If you’re looking to party or hang out with millennials and gen-zers, many people would advise you to head to Miami for vacation. Whereas if you’re looking for a family-friendly vacation, Fort Lauderdale or Orlando are probably your best options. I’ve been to Miami, and while it’s true that it’s a fantastic city to meet people, I often found it overwhelming and chaotic, even during the slow season. So when I arrived in Fort Lauderdale, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I got there, I found a thriving beach city with sleek hotels, gorgeous beaches, and a fantastic food and drinks scene — all without the upcharges from the glitz and glamour in Miami. And the best place to stay in this beach town is the W Fort Lauderdale.
Where to stay in Fort Lauderdale
I arrived at the W Fort Lauderdale after a long day of flying. The W has a work hard, play hard aesthetic with a beachy twist. The hotel got a facelift in 2017, and the multi-million dollar price tag, in my opinion, was worth it. Inspired by the ocean, you’ll find a color scheme that favors crisp whites, multiple shades of blue, warm wood accents, wave-like patterns, and lots of rope. The hotel is made up of two towers — one of which is residential — while in the other tower, which caters to guests, check-in and most food and bar areas are available on the fourth and fifth floors.
After I checked in, I headed to my room. Following the same color scheme, the room had a wavy blue and white carpet, a large desk, and the low-rise bed, plus a view of the ocean and a balcony. But my favorite part of the room was the bathroom. Inside was a shower and a separate deep soaking tub that faced another floor-to-ceiling window that led out onto the balcony. The marble countertops made it feel expensive, and there was also a vanity area completely separate from the sink that had enough space to sprawl out all my hair and makeup products without clogging up the sink area.
I could’ve stayed in my room all day, but part of the fun of W Hotels is that there is typically so much to do in and around the hotel. I was surprised when I realized this was not an adults-only hotel, but it didn’t bother me. Even though the hotel was fun and full of people, it was not rowdy. There are two WET pool areas; one had a DJ, bar, and cabanas — this is where guests can find a more explicit party atmosphere. The other pool is in the opposite tower, and although it also has a bar, it’s a quieter experience for parents hanging out with their children. It also has a whirlpool. There’s also the FIT gym for anyone looking to get their reps in while on vacation, and the AWAY spa that offers manicures and pedicures, facials, massages, makeup, and more.
What to do at the W Fort Lauderdale
You might wonder how the beaches in Fort Lauderdale stack up against the beaches in Miami. The beach across the street from the hotel is gorgeous. Beach towels, chairs and umbrellas are included in the resort fee for your stay. The sand was a pearlescent white, but the water was turquoise and crystal clear. The California beaches I’m used to just don’t compare to clear blue water that’s warm enough to get in without hesitation.
If you like astrology, tarot readings, or just bonding with your friends, the W Fort Lauderdale’s new “It Was Written in the Stars” package is a great way to spend a weekend. The package includes a zodiac-themed manicure at the AWAY spa. When you’re ready for drinks, head to the Living Room (the lobby bar) and get access to a cocktail menu specifically curated to your astrological sign. I’m a Scorpio (and proud of it), and my specialty drink was an espresso martini. I also enjoyed watching everyone else get their drinks — a Midori sour for a Pisces and a Miami Vice for Geminis. Finally, enjoy a slumber party in your room, complete with henna tattoos and tarot card readings, so that you can get in touch with your future.
If you like style and fashion, the Sprayed in Style amenity teams guests up with local graffiti artist Daniela Sanchez Vegas who’ll come to your suite for two hours and paint any wearable item like bags, leather jackets, and jeans. A quick consultation and Sanchez Vegas will get a feel for your colors and style before splattering them with art. A pair of my ordinary jeans blossomed with a rainbow of color.
Where to eat at the W Fort Lauderdale
The W Fort Lauderdale’s 24-hour room service is tempting, especially at breakfast. A quick look at the menu and a short phone call granted me a chance to ease into my morning with lemon ricotta pancakes and a mimosa, all while taking in the view from the bed or on the patio. If you prefer a head start on your day, a great option is to head to the gym or take one of the morning fitness classes like yoga on the beach. You can hit up the El Vez Grab & Go station to fuel up with coffee, fresh juice, pastries, yogurt, sandwiches and more.
Sobe Vegan is the epitome of an Instagram-friendly restaurant. Decorate with bright, fun colors, lots of artwork, pink palm trees, and a tropical photo wall — you’ll feel like you’re in an adult-only playground. Sometimes a restaurant’s aesthetic conceals the fact that the food is so-so. Sobe Vegan is quite the opposite. I ordered the avocado tacos, which came with pickled chilis, which took the flavor to another level. I also snacked on some gluten-free tater tots that I dunked in the restaurant’s faux-cheese sauce. The soft-serve ice cream and milkshakes are also worth trying.
Another option is El Vez, a popular Mexican restaurant known for its bold flavors. The restaurant is on the hotel’s ground level, right across the street from the beach, and after I spent some time in the water, I wanted something to munch on before dinner. With over 100 varieties of tequila on the menu, it’s also an excellent choice for cocktail hour. Inside, you’ll hear Latin music met with an aesthetic that is a classic yet trendy version of a Mexican restaurant with plush booths. I opted to sit on the patio. The casual dining spot serves classic Mexican cuisine like tacos, enchiladas, chips and guacamole. But don’t leave without trying the vampiro taco — which is more like a tostada with crisped-up cheese. On top is grilled steak, avocado, a spicy salsa, and onions and cilantro. Savor every bite.
If you’re headed out on the town for the night, make your way to Holly Blue. An old church was renovated into a new-age restaurant, and the architecture is beautiful. Head outside to the patio area and be met with crispy Tiffany Blue couches and a large deck. Inside, the marble bar will catch your eye while a DJ spins tunes. Appetizers like house made ricotta and charcuterie boards taste as good as they look. The menu is steak and seafood forward.
You cannot leave the W Fort Lauderdale without having a meal at the resort’s classic steakhouse, Steak 954. James Beard Award Winner and restaurateur Stephen Starr (who also brought El Vez to the property) brings the dining experience to life with a tank of live jellyfish that you can’t help but get mesmerized by as you eat your dinner. With such an expansive menu, you might ask yourself what you should order, but if you bring enough people willing to eat family-style, you might end up splurging. The menu is comprised of decadent dry-aged meats (including Wagyu beef), raw and cooked seafood, delicious appetizers and sides, and tasty desserts. Don’t waste a trip to a steakhouse like this and pass on ordering the Sanuki Ribeye. But the unlikely fan favorite was the sea scallops. Served with a celery root purée, fennel, and almonds, it rivaled everything else at the table. And don’t forget dessert. Choosing between the creme brulee, chocolate souffle, and key lime baked Alaska will make life difficult.