Often I come to you live on Periscope or Facebook Live where we all talk ship and watch cruise ships sail-away from Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park next to Port Everglades. Many of you ask exactly where I am and how you can get there when you're in the Ft Lauderdale area (tip: it's also a great place to enjoy the beach). Let's talk about where the park is, how to get to the jetty, and other tips for enjoying some time watching cruise ships full of people starting their vacation.
Update: While the park remains open with great spots to relax (and watch cruise ships), the jetty has been closed since Hurricane Irma struck in September of 2017. The park is operated by the State of Florida, but the jetty is actually owned by the federal government and maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The primary job of the jetty is to act as a breakwater, and calm the seas at the entrance to the port. Despite damages sustained during Hurricane Irma, the jetty still does it's job quite well, so the resources required to make it safe for visitors to walk on and fish from aren't expected to be prioritized any time soon.
Why This Park (aka 'The Jetty Side')
If you're looking to watch cruise ships leaving South Florida you do have a few options. South Point Park is a great place to watch ships leaving PortMiami, but getting through South Beach can be a bit of a pain and if you're enjoying your time in South Florida, heading there just for the ships is going to take a lot of your time. RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com has a great article about watching ships from Ft Lauderdale beach, which is indeed a spot I visit on occasion - it's really beautiful. This beach is on the north side of the waterway from the park we frequent, but there are only a couple parking spots (so arrive early and be patient) and you'll have to walk a couple thousand feet in the sand to get to the rocks where you can see the ships (a pain for many, but completely inaccessible for those with mobility issues). Oh, and there are no restrooms nearby. For those reasons, I generally prefer the jetty.
Where Is Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park?
Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park (formerly known as John U. Lloyd State Park) is located in Dania Beach, FL, just feet from Port Everglades.
The park is roughly two miles long and occupies the northern end the narrow barrier island of Dania Beach. Park guests enter via the only land entrance at the south end of the park on Ocean Drive and Dania Beach Blvd. If you're south of Port Everglades and heading north on Ocean Drive it's nearly impossible to miss. If you put the below address in your phone/GPS it will direct you to the center of the park, but you'll need to pay for entrance (where you can also get maps and park info) before reaching that exact address.
As mentioned, the park is on a barrier island, and the mainland, across the narrow Intracoastal Waterway, is occupied by Port Everglades, which extends from the park entrance to just north of the Stranahan River, the park's northern border, and the channel leading to the open ocean, by which ships sail in and out of the port. As you approach the park and as you drive through it, you'll likely see cruise and other ships peeking out above the vegetation to your left (west). Some ships dock in this area, though many ships, especially larger vessels, tend to berth at the northern end of the port, closer to the jetty.
Where To Watch The Ships (Getting To The Jetty)
Once you've entered the park, you'll want to head all the way to the northern end. You're looking to get to the "Jetty Pavilion". As you head north on the only road, you'll pass several parking lots with beach access (a great way to spend the day) and eventually come to an area with a large building and a fence on your left - this will tell you you're almost there. This compound is part of a research facility occupied by Nova Southeastern University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and the US Navy.
The sign for the jetty pavilion, along with the parking area, will be on your right, but to your left is a lot for the research facility, which is designated overflow parking for the jetty pavilion. Some days there is ample parking, other days you'll need to head to the overflow lot (which only adds an extra 100 feet or so to your trip).
Once you arrive, you'll find a grey boardwalk. Head down that boardwalk and you'll find restrooms, a water fountain, and beach showers. As you continue walking, there will be access to several beach areas which will provide some views of ships leaving, but the views from the jetty will be much better. As you continue down the boardwalk you'll see the jetty come in to view. Pick any spot - there are no bad views here. Know however that if you chose to go all the way to the end of the jetty you're far more likely to get splashed by seawater, so be sure to protect your phones, cameras, etc.
Know The History
The park was once home to one of the few beaches in South Florida which people of color were permitted to use, but contrary to the state's promises, no access road was built to make the beach accessible to most who wanted to visit. Dr. Von D. Mizell, founding president of the Broward NAACP and Eula Johnson, a former NAACP chapter president staged a "wade-in" at the beach on July 4, 1961 as others demonstrated on white beaches in South Florida for months to come. Their efforts lead to the integration of beaches, schools, and other important civil rights changes in the state. In July of 2016 the park was renamed after these great citizens.
Please take 5 minutes to visit the Florida Park Service website for the full story on the historical significance of this park. We freely visit so that we can watch luxury ships we're lucky enough to sail on, while only a short time ago people had to fight hard to simply get to enjoy the one beach they were restricted to based on the color of their skin.
Other Important Things to Know
- It costs $6 to enter the park with a car occupied by 2-8 people. I find this very fair, and don't mind supporting the great Florida Parks Service so they can preserve land, care for wildlife, etc - much better than paying a private parking company $10 elsewhere in South Florida.
- The park was once home to one of the few beaches in South Florida which people of color were permitted to use, but contrary to the state's promises, no access road was built to make the beach accessible to most who wanted to visit. Dr. Von D. Mizell, founding president of the Broward NAACP and Eula Johnson, a former NAACP chapter president staged a "wade-in" at the beach on July 4, 1961 as others demonstrated on white beaches in South Florida for months to come. Their efforts lead to the integration of beaches, schools, and other important civil rights changes in the state. In July of 2016 the park was renamed after these great citizens.
- Consumption of alcohol is not permitted at the jetty or the jetty pavilion. Some parts of the park do allow alcohol consumption. Ask a park ranger for clarification.
- One place you can drink is at the Whisky Creek area of the park where you'll find beautiful beaches (nicer than by the jetty) and a restaurant with decent and inexpensive beer and food.
- The park is open from sunrise to sunset, which means in the winter, you may not be able to see ships that leave after about 5:15pm.
- The boardwalk and paths to get to the jetty are well maintained, wide, wheelchair friendly, and easily accessible to those with mobility issues.
- When you enter the park ask the rangers any questions you have. They, along with the Florida Wildlife Commission (State Law-Enforcement Officers) are all very knowledgeable and pleasant, and the rangers have maps and other literature available upon request.
- Fishing is permitted on the jetty, though you must abide by the license requirements in the state. There are signs in the area with a number to call in the event you accidently hook a bird or other wildlife. Please do not cut lines, the rangers will be glad to help and are there to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the animals and guests alike.
- The tower, antennas, and other equipment you'll see next to the jetty are part of a research facility run by NOAA, the US Navy, and Nova Southeastern University.
- Aside from restrooms and the restaurant/bar area, there isn't much shade. So bring sunscreen.
Are you planning to come watch sail-aways from the park? Let us know on Twitter, or come up and say hi if you see me and Larissa out there! Other tips? Comment below!