Florida is home to so many jaw-dropping family destinations. If you’re looking for the beach, you can find it on both coasts. For the thrill seekers, there are theme parks galore around Central Florida. Looking for the races? Yeah – Florida has those, too. However, there is an out-of-this-world destination that blew my family away the very first time we ever stepped foot onto its property. We were shocked and amazed at how much we all LEARNED, ENJOYED and EXPERIENCED together during the one day we had to explore the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Cape Canaveral.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex – NASA sign at entrance
We were provided with complimentary tickets in order to facilitate this post. All opinions are, however, 100% mine alone.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is about an hour away from Orlando, over on Florida’s east coast (better known as The Space Coast). From where we live, it’s a little longer of a drive, but it’s fairly easy to manage if you time it well enough.
The complex itself is home to an astounding number of amazing stories, discoveries and wonders. Inside the gates, there are a variety of attractions, tours, exhibits and more for visitors of all ages to enjoy. Some may say that it takes at least two days to take in all the Complex offers. We only had one ~ so what we were able to accomplish? Here’s what we saw, did, learned and experienced in the nine hours we spent roaming the complex grounds.
FYI ~ Those of you who follow the blog fairly religiously are aware that we have two teen boys at home (and one at college). It’s not always easy to keep them entertained and engaged on trips like this. More so, when the trip has the potential to be “educational.” I mean, they like what they like and it’s hard to give them something new to digest. Now, fortunately, our boys have had some interest in space exploration, but we’re talking more from a Star Wars or The Martian perspective. Studying the space program or seeing a moon rock had not been high on their priority list. Hold that thought…
Our One Day at The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
~ WITH TEENS ~
We started out early on a Monday morning ~ like 7:30 am leave time. Yeah, the teens weren’t too ecstatic about getting out of bed that early on a national holiday. By doing so, however, we arrived just after the center had opened. The weather started off with a little fog and cloud cover. Fortunately, it dissipated fairly quickly. This proved to be a HUGE blessing considering the day’s events to come (more on that in a minute)!!
When we approached the gates to the parking lot, we took note of the giant digital board above. It was actively scrolling right to left, so we took a look to see if it was giving instructions or saying anything we needed to know.
Sure enough, we all caught ONE word that was about to make the drive out there even MORE worth it. The scrolling sign above the parking lot ticket booth clearly said the word, “launch!”
“Launch? Was there a launch today that we didn’t know about?”
Oh, my goodness! Yes!! Our family outing could not have been timed any more perfectly! The SpaceX Falcon 9, which had been scheduled to take 60 satellites up into the space for the Starlink constellation over the weekend, had been scrubbed two days in a row. They were giving it another go the morning we were there.
Ummm ~ how could one NOT get excited about this??
I know my husband’s eyes lit up like laser beams when we read that.
No Plan Survives Implementation
So – this meant the plan I had orchestrated was scrapped. Oh, yeah ~ I had an entire itinerary planned out. After studying the website and their ideas on how to order your day, I had a goal of walking the beautifully organized mission zones – in chronological order. But let’s be honest ~ if you had the opportunity to watch a piece of history take place right before your very eyes ~ don’t you think that was worth a little flexibility?
So – we picked up our tickets at Will Call, made it through the next set of security gates, asked a Crew Member (and a friend via text) where to go and headed straight over to the Atlantis Building.
**PS ~ The best place to watch a launch, if you can make it there in time, is the Apollo / Saturn V Center. The bleachers there have a direct and clear view of the launch site.
History In The Making!!
Once in place on the bleachers, the wait was about 40 minutes. They had a great Crew Member keeping us informed and entertained the entire time. The weather wasn’t too hot, wasn’t too cold. There was no precipitation and the cloud cover was dissipating. However, it hadn’t cleared completely, so the possibility still existed that THIS mission would be scrubbed, too.
But it wasn’t!!!
At 10:05 am EST, we watched as Falcon 9 propelled into the air carrying satellites to help build the Starlink Constellation.
**The Starlink Constellation is a satellite constellation being constructed to provide satellite Internet access.
To see that bright flame in the sky ~ to feel the rumble of the earth underneath ~ to hear the delayed roar of the rockets. This was a moment my teen sons would never forget (nor would Hubby or I). We may live in Florida and, from home, see the tiniest of flash flying through the air during launches, but this was surreal. It was amazing!
So, following a launch, how did we spend the REST of our time at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex?
We explored The Atlantis Building
Inside this multilevel structure, we enjoyed and explored over 60 different exhibits celebrating the thirty years of history, technology and impact the Space Shuttle Atlantis had on the NASA program and beyond.
We took the time to read and check out where the astronauts ate, slept and actually used the bathroom (the boys loved that one). We fiddled around with landing simulators and gazed upon models of rockets and such scattered throughout.
One of our favorite attractions inside the Atlantis Building was the Launch Simulator Experience. Inside this, we had the opportunity to experience what it might have felt like to actually soar into space in a shuttle. I have to say – this is a must do!!!! ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT!
