Florida airport hell and a taste of Miami

‘Welcome to the USA’, the sign was just visible above a sea of people crammed into the arrivals terminal at Fort Lauderdale Airport. It was nearly midnight and after a nine-hour flight from London, we’d now been stuck in immigration queues for almost four hours. The perfect start to our two-day layover in Miami, right?

Miami South Beach, Florida

Avoid Fort Lauderdale Airport like the Plague!

We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for when we booked cheap flights to Fort Lauderdale en-route to Colombia. Take my advice, avoid that shitstorm of an airport like the Plague. Since posting about our experience on Facebook, we’ve heard many similar stories, so it wasn’t just a one-off either. Trouble started brewing when, upon landing, our pilot informed us that we couldn’t disembark because of a backlog at immigration. An hour later we were released into the terminal, where our troubles really began.

The vibrant colours on Ocean Drive, Miami

We just wanted to get out and explore Miami!

Where do I start? Perhaps it was the new immigration machines they’d just had installed (less than 50 for all the thousands of passengers that pass through the airport), the fact that the staff didn’t seem to have a clue what was going on, or that immigration officers were meticulous with their questions, but we ended up queuing for three hours just to get out of that airport. Old people, those with babies and young kids, we all queued relentlessly with no apology or explanation, getting yelled at if we dared to use our phones.

Ocean Drive and 8th Street, Miami Beach

Ocean Drive, Miami Beach

Worse still, when we finally got through immigration and went to pick up our bags, we witnessed a member of airport staff verbally abusing a woman who didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand his instructions. I can’t bring myself to type the horrible things he was saying, but it was all wrapped up in layers of misogyny, racism and xenophobia, a blatant abuse of power. Yes, that was just one person, but it was hard not to see it as a reflection of Trumpian views, particularly in light of the president’s recent comments about ‘shithole’ countries.

11th Street Diner, Miami Beach

I want to note that this episode, and the unfriendly airport welcome we received, was bafflingly at odds with our experiences of visiting the US, where we find people are so warm, open and welcoming. We love travelling in America and are determined not be put off by this experience.

Us on Miami Beach, Florida

Things got much better the following day

Two days in Miami

After renting a car and checking in very late to our Airbnb, we awoke the next morning to blue skies and sunshine. This was the perfect antidote to our nightmare arrival and a welcome change from the drab UK winter weather we’d just fled. With just two days to explore Miami before flying on to Colombia, we got cracking immediately.

First stop, breakfast at a nearby vegan cafe, where we enjoyed fluffy pancakes laden with fruit. I have fond memories of the many blueberry pancakes I ate during our trip to New England in 2015, and was worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy this slice of American goodness now that we’re vegan. I needn’t have worried though, as it turns out these were just as great, if a little smaller than the Maine version.

Vegan blueberry pancakes at Vgan Kitchen, North Miami Beach

Ocean Hotel on Ocean Drive, Miami Beach

As we headed to the city’s tourist heart, Miami Beach, we drove through downtown, a sprawl of glitzy, high-rise office blocks bordered by a harbour where boats bobbed on aquamarine water. Ocean Drive felt just like a movie set, all palm trees, colourful Art-Deco buildings and street-front restaurants where people sat sipping huge cocktails.

One of many Art-Deco buildings on Ocean Drive, Miami

Iguana on Miami Beach, Florida

We wandered across the boardwalk, which was busy with cyclists, roller bladers and dog walkers, emerging on iconic Miami Beach. Picture white sands lapped by calm, turquoise waters set against a backdrop of modern towers and swanky hotels. There were brightly-coloured lifeguard towers, sunbathers and cheeky seagulls who tried to snatch crisps from Andrew’s hand. We even spotted an iguana chilling in the sun.

Bars and Cigar shops on Calle Ocho, Little Havana, Miami

Live music at a bar on Calle Ocho, Little Havana, Miami

Next up was Miami’s Cuban Quarter, Little Havana. Here, the streets are painted with bright murals and lined with historic buildings like the Tower Theater, as well as cigar shops, Cuban restaurants and bars where live bands with maraca-shaking men play. At Domino Park, people crowd around tables, playing with staunch concentration for hours on end.

Colourful murals in Little Havana, Miami

The Rooster on Calle Ocho, Miami

Back on Miami Beach, we lounged on the sand, listening to the waves, feeling the January sun on our jet-lagged bodies. After some extreme cold weather in Europe, it felt so good to be back in a sunny, tropical environment and even better to be at the start of a new adventure. Months of travel in South America stretch ahead of us, filled with the promise of sunshine and avocados, the Amazon and the Andes, salt flats and Inca ruins, historic cities and golden beaches.

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Despite the travel dramas and long hours we spend working to fund our journey, I try never to forget just how fortunate we are to have been able to choose this life for ourselves. Next stop: Cartagena, Colombia!

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20 thoughts on “Florida airport hell and a taste of Miami

  1. Wow again. I’m so sorry you, and all of your fellow travelers had to deal with that shit-show. What a terrible, terrible experience whether it’s a “welcome (not!) to the US” or just someone traveling home. I’m glad that you got past it, enjoyed MIA and now you’re in South America!

    • Yep, we’re so happy to be on this new adventure Rhonda, despite the awful start! Hope you guys are well x

  2. Glad you guys survived the horrors of the US airports. I can vouch for just how bad Fort Lauderdale is. I’d vote it the worst in the world. A real S….hole as their president calls it. Such a shame as we too enjoyed our visit to that part of Florida. Especially the Keys but no more visits while he is in power. Good luck in Colombia. I’m sure you’ll have great adventures down in South America.

