Let me take a moment to paint a picture for you. Long before I became a resident and an honorary Floridian, my family would take vacations to Florida. One of my earliest memories as a boy was packing into the truck and heading to the Kennedy Space Center! There I was, a young boy with space on his mind and a love of everything NASA related! In fact my parents still have a few of the NASA Magnets on their fridge from our visit.
Now after almost 30 years since my first visit, I reached out to the Kennedy Space Center to see if we could do a review. After all, the Kennedy Space Center put Central Florida on the map long before Disney did, and it’s one of the original Florida attractions. What I discovered was that over the past 30 years the Kennedy Space Center wasn’t at all what I remembered as a child, it was so much more! Sometimes when you revisit something from your childhood, it can often fall flat and you may have been better off with your memories. This was not the case with the KSC! I was so excited to share this new experience with my oldest little guy.
One quick point I want to make before I get into the specifics of the Kennedy Space Center is the that Visitor’s Complex is not tax funded. That’s right, we don’t actually pay for it as citizens, the visitors do. This has resulted in what I can only relay as top quality entertainment. After all, KSC is competing with the Mouse, Universal Studios and other top notch theme parks so they have to be good. While I was expecting more of a tour and a museum visit, what we actually experienced was more of an immersive, theatrical, and education experience like no other!
One of my biggest pet peeves is actually paying for parking. I’m cheap and I think that most places should just incorporate the cost of parking into an admission price. While the Kennedy Space Center does charge for parking, but it’s reasonable. The fact that while I’m paying, I can see rockets and just passed a mockup of the space shuttle rocket boosters help ease my pain a bit. While I’m sure it wasn’t long at all, it seemed like time stood still, as my childhood memories started to kick in, and my little guy in the back began screaming, “Look at all the rockets dad!” I honestly don’t know who was more excited, me or my little guy. So I gladly paid the parking and was ready for adventure.
Walking up to the Kennedy Space Center visitor’s complex, there were quite a few self service ticket kiosks, as well as a bunch of ticket windows that seemed to move the ticket line along quite quickly. As we moved through the courtyard, I quickly realized that I didn’t remember seeing any of this as a kid, it turns out quite a bit has changed in the past 30 years! While other theme parks select random guests to go through metal detectors, the Kennedy Space Center has everyone go through them. Oddly enough though, it didn’t seem awkward, and the staff was very understanding when it took me a few passes to bet through it after removing belts, taking off my backpack and even tossing a few extra batteries from my pocket into a tray. I was curious why we had to go through all this trouble at first, but then later realized that we would be touring an actual military installation so they take security there pretty seriously.
We’re in! So now what should we do at the Kennedy Space Center? Well my little guy grabbed a map, and with some sort of unknown skill picked out the playground and said he wanted to go see that first. How he knew, I had no idea. He can’t really read yet, and the map picture was just a dome with a playground label. So we went to check it out and he loved playing on the covered playground. There were tunnels to go through, obstacles to get through, and even a few slides. There is even a small spot for the tiny ones to play in. My only concern was that it’s pretty big, and you can’t always see your kiddos. There were multiple points of entry/exit so I just had to keep a keen eye and ear out for him.
From there we went to checkout the rocket garden. We both looked up in awe, as we walked amongst massive space vehicles from the past. There were even a few spots where guests could enter mockup space capsules for a feel of the dimensions of the tiny capsules on top of the massive rockets. My personal favorite was walking across one of the orange “bridges” that astronauts would walk across to get to their ride of a lifetime.
From there, we actually took a few minutes to see what we could actually do at the Kennedy Space Center and plan out our day. Throughout the attraction, there are multiple IMAX shows and movies throughout the day so you may want to keep an eye on the time. We actually drifted into the Journey to Mars exhibit, and realized that there were hands on activities for my little guy that I couldn’t figure out how to get working. We asked for the help of Ms. Beverly, a Kennedy Space Center employee, and little did we know we also made a friend for our stay! She showed us how to work the exhibits, and let us borrow one of the electronic passes that made everything work. Educationally, this particular exhibit went above my little guy’s head, but he did enjoy looking at all the robots, rovers, and more.