Of course, the two most compelling pieces to this exhibit are the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging overhead and the replica of the Hubble Space Telescope. It was astonishing and breathtaking. I mean, we were standing in the same room as the orbiter that took several renown astronauts to and from space over a span of three full decades!
While the above is certainly astonishing, the most emotional piece of the visit for me was when we entered the hall of the Forever Remembered. Along the walls of this short corridor, we gazed upon the photographs, words and personal belongings of the STS-51L Challenger and STS-107 Columbia crews who lost their lives in 1986 and 2003, respectively.
I have a vivid recollection of the tragic day we lost the Challenger. I was in seventh grade and we had learned about it just after lunch. For the remainder of the school day, we sat in Mr. Pagani’s science classroom, lights off, watching the sadness continuously unfold on the roll-away television.
We ate at Orbit Cafe
Teen tummies were rumbling, so we had to grab something to eat. There are four restaurants and three snack stands on property. Simply due to proximity and pure convenience, we chose to dine inside The Orbit Cafe.
The Orbit Cafe’s menu offers pretty diverse options – burgers, sandwiches, salads and pizza. The portions were fantastic and the prices weren’t too bad for a tourist destination. Believe it or not, we were completely satisfied with our food choices there.
Now, let’s talk about food allergy dining!
I’m going to see how brief I can do this, but I know I have friends who are eager to hear this portion of the story.
While in the lengthy line (lunch time on a holiday), I stepped away from the family to find a Crew Member. My goal was to be proactive and ask how they handled food allergy orders before we reached the front. The first Crew Member I found was wonderful, sweet and extremely helpful. She provided me with a three ring binder that had all the foods offered along with their ingredient lists and disclaimers. I was allowed to bring this back to my son who took a very in-depth look at it.
He was very encouraged!
In this venue, you normally order and pay at a kiosk, though there are registers being operated by humans, too. As we arrived at our kiosk, which just happened to be next to the register, I reached out to ask if I could have a manager come speak with us. The individual at the register said I could talk to her. However, she wasn’t going to be preparing the meal, so I respectfully asked to speak with someone who would be directly involved with making my son’s meal safely.
Sadly, she must have been having an off day because she grew a little…unfriendly…to the point where I had to put my foot down and, with a smile on my face, say, “I would like to speak to someone who will be directly involved with preparing my son’s food allergy friendly meal. Thank you.”
She ultimately directed me to Theresa, who made everything ALL BETTER. Theresa was behind the counter and she took tremendous and personal care of my son’s order from there. She prepared him a delicious hamburger (he could have the normal bun), along with safely cut lettuce and tomato. She even cooked up some bacon safely for him (BONUS)!! The french fries at Orbit Cafe are prepared in a separate vat, so they are completely safe for those with egg and peanut allergies. Theresa also found ketchup and mustard packets so that we didn’t have to worry about the community pumps everybody else was using and touching.
Everything worked out beautifully and our son was able to eat a safe, very filling meal there.
Before leaving the counter…
I had asked Theresa how she would recommend I share the ordering process with other food allergy families. She gave me this advice:
- Go to the register and ask to speak directly to the manager in back (especially if Theresa is the one on duty). I believe you may even be able to go straight to the back counter (it’s at least worth a try).
- The manager should be able to go over the three ring ingredient binder and help you find the safest option of choice. I recommend, if you can, coming up with two or three prioritized options before that point, just to be courteous and efficient.
- The manager will then prepare the food herself, ensuring that she has clean hands, gloves, surfaces, utensils, etc.
- The food will be delivered on a separate tray at the counter, away from all other meals to prevent cross contamination.
I highly, highly, highly encourage you ask to speak directly to a manager. Theresa told me that they only deal with a few severe cases of food allergies per day (most families likely bring their own food, which we did just in case), so it’s beneficial to speak with the person who would best handle the situation. Theresa was AWESOME!!!
Dining Experience Extra!!
If you have a Little or Teen who is fascinated with the space program and would love to meet an astronaut, there is a dine-with-an-astronaut option. It does come at an extra charge and reservations are highly encouraged, but imagine the memories made by doing so!!! Priceless!
There is also a time during the day when an astronaut is available for pictures and autographs over in the Universe Theater!! THIS IS THE ONE THING WE MISSED AND REGRET NOT DOING!!!!! (sniff, sniff, sob, sob).
We took the Bus Tour
THIS IS A MUST!!!! This tour took us on an adventure I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. Now, the line for this was quite long the day we were there. However, the supposed 90 minute wait didn’t feel like that at all. We were moving constantly and it was absolutely worth it in the end. (Pssst – there’s a Starbucks right next to the entrance of the line!!! Fuel up, my friends!)
We boarded a comfy tour bus, which took us on a forty minute tour closer to where the launch action occurs. On the drive, we drove past the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the SpaceX building, and launch sites, including the site from which astronauts were sent to the moon and the future site of whichever capsule takes the next humans up that way!
