The entire sky along Florida's Space Coast is like one giant movie screen, regularly showing the story of rockets—some manned, some unmanned, others guided entirely by dreams. They launch gracefully towards the heavens, where they break through Earth's atmosphere and float out beyond it. It's a mesmerizing display, one that serves as the focal point for Space Coast River Tours's Rocket Tour. The Blue Dolphin, the company's 44-foot USCG-certified pontoon river boat, serves as the tour's mode of transportation. Its retractable roof pulls back to reveal unobstructed views of the sky above for all of its 49 passengers.
Captains Mark and Michele Anderson, who are both certified by the U.S. Coast Guard, have plenty to explore even when rockets aren't taking flight. Specialty tours are available at an additional cost. During the holidays, they show passengers the lights and decorations along residential canals in Sykes Creek, handing out some egg nog or hot cocoa to complete the experience. The Banana River Lagoon Tour, meanwhile, remains a daily feature. For two hours, the boat tours the Banana River and floats into the habitats of the area's many birds, dolphins, manatees, and gators.
Every instructor at Calema Windsurfing and Watersports knows his or her stuff, and not just because they all hold U.S. Sailing certifications. Each one has personally trained with Calema's owner Tinho Dornellas, a master instructor who also designed the first surf ski with John Byde, whose father later patented it. Dornellas knows water sports like the back of his hands?which he probably used to make whatever surfboard he's currently riding.
Dornellas started using fiberglass composites to shape his own kayaks, surfboards, and windsurfing boards in the 1970s, and he and his wife Susie (a former windsurfing student) have kept up with advances in the field. Today, for instance, the shop also rents standup paddleboards, riding a resurgence in the Hawaiian sport.
Calema is ideally located for just about any aquatic activity, except maybe kraken-fishing. The Atlantic Ocean stretches to the east, and the Banana River flows right by the store, letting kayaks and standup paddle boards float straight into waters shard by dolphins and manatees. Beyond gear rentals and instruction, Calema also hosts windsurfing races and the annual Calema Midwinters Windsurfing Festival.
Cocoa Beach locals know that it's rare to spot Bill Kowalik on dry land. The Puerto Rico–born seafarer is at home on the water, constantly surfing, kayaking, or leading tours across the Florida Space Coast. Bill’s as passionate about the environment as he is about watersports, enthusiastically exploring the area's diverse waterways while taking pains to leave the least impact on the protected waters. Along with his team of trained instructors, he leads individuals, groups, and families on kayak tours through lush mangroves and island channels, pointing out dolphins, manatees, and exotic birds.
Dolphin Paradise Tours' US Coast Guard?inspected boats whisk sightseers off into the ocean to encounter a wide spectrum of Atlantic wildlife. Long-beaked pelicans swoop for fish, enormous manatees lumber gracefully through the saltwater, and smooth-fleshed dolphins play beneath the waves. After sailing the Cocoa Beach intercoastal area, captains dock the boats at a remote island where passengers can disembark to collect seashells and children can chase skittering lizards or bedraggled shipwreck survivors across the sand. A particularly memorable part of the tour comes next: groups swim out into the water, using underwater microphones to hear the whistles and clicks of dolphins as they communicate with each other. Although groups swim at a distance from dolphins and manatees so as not to disturb their natural habitat, the animals are naturally curious and may swim closer to do some sightseeing of their own?make sure to jump through a hoop at that point. In addition to sightseeing tours, the company regularly chauffeurs passengers to deep waters for chartered fishing trips. And during the Halloween season, Dolphin Paradise Tours transports thrill-seekers of all ages to a haunted island, believed to be inhabited by the souls of people who were cursed and left for dead.
Dolphin Jet Ski Rentals front-loads what is possibly its service's greatest attraction: the chance to see the dolphin's fin crest up close. This is a common occurrence for their riders, who may also encounter manatees as they cut a path through the waves. The watercraft are also simple to learn for first-time riders. Simply watch a brief video, undergo a safety briefing and operation instruction, and never press the button that activates submarine mode. As jet skis launch from the Harbortown Marina, numerous waterways provide riders with access to the Banana River and beyond.
Shark Bait Fishing's name is a little deceiving. Sure, you might catch a baby shark out on the company's 26-foot catamaran, but you'll also have a great shot at reeling in everything from puffers to red fish to the more elusive electric pink eel. Shark Bait provides the reels, rods, and hook licenses, and out on the waves of the Intracoastal Waterway, the captain will help you bait hooks and clean your fish. That part's especially helpful if you plan on bringing the whole family, which the company happily encourages.