Sunset is only part of the appeal of Fort Lauderdale sunset cruise

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The New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale is lined with big boats on a Jungle Queen sunset cruise.
The New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale is lined with big boats on a Jungle Queen sunset cruise. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

Florida can be oppressively hot in August, making outdoor activities almost impossible during the day.

新沙巴体育But one nice option for visitors this time of year is a sunset cruise, taking advantage of the extra summer daylight and cooling temperatures as night falls.

Splendid sunset cruises are offered in Key West and St. Augustine, among other places. Recently I took one on Fort Lauderdale's venerable Jungle Queen, the fourth boat by that name that has plied the winding waters of the New River since 1935.

That's a different kind of sunset cruise. Where the skies, bays and channels of Key West and St. Augustine are wide open, the Jungle Queen provides tighter confines and spectacular scenery of a different type.

As the tour guide on our 90-minute excursion put it, "You'll see plenty of beautiful mansions and beautiful yachts."  Boy, will you ever.

Even after 30 years of working in Fort Lauderdale, I'm still impressed with the real estate and the nautical toys there. And hands down the best way to see them both is from the water.

At times during the tour, it seems as if every business tycoon or minor celebrity in America owned a home on the New River. Singer and TV personality Merv Griffin, actor Lee Majors, distiller Charles Bronfman (Seagram's) and Wendy's founder Dave Thomas are some of the names tossed around.

The former home of business tycoon Wayne Huizenga Sr. sits on a bend in the New River in Fort Lauderdale.
The former home of business tycoon Wayne Huizenga Sr. sits on a bend in the New River in Fort Lauderdale. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

The big kahuna of New River mansions, however, belonged to the late Wayne Huizenga Sr. The entrepreneur behind Waste Management and AutoNation and a co-owner of Blockbuster and several South Florida sports teams not only had a sprawling compound on a bend in the river but bought or built homes nearby for a half dozen relatives.

新沙巴体育The cruise we took starts at 7:30 p.m. The also offers longer tours during the afternoon and a four-hour cruise on the weekends that docks up river for a barbecue and a show.  The first half of the cruise sails from the Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach resort to downtown Fort Lauderdale, where it turns around for its return journey. The return trip ventures farther south to Port Everglades before returning to the departure point.

新沙巴体育About 30 passengers sailed the tour I was on. Adult fares are $23.49, with discounts for children and seniors. The best parking deal ($7) is to leave your car in the Bahia Mar parking lot but pay for it at the Jungle Queen box office. There is a buy-one, get-one-free offer at the bar onboard. A cocktail and a seltzer with lime cost us $15.

The Jungle Queen IV is the fourth version of an excursion boat that started touring Fort Lauderdale in 1935.
The Jungle Queen IV is the fourth version of an excursion boat that started touring Fort Lauderdale in 1935. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

Don't worry about which side of the boat to sit on.  You'll be going out and back, so the homes on the far side of the boat during the first half of the tour will be on your side on the way back.

Did I mention the yachts?

In the winter, some of the biggest yachts anywhere come to Fort Lauderdale; Steven Spielberg's   can often be found across from the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina.  But even in the thick of the summer there's plenty of vessels to ogle and dream about. Trawlers, catamarans, tuna-towered fishing cruisers  from the sleek to the chunky, the futuristic to the retro, you can find them all concentrated on the tour.

As we pulled back into the dock at Bahia Mar, a pleasant breeze was blowing from the east, helping to make the evening a little cooler. The lights illuminating Fort Lauderdale's hotels and the residences along the river made for a colorful post-sunset scene.

Big boats, big homes and tropical scenery. That's what the Jungle Queen is all about.

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