Site 229 W/E/S;
Sun, surf, fishing, biking, kayaking, air boat ride, nature preserve, space center, and dining options galore.
A month stay means a big blog!
The main positive on this park is it's location. Besides all the activities listed below, it is just a short walk to the beach or the fishing pier, and you can watch the cruise ships right from your site, and if your lucky as we were, a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral.
A campground map is available on their web site www.portcanaveral.com. I differentiate the campground into two types of sites. The shaded sites are closer to the beach and are generally very tight within the trees. Many Class A motorhomes will have tree branches to contend with. The remainder of the park (especially the middle sections of the loops) are wide open.
Because we extended our stay (we liked it that much), we had to move two times.
This is Ruby and the Mother Ship at the first site in the open middle area - Site 229.
For the middle couple nights we squeezed into the trees at site 325. Shaded, site with not a lot of room, but when sitting behind the trailer had a nice view through the playground to the canal at the park.
For the last couple nights we were in Site 123. At first we didn't like it. Out in the open, no privacy for sitting. Had to contend with that light pole that had trailer scuff marks on it. But in the end we liked it because we had a clear view of the top halves of the cruise ships going by.
The showers and baths were fine and there is a small washroom. The main office has a store with beach goods, some RV essentials, and camp food basics (think burger condiments).
We had one unpleasant encounter with the park management. At one point we moved sites to a 50 Amp only site, and I needed a 50 to 30 amp adapter (dog bone). I could not find mine so while I managed other setup shores Sandy went to the camp store and bought one at the same time as paying for the new site. The dog bone was less than $30 and Sandy paid cash, but by the time she got back to me, I had found ours. After completing setting up, we went back to the camp store to return it, but they would not take it back because we “did not have a receipt”. Despite showing the tag still on it, and saying we paid cash, the manager said that the Port is very firm and they can't return anything without a receipt. I am pretty cool when dealing with bad service in any form, but this irked be considerably as we had spent over one thousand dollars to date at the park, to not take back a thirty dollar item with the labels still attached is ridiculous.
The other barometer that the Port Authority may not be the best park managers was the number of people changing sites. We changed sites twice and everyone around us were changing at least once. You could blame us because we wanted to change, but it just seemed odd and unusual.
Things to do at park
Beach! Suitable for bike riding during most of the day except at highest tide. At low tide the beach was very wide and firm and provided great walking and swimming. We saw large flocks of black skimmers, as well as sandwich and royal terns nestled together on the beach. Fun to watch.
Black Skimmers take flight with the jetty in the background.
Cruise ship watching. Yes, this is a popular activity. On one Friday afternoon we saw many people come to the park at the jetty and watch four large cruise ships set out one after the other like a parade. The channel is so narrow that you get an extremely close up view. You can hear every word the DJ's are saying as they drum up excitement for the passengers and the beat of the music is loud and clear. People on shore as well as on the ships wave and smile. It is actually more fun than you would think. We didn't get tired of it.
The first photo here shows just how close the ships look from the park. Our second site was just to the left of the motorhome in this photo.
The next few photos are from the Friday night were multiple ships left within a few hundred yards of each other. The next photo shows how people line up along the jetty park (between the campground and the canal) to see the show. You can also see the Disney ship right behind the Norwegian Epic.
Norwegian Epic. Big!
Aft of Norwegian Epic.
One of two Disney ships we saw frequent this port. While the other ships would blow their horns once, Disney's horns play bits of their famous tunes. Cute the first 2 or 3 times you hear it.
A Carnival Ship in the line.
Here you might be able to make out three ships as they left the port. The last one is Disney.
Rocket Launch Watching!
Well if the opportunity presents itself - which it luckily did for us twice in our visit. We got to see one day and one night launch.
The day launch was the December 15, 2017 launch of SpaceX. Jetty Park is comprised of an actual day-use park and playground with parking for breach use in addition to the campground. The park abuts the port. The opposite side of which is the Kennedy Space center. There are many launch sites at Kennedy, but this particular launch was from a pad close to the port, so we got great ring-side seats. People lined up all along the park in beach chairs to watch the show (think 4th of July fireworks). Including this lady.
