Here at TouringPlans, we always recommend that cruisers arrive a day early for their Disney Cruise if possible. Things can happen, and the ship will leave without you if you’re running late. So what do you do for entertainment in the 24 hours before you leave? Sure, you could spend a day at Walt Disney World or even stay there and take a Disney transfer to Port Canaveral, but that’s a lot of money in park admission, plus the additional cost of the bus ride ($70 round trip, per person). Or you could stay closer to the port and explore the area.
Just a short drive from Port Canaveral, a historic downtown district offers riverfront views, eclectic dining, unique and local shopping, and an atmosphere that promises fun for all ages. It’s called Historic Cocoa Village, and it’s the perfect addition to your Cocoa Beach or Port Canaveral stay.
Stretching over a handful of city blocks alongside the Indian River and State Route 520 (King Street), Cocoa Village is a thriving example of downtown revitalization, with a distinctively Floridian feel. Umbrella trees shade cafes tucked away in quiet courtyards, palm trees line the streets, and shops dedicated to flip flops and resort-wear stand alongside restaurants featuring house-made ice cream and Southern cooking.
On the eastern side, a playground shaded by live oaks gives way to an outdoor amphitheater and a boardwalk stretching along the Indian River, offering panoramic views of the boat-dotted river and the faraway shoreline of Merritt Island.
Cocoa Village is an ideal addition to your Port Canaveral or Cocoa Beach stay. Whether you’ve got a night to kill before your cruise leaves in the morning, or you’re staying for a few days along the Space Coast, here you can get away from the chain stores and find some local Floridian shopping, dining, and entertainment.
And if you’re a repeat Bahamian cruiser who has been-there, done-that with the Nassau shopping scene, you’ll find plenty of unique tropical souvenirs and gifts, from artwork to handmade decor, to bring home. Let’s explore Cocoa Village.
You could stick to the T-shirt stores and even Ron Jon’s Surf Shop on Cocoa Beach for your Florida souvenirs, but if you’re looking for unique takeaways, gifts, or something perfect for your vacation, there’s a shop for that in Cocoa Village.
Need great new shoes for your Disney Cruise? Try The Flop Shop, which offers that most Floridian of footwear, the flip flop, in nicer varieties than that $2 Old Navy pair you’ve been wearing. In Florida, we wear flip flops year ’round, and they need to be comfortable.
So The Flop Shop features casual shoes, sandals, and flops by companies like Reef, Olukai, Merrell, and Toms.
Something to bring home to the grandparents? A shop called The Bathery might not be your first stop for souvenir hunting, but this accessories store is more then just its extensive collection of luxurious bath products. Within you’ll find resort wear for adults, colorful boutique items for children, and an array of unique notions, from artwork to housewares.
For art, antiques, boutique fashions, and more, the streets are lined with shops for everyone. Whether you like to hunt around deep within vintage store shelves, or prefer a curated selection of antiques, Cocoa Village has so many antique shops they spill out to the blocks around the historic district.
One good choice for exploration is The Threadneedle Street Mall, a collection of eclectic storefronts hidden from Brevard Avenue by a charming archway, includes shops such as elements of paradise, offering handmade decor and items from the South Pacific. You’ll find totally unique items here, such as rustic furniture built from reclaimed fishing boats in Bali and Indonesia. Down the hall, Frankly My Dear – Unique Artistic Apparel, offers hand-made accessories along with unique beachwear, evening wear, and everything in between.
And down at the Village’s eastern edge, you’ll find art ranging from wooden carvings to original watercolors at Carolyn Seiler & Friends Artist’s Co-op. If you’re looking for a take-home piece of artwork that has the bright tropical feel of Florida, you’ll find something perfect here.
There’s a growing mix of old and new in the Cocoa Village dining scene, and the variety can make it hard to choose where you’ll have dinner–or stay out late for drinks. At one end, you’ll find the award-winning Cafe Margaux, a French restaurant tucked away in a courtyard which has been quietly receiving accolades for the past twenty-five years. With a menu that includes garlic butter sauteed snails on saffron angel hair pasta with spinach, basil, and macadamias ($14) in the starters, herb-seared New Zealand rack of lamb with parmesan garlic risotta ($45) amongst the entrees, and an assortment of fresh, local, and creative fish dishes, Cafe Margaux is ideal for a special occasion.
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find family-friendly neighborhood joints like Ryan’s Village Pizza and Pub, which faces the playground of Taylor Park and features massive slices of pizza starting at $2.75 pub food such as wings (ten for $7.99), and Italian dishes and sandwiches. Local brews from Florida Beer Company join more mainstream craft and regular beers on tap, and there’s a full bar.
In between, try homemade ice cream from Ossorio Bakery and Cafe, or stop in for sandwiches (and more ice cream) from Village Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop.
Newer restaurants popping up include Murdock’s Southern Bistro at the (appropriately) southern end of the district; walk just a few blocks further for Crush Eleven, a new dinner/drinks spot with dishes like green bean fries with smoked paprika aioli ($7) and root beer braised short ribs with grits ($25). Sublime, in the heart of Cocoa Village on Harrison Street, offers signature sangria in addition to its Cuban-inspired menu.
If you’re looking for more than just a great bar or a lovely walk to keep you busy, Cocoa Village can seem kind of quiet. You can’t catch a movie; that’s because Cocoa’s 1924 Aladdin Theater now houses The Cocoa Village Playhouse. The Playhouse puts on Broadway musicals and plays throughout the year; you’ll find schedules, showtimes, and ticketing at their website. 2015’s line-up includes My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, and Rent.
Otherwise, Cocoa Village’s bar scene continues to expand, with the above-mentioned Sublime and Crush Eleven, plus the brand-new Village Idiot Pub, which features micro-brews at the bar, live music on the weekends, and jazz every second Thursday.
For the simpler things — a walk along the riverfront, letting the kids play on the playground — Taylor Park and adjacent Riverfront Park are at the east end of Cocoa Village, providing plenty of room to stretch the legs and take in the Florida scenery.
For my money, there’s more to do, and better shopping to be done, in Cocoa Village than in Nassau. If you’re a frequent Bahamian cruiser and you’ve feel like you’ve been there and done that in Nassau, definitely give Cocoa Village a try.
Driving: Cocoa Village offers multiple free parking lots, and free on-street parking with a three-hour limit. From Cape Canaveral, take A1A south to SR 520 and head west towards Cocoa. After the second causeway (over the Indian River) turn left on Brevard Avenue. You’ll find a parking lot at the far end, near Maryland Avenue. There’s another parking lot on Florida Avenue, one block west. Note that traffic over the causeway tends to back up during Kennedy Space Center’s early rush hour, approximately 3 PM – 5 PM.
From Cocoa Beach, as above, just turn left onto SR 520.
From Orlando and I-95, take SR 520 east to Cocoa. Downtown Cocoa Village will be on your right, turn at Florida Avenue or Brevard Avenue for parking.
Visit Cocoa Village’s website and download a shopping map here.