Many of our top destinations in Florida are either near theme parks or allow you to get your toes in the sand. However, my personal favorite attraction is neither a beach nor a roller coaster and is even – gasp – educational. Kennedy Space Center is a must-see attraction in Florida and will give you and your family a renewed excitement for discovery and an unmatched appreciation for the scientists, astronauts, and explorers past and present.
How to Get There
You’ll find Kennedy on the “Space Coast” – near Merritt Island, north of Cocoa Beach. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Disney and Universal Studios, and very close to the cruise ships at Port Canaveral.
When to Visit
While there are indoor exhibitions, you will spend a bit of time walking outside. It’s definitely doable in the summer with some sunscreen, a hat, and an early start. The Center is especially pleasant in the spring and fall.
You can technically hit the highlights in a day, but two days are best if you really want to be able to take your time, see all the attractions, and be able to get to some of the extras.
If You’re Spending One Day…
Check the times of the bus tours, and try to get on one of the earlier ones. The tour will take you through the launch areas, where you can see the launch platforms, hear fun facts about the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and most importantly be awed by the Saturn V Rocket. The pre-show lets you see and hear what happened in that very control room, and after launch you are greeted by an incredible Saturn V rocket.
Once you’re done being thoroughly impressed with what we’ve accomplished, grab a bus back to KSC. Next up, head to towards the Atlantis building – you’ll know it by the life-size replica out front. Here again, KSC does an exceptional job with the pre-show of having you understand the gravity (get it?) of the machine in front of you. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up at the reveal. Along with being able to see the real space shuttle Atlantis, the building also houses a life-size replica of the Hubble and you can get in a space simulator – not for the faint of heart.
Other sights in the park include the History of Space Exploration, a museum showcasing actual equipment and capsules that have left this atmosphere. The Rocket Garden lets you get up close with some of our past rockets, and nearby you can pay tribute to those we have lost in the name of exploration at the Astronaut Memorial.
Two IMAX shows are included with your admission, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise. I chose Leo, where he explained the wonders seen through the Hubble telescope, which frankly were a bit incomprehensible and something I’d watch every day if I could.
If You Have Two Days…
With more time on your hands, you’ll probably spend a little longer in the History of Space Exploration museum, spend some playtime at the Children’s Play Dome, and check out some of the extra experiences, like the Astronaut Encounter and the interactive Journey to Mars exhibit.
Check the schedule for the Lunch with an Astronaut program, where for $30 you and 30 others will lunch with one of NASA’s former explorers. There is also often talks and Q&As led by astronauts. For an additional $25 per person ($19 for ages 3-11), you can also add the KSC Up-Close Tour, which takes you deeper than the bus tour included in admission.
Your ticket to KSC also gives you free admission to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, just minutes from Kennedy.
I was lucky enough to also attend a rocket launch of the MMS mission, and there is no experience quite like hearing the rumble of the engines, seeing the boosters light up the night like day, and gluing your eyes to something as it leaves our planet. It’s a beautiful, enlightening experience I hope many others will take advantage of when they visit Florida. With 24 launches scheduled throughout 2015, it’s easier than you would think to plan around one. Learn more about attending a launch here.