As allure and vitality continue to wash ashore, Port Canaveral’s Exploration Tower gleams. Just don’t neglect to visit.

The seven levels, at a cost of approximately $23 million, are perched just outside of the world’s second-busiest cruise port. The structure — shaped as part rocket ready to launch, surfboard in the sand, emerging wave and ship’s hull, among others — consists of 22,000 square feet and offers exhibits covering 12,000 years of the area’s history. Panoramic views, meanwhile, are presented in rare form by virtue of stature; the building is the area’s tallest.

Clearly, its physical attributes rise to the top, word play intended. And consider this description from its architect, Baltimore-based GWWO Inc.: “The [building] expresses the common characteristics — transience, function and imagery — of Brevard County’s many stories: cruising, the space coast, the military, nature and beaches. [Its] dynamic form and features — sun louvers, exposed structure and iridescent skin — contribute to a constant sense of movement as the sun plays across the structure.”

There’s more. Its opening came on Nov. 4, 2013, precisely 60 years after the original Port Canaveral dedication. Even Ponce de Leon is attached to the allure, with the opening also marking the 500th anniversary of the Spanish explorer’s landing on Florida’s east coast.

Yet, Exploration Tower as Brevard County’s No. 1 attraction? Just maybe. Really.

Talk to county promoters and they’ll point to 72 miles of beaches, museums, art galleries, a top-rated zoo, thriving downtowns and commercial vibrancy, just for starters. They call Florida’s Space Coast a “place to live, work and play.”

At the same time, Port Canaveral, strategically located to service all Florida markets and the Southeast, hosts nearly 5 million revenue cruise passengers and handles 6 million tons of cargo annually. Port officials label it a “premier maritime gateway,” one with passenger traffic poised to increase to 8 million people by 2040.

“If you are a tourist or new to the area, Exploration Tower should be your first stop.”
—Capt. John Murray, CEO, Canaveral Port Authority

“If you are a tourist or new to the area, Exploration Tower should be your first stop,” asserts Capt. John Murray, CEO of the Canaveral Port Authority, which owns the tower. “The building’s dynamic form sets it apart. And each floor has something to offer.”

From the Ground Up: Need a refresher or perhaps a first look?

Among the highlights, the second floor is dedicated to 2,750 square feet of interactive exhibits, chronicling the area’s history in uncommon detail. (Don’t neglect the lobby sculptures of marine life made of 100 percent recycled materials.) The third floor features a two-story screen in an interactive 72-seat auditorium (Leisure and Recreation Theater), while the fourth floor is the place for private events such as meetings, parties and receptions. Notably, in all, the tower’s eclectic collection of special events, inside and outside, ranges from a Beach Boys concert to the Florida Key Lime Pie Festival.

Simulator fun awaits on the fifth floor, enabling you to navigate as a harbor pilot. As a prelude for what’s above, the sixth floor is an indoor observation level that faces Kennedy Space Center and contains an exhibit zone celebrating the frontiers of air and space.

Then there’s the outdoor observation deck, the seventh floor, with sweeping vistas of the port, along with Kennedy Space Center, surrounding beach and rivers, and wildlife — and with high-power telescopes available. It’s surely ideal for a rocket launch, but it’s not bad for a romantic outing, either. ◆