While I had seen launches many years ago, the closest I had been was probably 6 miles or so away at Patrick Air Force Base. While we were all looking in the general direction of the launch, the growing roar of the viewers in excitement indicated the launch had started. Within a second, everyone was locked on with their cameras and binoculars. The rocket was quite high when we heard the sonic boom, so it took us quite by surprise.
Exciting to watch, going up and up, and then a stage separated in a cloud and there was a tremendous "AHHHH" from the crowd.
Eventually the ship disappeared from view and we all started talking excitedly about what we had just seen. Then! A louder roar from the crowd made us look up to see the first stage returning! I had forgotten that was going to happen. They are testing reusable rockets! As much as I was enjoying myself, watching this rocket pointing straight up to the sky with flames coming out the bottom, going BACKWARDS to the launch pad was incredible. It recalls the many many sic-fi movies I watched as a kid from the 50's and 60's.
The booster returns! How can it do that?!
Moments after it disappeared from view over the sand burns of the canal, a tremendous sonic BOOM rang out much louder than the first. Scared the heck out of us! Then we laughed along with our few hundred neighbors. We had to sit and marvel at what we saw for a few minutes before heading out.
Fishing. Fishing licenses are not required to fish from the long fish pier that sits on top of the Jetty. There are a few fish cleaning stations as well. The bait of choice are live shrimp though neither we nor others we say had much luck. We heard later (see Sebastian SP blog) that last year's hurricane took out the eel grass affecting the fishing.
Photo of Sandy watching the lines on the pier at Jetty Park. Dredging the canal in the background.
Bike Riding. It looks like the whole port area is pretty new. The Port Authority did a great job in making the sidewalks about double the width of normal, making bike riding easy throughout. A short trip from the park brings you to the fishing boats and restaurants along the docks and the the Exploration Tower. A mile or so further down Mullet Road will bring you to a nice waterfront park (Rodney Ketcham Boat Ramp), and then the Canaveral Locks. Mullet Road from going under Rt 401 to the locks is a very pleasant ride looking like a very remote area (not a port), where we saw a flock of storks fishing in tandem in the Avocet Lagoon. We would not have noticed except we saw a couple roseated spoonbills fly over head and perch in a try over the lagoon. That's when I saw the storks with heads down walking back and forth in the lagoon. Attempts to get a good photo out of this caused them to scatter. At the end of the road are the locks and where we heard manatees are known to frequent, though we did not see any.
Things to do nearby
This area has such activity options, one can't count all the possibilities. Within a couple hours, you can get to Disney World, Ocala National Forest, and Daytona Beach. Closer are the Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island Wildlife National Wildlife Reserve (of which I have a separate blog); Cape Canaveral (great tours and rocket launch viewing from pretty much anywhere in the vicinity); great fishing; the best surfing on the east coast of the US; and plenty of dining options (all of them casual). Route A1A has many free public beaches with bathhouses from Port Canaveral through Cocoa Beach and south all the way to Sebastian Inlet a little over 20 miles away.
Exploration Tower is the Ports' 7 story modern visitor and information center. Several floors deal with education about the port's history as well as the Space Center. In one area I used a simulator being tested to manage a pilot boat through the port doing several tasks. While interesting, the best part of the tower was the open top floor that gives expansive views of the area – being by several stories the tallest building around. During space launches, they have seating on the top floor for a fee for viewing.
This a panoramic shot from the top of Exploration tower.
View to one of the many cruise ship docks. Each company (NCL, Disney, Royal Caribbean etc), have their own pier.
This shot from Exploration Tower shows how close you are to the Kennedy Space Center. Viewing a launch from here would be amazing.
Zoomed in shot of another cruise ship, but also a marina. Behind this marina at the far left edge of the photo are several of the restaurants mentioned below including Grills.Rising Tide bar and grill is the blue building at the lower right.
Captain Bill was successful in navigating the port! You could select the difficulty in this and doing it at night in the rain was fun. Like a video game you could select this aerial view or the view from the bridge of the boat which was very realistic.
There was danger lurking in one of the exhibits.
Exploration Tower at sunset from Rising Tide restaurant.
Surfing. The places to go to surf, or like me watch surfers, is (north to south), the Cocoa Beach Pier, outside Patrick Air Force Base (two public beaches), Indiatlantic, and Sebastian Inlet State Park (probably the best overall). There was a world surfing competition at Sebastian during our stay that we did not go see.
Watching the surfers at Cocoa Beach Pier.
Cocoa Beach Pier is a wonderful, though costly, way to spend a few hours. This is one of only two areas I know where you have to pay to park – the other being a public lot near Heidi's mentioned below. It costs $10 to park in the parking lot at the pier. This fee gives you access to the pier, otherwise it is $2 per person to go on the pier. I should add that the first 1/3 of the pier is free and is comprised of bathrooms, a restaurant and a cheesy tourist shop. Once past these, you must pay to get to the open pier which has adirondack chairs and hightop stools and tables with food and drink service. At the end of the pier is a tiki bar. Fishing is allowed on the pier between the food area and the tiki bar, and is popular. But, the most popular activity is what we did: have a drink and watch the surfers who ride the waves within feet of the pier pylons. The view up and down Cocoa Beach also is unsurpassed. Finally, there are many activities that occur here like the Flying Santas. Helicopters flew by all Sunday afternoon, filled with Santas with parachutes who dropped down to the pier area.
Glitzy fun. Get an ice-cream at the blue outbuilding! Then watch the volleyball games on the beach.
One must have a cocktail to be sociable on the pier. Though I think this was only lemonade.
The Rikki Tiki Tavern at the end of the pier.
Looking north at Cocoa Beach from the Pier. Jetty Park would be at the far end of this photo.
This guy posed for everyone while he was waiting for handouts from the fishermen (fisher girls and boys too).
Ron Jons Surf Shop. Even if you aren't a shopper, you have to stop by. This is the LL Bean of beach wear. Name brands and great variety of clothing and beach wear/gear. At the corner of A1A and Rt 520 which is the main causeway from the mainland.
Air Boat Rides. There are many options throughout the state, but our friend Jim recommended Twister Airboat rides at the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp west of I-95 on the St Johns River. He also recommended the food at Lone Cabbage. Only 30 minute rides were available because they were busy. A one hour ride is an option with advance reservations when available. Our boat captain was the owner and a close friend to an old work buddy of mine (Phil). He stopped several times to give us close looks on the gators, cattle with cattle egrets riding on top, and new to us a couple of sandhill cranes. I was surprised at the information he provided on each topic, from flood levels to the egrets' symbiotic relationship with the cattle and the digestive routine of the alligators. At times he sped (but not too fast) around corners making for a really fun ride. The first gator we came to he said was the largest he had seen in the past 5 years. He estimated it to be about a 15' male (females don't get that big).
This is not the "big one", but a good size none the less.
These two sandhill cranes flew to this spot just as we were sitting still looking at the cattle. Beautiful birds and our first time seeing them.
Typical boat on the St. Johns River.
When the ride was over, we stayed to have lunch there at the railing overlooking the river. I had fried catfish bites and Sandy had fried shrimp. We washed it down with two cold Shock Tops. We had a great appetizer. I think it was the shrimp jammers. Had we stayed for dinner we could have had the combo plate with gator, frog legs, and catfish! Next time.
With a name like Lone Cabbage Fish Camp, how could the food not be good?!
The cold beer wasn't bad either.
Kayaking. We chose Calypso Kayaking, a single man operation running off a trailer of kayaks at the boat ramp at Manatee Cove Park on Merritt Island, just a couple miles north of A1A. Immediately after pulling from shore a left turn into the very small Manatee Cove we encountered a couple manatees. The water was very murky so we could only see them when they came up to the surface. As he instructed, we just floated along and let them come up to us. He said they will sometimes come right up to the boat to check you out if you are still, but if you are paddling they will not approach.
A manatee just under the surface.
Breaking away, we eventually headed north out of the cove into the Indian River. There was a strong wind from the southwest as we headed north and paddled in and out of cover of the Pine Island Conservation Area. The kayak guy was leading another couple on a private tour nearby at the same time. Very pretty area where we watched ducks and cormorants and fish. We stopped for a leg stretch at a very pretty little sand beach where my small 35mm camera slipped out of my vest and plunked into the water. I grabbed it in less than a second, and it still took pictures, but water got inside the lens. On my own life vest I have a pocket, but these did not. Oops.
Many Ibis to see.
Osprey pretty common too, but usually not this close.
A nice beach to pull up to and drop your camera in the water.
Speaking of manatees, we also visited Manatee Sanctuary Park on the Banana River, just west of Jetty Park and south of the locks. While we did not see manatees, the elevated boardwalk was a beautiful spot to watch sunsets from as well as the smaller Banana River Park just a hundred yards further north on Del Rio Drive.
We went to Lou's Blues on A1A in Indiatlantic on the advice of a realtor (Al) we were working with. Al said we would fit right in as all the old people in the area come in for Karaoke from 4 or 5 to 8 PM. Al would be there that night to sing.
We pulled in and found it fantastically funky. Looked like a West Texas roadhouse (Gilly's?) inside, complete with about 50 bras hanging from an obscured animal head's antlers. The band stage was actually on an overhanging balcony over the bar. Al wasn't wrong. A full house of white haired ladies and gentlemen crooned and danced from everything from 50's pop to Michael Jackson, to current hits. Three ladies wore boas as they sang along to the girl groups like the Shirells. About as fun people watching as you could get. My cheeks still hurt from smiling so much. About 8PM the crowd starts changing, the white hairs being replaced by younger people. We stayed long enough to hear several songs by the band, which was excellent. Serving up 80's-like tunes like the English Beat and the Clash.
Other activities we did not do: A Casino boat leaves and returns daily from the port area – as well as multiple cruise ships if you want an extended trip.
Melbourne Village. South of Cocoa Beach, and across the causeway from Indiatlantic is the city of Melbourne. Immediately after crossing Rt 1, a left and a right takes you to E New Haven Ave and the Historic downtown. This street is about 6 blocks of side by side restaurants and a few shops. Many of them have outside seating. I could mention this in our dining section, but as this area is a nice walk, I placed t in the things to do. We ate at Ole Fire Grill, a nondescript Mexican restaurant, and found it to be very good with excellent happy hour options.
We also stopped in Grimaldi Candies (www.grimaldicandies.com) on Waverly Place (side street). Sandy pointed out the sign outside that proclaimed “Chocolate Covered Potato Chips”. I could not get across the street fast enough. Forget the chocolates with caramel and sea salt. These are to die for. :) I bought a box.
The most popular restaurant judging by the line outside was Meg O'Malleys Irish Pub. The Dove II was upscale Italian and Crush Eleven is a new fine cuisine offshoot of The Fat Snook, that we were told is the best restaurant in Cocoa Beach by a realtor we met.
We did not get to Cocoa Village, but the same realtor mentioned above told us that it is a great place to walk and seek out shops and dining options. He said it is better than Melbourne. It would be between Rt 1 and the Indian River on the mainland.
While at this campground for a month, we had plenty of time and available options to try different places. The difficult part was restraining ourselves. I do this in the interest of providing fellow travelers our thoughts and recommendations.
The options were too numerous in the Port, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa Village, Melbourne area to mention a fraction of what is available, so we'll just mention where we went. Right in the Port, among the cruise ships and fishing fleets are several waterfront casual dining options. While none of them were spectacular, given the atmosphere and locations, they offered up some enjoyable meals and/or cocktails.
Sandy's favorite was Grills Seafood Deck and Tiki Bar. A busy place with indoor and outdoor seating and a large tiki bar with dining tables off to one side. On the opposite side of the restaurant are charter fishing boats and their fish cleaning stations. When going to Grills one night the boats had just emptied and 10 people were cleaning fish by the barrel load. Never saw so many fish. Some of this fresh fish was going to end up in the restaurant.
We liked Grills enough to return two more times, once bringing our daughter Stephanie. Each time we went back to the Tahitian Tuna Poke appetizer. Sushi grade tuna over coconut sticky rice and sea weed and “special” sauce. After reading several entries on Yelp describing the “must have” shark kabobs (when available), I had to try them. Very good with a taste and texture like swordfish. A second return had me try something else new. The catch of the day was FileFish, which the waitress called Trigger Fish. She said it was the cook's favorite local fish so I was in. Really enjoyed it. I likened the flaky white flesh to a less fishy tasting haddock. Though possibly the best part of dinner at Grills is going to the tiki bar after and looking at all the lights in the harbor from the cruise ships to the fishing boats.
