Last week two of my nephews came to Florida to visit my mother during their summer vacation. On Friday she called to ask if I wanted to meet them out at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Saturday morning. The last time I visited KSC was back in 1981 and, although I remember the visit, I’m sure there’s much more to see now. Also, since I recently visited the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, I was eager to visit KSC again to compare the two.
Mom arrived to the KSC parking area just after 11am and by that time the ticket windows were each about 20 people deep including the “Will Call” where we were headed for our prepaid tickets. We waited over 30 minutes in that line. Not much of an incentive to use the “Will Call”.
When we got our tickets, we went through the security checkpoint and metal detectors and, finally, we were in. Time for food. We were all starving so we headed for the Orbit Cafe for some nourishment and a chance to plan the afternoon. Since we got a late start, our options were limited as most everything had time schedules. For instance, the bus tour was approximately 3 hours with the last tour leaving at 3:45pm. That meant we would have to get in line earlier than that to ensure we made it and would also mean by the time we returned we’d only be able to (quickly) check out a few walk-thru exhibits before the park closed at 7pm.
We decided to get in (at least) what the boys wanted to see and the bus tour and anything else we’d fit in between. Since most of what we wanted to see was on the right-hand side of the park, I suggested we take a quick walk around the left side to check out the Rocket Garden and Early Space Exploration exhibit first. The Rocket Garden consisted of a collection of different rocket models, as well as, a few model capsules the kids could sit in (for photo ops). There was also a fountain in the rocket garden. We had only just begun our day here but were already sweaty piles of goo so the cool water of the fountain was an invitation we could not ignore.
Now nearly (or completely) soaked, we walked through the Early Space Exploration exhibit, then headed off to the Robot Scouts attraction, and finally to the Shuttle Launch Experience (launch simulator). I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the simulator since most of them jerk you around so much that when they’re finished, you end up with whiplash and you’re ready to heave. But, I took the plunge anyway. Turns out it wasn’t that bad at all. Certainly not as bad as they made it sound. As a matter of fact, they scared quite a few folks away unnecessarily.
Next, the bus tour. The tour makes 3 stops. At each stop you can mill around at your leisure and then, when ready, take another bus to the next stop or back to the main complex. During the bus ride there are little screens throughout that display informational videos and, occasionally, the bus drivers break in to give you tidbits of information as well. Also, at the first two stops (LC-39 Observation Gantry and Apollo/Saturn V Center) there are gift shops, food places and restrooms available.
Our first stop was at the LC-39 Observation Gantry. A 4-story, open air decking where you can look out over the property and see the launchpads. There are viewers on a few levels which help you get a closer look. Of course, this would have been much cooler had there been a shuttle or rocket on one of the pads. Anyway, there’s also an intro film here, as well as, display and interactive exhibits.
Second stop was the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Like JSC, you could view a life-size rocket but they also had a smaller model on display here with clear plastic on one side so you could see what was inside each section of the rocket. There were also a couple of short films to view and a lunar module on display here.
Next we boarded the bus for our last stop (The International Space Station Center). Unfortunately, our driver didn’t get that memo and took us back to the main complex. Oh well. Go with the flow, right? Instead, we purchased a few cold beverages and checked out the T-38 training jet and shuttle replica. Afterward, we headed over to the astronaut memorial and by then it was time to go. Sort of. The Astronaut Hall of Fame was open until 8pm so we decided to head down the road and check that out before calling it a day. Like the KSC Visitor Complex, the Hall of Fame included short films, artifacts, displays, interactive exhibits, and a simulator ride. The difference here, obviously, was that it’s all about the astronauts. In no time at all they were running us out of the place.
Had we arrived earlier in the day we may have been able to see (and do) everything in both places but having the option of a second day really takes the stress out of the visit. That, coupled with the beautiful weather (no storms), made it a great day and all of us really enjoyed ourselves.
Below are a few comparisons I made between KSC and JSC:
#1: The price for admission at KSC is double that of JSC, however, with that you get to come back a second day plus you gain entrance to the Astronaut Hall of Fame 6 miles away. Good deal.
#2: While the Visitor Center at JSC houses all available exhibits minus what you see on the tram tours, the Visitor Center Complex at KSC is comprised of many different buildings and outdoor displays minus those buildings you visit via the bus tours.
#3: The tours at JSC are separated into three different trips. In other words, you have to wait in a separate line back at the visitor’s center for whichever tour you’d like to take. Also, the tours take place on trams which are extremely uncomfortable and not very inviting in extreme or bad weather.
The tour at KSC is ONE trip with three different stops so you stand in line only once for your entire tour experience (unless the bus driver forgets where he’s suppose to go). Also, the transportation for your tour is a bus complete with video screens and (in our case) air conditioning. Ahhh.
#4: While (in my opinion) JSC seemed to be geared more for kids, KSC definitly had something for all ages.
#5: Something I did not completely know….. KSC is in charge until the shuttle takes off and reaches orbit. At that point, the control room at JSC takes over until it lands. Then KSC takes it again. Interesting.
If you’d like to see more of my pics from KSC click here. If you’d like more information click here to get to KSC’s webiste and interactive park maps.