After finding a $56 roundtrip flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Newsday travel writer Scott Vogel took a 24-hour trip. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel; Newsday archive

How bad was this spring? So cold, so rainy, that taking advantage of those cheap flights to Florida from Islip’s Long Island MacArthur Airport was necessary, even if it was for just 24 hours of sun, sand, turquoise waters and giant margaritas. Here's how it went:

Tuesday, 8:30 a.m.: Taking off

Hop on a Frontier Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale from...

Hop on a Frontier Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale from Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. Credit: Barry Sloan

If I’d been flying from JFK or LaGuardia, I would never have risked arriving at the airport just over an hour before departure, but this was Islip, where there’s lots of parking just a few feet from the terminal, no traffic snarls, and lines to go through security are almost nonexistent. MacArthur is where some of the most deeply discounted flights to Florida can be found, like the one I took on Frontier Airlines to Fort Lauderdale. I boarded at 9:01 a.m., the aircraft door was closed by 9:31 and the plane actually left on time, at 9:43.

Somewhat unbelievably, I paid just $56 for a round-trip ticket on a weekday morning, although for that price I forfeited the right to choose my own seat or check a bag or even bring along a carry-on. Indeed, I was only allowed a single personal item, defined as an object no more than 14” x 18” x 8” including handles, wheels and straps.

Minutes after takeoff we were over Great South Bay and Fire Island, and a short two hours after that we descended into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the captain announcing that the weather there was “a balmy 88 degrees,” and that we would not be arriving at 12:57 p.m., as scheduled, but 20 to 30 minutes early. When we landed even earlier than that, at 12:23, passengers burst into applause.

1:20 p.m.: Arrive at the beach

Soak up the sun on the beach or take a...

Soak up the sun on the beach or take a dip in the ocean in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Credit: Getty Images/BluIz60

Car rentals are cheap in Florida, but seem unnecessary for a one-day trip, so I opted for an Uber instead ($25) for the 20ish-minute ride to Fort Lauderdale Beach. The driver dropped me off at Sebastian Street Beach, which — like every other beach on the famed strip — was clean, uncrowded and monitored by lifeguards.

3 p.m.: Hotel check-in

A king room at the Drift Hotel, just steps from...

A king room at the Drift Hotel, just steps from Fort Lauderdale’s beach. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

Staying on Fort Lauderdale Beach puts surf, sand, food and drink all within walking distance — essential for short excursions like mine. And while most travelers opt for chain hotels, some of Lauderdale’s smaller, individually owned properties are not only cheaper but just as close to the beach. I stayed at the Drift (3005 Alhambra St., 954-774-2061, thedrifthotel.com), which offered little more than a bed and a TV, but cost just $91 total via Priceline in May. And although I didn’t stay at them, other properties nearby with rooms less than $150, depending on date, include the Snooze Hotel (205 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 954-761-9933, takeasnooze.com) and Sea Beach Plaza (3081 Harbor Dr., seabeachplazafortlauderdale.com).

4 p.m.: Happy hour!

A margarita, chips and guacamole at The Drunken Taco across...

A margarita, chips and guacamole at The Drunken Taco across the street from Fort Lauderdale beach. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

So numerous are the establishments that offer it, day drinking is almost a requirement on Fort Lauderdale Beach, where definitions of happy hour are appropriately expansive. At the Tex-Mex eatery The Drunken Taco (201 Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 954-463-7209, drunken-taco.com) happy hour is an all-day affair, with 21-ounce goblets of margaritas going for $9.95, and quesadillas and chicken wings similarly cheap ($12.95). Rum cocktails at farm-to-table Burlock Coast (1 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 954-302-6460, burlockcoast.com), cost $10 from 5 to 7 p.m. and nightly specials include $20 burgers and beer (Mondays), two tacos and a marg (Tuesdays) and more.

5:30 p.m.: Cruising to dinner

Scoobies, aka crab craws marinated in a garlic broth, are...

Scoobies, aka crab craws marinated in a garlic broth, are a specialty at Coconuts in Fort Lauderdale. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

You don’t want to be tipsy when you rent from Broward BCycle (broward.bcycle.com), where e-bikes go from 0 to 12 miles per hour in a ridiculously short amount of time — there’s no better way to get around. Not only is the app user-friendly, there are docking stations up and down the beach, most well-stocked with pastel-colored cruisers you can rent for $7.49 per half-hour. Within minutes, I was gliding down one of Lauderdale’s well-marked bike lanes on the way to dinner at Coconuts (429 Sea Breeze Blvd., 954-525-2421, coconutsfortlauderdale.com), where I enjoyed the house specialty, scoobies — blue crab claws swimming in a garlicky, buttery broth (market price, I paid $27)--along with a wonderful platter of coconut shrimp ($24). 

