Our visit to Cape Canaveral was for one reason only, to visit the Kennedy Space Center. We wanted to avoid any weekend crowds so I took Monday off work and after getting everyone started, we arrived around 9:30 AM with everyone fresh and ready for adventure. Jen and I both knew we had a long day ahead so we came prepped with treats, toys, liquids, and a heaping pile of patience.
We stood in line and picked up three tickets, Leona was free but Evelyn was charged the child rate. Not surprisingly, we passed through security and entered into the Rocket Garden where a dozen or so rockets stood erect, pointing towards the sky. Each rocket had a small description, which we tried to read, and there were interactive exhibits that the kids and adults enjoyed. You get to climb aboard Mercury-Redstone, Gemini and Apollo capsules and get an idea of the cramped quarters America’s astronaut pioneers endured.
After the Rocket Garden, we walked through the Space Center, visiting the Exploration Space where they were giving a very loud introduction into the future of Space exploration. Neither girl likes loud noises, so we wandered unattended through the back exhibits of the Exploration Space. There were many interesting things to read, but nothing to hold the attention of a two and four year-old.
The next place we visited was the Space Shuttle Atlantis complex. You know where it is the entire time you are in the center, you see the large fuel tank and booster rockets standing high. As you get closer to the complex, you walk underneath them and realize they are replicas, which diminishes the appeal, but it is still impressive how large they were.
Once inside the complex, you watch a four-minute movie about how the Space Shuttle program begun. They show the timeline using actors, re-enacting the program from conception to launch in the early 1980s. The theatre only has one row of bench seats in the rear, but the family sat on the floor. After the initial movie, you enter into another theatre, one with a rounded screen that encompasses the whole theatre. It starts showing the shuttles taking off, landing, shots from space, all quick snippets to bring up those childhood memories (for me at least) of how awesome the Space Shuttle program was. Finally, the screen goes transparent and in the background, you see the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
The whole theatre was to control how many people crowd into the room surrounding the Space Shuttle, but once inside you can spend as long as you want wandering around. We spent probably an hour, walking around the Atlantis looking at it in detail. Jen and I both were surprised to see the little heat shields up close and how delicate they look, although they deflect an immense amount of heat on re-entry.
There are plenty of mockups of the different components of the Space Shuttle. It was fun to watch the girls play inside of them, flipping switches at will. There was a real-life astronaut there, answering questions, providing insight into the challenges of space flight. As the girls played, I stood by and listened intently to him talking about being in space. Space flight seems effortless once you are up there, but he talked about how you have to always think ahead … thousands of miles pass by you ever second!
The rest of the complex was filled with fun activities for adults and kids. There was an anti-gravity slide which gives kids the sensation of weightlessness for a few milliseconds, Evelyn went down it twice and commented on the ‘air’ she got as we slide down. There was a scale replica of what it was like to crawl around in the space shuttle, including a crawl through a thirty-foot Plexiglas clear tube that was 50 feet in the air. Both of the girls enjoyed that crawl, I did not enjoy it as much but I am happy to report I survived.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis complex empties into a gift shop, where I let the girls choose their toy to remember the Kennedy Space Center by. Evelyn choose a replica of the Space Shuttle, fuel tanks, and booster rockets. It was a very cool toy, a bit expensive, but worth every penny. Leona choose the stuffed bear astronaut and the hard plastic Space Shuttle.
The girls were pretty worn down after our exploration so we stopped by for some lunch, hoping the food would recharge their energy and their attitudes. As we ate lunch we realized both the girls were pretty much done exploring, we had spent three hours exploring the Kennedy Space Center but agreed we could not spend any more time here without risking a meltdown. There was a ninety-minute bus tour that I was dying to go on, but we did not want to risk a repeat of the bus incident at Zion.
As we left, I was filled with happiness that I have to explore a place that has been on my bucket list since I was a little boy. It was amazing to see a place as sacred as Kennedy Space Center, the closest to space most American’s get to explore. I was disappointed the girls were not up for more exploring and I would consider coming back another day, but the entrance fee was nearly $150 for the whole family and I could not justify spending that for a bus tour.
I am glad we came and the next time we are in the Orlando area, we will make a day trip to Kennedy Space Center again. If you come to Disney World, you should book a day tour here as well.