    • Hi James, shame to hear that you had a similar experience there. We were totally unprepared for it and really shocked, especially coming from super-smooth, organised Gatwick! We are loving Colombia so far, just a bit overwhelmed by the size and breadth of places to visit at the moment πŸ™‚ Hope you guys are well over there in Vietnam.

  3. I am so sorry for your experience at Ft. Lauderdale Airport. While it is one of the worse ones, our airports in the US are generally not up to par with those in other countries. Many of the people working at our airports are rude, intimidating, and treat people who don’t speak English with disdain. I am always blown away by how respectful airport personnel are pretty much everywhere else in the world. As soon as we hear people barking orders upon landing in the US, we know we’re home. I am glad you don’t judge the rest of us based on this or our nightmare of a president!! Safe travels!

    • Hi Lauren, yes we did find it strange considering all our travel experiences in the US have been so great and people are so friendly (especially compared to Brits!). Although we’re not going to fly into Fort Lauderdale again, we’ll still prepare ourselves mentally for the next time we enter the US! Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

      • “As soon as we hear people barking orders upon landing in the US, we know we’re home.” Sadly, Lauren nailed it! I always know we are back in the U.S. when confronted with rude, condescending, power-drunk TSA employees. I hate seeing how downright cruel many are to non-English speakers as they bark out orders. What a terrible “welcome” to America.

        • Hi Andrea, sadly it sounds like our experience wasn’t unique then. It’s such as a shame as we love traveling in the US, we’re hoping flying to LA later this year won’t be quite as traumatic! We’re more prepared now though πŸ™‚

  4. We had a similar experience in Ft Lauderdale but it was 5 years ago and I’d have hoped they would have fixed their problems by now! Sorry to hear you got off to a rough start but glad you got to spend a couple of days soaking up everything Miami has to offer before your next adventure.

    • Hi Maddie, it’s interesting to hear that these problems have been going on for at least five years! I can only see things getting worse with those ridiculous extra security machines in place too. After that, we did have a great time in Miami though πŸ™‚

  5. So sorry you had such a bad start to your next adventure. It sounds horrific! At least we all know now never to fly there!

    So glad you had sunshine and blue skies to wake up to though. That is the best way to get over a horrible experience.

    Its now time to look forward for your amazing South America trip and I cant wait to read about it.

    How you finding it so far? Hope you able to find plenty of food options.

    • Hi Shelley, yes, the sunshine and blue skies certainly made things feel better and was just what we needed after a grey January in the UK. We’re finding Colombia great so far, just battling to balance work and travel (as usual) and not compare the prices to much to Asia because Thailand is unbeatable when it comes to value for money! So far, we’re eating ok as we have an apartment, we’ve found a few vegan restaurant options too, there’s no so much of a street food scene that we’ve seen yet. Much more to explore though! Hope you guys are well over there in CM πŸ™‚

  6. Ugh. There are no words, no excuses. I do believe though that it really depends on where you arrive/depart in the US. It absolutely should not be that way, but it is the sad truth. Ft. Lauderdale happens to be one of those airports. As you well know, the US is massive and I swear it’s like living in a different country, within a country, depending on which part you find yourself.

    I’m glad you’ve had prior “positive” experiences and you know the good in the country/people. The US is not faring well in the eyes of the world and that’s such a sad thing because in reality the ugly is in the minority, but it sure is loud!

    • You’re absolutely right Patti, what we saw isn’t representative of the whole country and we knew that, we were simply shocked and quite literally stunned at the time. We haven’t been put off completely – I’m sure we’ll be back!

  7. Oh no! That sounds awful.
    American airports or airlines, haven’t had the best of reputations in recent years, and this must have been shocking and really taken the biscuit!

    I’ve been to America and really had a fantastic time, but my readers regularly contact me about going to the USA, and what to expect when they get there.

    It’s hard to be positive! I tell them that the American people are genuinely friendly, the country is beautiful, but the politics is awful.

    ‘I’m glad that the rest of your stay was really nice.

    • Hi Victoria, yes, looking back on it I still can’t believe that happened. We do love travelling in the US though and hope to take a trip up the west coast in July, so I hope that flying into LA isn’t going to be as traumatic – at least we’ll be more prepared this time!

  8. That airport is always nuts! sorry about your troubles there, but I cant wait to see Miami either! pretty photos!

  9. I’m so glad I read this! I almost booked a layover in Ft. Lauderdale today! So thankful I decided to wait a little longer. 😳

    I’m from the U.S. and while I’m kinda used to their TSAs being intimidating and over all pissy, your experience and that of that poor non-English speaking woman is absolutely abhorrent!

    I think the best we can do is report them. Airport guests can submit a complaint against TSAs here: https://www.tsa.gov/contact-center/form/complaints

    Once on there, select “Professionalism/Customer Service,” then go to the drop down menu and select “Florida – FLL – Ft. Lauderdale – Hollywood International.”

    Even if you didn’t get or can’t remember the TSA in question, you can still report the incident.

    Things won’t get better if people of authority don’t know. Plus, if everyone reports their issues like a tidal wave, it’s not something their managers can ignore and chalk it up to “snowflake syndrome.”

    The worst part of it is that the American public pays taxes for those airports and those ridiculously awful TSAs. It needs to be addressed. But it’s not like the TSA is going to advertise their complaints department.

    Hope this helps!

    • Thanks so much for this Amber, it definitely helps and we will get on and put in a formal complaint soon. You’re absolutely right, these incidents need to be reported and the issues behind them need to be addressed. Thanks again πŸ™‚

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