Travel: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

MORE than any other quality, Florida boasts sunshine as its main attraction, and much is made of the year-round supply of the warm stuff, especially in the south of the state.

So when our small party alighted at Miami International Airport to be met by the most thunderous rainstorm imaginable, the raindrops quite literally bouncing off the streets and the gutters turned into miniature rivers, we began to wonder if all those boasts were mere hot air.

As if by magic, by the time we reached our destination in Fort Lauderdale, the rain had ceased, and for the next few days it did not return, allowing us to bask in the warm sunshine and balmy air that makes this corner of Florida quite unmissable, especially during our winter which is actually the 'dry' season there - the average temperature in January and February is 25C, with average rainfall of less than three inches.

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Fort Lauderdale is the main city of Broward County in south Florida, some 25 miles north of Miami on the Atlantic coastline. Named after the Major of Scottish descent - the American Lauderdales were a branch of the famous Maitland family who led an expedition against the local Seminole tribe of native Americans - the city started life long after the original fort of that name was abandoned. It now has a population of nearly 200,000, with a further 1.8 million people in its metropolitan area.

With its extraordinary network of canals and the ubiquitous water taxis - imagine gondolas with outboards - Fort Lauderdale is known as the Venice of America.

While it may not have the antiquities of the Italian city, it still has plenty to recommend it, not the least of which is the stunning miles-long beachfront and the chance to dine in some of the US's top restaurants.

No doubt Italians will resent this suggestion, but there is actually a better and definitely much wider range of cuisine in Fort Lauderdale, which has around 4,000 restaurants representing the whole world of cooking, and which are enjoyed by up to 11 million tourists annually.

Fort Lauderdale once built itself a reputation as the spring break capital of the US, a place where students decamped annually to cause mayhem and merriment and young people still flock to the city in numbers to enjoy the boozy night life in the downtown area.

Re-inventing itself as a classy tourist destination and convention centre, Fort Lauderdale now hosts any number of arts and culinary experiences, one of the best being the Dine Out Lauderdale programme.

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For six weeks in October and November, many of the city's restaurants offer a three-course meal for $35 and you are positively encouraged to try as many different dishes as you can. High on our popularity list were the Blue Moon Fish Co, the glamorous Blue Martini lounge and Steak 954, where the Kobe steaks are to die for.

Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau will be happy to tell you about the many events in the city - that the website is called tells you a lot about its claim to fame - and will recommend any number of hotels, but the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort and Spa comes with the best recommendation of all - it's where Mr Bill Marriott, company chairman, stays for his winter break.

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No wonder, as the rooms and suites are perfection, the service is exceptional, the restaurants first-class - 3030 Ocean within the hotel is quite magnificent, with world-class cuisine - the spa is luxurious, the gym quite tasteful and the swimming pool simply huge.

That's without mentioning the private beach which is maintained in pristine condition and has all kinds of water activities such as parasailing. And if you are lucky, and go at the right time, you'll be able to see the turtles that use the beach as a nesting area.

There is so much to see if you get tired of the seaside, though it is hard to imagine how anyone could tire of snorkelling, especially if the men at Pro Dive are looking after you - they know all the best reefs.

For those who like that sort of thing, a visit to Sawgrass Mills shopping mall is an absolute must, and even the most dedicated non-shopper will find the place a marvel, not least because it has more than 300 shops and outlets.

It is also pleasantly relaxing to take a water taxi tour and ogle at the homes of the rich and famous, most of which are fabulous but some of which are monuments to bad taste. Or you can just stroll along Las Olas Boulevard, the city's main shopping area.

A real eye-opener in the city is Port Everglades, which in relatively few years has become the world's fastest-growing haven for cruise liners. When you see giant vessels like Oasis of the Seas - now joined by its sister ship Allure of the Seas - that holds the record for carrying more passengers than any other vessel, you simply have to stand and gawp.

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They are like floating skyscrapers, and Oasis of the Seas recently carried more than 6,000 passengers - that's a floating population the same size as Kelso.

It would be daft to visit Fort Lauderdale and not take in the Billie Swamp Safari, set in the Seminole Indian Reservation, where you will see the biggest and most dangerous examples of local wildlife - alligators. An airboat ride through the park is a must, as you will be able to see the alligators in their natural Everglades habitat.

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A visit to the cages full of dangerous reptiles in Fort Critter is also recommended and you should also take a ride on the custom-built swamp buggies to see everything from water buffalo to bison, emu, racoons and pigs.

You can also learn about the Seminole tribe who live nearby and still proudly boast that they never signed a peace treaty with the US. Their traditional chickees or thatched houses without walls are dotted here and there.

Fort Lauderdale is not a major tourist attraction by accident. It has everything you could want on a holiday, and then some.

Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa Hotel, Fort Lauderdale, rooms start from $469 (approx 290), based on February 2011 stays,

Flights from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Miami with Virgin start from around 452. KLM, and Air France, also fly from Scotland.

This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 2 January, 2011