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Space Coast Earth-Friendly Family Vacation Fun Includes Airboat Rides, Giraffe Encounters, and Beach Time.Space Coas Earth Friendly Beach Vacations From the earth-friendly atmosphere of Brevard Zoo and the natural beauty of Merritt Island to miles of uncrowded beaches and awesome surf, the Space Coast offers very green family vacation options. 

Here's the scoop. The Space Coast is a surprising place to visit. The synergy of high tech and the natural beauty place the towns of Titusville, Cocoa Beach, Palm Bay and Melbourne in a class by themselves. Need examples? Activities include giraffe encounters and dolphin watching, turtle spotting and stargazing. The area is loaded with one-of-a-kind experiences that guarantee bragging rights back home. 

Kayak through a wild kingdom. Out-of-the-ordinary and loads of fun, visitors to the Brevard Zoo have the chance to kayak within the Zoo’s Expedition Africa exhibit. Certainly unique, the guided kayaking tours wind through a 609-meter man-made river. Not a simulation, the route provides visual access to more than 60 animals, including giraffes and white rhinos. The guide referred to the rhinos by name -- Howard and Max. It was obvious to me that Howard and Max preferring to wallow rather than pose for a “wild” photo shot.

After disembarking from our kayaks it was decision time. Take the Cape to Cairo train or try hand-feeding a giraffe at the Savanna Overlook? The giraffe, why not? After all, giraffes, regal as they seem from a distance, are known to be friendly, docile, and even inquisitive. With food in hand we moved to the elevated platform and waited our turn. I was unprepared for the face to face encounter. Just imagine gorgeous brown eyes with glamorous lashes, a moist brown noise and an 18-inch purple-gray-pink tongue. Gentle, yes but amazing better describes the encounter.

Get blown away. Our airboat adventure proved to be larger than life. Even if you have seen the TV version of a swamp scooter, it does not compare. Water vehicles designed to move fast when the depth of the water is less than six inches make a lot of noise when in motion. I learned immediately that hang on means hang on. Our airboat excursion was wild in more than one way. We skimmed the surface of the marsh channels and through a natural cypress swamp. Several times we stopped to observe nests of birds or alligators, though not at the same time. During our photo taking downtime, dragonflies hovered and turtles sunned themselves on fallen limbs while an eagle surveyed our presence from a well-fortified nest. Our guide carefully pointed out the intricacies of the eco-system. Bonus Points: An airboat junket comes with bragging rights because uses all senses to the extreme. Under full throttle it seemed more like we were part of a movie scene, wild and almost unreal but quite fun.

Run on the beach. Even more unreal is the gorgeously desolate 40-plus mile long uninhabited beach that is marked on the map as the Canaveral National Seashore. It is one of the last remaining sections of the Atlantic Coast where time seems to stand still and there are manmade structures mar the visual tranquility. Tiny sand crabs scurry for the dunes as pounding feet mark the sand’s surface and brown pelicans, in deliberate formation, patrol the beach. The scene is wild and quieting at the same time. During the cooler months storms churn up beach treasures from all over the world. From sea beans and cowry shells to crusty bottles and driftwood, a beach walk is always discovery time.

Walk on the wild side. Space Coas Merritt IslandtGator TrailMerritt Island National Wildlife Refuge hugs the southernmost section of the National Seashore. The more than 140,000 acres provide needed habitat for a variety of plants and animals. More than half of the Refuge consists of brackish estuaries, nourishing mud flats and expansive marshes. The rest includes coastal dunes, forests and treed hammocks. More than 1,045 species inhabit the Refuge including 15 currently on the endangered species list.  For families who enjoy to walk, the well-marked foot trails (five in total) make viewing nature even better. The trails are open all year but in truth the routes are best enjoyed during the fall, winter, and early spring. A good starting point is the Visitor Center Boardwalk, short and picturesque even in the warmest of months. Need to know: The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center provides needed information to maximize a visit, no matter what the season. The displays familiarize visitors with the most useful information of the season. There are two films prepared for public viewing but almost everyone takes the 7-mile Black Point Drive to see firsthand because offers splendid views of the salt and freshwater marshes and plenty of birds. Also reached by auto, the Manatee Observation Deck allows visitors to observe docile manatees in the canal. Bonus Points: For visitors that wish a day adventure away from the coast, Forever Florida provides eco safaris within a 4,700-acre nature preserve that is also working cattle. The nature complex showcases "Old Florida," providing swamp trail rides, buggy rides, pony rides and a petting zoo. Guests are invited to unearth fossils and try bird watching and create lasting memories.

