For the frugal
traveler looking to spend time at a Florida vacation spot different than the
usual Disney, Miami Beach, Key West, or Tampa spots, look no further than
Cocoa Beach, Florida and the Kennedy Space Center. Just don't go expecting
There was probably a
time -- the sixties no doubt -- when this was the place to be. Anthony
Nelson and Roger Healy and Jeannie were here (or people like them at least).
NASA was in high gear. And you might expect the area to still be in high
gear -- I mean they still launch the space shuttle from here.
But it's not. Cocoa
Beach is a middle- to lower-class neighborhood, not geared for tourists.
Robbery is enough on everyone's minds that you are constantly reminded by
signs all over the hotel to not leave anything of value in your car, or in
your hotel room.
And there are no ties
to the I Dream of Jeannie tv show at all. Nobody has apparently
figured there's enough of a business opportunity to build anything that
might play off the show -- you figure there might be a museum in town, or a
mock up of a house that they were supposed to live in, or even a I Dream
of Jeanie hamburger joint. Nothing.
So what you get are
nothing-special hotels along the beach, and beach, beach, beach, and the
Kennedy Space Center, which is a short drive away.
The Kennedy Space
The reason why I found
myself at Cocoa Beach at all was that I stayed there while teaching a 2-day
training course at the Kennedy Space Center in March 2000. NASA supplied me
with a map of the center's Complex C, so I could find my way to the training
Let me tell you, this f'n place
is huge; like twice the size of Staten Island. The map they gave me was so misleading.
The morning of the first class, I
got to a guard gate 10 minutes before the course was to start, thinking I'm like 5 minutes away from the training
building, and the guard tells me I'm 18 miles away. Holly shit.
So then I'm
doing 68 miles an hour on this freeway within the complex, and I get pulled
over by a federal cop that looks and sounds like a cross between Jackie
Gleason in the Smokey and the Bandit pictures, and the southern cop in Live
and Let Die. With a REal southern drawwwwl, he's telling me off "I
Don't care if you've got a training course or not, You're in Florida Boy,
Not in New York, and when You're in FLorida, you Drive like you're in
Florida.... SIXTY-EIGHT MILES AN HOUR in a FIFTY mile an hour zone (and I'm
thinking, 'yea, so...what the f, I wasn't doing a hundred'). I have a mind
to write you up right now. You must have a lotta MONey (I was wearing a
The Space Shuttle
The area where the
shuttle is put together itself looks like half of what it used to be.
Everything seems vintage sixties/seventies. Still this should be high on the
list of any techno-nerd's list of places to visit. The NASA gift shop offers
typical rocket- and shuttle-type toys. Nothing much more than you'd find in
a decent hobby shop.
Thing that really blew
me away about the place was it was my first close encounter with alligators.
As you drive through the center, there are waterways along side the road --
canals I guess you'd call them -- and as you drive by, you see an occasional
alligator swimming by. My final afternoon there, I stopped my rental car at
the rear of an office building's parking lot, got out, and nearly stepped on
one lying in the grass on the banks of the canal. Lying there motionless as
if dead; but of course I've seen enough nature shows on tv to know it wasn't
dead. Took me a while to realize not 20 feet away there was another one, and
another one's head was in the water nearby. Place was literally infested
with them. Imagine trying to swim through that canal... Found it really
incredible that these people work, and get in and out of their parked cars,
in such proximity to these alligators all around.