From model cars to butterflies, many hobbyists have a collection of personal treasures. In the late Mel Fisher's case, his happened to consist of tons upon tons of gold, silver, and jewels. A pioneering diver, Fisher made his name in 1985 with the discovery of the 1622 wreck of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Se?ora de Atocha, felled as it was transporting 40 tons of gold and silver back to Europe. Rather than using the haul to fill his swimming pools, he set about making his discoveries known to the world while continuing to explore the ocean floor for other wrecked 17th- and 18th-century ships. Today, Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum awes visitors with a look at its namesake's remarkable life and collection.
Almost 70 years ago, the first U.S. Navy frogmen began underwater demolitions training in the waters around Fort Pierce. Commissioned through an act of Congress and the signature of the president, the National Navy UDT–SEAL Museum now stands where these first training sessions began and documents the evolution of the first volunteers into today's Navy SEALs. Exhibits honor the predecessors to the SEAL program and display artifacts and equipment from combat, including Apollo training vehicles, a Vietnam-era ”Huey” helicopter, and the SEALs' unique water vehicles powered by hardworking seahorses. Also on display are all 10,000 pounds of the fiberglass lifeboat from the 2009 hostage rescue of Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama following its hijacking by Somalian pirates. Visitors can also view WWII training obstacles rescued from the ocean floor or take in the names of fallen heroes as they walk on memorial bricks donated by the friends and family of former SEALs. In addition to documenting and honoring past soldiers, the National Navy UTD–SEAL Museum also reaches out to living veterans through their reunions and their partnership with the Wheelchairs for Warriors program.
Before paved streets and residential blocks took its place, a maze of wetlands rife with rustling wildlife thrived in Central Florida. Such a scene is hard to imagine amid a backdrop of loud car horns, but skeptical visitors to The Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science can travel back in time and see it for themselves on a stroll through the museum’s 19.5-acre nature preserve.
This remarkable preserve joins special exhibits dedicated to regional and cultural artifacts in fulfilling the museum’s mission to keep Florida’s heritage alive in the minds of its current inhabitants. Since the nonprofit facility first opened in 1973, an influx of state and philanthropic funding has spawned further expansion. One of the most crucial add-ons, the Taylor Wing, now houses a nonstop procession of visiting exhibitions and the kid-themed Imagination Center, where young hands can touch actual fossils of mammoths and 8-track tapes. Popular ongoing exhibits include large dioramas of local ecosystems and the Windover Story exhibit, which illustrates how the residents of Brevard County lived 7,000 years ago.
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.
The only way to get into Gatorland is to walk straight into an alligator's toothy maw. The giant mouth provides entrance to 110 acres of marshy wildlife preserve––home to a vast ecosystem populated by thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and birds, including rare wading birds and four rare white alligators. Among these, more than 130 gators splash and lounge in the park’s breeding marsh, which visitors can view safely from a three-story observation tower or while sitting on the shoulders of Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Yet one of the biggest thrills of Gatorland is the reptile's raw power. Visitors can see this on full display during the Gator Jumparoo show, where alligators leap four to five feet out of the water to snag food directly from a trainer’s hands, or during the Gator Wrestlin' Show, where a handler demonstrates survival skills. True thrill-seekers can even dangle over the breeding marsh while riding the 65-foot-tall Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. And to experience the unsettling sensation of stumbling upon a swamp filled with alligators at night, the Night Shine takes participants deep into gator territory armed with only a flashlight and a few hot dogs.
When they enter Titanic The Experience, visitors receive a replica boarding pass. From there, they relive the ship's history from a passenger's perspective, from life onboard during its 1912 maiden voyage through to the crash. The exhibit closes with updates on modern efforts to recover its wreckage, which the museum is thoroughly part of?it's myriad artifacts were found by a team that performed seven deep-sea expeditions.