Seven Highlights of Florida’s Space Coast

Petra Shepherd takes flight

Florida’s Space Coast is located just one-hour east of Orlando on the Atlantic Ocean, home to Kennedy Space Centre and Orlando’s nearest beach.  Only here can you follow in the footsteps of both astronauts and world champion surfers.  With space being of universal interest from grandparents who watched in awe as man landed on the moon, to toddlers obsessed with Buzz Lightyear, it’s an excellent choice for a multi-generational holiday and add on to the classic Orlando break.  I spent a week there in June this year, these are just a few of my highlights.

EXPLORE PORT CANAVERAL

Port Canaveral is home to Kennedy Space Centre but also the world’s second largest cruise port with 13 homeported ships from Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruise Lines.  If you’re taking a cruise from Port Canaveral, think about tagging on a few days before or after your cruise to explore the region.  To get your bearings and also a birds-eye view of the port, surrounding beaches and the Banana River, visit the outdoor observation deck on the 7th floor of Exploration Tower, a stunning architectural landmark with seven floors of exhibits and interactive play. For fresh locally-caught seafood, I’d recommend lunch at the intriguingly named FishLips Waterfront bar and grill with an excellent location overlooking the Port’s ship channel.   Dishes include an award-winning clam chowder and cajun angels (blackened bacon wrapped shrimp served with mango salsa).  Florida’s answer to “devils on horseback”. 

The Exploration Tower

SPEND TIME AT THE BEACH

With 72 miles of beach to explore, starting at the northern most end of the region is Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore.  This undeveloped stretch of beach has some of the closest launch viewing.    If you enjoy watching cruise ships, head to Jetty Park at Port Canaveral, whilst I spent an afternoon at Cocoa Beach, the most well-known and the East Coast Surfing Capital, home to 11-time World Champion surfer Kelly Slater and some say, the greatest surfer of all time.   Surf lessons are a space coast holiday must do but my days of hitting the waves are over, so I enjoyed instead a stroll along the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier, an 800-foot historic landmark.   For the less mobile, most of the beaches also offer beach wheelchairs for hire.

SHOP AT RON JOHN SURF SHOP

You might not be into surfing but a visit to Ron Jon Surf Shop recognized worldwide as an icon of the surf and beach lifestyle will earn you extra kudos on a multi-generational holiday.  Covering 52,000 square feet of retail space, Ron Jon Surf Shop is a must-see spot, from its art-deco-inspired facade to the ultra-cool beachwear it sells.  From swimwear to skateboards, skim boards, surfboards or body boards, Ron Jon Surf Shop has it all.  Everyone wants to come home with one of their iconic tee shirts, mine says “the ocean is calling” appropriate as I’m a Piscean lover of wild swimming.  

TAKE A KAYAK TOUR OF THE THOUSAND ISLANDS 

The Space Coast has many unique nature excursions with kayak tours being one of the most popular, intended for those who want to get a taste of the relaxing shallow intercoastal waters and view some of Florida’s exotic wildlife like dolphins, manatees and a variety of birds including great blue herons, snowy egrets, white ibis, roseate spoonbills (with their long legs and rosy pink colour often mistaken for flamingos), brown pelicans, double crested cormorants, ospreys and bald eagles.   I’ve kayaked many times, but most of my fellow kayakers  with Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach had no prior experience however it’s safe and easy to pick up, and the two hour leisurely paced round trip paddle through the mangrove islets allowed for ample opportunities to observe the environment and improve my kayaking skills.  Kayak tours are also offered at night, when bioluminescence is present, you can catch these glittering dinoflagellates from June to October and in keeping with the space theme, I’ve been told it’s like paddling through a galaxy. 

Kayaking in the Thousand Islands of Cocoa Beach

BE WOWED BY A ROCKET LAUNCH

With NASA, Space X and United Launch Alliance all on the scene, more rockets are launching than ever.  There were 31 rocket launches in 2021 with close to 60 planned this year. Where else can you sit on a beautiful stretch of shoreline and watch the marvel of space flight in action.   Sadly, the launch planned to take place during my visit was postponed: if even the tiniest detail is amiss in the moments leading up to a rocket launch, the launch will be ‘scrubbed’ or postponed.   However, The Kennedy Space Centre visitor complex more than made up for the disappointment with its multitude of attractions 

VISIT THE KENNEDY SPACE CENTRE VISITOR COMPLEX

The Kennedy Space Centre Visitor complex is the premier space related attraction in the area.  Here, you can get nose to nose cone with Space Shuttle Atlantis, walk amongst giant rockets in the Rocket Garden and learn about space exploration’s past, present and future. 

The 44,000 square foot Space Shuttle launch recreates the incredible journey only astronauts have accomplished.  Yes, it’s a simulator but as the engines ignited and the countdown commenced, so did my goosebumps, it’s very realistic and what’s more you get to momentarily experience zero gravity. A multi-generational holiday might seem an impossible task, with so many interests to juggle.  The Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex ticks all the boxes.  History loving grandparents will enjoy the Heroes and Legends experience, where the early programmes of space exploration come to life, showcasing the birth of the US Space programme whilst two- to twelve-year-olds will have lots of fun at Planet Play, a fully-immersive play experience designed to educate the next generation about space exploration. Children can map a constellation, climb a wormhole, walk on Saturn’s ring and slide through at asteroid field.   Hard-to-please teens will be captivated by films about space exploration at the Imax theatre, see how astronauts sleep, exercise, go to the loo! and shop in the largest space shop on earth whilst all generations will be totally wowed by the latest attraction Gateway which opened on 15th June this year.  This bold new attraction explores the future of space travel while highlighting what is happening right now in the space programme. 

Kennedy Space Centre

TAKE IN THE AMERICAN SPACE MUSEUM AND SPACE WALK OF FAME

The American Space Museum is a must for space geeks.  Admittedly, it’s very small but crammed full with personal items from astronauts and NASA artifacts.  You get to see original launch consoles, one-of-a-kind artifacts from Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle and there’s also an interactive area for kids.   On launch days the Space Walk of Fame is a fantastic vantage point. 

In 1969 as a little 5-year-old, I was allowed to stay awake and watch the moon landings, my slightly older brother, like children the world over was so obsessed that he had a space themed 7th birthday party, with a rocket cake and all of us children in homemade astronaut costumes (it was, after all the 60s, and I wish I could find the photos).   It was a year, I will remember forever and my visit to the Space Coast, 50 plus years later was equally special.  Whether you are visiting for the beautiful beaches, to watch a rocket launch or to experience the awe-inspiring attractions at The Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex, it’s a part of the USA, you’ll never forget

The American Space Museum

Next Steps

https://www.visitspacecoast.com/

For travel to Florida’s Space Coast call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678 to find a holiday out of this world

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Petra Shepherd

Editor of Silver Travel Book Club & Cook Club

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