The ocean city of Fort Lauderdale on the coast of Florida is a very popular vacation spot, and the gateway to the Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico for some travelers.
What draws everyone to this beach town are its miles and miles of pristine beaches, though The Swap Shop, Florida’s largest market that’s open 365 days a year, is an attraction with a life all of its own. The canal waterways of Fort Lauderdale are home to the rich and famous, where multi-million-dollar mansions are eye-catching and yachts are jaw-dropping. The waterways of Fort Lauderdale are filled with these massive vessels, with the general local law being that the higher you are on the water, the wealthier you are.
Beach Boardwalk Promenade (The Strip)
People come to Fort Lauderdale because of the endless miles of public beaches. Between Fort Lauderdale Beach Park and E. Sunrise Boulevard is a white, sandy stretch of coastline consisting of multiple beaches. On the other side of Seabreeze Boulevard are many hotels, restaurants and bars with ocean views, often with outdoor seating. Both sides of the sidewalk along Seabreeze Boulevard are paved asphalt and flat with many curb cutouts. Many accessible pathways connect the two sides of the street, and in one spot elevators are used to get across the street. Wheelchair accessible drop-off points with sidewalk access were along Seabreeze Boulevard.
To ease going over sand, a number of beach mats have been laid out, but the majority are not barrier-free, usually having two steps. The most wheelchair friendly beach spot is at Sebastian State Beach. Three beach wheelchairs kept locked up at lifeguard stand #8; to use one of these beach wheelchairs call 954-828-4595. There’s also a beach mat here that extends within view of the lifeguard stand, though I had no luck getting the lifeguard’s attention to access the beach wheelchairs; then again, they are not designed for independent use.
The most accessible parking is located by the Fort Lauderdale Beach Park in a small parking lot across from the beach; signs from the sidewalk/road point to the most accessible route from this parking lot to the beach area. Fort Lauderdale Beach Park has two modified picnic tables with extended ends on a paved, firm surface between the parking lot and sand. Under the overpass staircase along the walkway at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park is a direct call line to get a beach wheelchair.
Tour of Mansions & Yachts with Water Taxi
Most visitors and locals use the Water Taxi to get from place to place around the canal waterways, but for people who use wheelchairs, this is not an accessible mode of transportation. However, it is a fun way to tour the waterfront mansions and yachts.
The Water Taxi has about 12 stops on the Fort Lauderdale Route, but only one stop can be classified as wheelchair accessible because it has a semi-fixed pier and a ramp. The stop is Dock #6, located by the Hilton Hotel. Sometimes piers at other stops will be level enough with the boat, but there are no guarantees; manual wheelchairs will have a little flexibility if willing and able to be carried, though not always possible or safe. A few stops have passenger boarding ramps for that are too narrow for wheelchairs.
The ground floor of the Water Taxi is the only level a visitor with a wheelchair can access. The open-air patio has the most space for wheelchairs, but no specific seating area, and inside was the most crowded. Also inside is a tiny, one-man bar with beer, wine, sodas, and snacks available; crew members were around if needing assistance is needed to carrying purchases. A small modified bathroom with grab-bars and a roll-up sink is accessible for smaller wheelchairs.
Overall, the Water Taxi could provide wheelchair accessible ramps at more than one station or offer a specialized tour ticket. The captain does an excellent job narrating the ride with a little comedy, and the rest of the crew worked very hard to be attentive to all guests—tips are definitely deserved.
The Riverwalk/Downtown/Las Olas Blvd.
The Historical District of the Riverwalk, dating back to 1899, has many restaurants, cafes and bars where live music is often played. On Las Olas Boulevard in the Historical District is a favorite area with upscale boutique shops, art galleries, and The NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. One historical point of interest in this area of the Riverwalk is the Stranhan House. A little further down is the Old Fort Lauderdale Village & Museum, the Museum of Discovery and Science and the South Florida Symphony Orchestra. Just outside of the Riverwalk/Downtown area is the Antique Car Museum with all kinds of memorabilia and a gallery honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt.
There are a few parks exist along or near the Riverwalk, such as the Riverwalk Linear Park or Bubier Park. The city has some accessibility details on parks to help visitors find modified pavilions, playgrounds, picnic areas, pools, and of course, things like handicapped parking and bathrooms. Not every park has wheelchair friendly features.
