(BPT) - When planning a Florida vacation for the entire family, two things typically first come to mind: winter getaway and busy theme park. Nothing wrong with that, but if you stop there, you're limiting your possibilities.
Along the state's Atlantic coast, there's another side of Florida that's waiting to be discovered. With extensive waters, diverse wildlife, enthralling history and countless fun things to do, this is a unique area that will have everyone in the family catching the spirit of adventure. For a vacation that delivers hands-on, memorable experiences, why not pack up the family and explore Florida's Space Coast?
For starters, there are miles and miles of Atlantic shoreline to enjoy. Along the Space Coast, it's always a perfect time of year to pass the day at the beach. Rent a beach umbrella near the historic Cocoa Beach Pier and relax with a frozen drink while the kids play in the sparkling surf. In the same area, you can also climb aboard for a two-hour boat tour operated by Island Boat Lines and piloted by a United States Coast Guard-certified captain. The tour winds through The Thousand Islands, which are a maze of trails and canals through mangrove islands and hidden hammocks. You'll learn from a professional naturalist who will point out some of the dolphins, manatees and coastal birds that are among the numerous wild creatures making their home in and around these captivating waters.
For something else that truly amazes, try a nighttime kayak tour on the Indian River Lagoon within the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Dip your paddle, trail your fingers in the water or just watch for mullet swimming by - simple water movement activates a glow-in-the-dark trail of neon blue-green along the river surface. What you're seeing is plankton magic, or, more scientifically, 'bioluminescent dinoflagellates' defending themselves against potential predators. Between that astonishing glow and the extraordinary view of the night sky enveloping the undisturbed refuge, your family members will feel like they've entered a portal of enchantment.
If you're interested in observing more nature in action, the Space Coast is home to the second-largest loggerhead nesting area in the world, with more than 15,000 sea turtle nests. At Carr National Wildlife Refuge, visitors can take a turtle walk to observe the nesting of these beautiful creatures and learn valuable information about conservation efforts.
Enter the cool zone
The Space Coast also features plenty of entertaining museums and other indoor attractions and activities that will get you out of the sun, without sacrificing the fun. In Palm Shores, don't miss the challenges and rollicking good times at Adventure HQ, which has tons of inspired and wacky climbing tests that kids can't resist. (Who wouldn't want to try scaling a beanstalk?) Then head over to Port Canaveral's Exploration Tower to learn all about this area's rich history - from its earliest inhabitants to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and all the way to the men, women and machines behind our present-day space exploration - as told through interactive exhibits. Finally, take a walk among giant dinosaur skeletons and inspect a detailed replica of King Tut's shining tomb at the newly opened Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures, in Cocoa Beach.
On the Space Coast, there's no need to stand in line for hours to experience thrills and excitement. For those who like their adventure high up in the trees, Brevard Zoo's Treetop Trek has zip lines, cool swings and three aerial obstacle courses perfect for kids and kids at heart. You can get your ticker racing another way by taking a go-kart for a spin at Andretti Thrill Park, which also features mini-golf and a ropes course. For even more drama, an up-close encounter with the space program offers its own special kind of thrill, and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is simply jam-packed with a solid day's worth of jaw-dropping exhibits, including the rockets, shuttles and out-of-this-world astronaut stories that will capture the imagination.
For ideas and tips on planning your fun family vacation along Florida's Space Coast, visit visitspacecoast.com.