Finding our spot
How often have you wanted to book a trip, a room, a flight, or any type of travel, only to blindly fire away at one of the options with little or no true confidence? We all do our “research”. We check Expedia and Travelocity, we ask friends and family, we Google, we scan Facebook for groups that book rooms, flights, trips and travel so that we can get the advice of strangers. Then, when you are road weary from 13 hours of rain and traffic, the final few minutes bring all that anxiety about the hotel you booked crashing back like a fat kid on skates.
Pulling into the spacious parking lot of the Hilton Oceanfront, I wasn’t immediately relieved. From the street view it seems more Convention Center than Beachfront Fun, though it is surrounded by beautiful palms to remind you where you are. The parking lot is well lit, attended by staff and monitored by security cameras, so I felt safe taking advantage of the Snooze and Cruise package and leaving our car there for the week.
As soon as we stepped into the lobby, we felt welcome, and I knew I had made a good choice. It wasn’t until we got a feel for the whole property, that I realized just how great this place was. Bright and airy, the lobby has plenty of room to stretch out before heading to the beach or down to the pier. You can find your morning paper with complimentary fruit infused water, or grab a Starbucks Coffee and a pastry from Cool Beans to start your day. If you need to cool off after some fun in the pool or at the beach, you can grab some Gelato, Creamy Ice Cream or Italian ice from Gilberto’s. Or grab a Gilberto’s Pizza on your way back to the room for a nap.
As we pulled up, I managed to catch the Valet attendant’s attention through the door, but he was pretty backed up. So, we grabbed a luggage cart and pulled our own bags into the hotel. Check-in was super easy, and the attendant kindly helped me setup my reservations for the port shuttle – if you are cruising, sign up here as soon as possible, as there are several time slots and nobody likes to wait all day for their ride to the ship. Otherwise, it was business as usual and off to our room.
Our visit to Cocoa Beach was just a prelude to our cruise on the Carnival Breeze, so we decided against Oceanfront and instead opted for Atlantic Coat Views when we chose our room. Since we would have a balcony cabin for the next week, I didn’t think it would be necessary. You can pick from City View (parking lot), Atlantic Coastal View or Oceanfront rooms with one King or two Queen Bed setups. If you are planning to stay a while, or just need more space, Suites are available that are twice the size of the normal rooms.
Situated south of the Cocoa Beach pier, the hotel resides alongside a string of condominiums and private residences, leaving the beach a little less crowded. If you don’t want to play in the sand, but still want a little fun in the sun, the pool is heated and open year round. There are plenty of chairs poolside, or over by Longboards Tiki Bar where you can get bar service while you chill out.
Want to head out to the beach and catch some waves? There are surf rentals available as well as lessons for the beginners, or future Kelly Slaters out there. There is a complimentary bin where you can grab a pale and shovel for the kids, or the kid in you, to go make castles, or bury your friends in the sand. And you can even grab a cocktail at the small Castaways Beach Bar, as you make your way out to the rolling sand dunes and beckoning waves.
Longboards Tiki Bar and Grill
The bar outside the Hilton Oceanfront is worthy of its own mention. There are several dining options, on the property, and hundreds more line the beach and coastline, but the tiki bar right outside the doors is worth a trip no matter where you are staying.
A large thatch covered bar is surrounded by whicker furniture, fire tables, cocktail tables, televisions and loungers further out in the sun if that is your thing. The service was fantastic and our drinks were made fresh to order and not served from watered down premixed vats like you find in most high volume beach bars. I was honestly shocked at the value, especially at Happy Hour.
Speaking of Happy Hour, appetizers are deeply discounted and surprisingly delicious. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. Typical bar menu items were prepared perfectly and served hot every time. I spent enough years in the service industry to know it is not easy to make a bar and kitchen function well thru a rush period, but they have perfected it here.
If you are looking for something a little more upscale, check out the Salt Restaurant and Lounge inside. A beautifully appointed dining room and large lounge area offer Daily Chef Specials revolving around fresh seafood and grilled steaks. Breakfast is served here too, and I highly recommend their smoked salmon topped Cocoa Beach Bennie (Eggs Benedict). Dawn opted for the buffet so she could immediately enjoy the omelet station, pastries and waffles that were waiting for us after a morning walk on the beach. We had worked up quite an appetite picking through the plethora of seashells left behind after the morning tide. I don’t really remember seeing so many different types of shells on a beach before, so if you get a chance, head out early and see what there is to find.