Within feet of Grills, we had drinks at Fishlips on an upper deck, the restaurant was closed by the time we got there. Both Fishlips and Grills have multiple locations. Just on the other side of the charter boats was Seafood Atlantic, Inc. This was the real deal for fresh fish. I think the waiters were busing tables only when they weren't taking fish off the boats outside. This place was only open from 11-7PM Wednesday through Sunday. With the short schedule we only went once, but had a really good meal from very friendly waitstaff. Wasn't cheap given the casual outside dining, but I recommend it.
Next stop on the docks is Baja Chowder and Seafood. This kind of neighborhood dive bar with restaurant has an outside bar with entertainment. Was very popular. It was the only dining option on Christmas day in the area. We had gone for a bike ride and pulled up for lunch. They said it was an hour wait. Not worth it when the restaurant side was dreary on a beautiful sunny day.
A few more yards down the road is Rusty's Seafood and Oyster Bar. Another deceiving exterior. Old and casual on the inside. Up a flight of stairs with limited seats with water views given the proximity to the water. That being said, it was cold when we were at all these places, and plastic screens were down where available. Otherwise much of the outside seating was closed. Again, food was average, but good enough to enjoy trying another place. Sandy thoroughly enjoyed her ahi tuna served sliced in a pleasing circle.
Due to the cool weather, all the waterfront restaurants had the plastic screens up. A little downer on the view. Below is the interior of Rusty's.
My favorite spot in the area was a few months old sports bar/restaurant called Rising Tide Tap & Table. With a very large micro brew list on tap, and well prepared and innovative dishes, plus 4 large screen TV's over each side of the bar where I was able to watch several Sunday Football games simultaneously, you can't go wrong. I should also add portions were large. $13 for three of the best shrimp tacos we had. They were so big and filling that I had trouble finishing them. I didn't dare try the burgers – having seen how big they were gong to other tables. One whole wall of Rising Tide opens to a Canaveral Port Authority park like visitor's complex with the Exploration Tower, pond, and changing colored lights and walkways. Beautiful at night.
The bar side of Rising Tide.
Outside of the Port/park area, I have to mention a couple other notable stops.
The Cocoa Beach Pier is worthwhile for the fantastic views – and this is off bikini season. There are two food options, a restaurant with south facing views (out of the cold north wind) with expectedly barely edible food. At the end of the pier is a tiki bar that has limited food options. The best option is to eat somewhere else and come here for the drinks and the views.
Nolans Irish Bar, in a shopping plaza along Rt 520 in Cocoa Beach (behind the CVS which is across A1A from Ron Jons Surf Shop), is an incredibly small pub bustling with song and beer. We waited an hour while friendly staff made sure we were comfortable, had a place at the bar, and were supplied with Guinness – free glass and Guinness reps came by with shot glasses on a tray to refill our pints. Very limited menu, but the food was very good and the music even better. A recurring gent sang and got everyone involved. Merriment all around!
Further south on A1A and within a block of each other are 3 must stops.
Coconuts on the Beach has been a go-to beach bar since I lived in the area in the 1970's (under a different name). A huge open deck on the beach with better than expected food (as opposed to the Pier).
Fat Kahunas is the place to go to be treated like and to eat like a king or queen. Maybe less than 10 tables, they bill themselves as fine dining and having the best ahi tuna in the world! That is a big statement, and to me they lived up to it.
We made reservations a week ahead and waited 10 minutes outside to be seated. The waitress came out and gave us two glasses of wine on the house for the inconvenience.
I did not need to look at the menu to order the ahi tuna (see the note below), though other items sounded good. It surpassed my expectations. OMG good! We didn't need it, but we had ordered the coconut shrimp appetizer too. They were the largest, juiciest shrimp I've ever had. They were also as expensive as an entree, but I can honestly say it was worth the pleasure.