Though there is nothing glitzy or glamorous about these locations, their historical significance and the stories they hold are simply mesmerizing. It is definitely worth it to listen and learn.
We spent time at the Apollo / Saturn V Center
After the fascinating guided bus tour portion of the adventure, we were dropped off in front of the Apollo / Saturn V Center.
At that point, we deboarded and everyone shuffled into a room where the lights went dark and we watched a short, emotional movie about the Apollo program. From there, we made our way into The Firing Room where we experienced the simulated launch of Apollo 8. It was captivating to see the boards light up and hear the voices of those involved in this momentous event.
It felt as if we were right there…
Following this, we moved into the larger exhibit, which is where the Saturn V rocket (the largest rocket ever flown) hangs overhead for all the see. Every astronaut to ever step foot on the moon was launched from the top a Saturn V rocket right here at the Kennedy Space Center.
Our crew spent well over an hour or so there, taking our time through the Treasures Gallery where we gazed at astronaut’s suits and peered into the Apollo 14 capsule sitting there in all her glory.
We even took opportunity to touch a moon rock, which I’m sure made my husband a little emotional inside. The actual Lunar Module 9 is there, too, in the middle of a life-sized depiction of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
We Took a Journey To Mars
Okay, not really ~ but it sounded cool and the Crew Member that took the stage inside sure acted like he was prepping us for a spectacular adventure! This was one of my husband’s favorite portions of the day because he has been intrigued by the Mars program for some time. During this portion, we learned just how possible it might be for humans to actually step foot on Mars within our children’s lifetime. Absolutely mind-blowing!!
Also inside the exhibit, which is a smaller than the others on site, we challenged ourselves with a few of the fact games and studied the details on the rovers on display.
This merely fueled my husband’s curiosity and launched us right over to explore the future of space transportation.
We Explored NASA Now+Next
Behind the Journey to Mars building and next to what actually houses the IMAX theater on the property is a small area called NASA Now+Next. At the time of our visit, the IMAX theater was undergoing renovation. However, the NASA Now+Next exhibit was open for exploration.
Trust me – you don’t want to miss this either! (Do I sound redundant? I must sound redundant. #SorryNotSorry!!)
Inside NASA Now+Next, the “boys” and I caught a sneak peek inside the future of spacecraft. We took a gander inside the Boeing Starliner, the SpaceX Dragon and the DreamChaser (isn’t she is gorgeous??). By the way, did you know that Boeing and SpaceX are in competition to see which of their capsules will take the next crew of humans into space ?
We also gained better understanding of the current missions of the International Space Station, as well as NASA’s future goals, aspirations and plans.
We Checked Out The Next Edition of the Mars Rover
There is so much talk about being able to land human beings on Mars in the years to come. Well, right here at the Kennedy Space Center, the vehicle that could potentially transport those humans around the planet sits just waiting for its own moment in history!
Introducing the Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator!! I think it looks pretty darn slick!! Don’t you?
We Toured The Heroes and Legends Building
We were winding down, though our minds were still craving to learn more. However, the day was slipping away from us and it was almost closing time. Before heading out, we had time for one more stop. Right as you near the entrance / exit, there lies a building. That building houses the stories and accolades celebrating the various space pioneers who embarked upon these awe-inspiring journeys. From the Redstone Rocket and Astronaut Hall of Fame to Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo, I could not think of a better way to end our adventure.
As The Sun Set On Our Day
I honestly did not expect to walk away with such awe in my heart. I did not expect my children to deeply appreciate what they saw as much as they did. We learned about the history of space exploration, medical research being conducted on the ISS and the future plans for transporting the general public into space. We touched, listened, studied and dreamed ~ all right there on that one complex. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is a treasure of a destination to explore. It truly should be on every parent’s bucket list for their families.
I encourage you to visit The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex during one of YOUR next trips to Florida! I dare you not to be transformed or energized about what the future holds.
Check out my friends Kristy and Jen’s posts on their family adventures to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex!!!
Info about Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Hours of operation:
- Typically between 9 am and 6 pm. For more information on seasonal hours, click here.
Visit them on social:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KennedySpaceCenterVisitorComplex
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ExploreSpaceKSC @ExploreSpaceKSC
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/kennedyspacecenter @KennedySpaceCenter
- Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/kscvc
Leaving You With A Few Quick Tips:
- Use the Itinerary Guide on the site to plan your day. Ours was a little out of chronological order due to the launch. Nonetheless, we still had an amazing time
- Try to organize your time according to the mission zones .
- Heroes and Legends
- Behind The Gates
- Race to the Moon
- Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other
- NASA Now + Next
- Be sure to check the site the day of your adventure to see if a launch may be planned!! Imagine how exciting that would be!
Amazon Picks for the Space Fan!
Tina M. Brown (Footprints in Pixie Dust) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for the blog to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com.