Best Place for a First Date 2008 | Evening Holiday Light Cruise Aboard the Carrie B. | People & Places | South Florida

Fort Lauderdale has long been called the Venice of America, but even folks who live there hardly ever see it by water ('cept for the ones with boats). This is dumb, because water is romantic, and so is Fort Ladida. Especially in December. The Carrie B. Evening Holiday Light Cruise brings visitors up and down the New River and parts of the Intracoastal while the wintertime pageantry of the town's many rich people is on full display. The boat's got a bar, some snacking options, and a low-key narrator to tune in on when the conversation hits a lull — but the goings-on are so mellow that you can ignore the patter and chat among yourselves. It's breezy out there on the waterways, so sitting close together is a swell idea. The Evening Holiday Light Cruise is a December-only thing, but the Carrie B. runs daytime sightseeing cruises all year — through historic Tarpon River, past the mansions on the Isles, past Pier 66 and into Port Everglades, and then past hundreds of yachts docked near 17th Street. These waterways were the reason Fort Lauderdale was built, and the city's soul still thrums in them. Checking it out is a way more inventive first date option than dinner and a movie. First dates on the Carrie B. tend to lead to second dates elsewhere.

As a franchise, the zombie flick is brainless and relentless, much like the zombie itself. So we may as well make money off them, and that means alerting Hollywood, California, to the marvelous zombie film locations available in Hollywood, Florida. Specifically, the whole downtown. There's an ample supply of zombie-esque transients to work as extras. Half the storefronts are vacant and the other half will close on the cheap rather than suffer another slow night. The condo towers around Young Circle are pitch-black at night, as if their owners had already been gobbled up. Come to think of it, are we sure that real zombies haven't already struck this luckless berg?

If you're going to crash your yacht on a sandbar somewhere, do try to avoid Bermuda (gotta travel through the Triangle) and St. Barth's (the euro is so expensive right now!). Aim instead for Peanut Island, located in the Intracoastal Waterway off Riviera Beach. The 86-acre playground was built in 1918 when the Lake Worth Inlet was dredged and workers needed a place to dump all the dirt. Nowadays, the south side of the island is a family-friendly outpost, known for snorkeling and manatee sightings. The 20 campsites here come with grills, showers, and picnic tables and can be rented for $16.50 a night. The north side, meanwhile, is often jammed with so many boats and beer kegs that it's affectionately referred to as the "Redneck Yacht Club." After receiving 78 calls in a two-month period last year, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office led a crackdown on the normal weekend gatherings, hoping to reduce the number of topless chicks and cases of alcohol poisoning. But the party carries on! If it's all too much fun in the sun, you can duck into the on-site bomb shelter, built for President Kennedy just in case World War III broke out while he was vacationing in Palm Beach, and now open for public viewing. Then again, you could always find refuge on your lido deck... or just head home via water taxi, which dutifully runs seven days a week from the Riviera Beach Marina.

Cristian Costea

It's a shame Hunter S. Thompson didn't postpone his suicide long enough to write a sequel to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas set in Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which as money-glutted monuments to human depravity go is second only to Vegas itself. If it's people-watching you prize, best to arrive around happy hour on a Friday for the spectacle of those droves of elderly gamblers who make a shuffling migration to the parking lot, squinting up at the sun or glancing sideways to monitor the aggressions of the boisterous teens and 20-somethings who come roaring in on tricked-out Toyotas, flashing ersatz bling and reeking of Axe Body Spray, head on a swivel for the coked-out skanks from their Bang Brothers-inspired fantasies. After midnight, revelry careens toward riot, and in the midst of this mess of unholy humanity, a celebrity may materialize. One may even perish. Surely Anna Nicole won't be the last...

Photo courtesy of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

It's hard to be a tourist. From the Internet or the information booth on the turnpike, one Everglades tour looks just like the next; one alligator rassler looks no different from another (they each have nine fingers). Holiday Park's fleet of airboats is unique because all the boats have covered passenger compartments. That means you get all of the high that comes with hovering at warp speeds through the river of grass, and none of the wetness that makes you look like you peed your pants doing it. Furthermore, Holiday's guides are mostly local roughnecks who love this land like John Ashcroft loves eagles — and they seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the gators here. Besides being hip to all of the gator nests and hideouts, the guides do a bang-up job during the shows, where they sit on their friends' scaly backs and spread their jaws to basically do an up-close dental checkup. (The gators like it! See? They're smiling!) Beyond these feats, the folks out here on the western edge of BroCo will be happy to rent you a little fishing boat of your own and hook you up with camping trips. The site even has a nifty little general store where you can pick up some trinkets and snacks before you swashbuckle your way through the sawgrass. Mmm, alligator jerky...

