Back to Florida now, fancy joining me?
Given our slightly surreal start to the day, what with having witnessed a real-life space launch and all (AND the fact that it was still relatively early in the morning) it made sense to head up the road (by Florida standards anyway) to the Kennedy Space Center, and have a full day of Space Exploration.
By now you should know my true feelings on the big theme parks Florida is so famous for. I am not overly keen on them, I don’t like the lengthy queues, the grown adults waiting for signatures from someone in a furry costume, the hike in prices because of the name and location, the general tackiness etc. etc… I know some people love them, and each to their own and all that, but I was mightily relieved when our older intrepid explorers opted for the Kennedy Space Center as their “theme park” of choice this Floridian visit. Obviously, I fully expected it to feature all things Space, and obviously, I knew we would see a few space rockets and learn about the American Space program, but really had no image in my mind as to what to expect other than that.
After going through a hefty security search (as you might expect! Incidentally, our phone signal dropped once we arrived in the car park (could be a coincidence, or?), there are a few WIFI spots dotted about the park should you be desperate to connect. Speaking of the car park, it is the size of a small country, do make a mental note or take a picture of where you are parked), our visit began at Heroes and Legends. This not only celebrates heroes in general from all walks of life, but also the people involved in the earliest space launches and missions. Through the cleverness of 4D theatre, we were taken on a quite a moving journey through space, and the beginning of the exploration of Space by mankind. Afterwards we were able to explore the Hall of Fame and put few faces to the names we had previously learned about.
On next to the Rocket Garden which is, exactly as the name suggests, a Rocket Garden. I believe a few more rockets will join the others this year, but it’s quite awe-inspiring and includes a Mercury Redstone Rocket responsible for the first US Human Space Flight in 1961. This rocket is the real deal, as are the others, but as is pointed out, a few of them have probably never been on a Space misson – early unmanned rockets were not retrieved after all… Listen out for the guided tours, and learn about what life was for the astronauts on board a space capsule…
After exploring an exhibit dedicated to the first people to call Merritt Island home, we learned about them and the native flora and fauna here. If you have ever wondered what actually happens to the wildlife when a space launch takes place, you might be relieved to hear that all wildlife (including alligators) is removed from the “danger zone” beforehand. Just picture what happens to Roald Dahl’s Enormous crocodile if they didn’t… If you want to see a space launch during your visit, you should have a look at the “See a Rocket Launch” section of the main website, and if you don’t fancy getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the launch at a Space Center site, you could always do what we did…
On then to pay our respects to one of the most renowned Space Shuttles of our lifetime – Atlantis. After a queue that I didn’t feel overly agitated by, we were ushered into a darkened theatre in groups where we were shown a short film about the shuttle that was ultimately responsible for helping both the Hubble Telescope and the International Space Station start life. What followed had to be my favourite moment of the entire day. Perched upon his Dad’s shoulders, I watched my youngest child with eyes as big as saucers as the events played out on the huge screen. At the end of the film, the entire huge screen retracted up into the ceiling, and there in all its vast and impressive glory was Atlantis herself, whereupon the four-year-old loudly proclaimed to everyone in the entire room that he didn’t “WANT TO GO TO SPACE”. I genuinely think he thought we were all about to get in and take off… Now that would be a theme park!!
Once he’d recovered slightly from the trauma (placated slightly by meeting NASA staff members who worked on the shuttle, and having being presented with a beautiful Atlantis Souvenir coin), we went on to investigate how space suits work, took a closer look at jet propulsion backpacks, and most importantly (if you are 4 by all accounts) learned how space toilets work!! This part of the Space Center is vast and there’s plenty to look at and explore, including a great slide, some astronaut training (some of the more involved aspects of this you might wish to book in advance) and a giant interactive space invaders game if you keep an eye out for it.
