Staying Grounded On Florida's Space Coast

Author: David D'Agostino

Tags : Florida, North America, USA
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Central Florida's Brevard County attracts families with its eco-friendly attractions and water sports.Central Florida's Brevard County attracts families with its eco-friendly attractions and water sports.

For most of us there are two coasts; the east coast and the west coast. I, for one, think that is probably sufficient. Floridians clearly disagree. Florida is the undisputed capital of multi-coasts. There’s the First Coast, Treasure Coast, Palm Coast, Lee Island Coast, the Nature Coast, Central West Coast, Central East Coast, (almost there) North Central Coast, Big Bend Coast, Forgotten Coast, and the Space Coast, the site of my family’s most recent vacation,

Unlike the other ambiguously-named coasts, the Space Coast name is clear; it derives from the fact that this 72-mile stretch of Florida coast (there’s that word again) is home to the venerable Kennedy Space Center and it encompasses the towns of Titusville, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, and Palm Bay.

The Space Coast is only 35-miles east of the Orlando attractions and the activities available here include watching shuttle and rocket launches, surfing, bird watching, year-round golf, fresh and saltwater fishing, air boat rides, and all the rest of the usual Florida vacation fare.

Lift Off

If you are planning a trip to the The Space Coast (Visitor's Center, 877/572-3224) to view a shuttle or rocket launch, plan carefully and remember, these things do not always go off on schedule and delays can be anywhere from a day to months. We were fortunate enough to have witnessed the shuttle Atlantis launch and it was quite spectacular. Although we were a good 50 miles away from the launch pad, our view from the beach was more than sufficient.

Seeing a launch in person gives you a whole new appreciation of the power it takes for the vehicles to leave our atmosphere and all of the children present gaped wide-eyed, as massive towers of smoked billowed upwards followed by a brilliant trail of blazing, orange fire. A good two to three minutes after takeoff the sound finally made it our way, the earth trembling beneath our feet. The kids were a bit frightened, but they loved the feeling.

On June 29, 2013 the new Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center (866/737-5235) will launch, giving visitors a chance to get nose-to-nose with the final shuttle orbiter to fly a NASA mission, Atlantis. The six-story, $100 million exhibit features state-of-the-art multimedia presentations and more than 60 interactive exhibits and simulators, along with an awe-inspiring, 360-degree view of Atlantis.

Earth Play, Water Play

Perhaps the Space Coast is inappropriately named; although the area is known for its space-themed offerings, the more unique attractions are based here on Earth. We visited the Brevard Zoo (321/254-9453) to try two activities that you won’t find elsewhere.

The first unique activity is hand-feeding giraffes from a raised platform that allows you to greet these amicable long-necks face to face. It is amazing to get so close to these creatures. The giraffes are gentle giants that calmly munch large, melba toast-like treats right from your child's hand. The kids go nuts for this, and it is an amazing photo-op for happy-snapping parents.

The second adventure unique to Brevard Zoo is a kayak ride on the park's meandering river. Parent and child pilot their own kayak up the river where you are provided with a backstage view of the creatures. A guide leads the way in his/her own canoe and provides loads of interesting facts about the animals on shore. This journey allows you to get unimpeded views of the animals on shore; you're free to imagine that you are out in the wild and not behind the gates of a zoo.

The highlight for me was a surfing lesson with George Jones of Surf Guys Surf School (321/956-3268). This dude is the genuine article. George is in his mid-to-late 40s and he has experienced surf all around the world. His narratives, told in that natural, smooth-flowing surfer accent, are extremely entertaining and he breaks his lessons into manageable little chunks.

You begin your lesson with George explaining riptides and how to swim in them, accompanied by a healthy sprinkling of anecdotes from his personal history. If you're not overly anxious to get into the water and you don't mind some tangential rambling, George's opening monologue can be a lot of fun.

Next, you move to the parking lot and gather around the back of George's van. After a bit more talking, George pulls out his surfboard carpets and he and his assistant demonstrate how to jump from lying face down on the board into optimal surfing position. This is no easy task, but an essential one if you are to have any hope of actually standing on the board in the water.

I was with a group of five adults and, thanks to George's parking lot instructions, three of us actually managed to get to our feet and ride baby waves ito shore before falling onto our behinds in six inches of water. At $40/hour (generous gratuities mucho appreciated, bro) you won't feel cheated. Kids are welcome to participate.

 

Let Down

No visit to the Space Coast is complete without a stop at the Kennedy Space Center, however it was far from the best aspect of our trip. Although many things about the center are quite amazing, you spend a lot of time on shuttle buses and even more time watching short video introductions that don’t hold much interest for younger children. 

The highlight for my 9-year-old son Devin was the near-nausea-inducing, loud, and shaky Shuttle Launch Experience. Launched in 2007, this simulated shuttle launch is meant to give you the sensation of a real takeoff (on a small level it did, and, having experienced it, I can confidently declare that actual space travel is not in my future). As children under 48-inches-tall are not permitted to ride, my diminutive daughter, Daelyn, watched the action from a viewing booth with her mother.

While in Florida we stayed at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront Melbourne (321/ 773-9260), home of the ridiculously uncomfortable Sleep Number Mattress beds. The rooms are clean, but the staff here does not seem too concerned with your needs. The pool-side food is mediocre at best, and aside from room terrace views of the beach and a swimming pool, there’s not much here for the kids. And, the clincher for me, before leaving for the airport I stopped at he hotel restaurant and purchased a lukewarm cup of blah coffee to go for which I was charged a ludicrous $3.50.

All in all, we enjoyed our visit to the Space Coast, but I would suggest that instead of spending your entire family holiday here, perhaps it would make a better day-long break from a theme park vacation in Orlando.