Once you've explored Disney World and the Orlando area, I'd suggest travelling a few miles to the east, where you'll find Florida's Space Coast, a fabulous 120-km stretch of sand and surf between Palm Bay and Titusville.
The Space Coast not only offers beautiful beaches, but it's also the only place where mega-space shuttles and delicate bird and wildlife sanctuaries co-exist along the Atlantic shore. It's a great destination for family adventures, including:
1. Disney World offers the fantasy of "Tomorrowland," but the Kennedy Space Center and Astronaut Hall of Fame let you experience the real thing today. You can visit the Launch Complex Observation Gantry, sit at a mission control console, talk to an astronaut, walk among towering rockets in the Rocket Garden, climb aboard a life-size Space Shuttle mock-up, touch a piece of moon rock, take a virtual moonwalk, experience a virtual reality flight trainer, and take an interactive voyage through the cosmos.
2. If birdwatching and wildlife viewing are your passion, Florida's Space Coast is home to an awesome variety of plants and animals. The area's abundance of lakes, creeks, estuaries and coastline can be explored via kayak or canoe, providing an opportunity for close up views of manatees and dolphins. There are organized night tours to experience bioluminescence and hear jumping fish, and airboat rides through wetlands, where you'll see both alligators and cypress trees in their natural habitat.
3. Whether you choose to hire a professional charter boat captain or take a self-guided expedition, the Space Coast offers great fishing opportunities. Deep-sea charters take fishing enthusiasts out to where tuna, dolphin, grouper and sailfish can be found. Saltwater piers offer chances to catch flounder and bluefish, the inland waterways offer bass and catfish, and surf-casting supplies you with tarpon, pompano and nook. After a fishing expedition, families can sample such local delicacies as gator tail, frog legs, grouper and catfish at the abundant seafood restaurants.
4. The Space Coast's Cocoa Beach is the home of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame Museum and the Ron Jon Surf Shop (the world's largest), so this is the perfect place to take that first surfing lesson -- or work on improving existing skills. For directions to surfing hot spots, visit surfline.com (and search East Central Florida).
5. With more than two dozen challenging courses stretching along the coast, golfers will feel well looked after. See spacecoastgolf.org.
6. Hikers can enjoy an amazing diversity of ecosystems as they explore area trails such as the 1.5-km loop in Coconut Point Sanctuary. Other worthwhile hikes include a 1-km elevated boardwalk (with interpretive signage) on Merritt Island, a 1-km trail in Sebastian Inlet State Park (this winds through a mangrove forest along the Indian River shoreline), and the short, family friendly Centennial Trail in Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, where an observation tower offers a view of a pelican nesting area. Visit spacecoasthiking.com to find specific trail locations.
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