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I didn’t grow up obsessed with space. This is a fairly recent development. I know I’ve always liked space, and when I came back from Central America I found a random freelance job to basically make Spark Notes for chapters of an Astronomy textbook. It was also around this time that I discovered the show How The Universe Works. I promptly watched every episode available and then it left Netflix and I was left without space things to watch.
Since then I watch it every chance I get on TV. I don’t understand most of what they talk about. I was more of an art class kind of kid in school. But I still enjoy it. And after coming to Florida and reading a book about someone’s time working in Orlando and visiting the Space Center a lot, I decided I needed to go.
My parents came to visit me here this winter, so I figured that was the perfect time for me to go! So we planned a day for the Kennedy Space Center. We didn’t plan very well, but we still made it and saw what we wanted. Our plan was to do the KSC Explore Tour at 11 I think, but we were still waiting in line then to get in. We didn’t go right when the park opened but didn’t realize how long it would take us to find it and actually get in.
Thankfully at the will call desk they were able to move us to the 2:30 tour instead so it wasn’t a total loss. We started our day once we finally made it in by doing a short Rocket Garden guided walk. This will be the first thing you see once you’re in and it’s a great way to learn about the timeline of the space race and about the rockets. This area is really cool because you get to see replicas of all the rockets sent into space and you can even get into some of the capsules to see how small they really are.
Next, we stopped in the nature exhibit right next to the Rocket Garden. This exhibit talks about the wildlife on Merritt Island, which is a national wildlife refuge. The entire island (Merritt Island) that the space center is on is part of the wildlife refuge. It’s not the most exciting stop on the trip, but it is interesting to learn about how wildlife lives there and how the space center works around it.
We headed over to the Heroes and Legends exhibit next which was really cool. There was pretty much always a short line for this, but quite a few people can go in at once, so you shouldn’t be waiting terribly long. It starts with a short little movie about space, astronauts, and heroes before moving into a standing theater for a short 3D movie. I was worried about getting motion sick in this part, but I was fine. After this film, you are let into the ‘museum’ part of the hall with astronaut memorabilia from childhoods and different space missions. Plan to spend about an hour in the Heroes and Legends exhibit.
By the time we finished all of that, it was getting closer to tour time. I was getting a little hungry and wanted something cold, so I got myself some Space Dots to cool down. It was surprisingly warm when we visited. Soon enough we were in line for our KSC Explore Tour, which is different than the regular bus tour, and loaded on the bus to take us around more of the Space Complex.
The bus tour (not the free one) took us around the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) which I still can’t wrap my head around how massive it is, but you don’t get to go in it, which I get why, but it’s still a bummer. You drive past it a few times and get a good photo opportunity for it. It also takes you past the launchpads, but not onto them. It was cool to be able to see all of that, but I probably would have been happy with the regular (free) bus tour unless it eventually takes you further behind the scenes into buildings or anything like that.
The tour ended at the Apollo/Saturn V Center and I think this was my favorite part, followed by the Atlantis Exhibit. The Apollo/Saturn V Center starts with a series of really cool videos that make it really feel like you were there, but it’s not the launch simulation. This is the most immersive part, I think, without doing the simulation. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but the control room part is really cool. After that, you’re let out to see the rocket. There are a few exhibits out here so you can see more memorabilia and moon artifacts, including a moon rock that you can touch.
Finally, we took the shuttle (just a regular bus) back to the main visitor complex and headed into the Atlantis exhibit, which I didn’t even know existed until we were outside of it. When you’re at the entrance to the park, it’s the big orange thing to your right.
This has another reenactment type video and tells you all about the reusable Atlantis shuttle, then you get to see the actual Atlantis shuttle itself. We were running out of time here, so we didn’t get to spend as much time there as I would have liked, but this hall has a ton of interactive displays, so make sure you have a lot of time to see it.
And the last thing we did before leaving with literally no minutes to spare (we were walking out at exactly six) was stop in the Space Shop, the biggest space store for some postcards, a NASA sweatshirt, and a Future Astronaut sticker. I can hope, right?
I interrupt this for some very important VAB facts:
- The flag on the VAB is 209 feet tall and 110 feet wide.
- Each star is six feet across.
- Each stripe is nin feet wide.
- The blue part is the size of a professional basketball court.
- It is one of the largest buildings in the world by area and is 525 feet tall and 518 feet wide.
- The building covers eight acres and is made of 65,000 cubic yards of concrete. Its frame is built from 98,590 tons of steel. And it stands on top of a support base of 4,225 steel pilings driven 164 feet into bedrock.
Regular one-day admission is $57 for adults and $47 for kids (3-11). If you want to purchase multi-day admission, it will be $82 for adults and $67 for kids. Military and senior discounts are available making the entrance $50 for a single day.
Where is Kennedy Space Center?
How to get to the Kennedy Space Center
I’ve included directions from three different places you’re likely to be visiting from: Orlando, Cocoa Beach, and St. Augustine.
While these are the main add-ons and experiences, you can also purchase packages, VIP launch viewings, and Camp KSC tickets. Prices will be listed as (adult/child) next to each tour. There are restrictions on a few of the activities, so make sure you qualify first.
