When the idea of visiting NASA first surfaced during a family vacation to Florida, I was less than enthusiastic. I had very little interest in space travel, and I was sure it would be a waste of time spent in beautiful, sunny Florida. I soon learned that even if you’ve previously possessed zero knowledge about NASA and the space program, you will find things to amaze and fascinate you at Kennedy Space Center. It’s impossible not to have a good time even if it’s far beyond your usual genre.
One of the first things we saw was the Rocket Garden. Kennedy Space Center has quite a unique taste in gardening! Rockets reach to the sky in an eerie urban landscape and make some great photo opportunities. Florida is generally a very hot place – as many sunburned Northerners find out the hard way! – so ducking into the Visitor Complex is a great way to get cool and learn a lot about space history. First-time visitors should definitely start here to see the exhibits and get oriented with what they’ll be seeing.
By far, the most unique experience for me at Kennedy Space Center was the Astronaut Encounter. We sat at a small table under a roof and were entertained by astronaut Rick Searfoss’ stories of his space missions. It was funny but somehow predictable that the first question anyone asked him was how astronauts use the bathroom in space! Afterwards, we were all encouraged to meet Mr. Searfoss and get an autographed picture. Kennedy Space Center still offers Astronaut Encounter and it’s a wonderful opportunity for any age. Few Florida travelers get the chance to do something like this. Kennedy Space Center offers something for every taste. The shows, presentations, and IMAX theater features are well worth a stop also.
For something that is completely typical of Florida but may seem out of place at Kennedy Space Center, don’t forget to look for alligators! I discovered a few gators surfacing in ponds and other bodies of water around the space complex. The landscape and “futuristic” buildings reminded me of a 1950s/1960s movie about space travel; somehow vintage yet very modern. There are nice paths and everything is well oriented at Kennedy Space Center. Maps and charts help you find your way even if a misstep does occur.
Kennedy Space Center has something for every taste. Literally! There are some great eateries here, both big and small. I enjoyed an ice cream at the “Milky Way” (what else?!) while waiting for a tour shuttle. I later had lunch at “The Orbit.” This was one of the most unique and interesting restaurants I’d ever visited and was a great supplement to this amazing Florida vacation. It was very enticing to watch food move along on a “conveyor belt” surface and just grab what I wanted for lunch! It’s been a few years since I visited Orbit, but it’s now called Orbit Cafe after a merge with another Space Center restaurant. I’m not sure if the “revolving” lunch is still offered. But don’t miss the food either way!
For a little less than $30.00 you can actually eat with a space explorer at Kennedy Space Center’s “Lunch With an Astronaut.” This is something I wish I would have done. You can hear a talk, quiz the person on his or her travels, get pictures and an autograph, and have a very unique experience to bring home from your trip to Florida!
A very special option at Kennedy Space Center is the bus tour that takes you to “restricted” areas such as the Apollo/Saturn V Center. This place was a bit daunting. Here I saw a huge rocket hanging directly above my head. From this huge building we walked outside and saw the launch site for future space shuttle missions. Unfortunately we were a few weeks too early to see a launch. Check to see what options are available in the future if you’re going to NASA with the purpose of seeing a launch.
There is a terrific space-oriented shop at Kennedy Space Center called, quite appropriately, the Space Shop. When I was there the store offered everything from rocket ship necklaces to space blankets to NASA-themed pencils! There are two floors packed full of NASA items. Don’t miss the opportunity to bring home some great Florida souvenirs with a different twist.
Basic Information: What First-Time Visitors Need to Know
Kennedy Space Center is located along Florida’s “First Coast” near Titusville.
Adults pay $38.00 and children are $28.00; keep taxes in mind also. The best part about the admission price is that space explorers can see just about everything Kennedy Space Center has to offer for this one price (except, for example, Lunch With an Astronaut and a few other happenings).
There are only a few days out of the year that Kennedy Space Center is closed to visitors (check out their highly informative website to plan your trip around this schedule and see which events are happening when).
The complex opens at 9:00 AM (when I visited in 2001, 9-11 hadn’t yet happened and the line was even long then. Expect delays and security checks; Kennedy Space Center has very strict, specific rules on what is and is not allowed. Check their website for details. Security checks may seem annoying but they assure everyone’s safety). Closing is at 5:30 PM.
You can either walk the Kennedy Space Center complex by yourself or take a guided tour.