We still had some time before lunch, so we decided to checkout the space shuttle Atlantis. We live close enough to the Kennedy Space Center so I can recall watching launches every chance I could get, even as an adult. We would quickly run outside and look south east for the tell tale signs of a launch, and feel the low rumble as the ground shook from the massive power of the solid rocket boosters. Now we were about to see Atlantis up close and personal! I had expected to walk into a museum filled with trinkets and see the shuttle all closed up and roped off like a painting or sculpture. What we discovered was quite the opposite and a completely immersive experience!
We started off watching a short movie about the design of the space shuttle vehicle which lead to another film which made you feel like you were actually part of the launch process! The moment the screen raised up and we saw the actual space shuttle Atlantis was amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on my little guys face when he realized we were looking at the actual shuttle and not a projection on a screen! There were displays, exhibits, and much more as we explored everything there was to know about the space shuttle. We even crawled through a mock up of the international space station and took a “space walk” high up in the air. In the same building is the Shuttle Launch Experience, an immersive simulator ride that lets you feel what it would be like to actually launch a shuttle. My little guy was too small to actually check it out, but we watched from one of the observation rooms.
Part of the Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center is a touching tribute to the crews of the Columbia and Challenger missions that were lost. I’ll admit I started to tear up a bit as I tried to explain the significance of the pictures, mommentos, and artifacts of the memorial. Being a a deeply patriotic person, I couldn’t help but think how incredible it was that that the flag on the side panel of the Challenger was found still intact. It’s a fitting reminder that our country will still preserver through disaster and time of sorrow. I also found one of my new personal mottos, “Being The Best Is Never Easy” which was found on one of the astronaut’s patches. Be sure to take a few minutes and pay your respects to those that sacrificed everything to keep our space program going.
By now it was time to enjoy some lunch at the Kennedy Space Center. We didn’t pack a lunch this time, so we had burgers and pizza. The burger was delicious, the pizza not so much, but my little guy was happy so that was all that mattered. Price wise, the food wasn’t as good of a value as I would have liked but the burger I had could have easily rivaled one of those fancy burger places. I checked on my way out, and it turns out we could have brought in our own picnic lunch. The only restriction was that there couldn’t be any hard sided containers. I’m guessing that translates to no glass in the lunch box. There are tons of places to sit and eat through out KSC, so that will definitely be part of our experience next time we go. Of course no lunch at the Kennedy Space Center would be compete without astronaut ice cream!
From there we checked out an IMAX movie, and ran into our new friend Ms. Beverly! Much to my surprise not only did she remember us, but actually recalled my little guy’s name and we had a nice chat about how much we loved the Atlantis exhibit. It was nice to relax in an iMAX theatre for a bit and learn about the future of NASA and the Kennedy Space Center. There are multiple movies throughout the day, each with a different theme or topic, so remember to plan accordingly.
Next we were off on a bus to tour the Kennedy Space Center and to see the Apollo/Saturn V center! As an adult I enjoyed the bus tour, and my little guy was engaged seeing all there was to see. The bus drivers took the time to show us the wildlife, tell unique stories, and point out areas of interest. I enjoyed this part of our day as my little guy seemed to fade out a bit. We then arrived at our destination and once again were amazed at the theatrical experience! We stopped to watch a brief movie about the Apollo and Saturn program, then were whisked into a mock up of the launch control center. We got to experience the fun and excitement of being right next to an Apollo launch complete with a count down. The room shook, and windows lit up as we enjoyed being amongst the hustle and bustle of a historical launch. From there, we were able to explore the center and even touch a moon rock! We learned how Snoopy and Charles Schultz became a bit of a safety mascot for the space program, and had an opportunity to ask a real NASA engineer questions!
Sadly it was almost closing time, and we were headed back on the bus to the KSC Visitor Complex.We had an amazing day filled with education, fun, excitement and made some great new memories. So here is where we really get into the frugal part. When compared to some of the other theme park and entire day entertainment options, the Kennedy Space Center is a steal! Adult general admission is $50 with child admission (ages 3-11) is $40. If you’re like me though, and think you may come back for another visit, you may want to get the Atlantis annual passes for $89 and $71. If you consider the DYETT Factor, you would only need to go twice in order to have the annual passes pay for themselves. Considering all the IMAX movies available, you could go at least a few times and still see a different movie.
Overall, we loved our visit to The Kennedy Space Center and found it to be a great value, especially if you bring your own lunch. My little guy was so excited, and is still talking about the rockets! Kiddos who can read will take quite a bit more time going through exhibits, so you’ll probably want to go back more than once, and would certainly warrant the annual pass.
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