Congrats, DSR, glad you've worked through it. You deserve it! The water taxi only runs in Ft. Lauderdale, unfortunately. The only place I know that offers free transportation is the Sleep Inn in Dania. You might want to check to see if they have a Comfort Inn in Ft. Lauderdale that might offer free transportation.
If you can stay somewhere near the intracoastal, the water taxi is $10/pp per person and you can get on/off as many times as you'd like. There's the Southport Bar and Grill on Cordova that has fresh seafood, plus other items for a reasonable price. Someone mentioned Best Western in Ft. Lauderdale, but I have not stayed there.
Lester's diner is on State Road 84. They have fantastic food there. You could even go to the Pier 66 Bar and Grill and split an entree. The prices are high, but they pile on the food. I'm not lying, 1 serving could feed 4 easily.
If I know where you're staying, I can find some good places for you.