As well as other capsules and rockets, there’s also a very moving tribute to those that lost their lives in the Challenger and Columbia disasters. I clearly remember watching the Challenger Disaster unfold on the TV as a child, and it stayed with me for a long time as to how brave you would have to consider the possibility that you might never actually return…
After a trip through the gift shop, we made our way to the queue (not too long, plus the water misters were nice to cool off under) for the bus to take us to the Launch Site, and view a few of the restricted areas of the Space Center. Don’t be tempted to skip this bit if you feel like you have already had a full day of it, it’s a must-see/do. Our leisurely bus journey there (with our driver pointing out Eagles and Alligators along the way), we arrived at the vast buildings where the rockets are built. Some of these places are so tall you could stack at least four statues of Liberty on top of each other. I am not sure whether it was reassuring or absolutely petrifying to see how “human” it all was with huge robot vehicles that take the craft to the launch sites covered in mud etc., but you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer size of it all.
As soon as you get off the bus, another theatre experience awaits. This one slightly different to the others as you are taken back in time to the control room of the Apollo 8 launch, and treated to a fully sensory experience (yet another “are we going to space moment” for my smallest child!), with the noise and the shaking and rattling that accompanied lift-off. Then you are ushered out into the behemoth main hall where hangs the massive and spectacular Saturn 5.
I have spoken to other people who have suggested that you head to the bus tour first to miss any kind of queues by the way, which we might do on our next visit. And I am pretty sure there will be another visit one day. Four of us came away with a renewed interest in all things space and what the future might bring, and for the youngest of our group, it awakened a new passion to go alongside his other favourite topic – dinosaurs. Just don’t expect him to actually go to space at all will you?
A really brilliant day (which in all honesty you could stretch to two days). If The Kennedy Space Center is actually classed as a theme park, it’s my kind of theme park…
Manoo Wallebroek says
Woow this looks like such a nice place to visit!
I never heard of this place before, but it looks like a once in a lifetime experience.
My dad visited this place already a couple of times and he was very impressed. Especially the fool size Apollo rocket that is displayed in one of the hangars.
When I am 18+ I’d love to visit this place.
I hope you get there one day! :)
We love all things space but have never heard of this place before . The girls would absolutely love it
It’s fabulous, honestly! :)
Jess Howliston says
It sounds like an amazing and very fascinating day out! Its somewhere I would love to visit with my kids one day as it all sounds so interesting and it certainly sounds like there is lots of to see too!
Definitely stacks to see and do. Thanks Jess!
Elizabeth Williams says
This looks like such an amazing place to visit. My kids adore space and they’d be in their element here. Would love to visit one day.
It’s really worth a visit! Thanks Elizabeth! :)
Susan Mann says
This sounds like a great place to visit. I definitely need to go here xx
It is really brilliant (and I was quite skeptical beforehand!) :D
Kara Guppy says
I last visited here when I was 7 but still remember things from my visit. I would love to return with my kids in tow
That would be great, I wonder how much it’s changed!
Liam Wilkinson says
This is amazing, ive planned a holiday to Florida over the next couple of years, but this is something that I and my son would love to visit and hadny thought about going there. Fantastic review though.
Thanks Liam! :)
Kacie Morgan says
I’ve never been here myself but I used to work for a boarding school that went there every year and I always loved looking through their photos!
What a great place for a school trip! :D
The Space Centre sounds amazing. I think I’d definitely prefer it to the theme parks too and I’d love to see a launch.
It was utterly surreal! :D Thanks Charli!
My youngest went to Florida last year with his dad, and although he loved the parks, the main thing he talks about is his visit to the space center!
I don’t blame him!! Thanks Laura! :)
michelle twin mum says
I’m with you, I’d much rather go to the Kennedy Space Centre, rather than one fo the big theme parks. It looks great and so exciting that you actually saw a space launch the same day too. Mich x
That was definitely a stroke of luck! Thanks so much Mich x
Sarupa Shah says
It sounds like a fab theme park – and one I would probably prefer to do in Florida given the choices!
It’s such a good day out. Thanks Sarupa!