Explore the USCGC Barque Eagle in Port Canaveral

uscgc eagle in port canaveral cruise terminal 3

The USCGC Eagle is in Port Canaveral

uscgc eagle wix 327This week, ship enthusiasts and military buffs in and around Port Canaveral are getting a treat. For the first time since 2004, “America’s Tall Ship” arrived in Port Canaveral for a five-day stop. The USCGC Eagle docked in Cruise Terminal 3 on May 31st to the delight of Port Canaveral and Brevard residents. From May 31st through June 3rd, the barque will have free, self-guided tours available to the public. On their second day, we grabbed some pictures and talked to a few of the crew (before the rain hit!). This is definitely an exciting, beautiful, and impressive sight to see, and I hope everyone who can will take the opportunity to visit the Eagle.

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The USCGC Eagle

Moving through the ship, you’ll see several informational signs set up to tell you more about the ship. The crew posted on deck will also be happy to tell you what they know about it, too. At 295 feet long with three masts, this barque is the biggest sailing ship sailing under the Stars and Stripes. Those aboard the barque manage over 22,000 square feet of sails and 5 miles of rigging.  With a steel hull and deck, she is as sturdy as she is sleek. It is also the only American square rigger and the only active commissioned sailing ship. So, yes, this is something you won’t see just anywhere!

denmark (crew) teaching and helping visitors
The crew helps teach history and tells stories to those touring the ship.

The Eagle is used by the United States Coast Guard Academy to train cadets and future officers. While they sail on this more traditional vessel, Coast Guard cadets learn some of their most vital skills. Topics learned from the standing, enlisted crew and officers on-board include navigation, seamanship, ship repair, and other necessary skills for life at sea. One female cadet spoke about navigating by charts, celestial navigation at night, and sextant use only.

The Eagle’s Beginning

the eagle 1954While the Eagle is a training ship for the Coast Guard today, it began as a training ship for Germany’s sailors during World War II. After it was built  by the Blohm & Voss Shipyard in 1936, the ship was commissioned Horst Wessel and trained German cadets until 1945. Following the end of WWII, the United States took the Horst Wessel as war reparations and commissioned it as the Eagle in 1946. From that point onward, the Eagle sailed as a training cutter for the US Coast Guard. She sails each summer to train cadets, up to 150 cadets at a time. Recently, the semi-annual Coast Guard Officer Candidate School classes have taken place aboard the barque during the spring and fall.

“America’s Tall Ship”

The US Coast Guard Cutter barque Eagle has another role besides training. It also travels around, visiting national and international ports as a public relations effort. She visits ports as far away as Australia and takes place in international events such as Velas Sudamerica of 2010.  The Eagle also returned to Germany several times for races and goodwill visitations. Overall, she is a well-traveled and well-known vessel that has earned the nickname “America’s Tall Ship” for her distinctive masts and sails.

The next couple of days, the USCGC Eagle will still be in port. If you have time, take a couple minutes to walk through this amazing piece of history visiting our port. You won’t be disappointed!

Photography courtesy of Collin Marcoux.

Visit Cocoa Beach Pier: Sunshine and Sandwiches

Enjoying a Day at the Historic Cocoa Beach Pier

If you’re visiting our beautiful area, there’s one place you’ll probably want to go: the beach.  The surf culture, soft sandy shores, and shining sun have been drawing travelers for decades! If you’re visiting the area, there’s one place that you should stop by: Cocoa Beach Pier. For 50 years and counting, both visitors and locals swear by its cold beer and jaw-dropping view. This week, I stopped by the Pier with our photographer and we grabbed some great photos for a chance to show you guys this historic location.

umbrellas at cocoa beach pier
Rent an umbrella at the Cocoa Beach Pier for a shady retreat from the sunshine.

A Look at the Past: Building the Pier

historic canaveral pier
The historic Canaveral Pier

Local fisherman Richard Stottler built the pier in 1962, over 50 years ago. Originally called Canaveral Pier, it was made using  2.5 miles of boardwalk and 40-ft pilings, stretching 800 feet out into the Atlantic. Not only did this make it an amazing fishing spot, but it was perfect to watch the launches that gave the Space Coast its name. The pier was known as front-row seating through the Mercury, Apollo, and Space Shuttle launches because of its proximity to NASA. I recommend trying to catch a NASA/SpaceX rocket launch from there, but you can expect it to be packed! If you want to catch a launch from this choice spot, make sure to get there early.

original historic cocoa beach pier
Recognize it? The Rikki Tiki Tavern is located here today.

