Mingling with the Yacht Set in Fort Lauderdale

    By Terry Ward

    Mingle with the boating crowd at upscale restaurants during the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

    Boat shoes, pastel collared shirts and gold necklaces with anchors are the images that come to mind when Tampa resident Matt Malin reflects on growing up in Fort Lauderdale.

    And it’s no surprise that such nautical images are the ones that stick most.

    With more yachts per capita than any other place in the world, Fort Lauderdale is the center of the yachting universe. And at no time does this sunny stretch of Florida coastline showcase its maritime roots more than during the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

    “I remember yachtsmen walking all over town,” says Malin about the atmosphere during the boat show. “The town would get packed with huge boats coming in from all over the world.”

    Huge, indeed.

    The 53rd anniversary of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show takes place from Oct. 25-29, 2012, with more than $3 billion worth of watercraft, engines and electronics on display. More than 250 super-yachts will be berthed in Fort Lauderdale during the event.

    Fort Lauderdale is like the hidden gem,” says Dane Graziano, Senior Vice President of Show Management, the company that puts on the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

    Graziano has watched Fort Lauderdale grow over the years. And in addition to the gorgeous boats on display, he says, the city itself is a big lure for visitors.

    “We have so many waterways in Fort Lauderdale, and that’s why we’re called the Venice of America,” he says.

    “We have more people coming to the show by water than by land,” says Graziano.

    Three riverboats carry show attendees from downtown to Bahia Mar Beach Resort & Yachting Center (the staging area for the boat show) at no charge, and another six water taxis operate from the convention center.

    A diverse range of attendees adds to the fun, too, with participants from more than 38 countries turning Fort Lauderdale into a serious jet set destination.

    “Yachties don’t look like regular tourists,” says Malin, “They’re different. They add a certain atmosphere to the town.” 

    Wondering where to go to mingle with the yacht set? You’ll find them at Fort Lauderdale’s prime luxury hotels and entertainment areas such as The Gallery at Beach Place and Las Olas Boulevard Riverfront. And be sure to follow our lead, too, to these local spots where the yacht set goes to dry off.

    Bahia Mar: This resort, marina and yachting center has 250 slips for mega yachts. Boat drinks flow at Breezes Café & Bar, and the hotel’s lobby and pool bars are guaranteed hot spots.

    The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale’s oceanfront lobby bar caters to the yacht set with a sophisticated vibe and oceanic touches such as the mesmerizing Neptune mural behind the bar.

    China Grill Fort Lauderdale at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina elevates Asian cuisine with Intracoastal views. Boat show attendees will pile in for delicious seafood dinners such as lobster pancakes and barbecued salmon.

    The W Fort Lauderdale: This $205 million oceanfront property opened in spring 2009. Crowds will reach full-throttle during the boat show, with the pool an unofficial gathering ground for the party set, day and night. At the W’s premier restaurant, Steak 954, mingle with world travelers trying on their sea legs while tucking into terrific steaks.

    Da Campo Osteria, celebrity chef Todd English’s new restaurant, has a Mediterranean-inspired menu.

    Chima Brazilian Steak House is one of many fine restaurants along Las Olas Boulevard. But it’s the Brazilian vibe that gives this place that extra energy. Meats served rodizio-style are proffered by roaming ‘gauchos’ and sliced right off the cooking skewer onto your plate.

    Casablanca Café, on A1A, is a romantic and stylish restaurant that yachties return to year after year, with American and Mediterranean dishes served on the patio of a historic home.

    If you want more information, visit the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show’s website or call 800-940-7642. If you can’t make it to this year’s show, be sure to make plans for next year.