From the Archives — Written in May, 2000:
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 elegance.
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 rockets from here.
But it’s not. Cocoa Beach is a middle- to lower-class neighborhood, not geared for tourists. It is mostly a residential community wherein lots of people at the Space Center or Port Canaveral. When I stayed there, robbery was enough on everyone’s minds that you were 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 Center
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 buildings.
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 suit).”
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.