Having been to Orlando 3 times before but never having made the time to experience this world-renowned space centre, I can safely say I’m glad we did it this trip!
It’s around an hour and a half drive time from the Disney resort area, so we pre-booked our tickets & transport through our UK travel agent, though the tour was operated by Grayline. There were so many different ticket options, but we went with the “Dine with an Astronaut at Kennedy Space Center” ticket which was well worth the money (more on that later)! The transfers were a bit time consuming as we had to change bus about 30 minutes in to the journey. The Disney resort area customers and the Universal resort area customers met up at the Crossroads retail park and had to transfer to the bus going to their respective destinations (Florida Airboats or Kennedy Space Centre). I understand that it is more time effective for Grayline, but it did make the journey seem a lot longer than it was. We didn’t have to change on the return journey though, so that was a blessing!
When we boarded the coach, our guide Don made sure we were all ready for the day ahead with tickets, park maps and schedules so no time was wasted upon arrival. He spent time with each party on the journey making sure they were all set for the day, answered any questions, gave us advice on how to plan out our day and generally made everyone feel welcome and well prepared.
We arrived at Kennedy at around 09:45 so with a little over 2 hours until our scheduled lunch we headed straight to the bus tour. All of the advice says to allow 2.5 hours for the tour, and as 2 adults who are generally quick on their feet, we did feel like we missed things, so in hindsight we should have done this after lunch. It’s an interesting bus tour of the wider space centre driving by launch pads, the ginormous vehicle assembly building and other working areas of the complex, narrated throughout by a mixture of the bus driver and pre-recorded video content. They not only talk about past & present uses of the facility, they also talk about the protected wildlife that can often be spotted on the drive too. The tour stops at the Apollo / Saturn V centre which starts with a pre-show video introducing you to the Apollo mission, immediately followed by a live re-creation of the launch in the firing room. Then, when the doors open, you walk in to the main room where you can really get a sense of the immense scale of the Saturn V. We didn’t get to experience anything else in the building as we needed to head straight back to the bus as the 20 minute bus ride back to the complex would take us right to our lunch appointment.
12:00 – lunch time with a difference – we had a dinner date with an astronaut! There were around 30 of us on this particular day, but they clearly had space in the dining room for around 100. We were sat at large round tables of 8-10 people, laid in a formal setting. We were immediately invited to help ourselves to the delicious hot & cold buffet and beverages. They served grilled chicken, beef, rice, roasted vegetables, salads, shellfish, soup, bread, various small cakes, cookies and mousses, not to mention tea and coffee served in a cup and saucer! The range, quality and freshness of the food alone made this ticket upgrade worth the price! Once everyone had eaten and become acquainted, we were introduced to our astronaut, Jon McBride. Jon started by giving us a presentation on his career, the selection process, what he loved about being in space. He showed us his favourite photographs, what dining in space was like (and how to deal with the post-digestion results), and so much more. After answering all of our questions before we’d even asked them, he then opened it up to the floor, taking questions on the spot and answering them elequantly. Our lunch ended with a chance to get a hand shake and take a photograph with our gracious host before we continued our day at the space centre at leisure. I would urge anyone visiting to do the “Dine with an Astronaut” ticket upgrade as the food is great (better than the food we saw on offer in the other eateries around the centre) and, on reflection, this truly unique experience was the highlight of our day.
Fed, watered and well rested, we proceeded to take on the second main attraction of the day: Space Shuttle Atlantis. Now we didn’t know what to expect from this one as the detail in the leaflet was a bit vague. Again, it says to allow 2.5 hours for this one but as it’s all on foot you can do it a little quicker if you wish. You start with an introductory video, then walk in to a second room where there is another video setting the scene for a rather dramatic grand reveal to the Atlantis Space Shuttle. It is impressive, if a little over the top, but we enjoyed it! The screen then lifts up to allow you to walk in to the main exhibition hall. You can pause for photos and view the many exhibits throughout the room before continuing through the various levels of the building, exploring and interacting with everything as you go. There are lots of family friendly elements throughout, ending up on the ground floor where the Space Shuttle Launch Experience is housed. I must admit, we were too chicken to give this a try, but I’m told it is an exhilarating experience! We were able to exit through the gift shop and make our way to the next attraction.
There are two IMAX cinema screens with 3D films showing; “Journey To Space 3D” & “A Beautiful Planet”. They each show at different times and often overlap so we decided to watch only “A Beautiful Planet”. The film was of a genre I would call ‘edu-tainment’, both breath-taking and inspiring, humbling and gripping. It was a wonderful film giving the audience an insight in to what its like living on the International Space Station and seeing the world go by from a whole new perspective. The film was enjoyed by an audience of all ages and gave visitors a chance to relax in some air conditioning! I’d recommend making time to watch one of these films, perhaps in the early afternoon to give yourself a break from the hot afternoon sun!
Before long it was 17:00 and time to start heading back to the bus. We took one final walk through the rocket garden and we were back on our luxury double decker coach back to Orlando.
The Bottom Line
Kennedy Space Centre is a truly memorable day out. We thoroughly enjoyed the day and left feeling inspired and wanting to make a positive change for our world. If you have younger children (under 7), I would advise waiting until they are a bit older before you visit, just because a lot of the content is very wordy and requires a level of understanding of science and a good attention span, otherwise you could end up with very tired and bored little ones. Likewise, if you are not fluent in English you may struggle to make sense of what you’re seeing during the tour & videos.
Have you been to Kennedy Space Centre? What was your favourite exhibit? Let us know in the comments!