The love affair between Brits and Florida is long-established and well-documented, but away from Orlando's frenetic theme parks and the party vibe of Miami there is another gem to discover. Fort Lauderdale is more relaxed and slower paced than other parts of the Sunshine state, but shares the same white sandy beaches and clear blue waters that see over 1 million British tourists visit the state each year.
Now even easier to access than ever thanks to new British Airways flights five days a week between London Gatwick and Fort Lauderdale, the area is a great destination for families, friends and couples alike who are looking to enjoy the best of Florida's beaches as well as some incredible activities and shopping. Its location just an hour's drive from Orlando means that Fort Lauderdale could also be tied in as part of a longer family holiday to Walt Disney World and the other world famous theme parks in the area.
The beach at Fort Lauderdale, Florida
However Fort Lauderdale has many attractions of its own, including the Everglades swamps that are home to alligators, wild birds and countless other creatures in its fresh waters. We got a glimpse at Fort Lauderdale's wildlife with an airboat tour from Sawgrass Recreation Park, which took us out over the Everglades at speeds of around 30 miles per hour, slowing down so we could get a closer look at some of the alligators that were swimming alongside and underneath our airboat.
You can also take a more leisurely cruise along what has been dubbed 'the Venice of the Americas' - some 300 miles of intra-coastal waterways that are lined by multi-million dollar mansions and lavish yachts - we spied J.K Rowling's impressive vessel on our cruise with Gondolas West.
Simon Sawgrass Mills outlet centre is home to over 350 shops
Back on dry land it was time for shopping, and lots of it. While Brexit may have affected the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar, there are still some great bargains to be found, especially at the expansive Simon Sawgrass Mills outlet centre, just a ten minute drive away from the Sawgrass Recreation Centre. Here you will find over 350 stores set over a sprawling 2.3 million square foot complex, and with designer labels such as Gucci and Jimmy Choo alongside favourites such as Nike, Victoria's Secret and US bargain mecca Century 21, it's not surprising that this centre has been voted the second most popular tourist attraction in Florida behind Walt Disney World.
Many stores offer discounts of up to 70% off, with extra deals and savings available via Simon's Destination Passports, so you could easily fill a day or more exploring and shopping – as long as you have room in your suitcase (or the baggage allowance to bring an extra case home!)
The shopping centre has been voted the second most popular tourist attraction in Florida
Once you've had your fill of shopping relax and refuel at Matchbox American Kitchen & Grill, one of the newest restaurants to open at Sawgrass Mills, or let your hair down at the Mojito bar, a lively addition to the shopping centre with music, fusion fare and an extensive list of mojitos to sample.
One of the other most popular shopping destinations in Florida is Town Center at Boca Raton. Regularly frequented by a number of famous faces, including Boca Raton local Ariana Grande, this shopping centre is home to several high end stores and US department stores including Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, along with a number of restaurants such as the Piñon Grill, where freshly cooked steaks and grilled fish are among the specialties.
Town Center at Boca Raton is another popular shopping destination in Florida
Fresh seafood is available in abundance in this area of Florida thanks to its location on the Gulf of Mexico, and among the delicacies is stone crab, which are sustainably fished and only in season for six months of the year. We sampled some stone crab at one of Fort Lauderdale's popular seafood restaurants, Billy's Stone Crab, and definitely weren't disappointed. Food was fresh, well presented and the portions were incredibly generous to say the least.
Alternatively head for Fort Lauderdale's newest hotspot Louie Bossi for incredible Italian fare and cocktails in a lively, hugely popular venue on Las Olas Boulevard. On our visit on a Friday night we soon discovered that this was the new place to see and be seen - if you can tear your eyes away from the cheese and charcuterie board, that is.
Hyde Resort and Residences is the ideal base for your stay in Fort Lauderdale
With your days action-packed enjoying Fort Lauderdale's sun, sea and shopping, you'll want a comfortable home away from home to retreat to by night. Which is why the new Hyde Resort and Residences in nearby Hollywood beach is ideal. Here you'll be able to book out your own apartment complete with a fully-fitted kitchen, en-suite bathrooms and views across Hollywood beach. A perfect accommodation for families or groups of friends who don't want to be spread out across separate hotel rooms, the Hyde offers plenty of space for socialising and cooking meals if you don't want to eat out. However it also has impressive facilities including its own restaurant and bar, gym and luxury spa, plus an outdoor pool and terrace located nine floors above the beautiful beach below.
The suites at Hyde Resort and Residences have a fully-fitted kitchen and living room area
So whether you're looking to explore a new part of the States or simply stopping by en route to other parts of Florida, Fort Lauderdale is well worth a visit this summer.
British Airways offers return fares from Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale from £431 per person. To book visit: ba.com/fortlauderdale. For summer a one bedroom Oceanview suite at the Hyde with full kitchen, balcony and living room starts at $275 per night for a seven night stay (inc room resort fee and local taxes). For a two bedroom Oceanview, prices start at $447 per night. Prices include local taxes and room resort fee giving full access to the Hyde beach area with umbrellas/ chair service plus fitness centre.