When we want to impress visitors, we show them a slice of Florida the way Juan Ponce de Leon encountered it 500 years ago. The beaches will never be the same, of course, but the Everglades have the same silvery light they always had, the same towering clouds, the tropical birds, and, yes, the glowering gators. Best place to get a feel for it is the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, 17 miles up Snake Road from the Alligator Alley midpoint (Exit 49). First the gators: They're right beside the road, dozing in the shallows that lap against the berm or sunning themselves on the banks. Sometimes they'll even wander onto the two-lane road. Don't be afraid. Alligators are a low-energy, slacker breed who'd rather stay in a sleepy stupor than chase tourists. But don't get overconfident, either — they are carnivores, after all. If you're expecting chickees and bonfires, the reservation may be a bit of a downer. It's more of a modern outpost, with a school, a meeting hall, and a little cafeteria where you can eat fried alligator bits in a rocking chair on a veranda. Best of all is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum ($6 for adults, $4 for kids), with historical displays and artifacts and a mile-and-a-half boardwalk that takes you right into the wilderness while staying safe from the predators below.

A day in South Florida can be stressful: Billboards. Traffic. Hooters girls who haven't updated their uniforms since 1983, still wearing bright-orange shorts and pantyhose. You need a place where you can go to chill out and catch a sunset. Enter the Loxahatchee River Historical Society: You've got them to thank for maintaining the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, a 105-foot-tall landmark overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the wilds of Jonathan Dickinson Park to the west, visible from 18 miles away. A venture up the stairs and a look-see from the 360-degree platform is breathtaking any time of day, but on the last Wednesday of the month they offer sunset tours.

A 1998 charge of disorderly intoxication didn't stop Fitzroy Salesman from winning election to the Miramar City Commission in 2003. And a 2005 DUI charge resulted in just a 20-month suspension from his official duties. So it's stunning that this battle-scarred politician would have his career toppled by a single brush with 18-year-old Lazavius Hudson. Last Thanksgiving eve, Hudson and his friend were buying sodas at a Winn-Dixie market when they heard Salesman's threats to "shut this bitch down" if management didn't open an express lane. Not to be intimidated, the young men refused to move to the express lane, which triggered Salesman's temper, Hudson's invitation to settle the matter "outside," and, finally, Salesman's pulling a .45-caliber pistol from his waistband. The commish found himself charged with aggravated battery and suspended from his post, which has since been filled by an unarmed commissioner. Maybe it's time Hudson considered a career in politics — he's already proven he's willing to fight official corruption.

A few years ago, selecting Bober as the best anything would have seemed unthinkable. He was, after all, just a weak Hollywood city commissioner ebbing and flowing with Mayor Mara Giulianti's political tide. But a funny thing happened to Bober on the way to mediocrity: He grew a pair. First he got the upper hand over Mara with his ethics reform crusade, and then he took her seat away from her in the January elections, knocking off Hollywood's reigning queen of mean and jolting her lobbyist-led political machine. Instilling hope in his beaten-down city earned Bober big respect, but the real question is what he'll do with his new powers. Too often political upstarts have come in with grand promises only to disappoint mightily (recently ousted Pompano Mayor Kay McGinn comes to mind). Along with the people of Hollywood, we'll be watching.

Pardo is one of those rare politicians who has done more good before gaining elected office than most officials do in their entire careers. Pardo, of Riviera Beach, basically saved the municipal beach at Singer Island from developer Dan Catalfumo and his giant Ocean Mall project: She led the signature-gathering effort to bring about the referendum for a five-story height limit on the beach. The people passed the measure, dooming Catalfumo's plan, which had been approved by a rubber-stamp commission. After beating the commission, Pardo decided to join it; she was elected over incumbent Jim Jackson in March. If she's half as effective in office as she was on the sidelines, great things are in store.

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