The ahi tuna was the best I've ever had.
One of the few times I actually finished an entree (because I couldn't help myself, not because it was small), Sandy was shocked when I said I would listen to the dessert menu. Key lime pie. I figured if I was going to get it once in Florida, why not at the best restaurant we had found. It was great too.
Our guilt over this dining extravagance was tempered by the fact that we were alone and on the road for Christmas and were not sharing presents for the first time ever (except for the beach shoes at Ron Jons LOL). When you think about the meal and experience for days after, you can say it was worthwhile.
Note: To see a great video description of Fat Kahunas (and my inspirational ahi tuna!), Yellow Dog, and Rusty's visit Fat kahuna's web site www.fatkahunas.com and scroll down the main page to get to the Youtube video of the Food Network's Steak Shapiro's show "Dish Worth Driving For".
Speaking of Yellow Dog, there is a story here. The day after we arrived at the park, we went for a ride to look at the two places I used to live back in 1978-80. At the same time we were really hungry and kept our eyes out for a place to eat. By the time we drove past my old apartment on the Indian River in Palm Bay I had had enough driving so I did a u-turn shortly after. My mind quickly thought of the old dive bar that was next door. When I lived next door to it, a fellow from New Jersey bought the bar and started serving pub/bar food like burgers etc. As I approached the old place I slowed down and saw that the bar - now a restaurant - as still open so I pulled in.
To my surprise a valet came up to the car. I hesitated, but thought what the heck, there is little parking beside the place and I'm starving soave him the keys and went in. Inside, it was not the old bar! White table cloths and an upscale (and pricy) menu greeted us. It was mid day so we were the only ones there except for a birthday party downstairs. To cut this as short as I can, I had a great fish cake sandwich while Sandy did not care for her variation on an iItalian sandwich it being too soggy from the backing the sandwich meat.
My fishcake sandwich.
The wait staff were very friendly and when leaving, one of them handed me a bag from under their Christmas tree. A few hours later I was astounded by the best cookies I ever had. No exaggeration. Round almond cookies covers in powdered sugar, that were crazy good. That being said a follow up to this story is that our close friends who live in the area and another couple we met on the road who live in Palm Bay had nothing good to say about the place calling it pricing for so-so food. I have no complaints.
As we were leaving I had to walk outside and look at their back deck. Looks like a great place for a good to great meal with a view. While we were dining, we watched and took videos of dolphins feeding around the piers outside along with the ever present pelicans. I was able to get a good view of my old back yard which you can see in the photo below - just on the other side of the white fence. Anyway, I and posting this to show some friends and family my old view!
In the block across the street from Fat Kahuna and Coconuts is Heidi's restaurant and jazz club. While we didn't have time to eat at this german restaurant, we stopped in after the Fat Kahuna to see what it was like. A truly great night ensued! We were listening to a great jazz trio (fabulous pianist), when two gentlemen basically joined us at the bar. They were very chatty and before long we were like old friends. They said they had been together for 20 years, and had finally made in legal with a wedding this past October. We got to see their wedding photo. They live in the Tampa area where they own horses. They also have a condo in Cocoa Beach for get aways. In a short while the owner Heidi came to talk with them, we moved over one stool and she sat between us. She was very old and a little inferm, but a real cracker. Her husband chef came out to join the group for a bit too. Eventually we had enough, tipped the band and shook hands with Heidi on our way out. Memorable.
Jazz every night at Heidi's.
People we met
At the park we met a couple traveling in an Airstream made in the 1960's. We also met a man whose we don't know, but his dog Jonnie we do as they went on their daily walks. A couple next to us from Alabama had a beautiful and huge Class A motorhome using it as a base as he was working at Cape Canaveral as a contractor installing radio poles. The day we left I spoke to a man traveling with his 30' Airstream International. He was using a ProPride sway control hitch hitch that looked amazing. He said it was about $3,000 for everything. He loves it and said he has no sway. With the trailer disconnected, the hitch ball will literally glide side to side with a soft easy movement. ProPride's web site says they remove the friction that traditional systems use and move the pivot point to the rear axles of the truck (instead of at the ball and getting sway) when encountering wind sheer to the side of the trailer.