Cruise along Indian River Lagoon.
One of the most popular waterways in North America, the 156-mile long Indian River Lagoon marks the coast from Cape Canaveral to Jupiter. For water lovers it is a dream-come-true because it is one of the most bio-diverse estuaries in North America. Local guides and contented residents willingly share information but it is pointless to take notes because Indian River Lagoon is the home to more than 4300 species of plants and wildlife. It is an amazing place on the planet. The best way to get acquainted is to take a cruise-tour with Island Boat Lines dedicated to entertaining and educating. Every day Indian River Lagoon provides an evolving documentary scripted to fit the season. Bonus Points: Island Boat Lines offers eco-tours daily providing passengers the opportunity to become part of the script as the observe manatees, birds and playful dolphins. During a typical cruise, passengers frequently see brown and white pelicans as well as a long list of other feathered residents. Sometimes passengers spot otter, baby sharks, and alligators, all in about 90 minutes.

Take a hike. For those that enjoy a walk, the well-marked foot trails (five in total) make viewing nature even better. The trails are open all year but in truth the routes are best enjoyed during the fall, winter, and early spring. A good starting point is the Visitor Center Boardwalk, short and picturesque even in the warmest of months. Bonus Points: For visitors that wish a day adventure away from the coast, Forever Florida provides eco safaris within a 4,700-acre nature preserve that is also working cattle. The nature complex showcases "Old Florida," providing swamp trail rides, buggy rides, pony rides and a petting zoo. Guests are invited to unearth fossils and try bird watching and create lasting memories.

Location on the planet. The Space Coast stretches 72 miles along Florida's East Coast and is best known as the home of Kennedy Space Center. Just 35 miles east of Orlando, it is also offers the closest beaches away from theme parks.  Area communities include Titusville, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, Melbourne and Palm Bay.

Family Vacation Planning Details
 
Brevard Zoo. 8225 N. Wickham Road (just east of I-95 at exit 191) Melbourne. 1(321) 254-9453 or www.brevardzoo.org or go to Lagoonadventures.org

Island Boat Lines, Water Taxi & Eco Tours. Cactus Flower Restaurant, 1891 E. Merritt Island Cswy. Merritt Island, 32952.  (321) 454-7414 or www.islandboatlines.com

Grasshopper Airboat Ecotours. Lake Poinsett Lodge and Marina, at the end of Lake Poinsett Road, approximately 1/2 mile west of Interstate 95, St. John’s River. (321) 631-2990 or

Twister Airboat Rides. Their website offers a discount coupon. 8199 King St. (SR 520) Cocoa, 32926. (321) 632-4199 or
www.twisterairboatrides.com

Canaveral National Seashore. On SR 406 Garden St. /Exit 80, I-95 Titusville. Visitor Information (321) 267-1110 or and be sure to check out www.nps.gov/kidszone for activities and cool information.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. (MINWR) The refuge is closed 4 days prior to a launch day. Please call (321) 861-0667 for the latest information during shuttle launches. The Visitor Center is located 5 miles east of U.S. 1 in Titusville on SR 402. www.fws.gov/merrittisland

Forever Florida. 4755 N. Kenansville Rd., St. Cloud, 34773. 1-866-85 4EVE, (407) 957-9794 or www.foreverflorida.com
 
 
Content researched and posted by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stufff for the Family Travel Files with images provided by Space Coast Tourism and Grasshopper Eco Tours. Updated copyright 2015.
 
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