a long weekend at Harbor Beach and never leave the property! However, we found a fun diversion at Flamingo Gardens, home to the largest collection of native wildlife in Florida. Just a 20-minute drive away, our family felt like we’d traveled to a tropical forest far from the modern luxury of the resort. A peacock that roamed the parking lot was the perfect greeter, getting my daughter excited for what was inside. We fed the flamingos and ibis (dozens!) by hand and were thoroughly entertained by a troupe of American River Otters whose habitat included a wooden water slide. Warning: you will spend real time waiting to see them on that slide. Of course, there were alligators; it’s the Everglades, after all. My daughter was a little spooked by the vulture that welcomes you to the bird sanctuary, but a Bald Eagle just across the path distracted her.
KidTripster Tip: The tropical rainforest and wetlands, once inhabited by the Seminole Indians, is only accessible through a guided tram tour. The tour gets going every 30 minutes between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. throughout most of the year.
Where to eat?
Get your day started with sunshine and bottomless mimosas at RIVA Restaurant. Seating is available on the veranda, and the cocktails are complimentary with the breakfast buffet.
KidTripster Tip: RIVA offers grab-and-go breakfast meals that you can take straight to the pool or on whichever excursion you’ve got planned. If you’re not big breakfast eaters, like our family, this is a great option.
For lunch, Sea Level has options from burgers to a rock shrimp ceviche. For dinner, dine by candlelight at 3030 Ocean, which offers water views.
If you’ve driven to the resort, there are local restaurants and familiar chains as little as five minutes away. You also can stroll down to the popular Las Olas Boulevard to take in the scene at one of the many restaurants and bars.
You can easily get to the resort without renting a car. It’s just a 15-minute ride from Ft. Lauderdale International Airport. Otherwise, if you’d like to get out and explore, car rentals at the airport are fairly inexpensive. A standard size rental car cost us $35/day; self-parking at the hotel is $29/night and unfortunately, not included in the resort fee.
KidTripster Tip: Our family likes to have the freedom to explore, which included a 45-minute drive to Miami. We discovered one of the biggest outlet malls in the country, Sawgrass Mills, just 15 minutes away from the hotel.
Journalist Jocelyn Sigue lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and daughter. They love traveling all around the world. But sometimes, a weekend in Florida is all the getaway an East Coast family needs.