 

As you can imagine, the surfing industry was quick to make its mark on the pier and bring vacationers from near and far. In 1963, one of the original Ron Jon Surf Shops opened up on the pier. They had so many visitors that they moved to a larger location (which you can visit today)! Everyone from the local fisherman to famous figures came to Canaveral Pier, including astronaut Alan Shepard. Surf festivals, live concerts, and tropical bars popped up and flourished, which meant that Canaveral Pier did too.

Cocoa Beach Pier Today

Remodeling of the Pier took place in 1983, costing over $2 million. New restaurants and expansions marked a new era for the Pier, and they changed the name to Cocoa Beach Pier the next year. The renovations succeeded in growing the Pier’s popularity, and today there are over 1 million visitors every year. The Pier stayed with the Stottler family until Westgate Resorts purchased Cocoa Beach Pier in 2014 with the idea to repair the Pier and grow it.

cocoa beach pier
A new sign announces the Cocoa Beach Pier to visitors.

While some locals grumbled about this change, the President/CEO Mr. Seigel said that he wanted to keep the same family-friendly feeling that he experienced there over the years.

Having lived in the area with my family for over a decade, I have watched the changes as they happened. It’s different from when I grew up here, but the fun and tropical atmosphere hasn’t left. I still love the pier and while some of the menus and prices have changed, the view is just as breath-taking as always! As a local, I don’t get to visit as often as I would like. Some changes have happened since the last time I visited, so let’s take a look at what you’ll see if visiting in 2017.

Parking is Half the Battle

The parking spots haven’t increased in ten years so it’s no surprise that we spent about 15 minutes finding parking! There is paid parking, with some metered parking spots and a big “gated” area for parking. This big area has a flat fee like many beach-side parking areas. I’ve seen the price range from $5 to $20 depending on the season. It was $15 that day.

Try to get meter-parking unless you’re planning an all-day trip. The current price is $2.00 per hour.  I estimate that there are only about 40 to 50 of these spaces, and they fill up fast. Those who are staying at the hotels have the best deal: park at the hotels nearby and then walk a short distance to the beach! Even on a Tuesday at 2:00 p.m., the parking was packed and it took about 10 or 15 minutes to claim a spot. Currently, parking is free on weekdays after 4:00 p.m. This helps keep costs down when going for dinner or to see the sunset!

Trader Rick's Marketplace at Cocoa Beach Pier
Trader Rick’s and its iconic mural are right by the parking area.

If you need any beach supplies, run by Trader Rick’s Marketplace. You’ll pay more for the stuff inside than you would at Walmart, but that’s better than a sunburn or being stuck without a towel! Be sure to admire the Florida landscape mural with dolphins, fish, and manatees on the outside. This has been around for as long as I can remember, and it’s a landmark for many locals.

Beers, Burgers, and the Best Views

In 1983, there was only one restaurant on the pier, but today there is no shortage of options to choose from! Each of the five bars and restaurants has similar food and full bars. Depending on where you sit, you see a different part of the beach and sparkling blue ocean. The different locations offer options for covered and indoor seating, and they stretch from the entrance of the pier all the way to the end of it.

Entrance: Keith’s Oyster Bar and Sea Dogs

The beach and beer go hand-in-hand for many people, so it isn’t surprising how many restaurants and bars there are at the pier. The first two that you’ll see when you walk up are Keith’s Oyster Bar and Sea Dogs.

sea dogs and keith's oyster bar at cocoa beach pier
Sea Dogs and Keith’s Oyster Bar. This raw bar is named in honor of Keith Seigel.

Many of you may have visited Keith’s Oyster Bar back when it was Aw Shucks, a very similar spot for raw seafood and steamed shrimp. With an open-air, casual atmosphere, it fits in perfectly with the scenery. Get raw oysters, fish dip, and more while you listen to live music and watch the waves. You’ll be farther away from the water with a view of the beach along the left side of the pier.