Hugh Taylor State Park has a few wheelchair friendly options for visitors. The park’s main 2-mile loop trail is flat and paved, making it accessible to all visitors. The Rail Trail is a 0.25-mile trail that the park has designated to be accessible. The park is unique because of the sea water on both sides, and if looking to swim, the park has a beach wheelchair for rent at the Beach Concession; people can use this chair on a first-come, first-served basis.
Half of the picnic spots have been designed to provide wheelchair access, including parking, cooking grills and bathrooms. One of best locations is along the seawall or the Manatee Pavilion on the northwest side of the park. A couple of the bathrooms have been widened for maneuvering space and some are waiting to be remodeled. Two of the largest accessible bathrooms are located at the gate and at the Beach Concession.
Staying overnight in the park is not an option for most parties. Though the park allows camping, the physical landscape is very primitive and the natural landscape is often too muddy and mucky for even locals to camp. This is one of the reasons why no modifications have been made to the campgrounds. If planning an organized youth event, for ages 18 and under, one of the six cabins has been modified. Cabin #6 sleeps 8 people, the others sleep around 12, and is equipped with a roll-in shower.
The Bonnet House welcomes guests using wheelchairs and guests with mobility limitations. Guests who can easily transfer may be transported from the Welcome Center to the house tour start point via golf cart. Guests who cannot transfer to a golf cart may be dropped off directly at the tour start point. The guided house tour is fully wheelchair accessible except for the Music Room that has a narrow entry door. Guests in wheelchairs can look in this room. Golf carts are also used for tours of the museum grounds, and the grounds tour fee is waived for guests needing special assistance. The grounds are largely in their natural condition with sand or gravel paths, so grounds tours are recommended for guests with mobility challenges. The special Behind the Scenes Tour (offered two times per month in winter) is not accessible since it occurs on the second floor of the historic home. However, a video tour of the second floor rooms is offered as part of the regular guided house tour. For specific questions or to provide advance notice of need which is always appreciated though not required, call 954-703-2606.
Transportation & Cruise Port
- Buses & Trolley: The Sun Trolley is a popular way for tourist to get around Fort Lauderdale, but is not recommended for wheelchair travelers. On each Sun Trolley route there is only one trolley that has a wheelchair lift, but the company discourages using their service, saying there are no guarantees the lift will be working or that space can be accommodated. This blatant discrimination is the main reason not to use the Sun Trolley, but they are also never on time, so using this company should be avoided.
- Taxis: Getting a wheelchair accessible taxi in Fort Lauderdale is kind of a tricky thing, something I didn’t expect in Florida. Wheelchair accessible taxis do exist, but each company has a different number available. Yellow Cab seemed to be the company with the most, but in terms of quick service, this didn’t seem to matter. When calling for a taxi to arrive as soon as possible, I was constantly being told that the wait time could be 1-3 hours and that 24-hour notice is required for faster service. Still, even with advance notice, I experienced late drivers. Water Taxis, as detailed above, are not recommended as a mode of transportation.
- Cruises and Cruise Lines: Port Everglades is just outside of Fort Lauderdale and is where millions of people embark and disembark from the many cruise line ships that dock here. Barrier-free drop-off spots and pathways lead to the terminal. The terminal is all one level with designated lines for those with accessibility needs and uniformed attendants to help. When checking in for a cruise, the accessible line desk has been lowered.
Attractions & Activities Nearby / Day-Trips
If you have a vehicle, consider one of these all-day or partial-day trips just outside of Fort Lauderdale.
- Everglades National Park (70 miles outside) is one the biggest parks in the United States with a few wheelchair friendly options to explore and enjoy the lush greenery of the park.
- Coral Reef State Park (50 miles outside) is a colorful park with a number of actives for all visitors, including a glass-bottom boat tour.
- The Flamingo Garden (20 miles outside) is a wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden.
- Butterfly World (20 miles outside) is a climate-controlled, indoor habitat for butterflies with easy access to get around to watch these fluttering creatures dance from flower to flower.
- IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach (10 miles outside) is the world’s largest fishing museum.
- Hollywood Beach Boardwalk (10 miles outside) is a 2.5-mile promenade of paved, flat walkways along the beach with restaurants and bars.