Our adventure began on the beautiful Banana River, which is part of the Indian River lagoon. This lagoon is said to be the most diversified estuary in North America. The water is brackish, as there is no current, and flows to the Sebastian inlet.
The lagoon is home to dolphins, manatees, osprey, pelicans, great egrets, white egrets, great blue and little blue herons, spoonbills with even the occasional alligator and wild pig sightings. Our trip was a relaxing, as well as exciting, two-hour cruise.
Captain Mark Anderson and First Mate Michele Anderson led us on our journey. Michele asked everyone to sign-in as it was a Coast Guard regulation. Boat safety was discussed and she demonstrated how to use the life jackets that were stored overhead.
The Andersons have been running their river tour for over 18 years. Their professionalism shows. Captain Mark pointed out places of interest and helped spot the dolphins and birds. His narrative is conversational, not a memorized recitation.
Our cruise was on “The Blue Dolphin” — a custom, 44-foot pontoon boat. The passenger capacity is usually 50, but is currently only 30 due to COVID-19 precautions and social distancing.
It has fully covered areas as well as full sun and is very clean and comfortable.
There is a restroom, relaxing Caribbean music, fold-down tables on the seat backs for snacks provided with cup holders for your beverages. The boat departs daily on its 2-hour voyage. Prices are reasonable: $34 for adults, $30 for seniors and $25 for kids. Saturday cruises include lunch!
“Here are some of the lines of crab traps that are set out by commercial fisherman looking to catch blue and stone crabs,” said Captain Mark.
We saw the Cape Canaveral Visitors Center which is currently closed due to COVID. We rode by the Morton Salt Plant. The salt comes from the Bahamas where it is processed to become table salt and water softener.
The U.S. Coast Guards have a station where they had several new small boats and their two large ones, Vigilant and Confidence.
We passed by a boat that is important to the shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral. The boat had two huge boom arms to which a net is extended from. The net catches the fairings that fall from the shuttle.
Browsing through the marina where the multi-million dollar yachts are anchored, Captain Mark pointed out one currently named “Sunday Money.”
“This yacht used to belong to NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Sr. He reportedly paid $4,000,000 for the yacht,” said Captain Mark.
We saw quite a few dolphins pop up along the side of the boat, dancing playfully with each other. We did not see any manatees, but did see a lot of pelicans and cormorants.
“This time of year the manatees are usually close to the surface, as the water below is still too cold. We’ll keep looking and maybe we’ll see a few,” said Captain Mark.
We traveled along the beautiful inlands waterway and Canaveral Lock #13. These locks are the largest on the east coast. To enter the locks, the captain has to call ahead. You wait for the green light to proceed and then tie up for a few minutes as you watch the locks open.
“For every 12 inches the locks open, one million gallons of water goes through,” said Captain Mark.
The pelicans sit on the top of the gate and on top of the water as you go through the gate, waiting for the right fish to appear for lunch. There were plenty of jack fish jumping up in the water for them to catch.
We passed by Port Canaveral to see where the cruise ships are usually docked and where shrimp boats make their port. It was sad to see the dock area empty when so many people are anxious to cruise again.
On our way back to Kelly Park, where we boarded the Blue Dolphin, we did see more dolphins. This was an excellent river cruise and one we would definitely do again.
Merritt Island is only 2 ½-3 hours northeast of Highlands County. There are also plenty of local hotels on AIA where you can stay and have a nice weekend. Seafood restaurants galore are available for a fine meal after your cruise.
For reservations, you can call them at 321-652-1052 or visit their website at www.spacecoastrivertours.com.
They depart from Kelly Park, 2550 N. Banana River Drive, Merritt, Island, 32952, where there is ample parking.