6:45 p.m.: Cycling the city

Back on my e-bike, I headed for the nearest causeway over the Intracoastal Waterway and Las Olas Boulevard, a nightlife center on the mainland. Along the way, I pedaled the intricate and dazzling system of canals from which Fort Lauderdale derives its nickname, Venice of America. First dredged in the 1920s and a jaw-dropping 165 miles long, the canals are lined with million-dollar homes and the gigantic yachts that accompany them, and full of lots of pedestrian- and bike-friendly bridges and streets, even a few water taxis and gondolas.

Las Olas Boulevard is a popular thoroughfare in Ft. Lauderdale,...

Las Olas Boulevard is a popular thoroughfare in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Credit: Getty Images/Torresigner

The area was beautiful at sunset, as was famed Las Olas Boulevard, lined as it was with restaurants, galleries and boutiques, and where live music boomed out of big, crowded spots like Cuba Libre (800 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-314-6500, cubalibrerestaurant.com), which plays Latin favorites in an open-air setting, and Voodoo Bayou (715 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-314-0669, voodoobayou.com) a Cajun concern that also boasts music most nights.

My last stop that night was the Riverwalk, which, like the canals, is fed by the New River, a charming, wonderfully landscaped promenade (some of it recently completed) that winds its way past condo towers, sidewalk cafes and parklets, along with cultural institutions like the Broward Center for Performing Arts (201 SW Fifth Ave., 954-462-2222, browardcenter.org) and the kid-centric Museum of Discovery and Science (401 SW Second St., 954-467-6637, mods.org).

By then it was 11 p.m. and my legs were about to fall off, so I headed back over the causeway for a nightcap at the unmissable Elbo Room beach bar (241 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 954-463-4615, elboroom.com), a cash-only, food-less establishment that opened in 1938, was long ago featured in movies like “Where the Boys Are,” and apparently features live music from 11 a.m. to infinity daily.

Wednesday, 7 a.m.: Breakfast on the beach

Carnitas hash with poached eggs at Lona Cocina & Tequileria...

Carnitas hash with poached eggs at Lona Cocina & Tequileria on Fort Lauderdale beach.  Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

Up bright and early so I could watch the sunrise over the ocean and get a good seat on the veranda, I sauntered over to Lona Cocina & Tequileria at the Westin Hotel (321 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 954-245-3069, lonarestaurant.com) which, that name notwithstanding, is a terrific place for breakfast, especially if you’re partial to terrific poached eggs with carnitas smothered in a chipotle hollandaise ($15) and equally terrific waterfront views.

9 a.m., Bidding farewell to the ocean and more

My 24-hour odyssey drawing to a close, I couldn’t resist heading back to Sebastian Street for one last swim, one last bike ride through the canals and the Riverwalk, and one last fruity cocktail at Lulu’s Bait Shack (17 S. Atlantic Blvd., 954-463-7425, lulusbaitshack.com), along with an irresistible basket of conch fritters served with a sweet Thai chile sauce ($17).

12:15 p.m., Homeward bound

Fort Lauderdale’s airport being just a tad bigger than Islip’s, I gave myself a bit more time, hiring an Uber to get me at the terminal at 12:40 p.m. I easily made my 1:57 flight, my trip coming to a close when Frontier landed on Long Island at 5:05 p.m. After such a whirlwind, did I need a vacation from my vacation? Of course. But as soon as my plane touched down in rainy Islip, I was ready to do it all over again.

Bargain Flight Travel Tips

For the most up-to-date information on most airlines’ fares, consult Google Flights (flights.google.com) and plan on booking your trip at least one week in advance. (As of this writing, there were no fewer than 14 days in June offering round-trip fares to Fort Lauderdale for less than $100, and one for as little as $52.) As for hotels, blind-booking online travel agencies like Priceline and Hotwire are a good first stop, but don’t choose hastily, as advertised prices do not include taxes or resort fees, both of which can add significantly to the cost of a stay.

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