All you need are your flip flops, sand shovels, and future space explorers to make this a vacation to remember.
Cocoa Beach, located along America’s “Space Coast,” is a perfect destination for a family vacation. Wide expanses of beautiful sand and warm ocean breezes make this the perfect backdrop to watch the cruise ships come and go, the manatees and dolphins frolic, and the glory of a rocket launch. And with a laid-back atmosphere, families always feel welcomed.
What to do?
The main attraction in this area is the must-see Kennedy Space Center. It’s hard to spend time here without developing an extreme sense of pride for the vision, innovation, and pure bravery of those that have gone into space representing our country. Activities abound for all ages. My 5-year-old loved seeing the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis, sitting in a very cool replica, and flipping what seemed like a thousand toggle switches. Mom and Dad loved seeing the pure excitement in his eyes as he pretended to blast off and bring it in for a landing. Be sure to spend a little time in the wing commemorating those who gave their lives aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. It’s a truly touching exhibit. But the real highlight of the visit - the part that has kept us talking for weeks - was the Space Launch Experience. For those 44-inches or taller (Luckily, our son’s hair was spiked up that day!), this ride will stir your inner astronaut. During this 8-1/2-minute simulation (the amount of time that it takes to get into space), you’ll experience exactly what it feels like to be an astronaut on launch day. Unforgettable! Between the rocket garden, bus tour, IMAX theater, Atlantis exhibit, and much more, this attraction requires an all-day visit. If you can schedule your visit during an actual rocket launch, you’ll be in for an extra treat; check the KSC website for launch dates. Cost: Youth $40; Adult $50.
KidTripster Tip: A great way to get a first-hand take on space travel and hear untold stories is to participate in the Lunch with an Astronaut program. It’s well worth it. Cost: Youth $16; Adult $30.
Just a few miles down the road from Cape Canaveral is Cocoa Beach. Cocoa Beach offers over six miles of pristine Florida beaches, three family-friendly parks, and the extremely quaint Cocoa Village, a revitalized riverside community with over 50 shops, restaurants, and local art galleries. During both day and nighttime rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center, visitors flock to the beach to take in the spectacular view. Most people tend to watch from the pier, so walk down a little farther, if you want your own private viewing area. While visiting Cocoa Beach, be sure to stop at Ron Jon Surf Shop, the world’s largest surf shop.
Where to eat?
For some of the best pasta that you’ve had in a long time, try Papa Vito’s Italian Restaurant and Pizza. Ignore the modest exterior. It’s the charm within that keeps this local favorite bustling late into the evening even on a weeknight. This is the first restaurant that we’ve ever visited that offers your little ones a bowl full of pasta dough to keep them occupied while waiting for the meals to arrive. Pure genius! My son thoroughly enjoyed his single slice of pepperoni pizza that was nearly half his body size. Close your eyes and take a bite of the chicken parmesan or bowl full of spaghetti, and you’ll instantly be transported to the Italian countryside. And don’t leave without trying the garlic knots!
Located along the waterfront of Cape Canaveral is Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill. This seafood restaurant will please the entire family. The faux tidal wave out front is the perfect spot to snap a photo of your little one “riding a wave.” Inside the nautical-themed restaurant, you’ll be welcomed by a top-notch staff. During several moments of our meal just as I thought my one-year-old was about to melt down, our server arrived with an engaging smile, a game of peek-a-boo, a pack of crackers or a cup of ice cream. The distraction was greatly appreciated, so my wife and I could fully enjoy our delicious meals. My wife highly recommends the Chicken Isabella; she was talking about it for days afterwards.
KidTripster Tip: Request a seat along the waterfront window, and you’ll likely be entertained by dolphins during your dinner.
Where to stay?
Located on aptly-named Astronaut Boulevard, the Country Inn and Suites by Carlson is sure to get your little space explorer’s heart pumping when they see the full-size space suit in the lobby. Located minutes from the oceanfront, this is a fabulous spot to call home during your Cape Canaveral adventure. Rooms are spacious with kitchenettes, plus a tasty complimentary breakfast. Rooms start at $129/night.
KidTripster Tip: Call ahead to see if a specially-decorated, space-themed room is available at no extra charge. Or reserve a family suite with a separate kids’ room.
Jetty Park Campground offers accommodations for tent campers and RVs, plus cabins. Campsites are located a short walk to the beach and offer unparalleled views of local cruise ships, marine wildlife, and rocket launches. Rates begin at $27/night for rustic sites; $39/night for full hookups; $83/night for cabins.
Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach are located on the Atlantic coast of Florida, approximately one hour east of Orlando by car.
Greg Bailey lives in the Tampa area with his wife and two sons. Born and raised in Michigan, he has traded in his winter parka, snow shovel, and gloves for the beach, sunny skies, and gentle breezes of the Gulf Coast of Florida. This trip was a taste of things to come, as his eldest son plans on being one of the first astronauts to Mars.