You don't have to live here long before you realize that when you want to get out of town, you'll probably be flying.
Expert surveys confirm what you already know: most Americans vacations are weekend getaways (though some seriously stretch the number of days in ``weekend''). Short trips often are cheaper and simpler, requiring less time away from office, the dog, the kids.
Sure, you could drive on your getaway. The Keys, Naples, Marco Island, Delray Beach, Palm Beach, Vero Beach -- even hometown vacation spots like Miami and Lauderdale beaches -- make for Grade A, easy weekends. But when compared to cities like Washington, Boston, Seattle and Chicago, South Florida offers limited options for quick escapes by car.
The good news: More than 110 non-stop flights can whisk you from Miami International Airport to cities in the United States, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
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Want to go farther afield?
MIA offers 10 non-stop flights to Europe and another 19 one-stop direct flights to cities in Florida, Latin American, Europe and the United States.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood offers plenty of options, too, serving more than 70 U.S. airports and 38 international ones with non-stop flights.
Both airports offer flights to major cities including New York and Washington, D.C., but a surprising number of destinations are unique to each. From Fort Lauderdale, they include Des Moines; Milwaukee; Plattsburgh, N.Y.; Ponce, P.R.; and Bimini, South Andros and Cat Island in the Bahamas. And from Miami: Kansas City; Savannah, Ga.; Vail, Colo.; Europe (Madrid, London, Milan, Paris, Dusseldorf and Tel Aviv among the options) and cities throughout Central and South America. If you're willing to brave plane changes, you can go anywhere on the globe.
More good news: Both airports continue to spruce up.
At Miami International, the 1.7 million-square-foot South Terminal -- home to renovated concourse H and new concourse J -- opened late last summer; shops and dining outlets will open there this year. (Concourse A is now closed for construction on the North Terminal, due to open in 2011.)
More than 1,000 bright new information screens display arrival and departure info throughout the airport, and new self-service Smarte Cartes introduced last month carry more luggage than the old ones for the same rental price of $3. WiFi has arrived at last (t costs $6.95 per hour.) In the past year, new retail outlets have opened in the security-free zone, and you can now buy a Montblanc pen at Prestige, Timberland shoes at Havana Shirt or get a mani-pedi at the Jetsetter Spa. In a few months, you'll be able to consult with a doctor or nurse and buy simple medications at a new Airport MD clinic. New information booths dispense tips on hotels, taxis and local attractions.
Dining options remain limited; you won't find any celeb-chef eateries like the Wolfgang Puck Express at Los Angeles International Airport and Todd English Express at Boston's Logan Airport. Passengers still have to huddle around frightfully rare electrical outlets dotted around concourses to recharge their laptops; unlike the new terminal at Orlando's airport, MIA lacks free recharging desks. The gym at the Miami Airport Hotel -- once open for a fee -- is closed, though the hotel-top restaurant and pool have reopened.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood is a point-to-point airport rather than an international-connection point. It's friendlier and less urban than a busy hub, with free WiFi and live entertainment in Terminal 1 during peak hours on weekends.
Construction here is all inside as the airport continues to upgrade. New electronic charging stations are on the way, and so are new visitor information booths and dining and shopping options, including Brighton accessories, a Life is Good shop and Brooks Brothers. (As at Miami, food options are mostly chains.)
After all, given security lines and traffic, you've got to get the airport early. At both airports, now there's something to do while you wait.