Cocoa Beach Pier and Ron Jon Surf Shop
Since we were only in town for one day, Dawn and I had only two things on our bucket list. First off, we had to visit the Ron Jon Surf Shop Mothership.
We have an ongoing joke about opening a Ron Jon store on the Salt River here in KY. The Mighty Salt is all of 50 feet wide, with some of the highest white water action reaching almost 2 inches of frothy excitement. We imagine long lines of our hillbilly neighbors plunking down their cash for surf boards and wet suits.
Cocoa Beach is home to a Ron Jon unlike any other. The company flagship boasts over 52,000 square feet of showroom. There is a lot to choose from so plan on spending a little time looking around. When we visited, the store was operating on a 24 hour schedule, so we decided to beat the rush and showed up around 7am. To their credit, the staff was already hard at work and shelves were fully stocked with every hat, shirt or bathing suit you could hope to find. Fortunately, we lucked into a huge sale, scoring major discounts on everything we wanted, ultimately spending a lot less than we would have any other day since we are such chumps. Not unlike other trips, we could have packed a lot less since we ended up finding new stuff to wear on our cruise.
Secondly, you should not visit Cocoa Beach without checking out the pier. So after breakfast, we hailed an Uber, and headed down to see what there was to see. Jutting 800 feet out into the Atlantic Ocean, the pier hosts restaurants, bars and shopping, and even offers fishing rentals for the angler at large. A small fee for access is offset with a drink token for the bar, so don’t hesitate to take a walk out over the water. You can sit out and enjoy a great day over the water without really leaving land. Dawn wasn’t completely sold due to her fear of heights, but as long as she was not looking down between the deck boards, panic didn’t set in – too much.
Rock the Guac
After hanging out for a bit, we decided to hoof it back to the hotel. We trekked along the coastal avenue, so that we could get a little exercise and see the locale a little more closely than you can through the car windows. We built up a little thirst and hunger, so stopped in at Rock the Guac to grab a bite to eat. A small joint set into a strip mall along the main road, this taqueria and salsa bar was a diamond in the rough. Though we only snacked on chips and queso, we loved their sauces. The Ghost Pepper salsa is no joke and the beers are cold and fresh!
The rest of the walk back held what I suppose fills any typical beach town. A couple of residential neighborhoods, flanked by tourist traps and traffic. Airbrushed t-shirts, beach towels and cheap souvenirs are offered at shops scattered among the hotels and chain restaurants. There are plenty of places to get your “Life’s a Beach” gear for sure. This is not a criticism, just an observation. There can be a lot of fun found searching these shops for souvenirs and junk to take to the loved ones back home.
Locals know best
On our Uber trip to the pier we met a fantastic dude and I will call him Captain Richard, because that is what and who he is. He took the time to tell us a little bit about Cocoa Beach and the history of the pier on our brief trip down, and made a short jaunt down to the pier a great memory.
On Cruise day, when we woke up, we took notice of how busy and crowded the shuttles were going to be (a little bit chaotic, but from all reports, they got everyone there and back). Since we were on vacation to relax, we didn’t want to be rushed or crowded, and decided to call our new friend for a ride to Port Canaveral.
By the time we packed up our stuff and got out of our room, he was out front and ready to take our bags for us. We were off and on our way to our next adventure, but he had a little surprise for us on the way. NOTE – There is likely no other shuttle service, or cab driver for that matter, that would have provided this opportunity. As it turns out, the surrounding neighborhoods are home to a large population of Peacocks, and the Captain took us straight to them! These glorious birds are just roaming around the streets and yards. You can find them perched on roofs and fence lines and they will come right up to you. We got an up close and personal look at something you won’t see often and we both loved it! What a fantastic detour on the way to what would be a wonderful time on the Carnival Breeze.
We will be back!
We are already considering our next trip to Cocoa Beach, but unfortunately for us, the Hilton Oceanfront is already booked solid. We will only be in town for an afternoon, so we really wouldn’t be there long enough to matter. We will be staying at a spot recommended by our friend Corby, and doing our best to get down to Longboards for a drink and some appetizers! If you are heading to Port Canaveral for a Cruise on Carnival, don’t overlook Cocoa Beach as an added bonus. It certainly felt like one to the Traveling Bradburys…