Now, I’m the first to confess that I am *not* a space geek or even much of a science geek. So when we were invited to visit Kennedy, I was a bit unsure as to how interesting the Space Center would be for me as a day out. Actually it was a lot of fun, and really inspiring. For Flea, who is a full-fledged space nerd, it was out of this world (see what I did there?)
So here are our top tips for a day out at Kennedy Space Center in Florida:
Allow Plenty of Time
It should take around an hour to drive to the Space Center from Orlando. The route is well sign-posted, and you won’t get lost, but I do advise setting off early if you can. Rush hour traffic as you go through Orlando can be hellish, and it’s better to leave a little earlier (pre-9am) to make the most of your day. We didn’t do this, leaving Davenport at a leisurely 10am, and found it took us a little over two hours to make the trip.
Download the Kennedy Space Center App
When we got to the Kennedy Space Center, we got parked and inside relatively easily. But from there it’s not the most intuitive place to navigate, and if (like us) you’re first-time visitors it’s not easy to see what there is to DO. I wholeheartedly recommend downloading the app, which gives you a map of the complex, along with information on shows and attractions, weather forecasts and access to free WiFi, the holy grail when you’re travelling with a tween.
Head to Atlantis Early (or Late)
During our visit, easily the busiest part of the centre was the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. To begin with you go through a museum style exhibit hall with various screens and models, then the doors open to reveal the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis, suspended in air, with the doors open so you can peek inside. There are lots of interactive exhibits for kids and Flea was really fascinated by these. We got to learn about what’s involved in a space walk, how space suits work, and manipulate models of space vehicles and robots.
After this you get to experience a simulated launch of the shuttle. We found that the queue here was pretty small towards the end of the day, so I’d advise visiting then. Flea and my Dad adored this ride, but I confess that simulation rides are not my favourite – luckily if you’re the same, you get to watch the launch from the outside through a TV screen, so I could see Flea bouncing around in her chair like an astronaut, with my own feet firmly on the ground!
Lunch with an Astronaut
We arrived at the Kennedy Space Center just in time for our scheduled “Lunch with an Astronaut” activity. Given that you might have spent $40-50 on admission to the center, spending another $30 each ($16 for kids) for this extra activity? Absolutely.
The lunch with an astronaut is a bit more like attending an event with an after-dinner speaker. So you’ll be seated at a table of 10 people, and get to enjoy a buffet lunch with drinks. We found the quality of the food to be excellent, and the staff were really accommodating in bringing out more food for people who arrived a bit late. Like us.
There were perhaps 150 people attending, and a huge number were children.
As lunch came to a close, US astronaut Wendy Lawrence came in and gave a short presentation about her experiences, showing us photos, explaining some of the details about life in space, and covering ALL the topics you know kids are dying to hear about – what are the toilets like, what are the foods like, how fast does the ship go? I thought it was ridiculously inspiring for kids to get to see a female astronaut talking about space and science and exploring and adventure, without ever making any reference to gender.
Even better than this, after the presentation, Wendy spent 30 minutes or so answering questions from the audience, including lots of children. I think it was worth the price of admission just to learn that
A – Before you go into space you learn basic medical and dental procedures, so if you need a filling, you don’t have to come back to earth.
B – The most realistic space movie is The Martian, but don’t get an astronaut started on Gravity. Suffice to say, there was no reason for anyone to die in that film.
After the Q&A there’s a chance to take photos. There’s an official photographer and a member alongside who will take a photo for you on your phone, so you don’t HAVE to pay for a photo 🙂
Cool off in IMAX
Even in October, the midday heat in Florida can be a lot for kids (and older people), so I recommend planning to see one or two of the excellent IMAX movies in the middle of the day. Check timings on the board in the lobby of the IMAX cinema.
We went to see A Beautiful Planet. This documentary is new to the Space Centre and we thought it was beautiful. It’s a collection of footage of Earth taken from the International Space Station, narrated by Jennifer Lawrence. It’s honestly just gorgeous, and only lasts about 40 minutes, making it the perfect break in the middle of the day.
Take a Tour around the Rocket Garden
There are bus tours to go and see various launch sites, but honestly, we were enjoying the sunshine, so instead we took a long stroll around the Rocket Garden, and enjoyed an ice cream outside. There are tours of the rockets and missiles throughout the day, lasting about 20 minutes, and my parents really enjoyed seeing the rockets that they’d watched on TV in the very earliest days of the Space Programme. This also left Flea with enough time to check out the gift store (naturally) before we had to leave.
Kennedy Space Center is a fantastic way to get kids really inspired and enthused about science, but I do think it’s worth planning your day carefully and researching in advance. That’s partly because the attractions and activities aren’t offer aren’t DEAD obvious when you’re walking around. But also, there are a host of packages you can buy in advance that bundle together multiple tours and activities. If you know which things you’re most interested in seeing before you arrive, then you can save quite a bit of money.
Admission to Kennedy Space Center starts at $42 for children and $53 for adults. Admission plus lunch with an astronaut costs from $79. We were provided with free admission and lunch for the purposes of this review.