From Twinkling Stars to Illuminated Waters, Share a Magical Bioluminescent Kayaking Tour
Updated June 2022 by Dani Meyering
When you first see it you may think you’re looking at the stars in a dark night sky. When you realize it’s the water glowing, your world gets turned upside down. Kind of like when you first met your new love.
One of nature's most incredible phenomena, called bioluminescence, can be witnessed near Central Florida. Just an hour away from Orlando on the Space Coast is one of the best places in the world to witness bioluminescence. And the ultimate way to experience nature’s light show is gliding through the glowing waters after sunset on a guided bioluminescent kayaking tour. What a magical date night.
Bioluminescence is a chemical reaction used by marine plankton–called dinoflagellates–as a defense mechanism to ward off predators. When the water is disturbed, the non-toxic dinoflagellates emit a blue light that ripples through the water, much like fire flies on land. How lucky are we to view this glowing plankton so close to home?
If you’ve been to Pandora, World of Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at night, then you have a sense of what to expect. Disney has taken the concept of bioluminescence and added it to the theme park. But nothing beats seeing the real thing in nature.
Only active in the summer months, the best time to experience this water phenomenon is during the new moon phase, when the sky is at its darkest.
New Moon dates for the 2022 bioluminescent season are:
- June 28, 2022
- July 28, 2022
- August 27, 2022
- September 25, 2022
Bioluminescent Kayaking Tour Experience
One of the best ways to connect with your partner is to try new adventures. Outfitted with only a glow stick or a small battery-operated flashlight attached to your life vest, the first stroke of your paddle that lights up the water will undoubtedly elicit a feeling of glee. That’s only the first of many delights you’ll experience on your bioluminescent kayaking tour.
The darker the night sky, the more intense the blue of the bioluminescence becomes. Dip your hand into the river and when you take it out you’ll see dancing blue water spots slip away from your hand, as if you're holding magic. It is a very surreal feeling as you glide across the water in darkness with only the blue reaction in the water and the stars providing light. Be sure to look up. Chances are you’ll see the Milky Way more clearly than you ever have before.
If you have your camera or phone along, make sure it has waterproof protective gear and is set to a night mode or slow shutter speed.
In the midst of nature with no light pollution, each tour is a little different. You may find yourself surrounded by playful dolphins or curious manatees. Imagine the dolphins swimming with their fins cutting through the water, creating a blue line coming straight toward you. My favorite thing is when dolphins exhale through their blowhole sending a neon blue mist into the night air.
Be aware, that it isn’t unusual for a mullet fish to jump into your kayak. Remember, you are in their playground. Just scoop it up and throw it back in the water and you’re good to go.
Your kayak tour guide will provide everything you need; the kayak, life vest and glow stick/flashlight. Dress comfortably, moisture-wicking clothing is a big help and helps make the life jacket feel more comfortable. You’ll want to bring bug spray, preferably the eco-friendly type, and waterproof bags to protect whatever you want to take into the kayak with you. Throw a towel or a change of clothes in your car. Though you're unlikely to tip over, you're bound to get a little wet from the water running down the paddle and into the boat.
Related: Day Trip to Titusville
Cost + Tour Companies
Prices range from $55 – $70 per person depending on tour length (1.5 or 2 hours), destination (Indian River or Thousand Island Mangrove Tunnel or Thousand Island waterways) and kayak choice (glass bottom or regular, tandem or single). Cocoa Kayaking is a popular choice, and Get Up and Go Kayaking is known around town for their multiple destinations and clear kayaks. Get Up and Go Kayaking offers 90-minute tandem kayak bioluminescent tours with 100% clear kayaks in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for $74 per person.
Also guiding 90-minute Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge bioluminescent kayaking tours is A Day Away Kayak Tours. The cost is $55 per person for traditional kayaks and $75 per person for clear kayaks.
Nearby Dinner Recommendations
Whether you want an early tour and a later dinner or a late tour and an earlier dinner, plan to enjoy a special meal with your date on the coast.
For something intimate, charming and a little upscale consider The Pompano Grill which seats only 46 people. With white tablecloths for inside dining and its James Beard Award Winning Psychedelic Phish Burger, it’s a date-night favorite in Cocoa Beach that the locals love. Reservations are highly recommended. Dinner is served 5:30-8:30pm, so it's best for dinner before your bioluminescent kayaking tour.
If you’re more of the casual type and want to be right on the water, Coconuts on the Beach is iconic Cocoa Beach. With everything from burgers and wraps to fresh catch and filet mignon, you’re sure to find something to please both of you. For those with a sweet tooth, I recommend the Pineapple Creme Brulee. The kitchen is open until 10pm and the bar is open until 11pm.
Another casual spot to try is 4th Street Fillin' Station. The menu is casual, but offers flavorful options ranging from plant-based to full carnivore.
For something less touristy than Coconuts and more lively than Pompano Grill, Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill is for you. As its name implies, Fishlips offers casual waterfront dining downstairs plus a covered patio, indoor sports bar, and sun deck with a tiki bar upstairs. Though it offers a fish-centric menu, there are also a few steak, chicken and pasta options.
Rather than driving back to Orlando late at night, why not spend the night on the Space Coast?
For a kitschy vibe, consider Guest Cottage at Cocoa Beach located in downtown Cocoa Beach across the street from Slater Way Beach Access. Owners Jackie & David Simington created the two efficiency guest cottages 20 years ago and are onsite to this day to make sure your stay is perfect. Each cottage has its own private courtyard and one even has a koi pond. Off-street parking is an added bonus.
Alternatively, stay right on the beach at Beach Place Guest Houses. Don’t let the street view fool you. Once inside you’ll be delighted with one of the casual modern guest homes. Book one of the oceanfront suites for the most romantic view. Whether you choose oceanfront or oceanside, you’re only steps away from putting your toes in the water. End your evening in a hammock or chaise lounge under the stars before retreating to your room. This seaside inn is a great choice for a sunrise to sunset trip across Florida.
On the way back to Orlando the next day, take a 10-minute detour and enjoy breakfast (served all day) at Jimmies. A one-of-a-kind locally owned diner, Jimmies was founded in 1985. Though Jimmy himself is no longer with us, his son continues to run the joint. Jimmies has the best biscuits and sausage gravy in the area and fabulous eggs Benedict. Southern favorites like grilled scrapple, shrimp and grits and corned beef hash will take you back to your childhood if you grew up in the south.
More Space Coast date night ideas:
- Behold Sea Turtle Nesting on a Unique Space Coast Date Night
- Fishing Charters near Cocoa Beach
- 8 Awesome Places to Watch a Rocket Launch in Central Florida
- How to Plan a Beachside Camping Getaway at Jetty Park
Feature image credit: A Day Away Kayak Tours