Fun Places to Visit
Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruise Up the New River, (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis — November 2, 2010
I must have a weakness for frequenting old-time Florida attractions. For example, there’s the Jungle Queen Riverboat cruise up the New River, starting from Fort Lauderdale. If you’re yearning to see some of Florida’s most expensive real estate and multi-million dollar mega-yachts, this three-hour tour is for you.
you can buy a composite souvenir photo prior to boarding the jungle queen. from left: Interesting amerca's editor-in-chief, richard “Zippy” Grigonis, accompanied by his friends, caitlin doherty and her father, mike doherty.
(Photo © richard grigonis.)
Back in the 1960s you couldn’t give away river front property on the New River. Now, of course, it’s incredibly crowded with the fabulous pleasure palaces of the affluent who may spend merely a few weekends and holidays each year at their pristine retreats, glistening brilliantly in the hot Florida sunshine. It’s hard to believe that this area still retained its authentic, undeveloped Florida ambience right up until the middle of the twentieth century.
The 1940 book, Seminole Indian Legends (a result of the WPA project), recounts the following about the New River at that time: “Much of the enchantment and mystery still remain. Gray moss hangs on the large oak and cypress trees that sway to touch the quiet dark water. The banks are covered with ferns.” Susan Gillis, in her 2004 book, Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America, writes, “New River in its pristine state was a place of oft-reported beauty with cypress-lined banks and roiling tarpon that came with the incoming tide. It was home to alligators, tropical birds, and water moccasins indigenous to the nearby Everglades.”
The New River has been called the most winding river in the United States, and indeed there are more twists and turns on it than a game of Snakes & Ladders. Gillis writes that, “Originally, it was a clear, deep, short waterway, approximately eight miles long from its mouth and formed from runoff from the nearby Everglades. Before the Everglades drainage program began, strong whirlpools, tied by subterranean passages to springs in the Atlantic, were located at several spots in the river. In fact, visitors accounted that New River was ‘bottomless’ in certain areas.” These days, however, the vicinity’s most impressive whirligigs can be found in the whirlpool tubs at the super-luxurious 22-room hotel and bona fide temple to pampering, “The Pillars at New River Sound” in Fort Lauderdale.
There are some historical aspects of the New River, however, more interesting than any luxury hotel or residence along its shores, or any yacht that plys its waters. For example, the Seminole native Americans have a fascinating legend concerning the New River in Broward County near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
As the legend goes, after a long hard day of hunting deer and turkey in the pine forest, the Indians (or “Amerindians” as some anthropologists used to call them) had gone to sleep one night, only to awaken to a great wind blowing from the southeast as the ground shook, accompanied by tremendous thundering and roaring sounds emanating from the dense forest and semi-tropical jungle. Even the bravest of the braves dared not investigate the situation until the following morning.
When members of the tribe did summon the courage to venture forth the next day, they were started to discover that a large river now flowed where before there had been forest and dry land.
In another version of the story, a great hurricane-like storm battered the region, and the Indians fled to the Everglades to ride it out. When they returned, the river had magically appeared.
Since it (allegedly) literally appeared overnight, they locals called it Himmarshee, which, not surprisingly, translates to “the New Water.” The white man later picked up on this, referring to it as the New River.
People who enjoy telling this incredible story additionally claim that modern-day geologists have found more than a modicum of truth in the ancient tale. According to the 1940 book, Seminole Indian Legends, “Geologists say that it [the New River] was an underground river running through buried coral ridges, an outlet for the waters in the Everglades. An ancient earthquake caused these rocks to collapse, and now waters rose to form a river.”
In reality, as Susan Gillis explains in Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America, “the New River is a mature system that developed after the formation of the Everglades, approximately 5,000 years ago. The pioneers who repeated this tale did not realize that the Seminole Indians themselves were relative newcomers to the area, occupying sites in today’s Broward County only as recently as the early nineteenth century.” The Tequesta Indians long preceded the Seminoles, but were almost immediately wiped out by the diseases brought by early Spanish explorers. By the mid 1700s they were gone.
As for the actual origin of the name New River, Gillis notes that the earliest known document mentioning the New River is the America Septemtrionalis map of 1631. “The maps’ notations are in Latin and New River is labeled R. Novo,” writes Gillis. “It is possible that the well-documented shifting inlet, which has moved three times in the historic period, led to the name New River Inlet, hence New River.”
In any case, back in the present day, as we make our way up the twisting, busy waterway, we soon learn that the Captain (and announcer) of the Jungle Queen knows every detail about every home and yacht on the river, how much each one of them is worth, who owns them, and how much they are worth. Indeed, unlike the low-key, old money families that used to inhabit places such as Palm Beach and Boca Raton, the Captain says that many residents of “millionaires row” on the New River supply information about their homes, their yachts—and of course themselves—to him, desperately wanting to be mentioned during the tour. Ah, the psychological foibles of nouveau riche entrepreneurs!
the new river is lined with luxurious residences, many of which are only occasionally inhabited by their immensely wealthy owners.
In the course of the tour, one aspect of Fort Lauderdale that impresses you is the large number of yachts, many of them seemingly too big to fit in the New River. Owners of very large yachts tend to hire special boatmen who for a tidy fee will tow, poke and prod the yachts out into the Ocean for a casual jaunt. Fort Lauderdale appears to be home to the largest number of yachts anywhere in the U.S., or anywhere in the world, for that matter: In 2006 it was estimated that there were 42,000 resident yachts and 100 marinas and boatyards. There are also 4,000 restaurants and 120 nightclubs to service the entertainment and gastronomic appetites of the area’s denizens. (Fort Lauderdale is also known as the “Venice of America” because of its plethora of canals, the Intercoastal Waterway, and of course the New River.)
during the 45-minute stop at the jungle queen indian village, you can see some traditional alligator antics.
Halfway through the three-hour Jungle Queen tour, you disembark onto an “exotic tropical island” for 45 minutes to experience the “Jungle Queen Indian Village” which is basically an entertainment area surrounded by some forest and a more residential area beyond. The island as such consists of a small zoo, eatery, and alligator wrangling area. You can also schedule your trip so that you can partake of an all-you-wish-to-eat dinner and variety show with a sing-along. Yes, it's corny, but it's totally unlike scientifically-marketed, sterile, mega-tourist entertainment for which Florida is now known.
To sum up, on the tour you'll see the following:
- Bahia Mar
- Venetian Isles
- New River
- Millionaires Row
- Downtown Fort Lauderdale
- Harbor Beach
- Little Florida
- Large Yacht Storage Basin
- River Front
- Seminole Indians
- New River Jungles
- Port Everglades
- Intracoastal Waterways
The cruise departs from Bahia Mar Yachting Center and returns to its point of departure after about three hours.
The Jungle Queen Riverboat tour has existed in various forms since the 1950s. I thought the narration describing millionaire's row was one of the more interesting and uniquely informative experiences I've ever had in Fort Lauderdale.