A Florida kayaking tour that feels like paddling the Milky Way
Neon glowing dolphins. Manatees and manta rays glow the brightest of blues. Fluorescent fish that dives in your kayak. These may look like visions only possible in fanciful dreams, but this natural wonder is absolutely real at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The window of opportunity for experiencing this underwater phenomenon is small, so read on to learn how to infuse some magic into your family summer vacation plans.
From June to October, the water in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Merritt Island, Florida turns blue from the single-celled bioluminescent organisms that congregate here every year. The resulting unusual light show gives the illusion that the world has turned upside down and that you are paddling through comets, shooting stars and fireworks as seen from a kayak.
Bioluminescence is more like a sci-fi movie than a reality, but it is one of nature’s most incredible phenomena. It is the ability of a living organism to create and emit light. When these organisms move through the water, they create a dreamy light effect that lets you see fish underwater at night.
Edith Widder, founder of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association, says bloom is constant there because it occurs in an estuary that tends to be protected and stable.
For the most memorable way to experience the glow, book a Get Up and Go Kayaking Tour. Your paddle will glow as you maneuver through the waterways and the natural flow of the water will illuminate the organisms. The clear bottoms of their kayaks allow you to see what’s below, as well as what’s around you. They launch from the northwest side of the Haulover Canal, which is an area that is home to large populations of manatees and dolphins, making it very likely that they will make an appearance during your ride.
For bioluminescence at its peak, book your trip in July or August. The best nights to watch are the darkest with a moon phase of 55% or less. Get Up and Go Kayaking has a handy calendar on their website to help you plan the best date for your experience.
Merritt Island is also home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Children intrigued by space travel will return to the Visitor Complex organized into mission zones with attractions and tours grouped by chronological period. You will leave with a good understanding of the history of humans in space, from the dawn of exploration to current missions.
If luck is on your side, you’ll even have the chance to meet an astronaut or experience an unmanned rocket explosion from the Space Center or from the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Station.
For ideas on where to stay, the NASA website has a comprehensive list of hotel options that suit a wide range of budgets. If you decide to take the plane rather than the road trip, book your flights to Orlando International Airport (MCO).
– Maria Chambers
Featured photo: Credit Tony Catalano
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