South Florida is a 100 mile long sprawl of abundance and oddity: great shopping (mini and full size malls, tanning salons, outlet stores, and boutiques), the worst drivers in the country, amazing restaurants of every kind, beautiful beaches, sunny weather with postcard-perfect tropical foliage, uninspired architecture and an amazing parade of humanity from the most beautiful scantily clad bodies on the planet, to the downright weird. And great beaches.
The public beaches in Fort Lauderdale stretch for miles, first you must determine where your demographic sunbathes. As lesbians with coolers, you might want to avoid gym-body beach, but if you're after a frat-party-spring-break good time, you won't find girls-gone-wild at pretty boy beach.
Handsome Husband and I are happier living in Savannah. Sometimes, though, we yearn for the color and chaos of South Florida, which isn't really that far away (750-850 miles), but getting there can be a drag.
The drive is between 7 and 8 hours. Bus or train? Forget it. An airline ticket starts at $350 and up, round trip on American into Miami (2 hour flight), or you can spend 4 to 8 hours with a layover in Atlanta or Charlotte.
Allegiant Air, which has been flying since 1998, heard the call we sent out to Southwest and JetBlue. They just began twice weekly flights between Savannah and Fort Lauderdale. The advertised price of $13.99 each way seemed too good to be true, but this penny-pinching, gambling girl was eager to see aforementioned Handsome Husband who is working in West Palm Beach, 50 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.
I purchased my tickets on AllegiantAir.com, (don't expect to see anything Allegiant on Kayak.com and the like). Their site is easy to navigate, but full of traps designed to separate me from your hard earned dollars. Each flight I selected was $13.99, but was automatically enrolled in premium options as I advanced through booking.
For example, a seat assignment is an additional $13.99 per flight. On top of that, add an extra $9.99 for "premiere boarding" (you get to board first and check-in online). Baggage check will set you back between $14.99 and 24.99 per flight, but your round trip total is automatically selected. Mine came to $39.99. Airport bag check is $35 per bag. Trip flex is also automatically "selected". This $15.98 add-on allows you to change your flight without penalty.
The final charge, which isn't really optional, is for booking. This $14.99 fee will be charged for booking on-line or via phone. Allegiant agents are at the gate just prior to the twice weekly flights, so it may be difficult to bypass this fee.
If I purchased the ticket with all of Allegiant's suggestion, my two $13.99 flights would have cost me $168. I opted out of everything: checked bags, seat selection, priority boarding, and trip flex. My fare was $64.95 round trip. And I got free cake.
Allegiant's staff was friendly and helpful. They stood behind a counter festooned with balloons and I joked about the obligatory partnership between cake and balloons. They weren't kidding. Free cake is not a typical experience onboard (bottled water costs $2), nor was the celebratory spray from a local fire truck-but these festivities were necessary to honor Allegiant's first flight out of Savannah.
The plane is an MD80, a well known aviation machine. Boarding was not an issue, even without any perks. Plenty of empty seats meant no worries about where to jam my overstuffed carry-on (two loaves of banana bread, a double batch of homemade cookies, and different shoes for every day of my stay).
The bathrooms were clean, the flight crew friendly and efficient. We took off on time, landed early, and had a stunning view of the Florida coast and Everglades during the 70 minute flight. There is no Skymall catalogue, thus, no opportunity to spend the flight fantasizing perfect my life if I owned a pop-up hot dog cooker.
Once in Fort Lauderdale, I could have taken a quick 15 minute taxi ride to the beach, but instead made my way to the Tri-Rail. South Florida's answer to mass transit is not going to win any awards for efficiency. The trains run hourly south to Miami or north to West Palm Beach, and airport shuttles to the remote stations also only run hourly.
A death-defying taxi ride to the station cost $25, but the train fare for my hour and twenty minute journey to West Palm Beach was $6.25. If one should happen to irretrievably lose one's train ticket while sitting on said train, the first offense is written warning, second is punishable by law. FYI.
Allegiant Air offers the shortest and least expensive travel option to South Florida, but the possibilities are limited. They only fly between the two destinations on Thursday and Sunday. Not all tickets are $13.99, and if you aren't careful, you may pay a lot more.
But as long as Allegiant continues low fares, this gal will have a deep tan and a gut-full of international cuisine.
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