Sea Dogs is a cute, colorful hot dog and ice cream “stand” with a walk-up window and outdoor seating. Located across from Keith’s, it’s extremely casual and perfect for a walk-and-eat opportunity. Or, you can sit on either side to view either the entrance of the pier or the beach volleyball area on the right.  By the beach, you can see a cool, old anchor from a whaling ship that was recovered in 1984. I grabbed a hot dog and soda from here for a pretty good price and sat back to enjoy the sunshine!

When You Walk Inside

Up the ramp, you will find small gift shops and more places to eat and drink. A long-time favorite of locals and vacationers is the Boardwalk Bar. They have the standard apps like onion rings, fish dip, and wings. You can also grab a burger or shrimp while you sit and enjoy the view, but watch the wind. As you can see, it’s very open and relaxed. Enjoy colorful, create-your-own mojitos, daiquiris, and coladas along with specialty drinks. If you’re looking for delicious, fruity, and fun drinks, this is a good place to grab one! Or, if you’re in the mood for a classic, they’re always happy to serve you a cold beer.

boardwalk bar and pier shop
The Boardwalk Bar is open so you can enjoy a full, panoramic view of the beach and ocean!

Are you looking for a souvenir or t-shirt? Tropical Threads Boutique and The Pier Shop are happy to help you. These shops are located along the left of the pier boardwalk. Even if you aren’t in a shopping mood, they are good for ducking in and cooling off while you browse for souvenirs.

Pelican’s Bar and Grill: An Air-Conditioned View

I went to Pelican’s Bar and Grill back when it was Atlantic Ocean Grille. Since the Cocoa Beach Pier has changed hands, the restaurants have changed their names and Pelican’s is no exception. But while the name has changed, the inside has remained pretty similar.

Pelican's Bar and Grill
Pelican’s Bar and Grill, formerly Atlantic Ocean Grille

It’s a spacious, air-conditioned dining area with nice seating and reserved decorations. The best part about eating here isn’t the food, but the view. There is the same gorgeous, open view out over the water from the large floor-to-ceiling windows.  While the dining atmosphere is a little less casual and the price is a little bit higher, the view is worth it. I recommend this for a date night, but be prepared to shell out more money for the food and drinks. If you aren’t in the mood for a nicer atmosphere or you can go without the view, choose one of the more casual places to eat. Of course, that’s just my opinion!

Rikki Tiki Tavern

Rikki Tiki Tavern, the newest addition to the pier, is super cool. There is a big bar surrounded by tables right out on the end of the pier. Yep, it’s 800 feet out into the ocean! Even if you aren’t grabbing a drink or a bite to eat, you should stroll over to the area to peer over the side and enjoy the brilliant blue waves. Interested in fishing? You can cast off this part of the pier’s boardwalk for a small fee. It’s a popular location for locals.

end of cocoa beach pier, fishing and food
Fishing, a tiki bar, and lovely seating? Sign me up!

If you’ve never been to a tiki bar, now is your chance! The design of the whole area has carved tiki heads with palm frond thatch overhead. With the wind blowing and the island music playing, you’ll definitely feel the vacation vibe! Rikki Tiki Tavern has a limited menu, but the drink options are plentiful. I will warn you that this is probably the windiest part of the pier so you should hold onto your napkins.

Tips for the Pier

  • Happy hour for almost all of the bars and restaurants is 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. during the week.  Call ahead or check the Cocoa Beach Pier website to double check if you’re around in the off-season.
  • The back half of the pier costs money to get to. Either a fishing fee or a $2 spectator fee has to be paid. The trick to getting around the spectator fee is to buy a drink or souvenir before you go back here. They will waive all fees with proof of purchase from any pier store!
  • Don’t forget about the beach. Shelling, surfing, and beach volleyball are all available next to the pier, and you can rent umbrellas and chairs to relax in. Underneath the pier is also a pretty cool sight!

the pier from before westgate resorts purchased it in 2014

If you want to check out an amazing, historic location, you should visit the Cocoa Beach Pier. Whether you’re on your own and looking for a hangout or finding a fun place for family, you’ll enjoy a day at the pier. With great food, cold drinks, and a killer view of the sea, how can you say no?