A bit on the history
Port Canaveral, Orlando and the Space Coast grew up in the 1970’s, became iconic by the 1980’s and has continued to expand into the multifaceted vacation, and educational destination that it is today. With so much to choose from, advice from a trusted travel agent is essential to get the most out of the time you plan to spend in the area.
The area has been transformed not only from the distant past, but in mere decades from a remote location with little activity to one of the largest playgrounds in the world for adults and children alike. In the beginning this sparsely inhabited sandy area was about all the first Spanish explorers noticed when they arrived in the Cape Canaveral area in the 1500s. The Spanish ceded Florida to the British in 1763, but Britain gave it back to Spain in 1783 in hopes of keeping it out of the hands of the U.S., while, Native Americans struggled with the European settlers until a war in 1821 gave U.S. President Andrew Jackson the excuse he needed to relocate the tribes to areas west of the Mississippi clearing the way for Florida to become the 27th state in 1845.
Due to Florida’s extensive wetlands (and clouds of mosquitoes), growth was slower around Cape Canaveral than elsewhere in Florida. But in the 1950s, when the remote area was selected as the nucleus of the U.S. space program under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, large aerospace contractors and hundreds of scientists and technicians began moving in.
The 1971 opening of nearby Orlando’s Walt Disney World (only 35 mi away) sparked further interest in Port Canaveral and in Cape Canaveral’s beaches. Today, Port Canaveral is the second-busiest cruise-passenger port in the world, hosting nine different cruise lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Disney. Because of its proximity to Orlando, Port Canaveral has become the main departure point for cruise ships with itineraries that combine a few days at central Florida’s amusement parks with some relaxation at sea.
Mosty cruise lines provide charter-bus transportation between the port and airports in Daytona, Melbourne and Orlando. If you plan to spend several days in the Cape Canaveral-Orlando area before or after your cruise, consider renting a car. Rental cars are available at the Orlando and Melbourne airports, and can be booked through at various Orlando hotels, and in the cities around Cape Canaveral. All of the major rental agencies are represented. Rental rates range US$20-$50 a day, depending on the car and time of year. (Expect to pay more November-May.) For passengers arriving at Orlando’s airport and renting a car, it’s a pleasant 35-mi/55-km drive east to the port on the Highway 528 toll road (also called the Beach Line Expressway). Follow the signs to Cape Canaveral/Port Canaveral and your terminal.
Astronaut Training Experience
Ever dream of being an astronaut? You can be like one in this one- or two-day program. It includes spaceflight training simulators, full-scale space-shuttle mission simulations, plus a VIP tour of Kennedy Space Center and training gear. Prices start at US$225. http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
This area will give you an idea of what the Cape Canaveral area looked like when the Calusa inhabited it. The U.S. government established the refuge in 1963 as a buffer zone between the space center and urban areas. The refuge, which covers 140,000 acres/56,700 hectares, is beneath the Atlantic flyway, a migratory route for birds. More than 330 species, including the bald eagle, make their homes in its marshy lagoons at least part of the year. Several other endangered critters take shelter there as well, including West Indian manatees. Loggerhead sea turtles return to the beach every summer to lay their eggs at what is now the largest sea turtle nesting site in the U.S. Bobcats and alligators reside there, too. If you come across an alligator, do not feed it. Florida law forbids it, plus it could pose a danger to yourself and other visitors. The refuge’s visitors center offers displays of wildlife habitats, as well as a wealth of printed information, including books to purchase. A short boardwalk behind the center offers a quick look at the environment, but you also can take footpaths deeper into the marshes. Black Point Wildlife Drive is a 6-mi/10-km loop along which you can view shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl from your car. This is a good drive for alligator watchers. Look for them in the water or sunning on the banks.
What does the future hold?
The area has been hit economical hard by the dismantling of the space program, however recreational opportunities continue to grow ever year. Port Canaveral recently announced a $25 million-$30 million 40 acre mixed-use project in an area of the port known as The Cove. The project would include retail, hotel and entertainment that will further support all those vacationers that come to the area.