Las Olas Marina of Ft. Lauderdale: One of Our Favorite Stops

By Tom Neale, 3/24/2005


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

If I pay for a hotel room, they throw in the bed, bathroom, electricity, furniture, TV, phone, carpets, walls, and roof. Usually, if I pay the same amount of money or even more for a marina slip, they throw in four poles sticking out of the water and a pier. I provide all the rest. We travel around 4,000 miles each year in our boat. We can go from New England down to South Florida without once stopping overnight at a marina. We like to do this because it’s usually much easier to drop the hook, it’s usually nicer, and it’s certainly cheaper. So when we go into a marina, it’s got to be pretty special, not only because it’s a great marina, but also because of the entrée it gives us to other special experiences. Those 4 poles have to be just a beginning. The City of Ft. Lauderdale’s Las Olas Marina is one of those places. It’s on my personal “favorite marina” list. There aren’t many on this list, but occasionally I’ll share with you some of those few. If you’re going to be in the marina’s area, maybe you’ll check it out. If you’re not going to be in the vicinity of the marina soon, you’ll have some ideas about things to look for so that you can make comparisons when you want to get the most for your marina bucks.

If you’re boating on the east coast, Ft. Lauderdale’s Las Olas Marina may be in cruising range for you, at least at some point in your life. If you’re on the west coast or in the middle, it still can be in range because there are lots of charter boats available in the Ft. Lauderdale vicinity. People fly from all over the world to charter. From this marina the heart of the Florida Keys is only around 100 miles away. From this marina, the Bahamas are only around 50 miles away.

Finding Goods and Services in Ft. Lauderdale

Here are a very few representative examples of the huge number of boating services and goods that you can find in Ft. Lauderdale. These aren’t recommendations. They are just to give you a general idea of the types of goods and services you can find here. You should check around and investigate. You can also call the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (800 BOAT 001) for its directory of marine businesses.

Click Here for More Tips

If you’re into boating, into the ocean, and into fun, staying at this marina is pure sensory overload. It lies at the beginning of the opulent “Miracle Mile” on the ICW at Ft. Lauderdale. It’s called “Miracle Mile” because of its huge mansions, super yachts, and marinas. Thousands of boats pass every year, ranging from 200 foot mega yachts to kayaks. As to boats, you can see it all while tied up here, just sitting back and chilling on your own boat. But that’s just the beginning.

From the marina, you can do so some incredible dinghy exploring. There are miles and miles of deep water canals. You’ll see the entrance to many of these a few hundred feet away, right across the ICW. The canals pass through manicured lawns of mansions, funky old Florida neighborhoods, and even take you to the outer fringes of the Everglades. And everywhere, there are boats—every kind imaginable. If you want to buy a used boat, you can probably find at least one of everything that’s out there, while you’re doing your dinghy explorations.

If you want unique maritime thrills, head up the New River in your dinghy. It’s a famous river, with stories in its history of massacres, pirates, drug running, rich and famous, boat bums, and all of us in between. The mouth is a few minutes from the marina, or, if the ICW is choppy, you can reach it via the canals. The river is narrow and fast, coursing through a winding channel and steep banks and sometimes even steeper high rise condos. Huge yachts thread through its banks to boatyards and docks way upriver. Most of the larger ones use two tugs—one for the bow and one for the stern. It’s that tight. It’s the only way many of them can safely maneuver. Simulated riverboat stern wheelers, like the Jungle Queen and Carrie B, slide around the bends on fair tides. You hear the captains talk about places like “The Wiggle,” “Tarpon Bend,” “Little Florida,” and “Saiboat Bend.” There are 4 bridges in the lower section before the river forks and they have to open for most yachts going up or down river. A railroad bridge closes automatically when a train comes—and river traffic has to stop. Sometimes the boat jams seem like semi-controlled maritime mayhem but it usually works out. This is a spectacle to behold—as long as your boat isn’t in the middle and is a safe distance out of the way. Many boats stop at restaurants along the river, like the historic and local favorite “Downtowner Saloon.”

I love all this. But my true passion is at another extreme, and it’s just a couple of blocks away from the Las Olas Marina. It’s the ocean--in this case, the Atlantic Ocean. A five minute walk from your boat gets you to fabled A1A and the center of Ft. Lauderdale’s “where the action is” beach front. Cross A1A and you’re on the beach, lined with palm trees. You can stand there during northers and watch the towering waves out in the Gulf Stream. It’s spectacular. They’re like drunken sky scrapers crashing into each other. It’s why you don’t go to the Bahamas in a norther. On clear days you can imagine that you’re seeing the Bahamas—not so really, but they’re pretty close. And on just about any day, you can swim, body surf, board surf, wind surf, lay out and soak up some rays—whatever turns you on. Typically in the midst of winter the water is no cooler than the lower 70’s. If you want a less crowded beach, you can go by dinghy to Whiskey Creek, just south of the inlet. Mangrove and casaurina line the creek’s shores as you enter from the ICW. The creek turns south with a sandy beach on its eastern shore. Pull your dinghy up on this beach. A couple hundred feet across the sand lies the Atlantic. The official name of this place is John U. Lloyd Park.

A third feature of this marina is that it’s within a few minutes drive of what I believe is probably the largest concentration of” boat stuff” in the world. If you can’t find it here, you probably can’t find it anywhere. This feature alone makes Ft. Lauderdale a worth while place to stop. Rental cars are surprisingly reasonable here, except at Christmas and Spring Break. IF you shop around, you can find good prices as to everything, because there’s such a concentration of marine businesses and so much competition. This includes new and used parts and equipment, services, and manufacturers. People often stop here to fix things and refit and defray some of the cost of a marina with money they can save. In the Tips section I’ll give a few examples. These won’t be recommendations, but just examples to give you an idea of where to begin. Even if you can’t come in your boat, you might find, as do many, that you can deal with the businesses in the area by phone or web site and often save bucks.

Ft. Lauderdale is a very famous resort area. People come from all over the world. With so many boats in such an area, dockage prices are inevitably high. (They are just about everywhere in this part of the world.) Las Olas Marina isn’t what many would consider “cheap,” as to either facilities or price, but the city tries to keep its rates at a more reasonable level than some of the privately owned marinas and Las Olas Marina demonstrates this. And there are two other city marina facilities up the New River. Fort Lauderdale recognizes the importance of boat business. It has a “Supervisor of Marine Facilities.” He’s Jamie Hart, and he’s very serious about making the city welcome to a wide array of boaters. There’s a Marine Advisory Board of people who’re involved in many levels of boating, to keep tabs on things. There’s the powerful “Marine Industries Association of South Florida” that works through lobbying and other efforts trying to keep the area boater friendly.

But let’s turn back to the Las Olas Marina. There’s a lot more than just the poles (which are actually massive cement pilings where they support the docks). It has large, new, very clean restrooms and showers, a nice lounge with computer jacks and TV, grills in the yard outside, cable TV, phone jacks if you want to sign up with the local phone company, good laundry facilities, parking for slip holders (a rare treat this close to the beach) and security. And, again, it’s at the beach, and you don’t need to get a beach hotel room. There’s a lot of concern in south Florida about vanishing dockage for the “average guy” boater. Unlike many marinas in the area which are now geared primarily for mega yachts, this marina has slips and accommodations not only for the world’s largest finest mega yachts but also for 30 foot boats. There is even a small mooring field, operated by the city, near the marina. As of this writing the moorings are $20.00 per night. Boats renting the moorings get most marina privileges. Space is usually at high demand, so call ahead. The dock master is Mike Horn. He’ll help you out and make you feel at home. Give him a call (954 828 7200) when you’re ready to come.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale