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Day Trippin’ – Kennedy Space Center

We’ve all watched the shuttle launch at some point in our lives, even if it was just on TV. With the new generation of rockets and exploration of Mars a real possibility, excitement about Kennedy Space Center is at an all-time high.

 

The Details

Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex 
SR 405, Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
(855)-433-4210
Open 365 days a year at 9:00am until 6:00 or 7:00pm depending on the date, closing at 5:00pm on Christmas Day

Distance from SRQ: 2 hrs 53 minutes (via I-75N, I-4E, & FL-528 *toll*)

Time spent at the park: This is a full-day experience and you’ll spend at least 8 hours exploring, if not more.

Cost:
Daily Admission: $40 (child 3-11); $50 (adult 12+)
Annual Pass: $60 (child); $75 (adult)
Atlantis Pass: $71 (child); $89 (adult) includes a year’s admission, free parking, 10% off admission for up to 6 guests and discounts on food and retail items.
Explorer Annual Pass includes all the benefits of the Atlantis Annual Pass PLUS one Lunch with an Astronaut Pass ($29.99 value), one KSC Explore Tour ($24.99 value), and one collectible souvenir ($5.99 value).

Level of satisfaction:
Preschooler: A+
Elementary age: A+
Middle schooler: A+
Parents: A+
Learning plus fun is always a winner!

Main Attractions

Heroes & Legends: (approximately 45 minutes)

One of the first areas when you enter the complex. All of the following attractions are included in the admission price.

  • US Astronaut Hall of Fame – American astronauts remembered and honored in a series of historical depictions. It was a lot like a museum with memories of the lives of various astronauts from childhood up. The smaller kids weren’t as interested in this exhibit as the rest of us and were ready to go after a quick run through. The 4D theater was not a hit with the littles or myself, but my eldest (12) and husband enjoyed it. Everyone enjoyed the Friendly 7 control room mock-up, but it would have been more fun to play inside.
  • Rocket Garden – Take a walk surrounded by giant rockets. This is by far my favorite exhibit. I enjoyed just sitting surrounded by the mixture of beauty and progress and enjoying the weather. It’s amazing seeing how large the rockets are in reality, and what a small space the astronauts were confined to while being carried into space. Guided tours are available and kid activities are held periodically. There’s a covered playground and a huge field for the kids to play in.

    Rocket Garden

  • Astronaut Encounter – Live presentations with a real veteran NASA astronaut. You’re able to shake hands and take a picture with them—and even ask questions. Check the events calendar for times and who’s presenting. We kept missing this, so hopefully, we can try again before our annual passes expire.

Race to the Moon: (allow 2-3 hours including the Kennedy Space Center bus tour and return trip)

You’ll have to take the bus to the Apollo/Saturn V Space Center for these attractions but it’s worth the trip and the following attractions are all included in the admission price.

  • Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour – A guided bus tour of the actual launch areas including a drive-by Mission Control, Space X (which houses the first privately funded Space Mission), ULA, and Boeing. (Additional tours where you can get closer require purchasing tickets and are extra.)

    SpaceX preparing for the next rocket launch.

  • Saturn V Rocket – Huge (363 feet!) rocket launched astronauts to the moon and back. You can walk the entire length of the machine as it hangs overhead.
  • Apollo 8 and the Firing Room Theater – Experience the countdown in front of the actual consoles used during the Apollo launches as you see and feel the powerful Saturn V moon rocket launch. We missed this attraction but plan to return to experience it.
  • Exploring the Moon – Explore the equipment that took the astronauts to the moon and an actual moon rocket. The kids loved this one, lots of things to touch and interact with.
  • Lunar Theater – This 3D theater experience of the moon landing mission was a popular attraction but we opted to skip it to avoid sensory overwhelm. The older kids and hubs plan to return to this attraction as they generally love 3D movies.
  • Apollo Treasuries Gallery – It’s awesome to see the actual moon lander and spacesuits including moon dust still clinging to Alan Shepard’s suit!
  • Other exhibits included a NASA van which transported the astronauts to the launch pad, Skylab Mating adapter for docking to the first US Space Station, the moon rover, and more! Guided tours are available but we just explored on our own.

Shuttle Zone: (allow 2.5 hours but you can totally spend more time exploring and playing!)

This was the overall favorite for the whole family. Something fun for everyone! The two-story slide was a winner!

  • Space Shuttle Atlantis – They have the actual shuttle AND periodically have astronauts or people that worked on it in some capacity or another, giving talks and answering questions. One trip we had a woman that worked on textiles, she literally designed the cloth and created the pattern for the heat shield. My eldest daughter was mesmerized. They are pretty hands-on too and allowed us to touch actual parts that were in space. The Atlantis itself is gigantic and hangs suspended over the entire building. You’ll start from the top and work your way down several flights of activities (over 60 that are interactive!) in this huge building.

    The actual Atlantis Shuttle

  • Hubble Space Telescope Theater – Learn about the iconic telescope and view an exact replica hanging above two stories.
  • Astronaut Training Simulators – Learn to land and dock the space shuttle on simulators. The kids (especially my elementary and middle schoolers) loved this one. A bit harder for my preschooler but she still had a ton of fun!
  • Forever Remembered – A memorial honoring the astronauts that died during space shuttle missions Challenger and Columbia. Personal items from each astronaut and recovered hardware from both orbiters.
  • ISS Triumph of Technology – One of the kids’ favorite areas! They can explore what it’s like to be an astronaut, including how they eat, sleep, and use the bathroom. Kids can even climb through the ISS, including a clear tunnel hanging suspended several stories above the ground.

    ISS Triumph of Technology spanning two stories.

  • Shuttle Launch Experience – Simulation of the space launch. All personal items must be stored in a locker. Height restrictions of 44”. We opted out due to the height restriction for my preschooler as there were many more attractions we could all experience. The older kids will give it a try the next time we visit.

NASA Now + Next: (allow 2.5 hours)

NASA Now – Explore where NASA is headed including the Commercial Crew Program.

  • Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted – Test your deep space savvy with interactive games and simulators and explore Mars Rover models.
  • Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator – See a concept vehicle designed for navigating the surface of Mars. It’s bigger than it looks in photos!
  • Eyes on the Universe – NASA’s Space Telescopes 3D – 3D & 4D experience of Hubble Space Telescope’s search for the origins of life.
  • IMAX Theater – Two 3D movies available (Journey to Space and A Beautiful Planet were playing while we were there. About 30 minutes each.) Again, opted to skip the 3D experiences due to sensitive children.
  • Science on a Sphere – Amazing exhibit on a six-foot-diameter sphere animated with different features exploring our universe.
  • Mission Status Briefing – A multimedia presentation about what’s happening at NASA, where they’re headed, and the commercial partners SpaceX and ULA.

Other Activities

Space Mirror Memorial – Beautiful memorial under the gorgeous Florida sun honoring those who lost their lives during the space program.

SpaceX Rocket Launch sending supplies to the International Space Station

Watch a Space Launch! – Periodically (check the schedule) they’ll launch a rocket into space, mostly via SpaceX. There are various ways to watch a launch but the experience is unforgettable. We’ve only witnessed one on-site, but would love to return for more! The closer viewing stations are extra (ranging from $20 to $49) and go fast. You can view from the main visitor complex at no additional charge or for free (no admission required!) from the parking lot. (The staff were very accommodating and as it was after park hours, didn’t charge us for parking.) DO NOT stop on the side of the road leading up to the Complex. Anywhere. Security or police will (nicely) ask you to move. (I speak from experience.)

Behind the Gates: (additional 1-3 hours depending on the tour purchased)

Extra tickets are required to explore the historic launch sites and working spaceflight facilities listed here.

  • Kennedy Space Center Explorer Tour – Additional stops on the bus tour to view icons of NASA and photo opportunities.
  • Kennedy Space Center Launch Control Center Tour – Explore the actual Kennedy Space Center Launch Control Center and Launch Complex 39. Preview the changes taking place for the upcoming Journey to Mars.
  • Cape Canaveral Early Space Tour – An additional stop at the historic site where the Space Center was born, adjacent to the Space Center.
  • Launch Director Tour – Explore Launch Control Center with Launch Director Mike Leinbach who helped launch 37 space shuttle missions including the final flight of Atlantis. Not recommended for young children due to the length of the tour. Minors must be accompanied by a paying adult. Select dates only.
  • Fly with an Astronaut – Guided tour, eat lunch, and launch into space aboard the Shuttle Launch Experience with an astronaut. Not recommended for young children due to the length of the tour. Minors must be accompanied by a paying adult. Select dates only.

Know Before You Go

  • We were about to buy the Atlantis Passes for each family member but the woman at the ticket counter stopped us, thankfully, and saved us $64 with the following tip: buy 1 Atlantis pass for the member most likely to go each visit and regular Annual Passes for the rest of the family. The Atlantis Pass comes with a lanyard and will give you free parking ($10 each visit) and a discount on food, beverages, treats, and anything from the gift shop. (I could have hugged her.)
  • Military discount with ID $4 per ticket.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, there’s a lot of walking, your feet will thank you.
  • Bring your water bottle! A lot of the activities are outside and you’ll walk from one building to the next (or take a bus to the Saturn V Complex). There are water bottle refill stations everywhere (encouraging conservation!) for cold water and they are FREE. Plus it will save you money.
  • SUNSCREEN – because it’s Florida and some of the attractions are outside.
  • American Sign Language interpreters are provided at no cost.
  • Sensory sensitive kids might have a tough time at certain exhibits BUT once we knew which exhibits were potential problems we talked to the staff and they were always helpful with ways to skip the loud or flashy areas. Pro tip: enter Atlantis through the gift shop to avoid the touching (if sensory overwhelming) videos at the beginning.
  • There are bathrooms everywhere. We never had a mad dash to the potty because they are accessibly arranged and the lines were always minimal (if there were any). They were also clean and some (like the one in the IMAX theater) have a kid-sized stool for littles to reach the sink.
  • The parking lot opens at 8:30am, get there early to make the most of your day and to get primo spots.
  • Be patient in the security line. Be ready to empty your pockets before going through the metal detectors and your bags inspected. They take security seriously but the line moves swiftly. Have your park ID ready to be scanned for entry.
  • Purchase tickets online at www.kennedyspacecenter.com. Print them and bring them with you, otherwise, you’ll have to wait in (another) line to have them printed for you.
  • The yummy Rocket Garden Cafe closes at 3:00 pm, an hour before most of the restaurants.
  • The variety of food is good (4 restaurants, 3 snack stands, plus the experience lunch) with vegetarian, gluten-free, and healthy choices available at all restaurants. You are also allowed to bring your own food (no glass and in soft-sided coolers) and picnic tables are everywhere—some with charging stations! (Outside alcohol is not permitted.)
  • This amazing complex is entirely funded by revenue generated from the parking, admission, food, and merchandise. There is no government funding supporting this complex so consider that when making purchases.

This is an out-of-this-world experience that was a hit for the entire crew. Every penny spent was well worth it. I can’t wait to return and explore some more and the kids are excited about a return trip!

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