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.
Carnival Cruise Lines entertains seafarers on a decorated vessel brimming with lively stage shows, upscale dining, buffets, and sweeping aquatic views. Kick back in the comforts of a spacious interior stateroom with a convertible king bed, full bathroom with shower, and closets roomy enough for stashing buffet leftovers. Vacationers can stretch their legs while dining on a rotating roster of food served three times daily before laughing the evening away at a comedy show.
Dash Around Tours' experienced guides cart up to 14 sightseers to scenic central Florida locales, such as Cocoa Beach, Lake Eola, and Kissimmee, aboard the Dashmobile, a van replete with complimentary food and drinks. During unique expeditions, quirky tour guides take digital pictures for the group's future perusal on the web, as well as dole out their own brand of trivia about central Florida that they admit is more useless than a megaphone at mime school. The tour price includes admission to area attractions, but riders must provide their own change for retail purchases.
Tantalizing Tastes & Tours guides Jerry and Jasmine Bacon shepherd diners through the Fine Dining Tour, introducing palates to the seasonings and styles of four or five handpicked restaurants. Private chauffeurs depart at 6 p.m., driving guests to gourmand gems such as City Fire, at which diners indulge in upscale American fare, and The Nile, whose chef populates a menu with authentic Ethiopian dishes. As journeys roll along, panoramic views of downtown unfold, guides elaborate on places of interest, including Amway Center and City Hall, and rousing games of trivia require guests to consult their noggins to answer questions such as "Is Antarctica actually real?" Drivers will also pick up and drop off residents of other cities for an additional cost, including Kissimmee ($25), Lake Buena Vista ($20), and International Drive ($10). The directors request that guests refrain from wearing shorts, flip-flops, or clown noses on the excursion.
Florida is a state ripe for adventure. Airboats speed across its Everglades, passing by scenic flora and fauna, such as the state's famous American alligators. Elsewhere, a giant Saturn V rocket looms over the Kennedy Space Center, where visitors can learn about NASA, ride a shuttle-launch simulator, or even dine with a real-life astronaut, who may or may not be made of cheese. An astronaut even greets visitors as soon as they arrive, provided they come on one of Gray Line Orlando / Gator Tours' buses.
In business since 1993, Gator Tours became the Orlando branch of the nationally known Gray Line brand in 2006, and has grown to include more than 20 buses that travel across the Sunshine State. The experiences mentioned above are just two of 59 tours that depart from the Orlando area. In addition to simple shuttle service, the company also takes care of full itineraries. Depending on the chosen trip, guides might lead groups through downtown Orlando or historic St. Augustine, home to cobblestone streets and America's oldest schoolhouse. Other times, the company's buses go straight to the ocean, where boats wait to embark on deep-sea fishing trips.
Owner, instructor, and personal trainer Dan Case loads up the roof of his boat with a fleet of standup paddleboards. On his small boat, he's on his way to Ponce Inlet Intracoastal waterways with groups of up to seven. When they've reached their requested destinations, clients get to paddle through the mangrove trails, keeping an eye out for local wildlife such as manatees, dolphins, and Bear Grylls hiding in a tree. Inexperienced paddlers can take lessons on the placid waters of Lake Killarney, and more experienced visitors can try their hand at surfing or standup-paddleboard yoga.