Family Vacations to the Space Coast

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Space Coast – Family Vacation Guide

Maybe you’ve done “the parks” in Orlando and you want your family to see a little more real Florida. But you don’t want to find the musky, gothic “Old Florida” because you wonder if there will be enough for your kids to do.

In between the glitz and glam of Orlando’s parks and the backwaters of rural Florida, the “Space Coast” is a perfect middle ground for those families that still want to have access to the parks and other major attractions, but don’t want to have to deal with living among them.

Why Go on Vacation to Orlando

  • Duh! Space!

    As you might have realized, it’s called the Space Coast because it’s the home of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). This is an excellent attraction for kids to explore and romp, one where they can actually learn about both history and science along the way.

  • Beaches

    While the Kennedy Space Center provides the region with its “spacey” name, there’s plenty more to explore here on earth, such as the world-renowned Cocoa Beach.

  • Old Florida

    Further south along route A1A is the town of Melbourne. This little bit of “real Florida” includes a stretch of delightful beaches (many of them usually empty) along the barrier island, while inland is an actual town filled with bars, restaurants, and shops.

  • Popularity

    Orlando, Florida is the #1 destination in the United States, hosting 68 million visitors in 2016.

  • Nature

    Still further south you can immerse yourself in more natural experiences by exploring an array of state parks and wildlife refuges. Enjoy wildlife viewing, kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking, and more. There are also a number of local airboat operators that run trips further inland.

What to Do

Kennedy Space Center

Start by exploring the visitor’s center ‘Rocket Garden’, the home of several rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Then enter the Heroes & Legends building for 4D multisensory theater experiences and actual artifacts from a Redstone rocket to a Sigma 7 capsule to a close up encounter with the capsule from a Gemini 9 mission. The exhibits culminate with a trip through the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

It’s worth noting that while the space program was male-dominated for its first several decades, the future for NASA is all female. The space agency’s modeling for future spaceflights and attempts to discern the ‘perfect’ future astronaut all point towards women at the controls of our future space fleet. So while the astronaut hall of fame is still mostly dudes, you’ll notice more and more women popping toward at the end – and pay attention to NASA’s promotional videos, which are filled with girls.

Be sure to take the bus tour of the actual space center too, which allows you to view the launch sites of numerous space missions. You can hop off the bus to tour the epicenter of the actual launch operations, as well as historic sites where Alan Shepard and the Mercury 7 astronauts blasted into space. The Apollo/Saturn V area is not to be missed as it includes an actual moon rock, prototype space suit designs, a multimedia re-enactment of an Apollo launch from an original control room, a lunar rover, and, most notably, an entire 363-foot Saturn rocket suspended from the ceiling.

And if you’re lucky, your trip might just be during the launch of an actual rocket. You can make plans to see the launch from the Kennedy Space Center, or find a good park along the coast and have a picnic dinner launch party.

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Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach offers a diverse array of activities for families, starting with Exploration Tower. This striking architectural landmark overseas Port Canaveral and the array of cruise ships that use the port. There are seven floors of exhibits and interactive play, observation decks, an auditorium, a café, and more.

The Brevard Zoo is one of the few zoos where you can actually kayak past the animals, including giraffe, rhinos, and lemurs. There are also paddleboats, animal encounters, a treetop ropes course with zip lines, train rides and daily feedings. Be sure to check the zoo calendar for a variety of special events.

Cocoa Beach’s main strip includes the Museum of Dinosaurs & Ancient Culture, the 52,000 square foot flagship Ron Jon’s Surf Shop (open 24 hours), and Parker Brothers Concepts, a showroom and working garage filled with outrageous concept cars and vehicles from film and TV.

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The barrier island is filled with wildlife, while inland is an actual town filled with bars, restaurants, and shops.

If your trip aligns with the proper seasons, be sure to sign up for a sea turtle watch program as 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the U.S. takes place in Florida. The nearby Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is host to the largest nesting population of loggerhead and green sea turtles in the country, boasting a quarter of all loggerhead sea turtle nests and a third of all green sea turtle nests. Sea turtle nesting season here is June to October, but the best time is June-July when guided, nighttime sea turtle watch programs are offered. The best time to see hatchlings emerge from nests is in August and early September.

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Getting Around

For families flying into Orlando International Airport, a rental car is the easiest way to get around. The large interstate highway system makes Orlando a very drivable city. Many of the theme park resorts, including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, offer shuttle transportation to and from the airport. All three major theme parks offer complimentary shuttle services from their hotels to the theme parks. In addition, the Brightline express train service now offers intercity travel in Florida, allowing travel between Miami and Orlando in just three hours.


Chris “Chez” Chesak is Executive Director of the Family Travel Association and a 15-year veteran of the travel industry. While he’s lived all over the U.S. and traveled to nearly 30 countries, he has the most fun when he’s exploring with his wife Sally, and three daughters, Lillian, 12, Sylvia, 10, and Linda, 8. An avid outdoors person and writer, he’s happiest on a trail, on skis, or nestled into a sleeping bag.

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