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FLORIDA ITINERARY: How to spend ten days in southern Florida

GUIDE: From the southernmost point in Key West and the alligators in Everglades to the crazy parks of Orlando and those old, rusty spacecrafts at Cape Canaveral – here is how to spend your days in southern Florida.

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Day 3: The Space Coast

Mankind's largest rocket to date, the Saturn V of the Apollo program.

Mankind’s largest rocket to date, the Saturn V of the Apollo program.

North of Stuart, the landscape changes somewhat; it’s as if Miami Beach has reached all the way to this point, spreading north in a never-ending suburb of fast food restaurants, car dealers and motels. But now, finally we’re out of it. Instead, the coast between Stuart and Cape Canaveral, our goal for today, consists of smaller single cities and villages. In between them, residential summer homes have been built along the seafront, making it hard to see much of the Atlantic.

Warning sign at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

Warning sign at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

To gain some time, we choose Interstate 95 up to Vero Beach. There, we take the Merrill P Barber Bridge out to the narrow island off shore, the Indian River Shores, and continues north on A1.

Our next stop is Sebastian Inlet State Park, which is what it sounds like, a park at the inlet through the island, enabling boaters to navigate in and out from the city of Sebastian, and with the A1 bridge spanning the inlet above our heads. We decide to have a picnic here at the inlet, where sport fishermen camp a piers and jettys in the strong winds. Judging from no less than three sets of warning signs, the pier itself must be a dangerous place – everything from high wawes, bolts of lightning and wet, uneven surfaces are warned for. Being a European myself, it’s small things like these signs that, in my view, often make America look a little funny.

Florida's Space Coast.

Florida’s Space Coast.

There are no real major cities around this area, the closest to the north is Palm Bay/Melbourne which also has a bridge between the mainland and the narrow off shore island. We choose to continue north on the island, but as you drive north, it is a good idea to jump back and forth, using various bridges, to make the drive more interesting.

Having stayed on the off shore island, we now drive closer to what has given this strech of Florida its name, the Space Coast. As we pass Melbourne, our island starts bending outwards from the mainland to the right, opening up a wider space of water in between. There, at the height of Indian Harbour Beach, another island begins to take form: Merritt Island, with its northern boundaries fully occupied by NASA and the space industry. You can choose to continue north on either Merritt Island, or the narrow stretch east of it. We do the later, and soon pass the Patrick Air Force Base. After that lies Cocoa Beach, where we plan to spend the night. Cocoa Beach has more or less grown together with Cape Canaveral. We plan to visit Kennedy Space Center the day after, so we use the car to go and get tickets ahead of our visit.

In Cocoa Beach, a visit to Ron Jon’s giant surf shop is a must. Occupying a whole neighbourhood, Ron has filled a barn with surf shoes, surf swim wear, surf goggles, Beach Boys nostalgia, and pretty much every thing else. Even if you don’t buy anything, the grand scale of the place makes it worth visiting.

Across the street is another surf store, combined with restaurant and a hotel in the same building.

This part of the island is narrow, so the beach is just a few hundred yards/meters away.


Day 4: Kennedy Space Center

Launch pad 39A of Kennedy Space Center, from where many space shuttles were launched.

Launch pad 39A of Kennedy Space Center, from where many space shuttles were sent to space.

The next day we spend at Kennedy Space Center. See our special Space Center guide for more details on this. The Space Center’s Visitor’s Complex is on Merritt Island, about 30 minutes from Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral. It’s all a matter of taste of course, but it can be argued that the Visitor’s Complex itself has seen better days. It features a quite interesting exhibit about the early days in space, some rockets and a few rides, none of which is very exciting. During the summer of 2013, space shuttle Atlantis will be shown there, preparations the the new exhibit were underway in January. But, generally, if you’re looking for space-inspired theme park attractions, head straight to Orlando instead.

No, it is the tours around Kennedy Space Center’s vast areas on Merrit Island and Cape Canaveral Airforce Station that make the visit worthwile. We opt for a tour to NASA’s huge Vehicle Assembly Building, where mankind’s largest rocket to date, the Saturn V of the Apollo program, as well as many space shuttles were put together and prepared for launch. It’s a fantastic place, 140 meters high, resembling a high-tech church. We also get to see a space shuttle launch pad, as well as a full scale model of the Saturn V. Standing benieth the huge machine, it’s impossible to figure out how they ever got the thing off the ground a all, let alone all the way to the moon.

Having spent the better part of the day on the premesis of NASA, we turn west towards Orlando in the afternoon. The quickest way is the Martin Andersen Beachline Expressway/528, which is a toll road and will bring you to Orlando in about two hours. Hotels there is cheap, espeially in Januari when we manage to secure a decent room for two nights for just over $60.

We spend the evening gearing up to hit the parks.

Next: Orlando

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The editor of the Traveling Reporter works as a business news editor, and is a frequent traveler. When not doing any of that, he spends time on his boat and tries to figure out where to travel next. Two of his top destinations are the Philippines and San Francisco. Email Erik! Follow the Traveling Reporter at Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Chime In, Pinterest, Google+, Weibo, Storify, Facebook, Traveldudes, Myspace.