KSC Explore Tour ($25/$19)
This tour is two hours and takes you behind the scenes to restricted areas like the VAB and launch pads. There area few photo stops along the way. They’re not the best stops, I won’t lie, because they’re kind of far from the photo subjects. The last stop near the VAB is pretty good though. This ends at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
Go back in time on this three hour tour and see historic launch sites at Cape Canaveral as well as the Air Force Space and Missle Museum. This also ends at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
Dine with an Astronaut ($30/$16)
Enjoy a buffet lunch with an astronaut thats been to space. You’ll get to see a personal presentation and follow it up with an open Q&A. This takes place in the conference area under the Heroes and Legends Hall.
Mars Base 1 ($150)
Spend the day like you’re living and working on Mars managing the Base Operations Center, harvesting plants in the Botany Center, and programing robots to optimize solar energy on Mars.
Mars Exploration Simulator Training Stage ($40)
Land, drive, and walk on the surface of Mars with the help of your crew in Training Control in this full simulator.
Spacewalk Training Stage ($30)
Perform an extravehicular activity in a simulated microgravity environment in this spacewalk training. You’ll experience walking in space without leaving Earth!
This is a full day experience, well five hours, where you join a crew simulating a new mission with launch, landing, and a walk on Mars. You’ll be making video logs along the way to watch when you’re done.
What else to do at the Kennedy Space Center
There are SO MANY things to do at the Kennedy Space Center, it’s crazy. I’m only highlightint a few of the main one, but you can find all of them right over here.
This is the first thing you see when you enter the main visitor complex. You can do a self-guided tour and read all the signs, testing out the capsules the astronauts were in or you can join a short guided tour for free to learn all about the different rockets and the space race.
Heroes and Legends
This attraction is presented by Boeing and gives you access to the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. Watch two short films (one 3D) about the early space Pioneers before getting to see tons of astronaut memorabilia. Plan about an hour for this.
Apollo/Saturn V Complex
This was my favorite. Experience the space race with the launch of Apollo 8 and the first manned crew. After that, you can see artifacts from former space missions and touch a moon rock. Plan for at leeast an hour here.
Atlantis Complex (Shuttle Express)
Get a close up view of the Atlantis Shuttle after a short film recreation about how Atlantis came about. There are also more than 60 interactive exhibits in here, so give yourself plenty of time!
There are two space themed films to choose from that change throughout the year. Check these out to feel like you’re really in space.
Watch a launch
You can find dates of upcoming launches here. This is something I want to do SO BAD but I just haven’t had the chance to go down there when there is actually a launch happening. They have the schedule online and if your trip dates are flexible and you want to see a launch, I’d plan the trip around it.
Is there food at the Kennedy Space Center?
Yup! There are quite a few places to eat at the space center. We didn’t actually eat here, but I did get some Space Dots (Dippin’ Dots) to tide me over until I had a granola bar before we left to eat back in Cocoa Beach.
You can get ice cream at the Milky Way or the Space Dots stand. You can find the Rocket Fuel food truck just outside the main entrance. Red Rock Cafe, Orbit Cafe, and Rocket Garden Cafe are all in the main visitor complex. The Moon Rock Cafe is at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
Also, you can bring food and drinks into the Kennedy Space Center. Soft-sided coolers are allowed, but you can’t bring glass bottles or alcohol.
How long do you need for the Kennedy Space Center?
At least one full day, but if you want to do a lot of the extra experiences and don’t want to rush, add another day or two. We just spent one day there, which I think was good for me.
Kennedy Space Center hours
The hours are kind of strange. I mean, they’re normal hours, but they vary a lot throughout the year. Here are the 2019 hours directly from the website.
|December 31 – January 6||9 am to 7 pm|
|January 7 – March 17||9 am to 6 pm|
|March 18 – April 28||9 am to 7 pm|
|April 29 – June 30||9 am to 6 pm|
|July 1 – August 11||9 am to 7 pm|
|August 12 – December 18||9 am to 6 pm|
|December 19 – December 24||9 am to 7 pm|
|December 25||9 am to 6 pm|
|December 26 – December 29||9 am to 8 pm|
Where to stay near the Kennedy Space Center
I would recommend staying in Cocoa Beach unless you’re coming in for a day trip from Orlando or St. Augustine or something, which I probably wouldn’t do unless I was really short on time. There are tours available as day trips from Orlando either just for the space center or combined with an airboat tour. There is even a space center/outlet mall trip from Miami.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Cocoa Beach, which was really good. Kind of expensive, but there aren’t tons of shoestring budget options there. If I went back, I’d probably stay at one of the Choice Hotels since I get points there.
Airbnb is also a great option for this area. Prices are similar to hotels, but you can find some options for under $100 per night.
Tips for visiting the Kennedy Space Center:
- Wear good walking shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of that here.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get there if you have one of the extra tours. We only had about 20 minutes before ours started when we got in line for the entrance and missed it, but they moved us to a later one, which was awesome.
- There is food on site, but you can also bring in snacks.
- If you get motion sick, take some Dramamine before you go. There are a lot of video exhibits that could cause it and possibly the bus tours. Oh, and the launch simulation might, too.
- Parking is $10 per vehicle in addition to the entrance fee.
- Here are some frequently asked questions about the space center.
- I would definitely get here right at 9 when it opens if you one have one day. There is so much to see and we felt pretty rushed at the end of the day.