I have devised a strong list of helpful Kennedy Space Center tips that will hopefully allow you to fully optimise your time during your visit to NASA’s Floridian base.
This was my first time visiting the Kennedy Space Center and I must admit, it was better than anything I had ever imagined. I am a massive space geek and naturally love everything to do with NASA. So when we booked up to visit Walt Disney World and Universal, my first request was we buy Kennedy Space Center tickets.
What to Expect at the Kennedy Space Center
We had bought standard day tickets prior to our visit from the UK merchant Attraction Tickets Direct. Tickets were sent via email, we printed them out and took them along with us on the day. If I remember right, they were open-ended so we could visit any day. We simply took our pieces of paper up to the turnstiles and scanned ourselves in.
I hadn’t looked too much into the space center prior to our visit. I was hoping to grab a map and see where the day took us. When we first arrived, I was quite surprised at how large the complex was and how much there was on offer. Be prepared to have non-stop fun!
Driving in, the first thing we noticed was rockets towering above the complex. My excitement was building and I was just dying to get in and involved all the exhibitions. I also noticed at few Kennedy Space Center gift shops which I had to restrain from entering before even looking around the museum!
First up was the Astronaut Encounter in the Universe Theatre. This was an opportunity that I wasn’t really aware existed at the KSC. As we arrived, we seen that it was starting in five minutes so decided to go in as the next opportunity wasn’t until 3 hours away.
The Astronaut Encounter starts off with a talk from a former astronaut before moving on to a photo opportunity with the guest speaker. On the day of our visit it was former Air Force Pilot and astronaut Fred Gregory who was up on the stage. Fred gave us such a funny and interesting insight into life as an astronaut and even answered a few of the audience’s questions.
Afterwards, we were able to meet Fred in the lobby and get a picture with him. An amazing start to our day at the KSC.
Atlantis Shuttle Experience
The Atlantis Shuttle Experience was one exhibition that I absolutely knew I wanted to visit. It was more epic that I thought it ever could be. And that was partly down to the way KSC control the crowds and reveal of the shuttle.
As you walk past the huge rocket and fuel tank and make your way inside the building, you have to wait outside a small movie theater until you are ushered in by a member of staff.
You are presented with a short film on the Space Shuttle and then ushered into another room that is quite immersive in detailing the Atlantis itself. As the movie finishes, the screen fades and lifts to reveal the Atlantis Shuttle behind it. You are then free to roam around, take photos and be in general awe of this piece of machinery.
In the same hall, there is also lots of interactive games and challenges to test your flying and docking skills. As well as this, you can crawl through a makeshift International Space Station corridor. This was actually quite fun, especially the transparent tunnel hovering high above the ground!
You could spend hours in here. They even have a shuttle launch experience which is included with general admission if you fancy putting yourself in the astronauts seat!
The Bus Tour
Next up for us was the Bus Tour which gives you an opportunity to see the Apollo 8 launch site and a Saturn V rocket. Again, this is included in general admission tickets but please take into account the length of this tour. I would allow at least two hours for this tour. Here is how it works:
You board a bus that takes you around to the Apollo 8 launch site as well as other restricted areas of the NASA complex. You are on the bus for around 45 minutes before it drops you off at the Saturn V Center. Here you get off the motor coach and have the freedom to walk around this center.
You can walk at your own leisure as you gawk in awe at the size of the Saturn V rocket. The very type that took Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to the moon and back. In the Saturn V center you can also eat at the Moon Rock Cafe. Seating for the cafe is open plan and you can eat out in the hall alongside the Saturn V rocket.
The center also gives you a range of moon-landing information, including a near life-size replica of Mr Aldrin and Mr Armstrong on the moon alongside their Saturn V command module which physically took them on to the moon surface. There is also a Kennedy Space Center gift shop in this center.
Once you’ve seen and done everything you want at the Saturn V Center, you can head back outside to get on the return journey back to the main complex. Buses run every 15 minutes and the journey back takes around 20 minutes. Remember to look out for wildlife such as eagles and alligators!
The Rocket Garden
After heading back from the bus tour (and a quick stop in one of the official Kennedy Space Center gift shops!), we headed over to the rocket garden to get an up close and personal look at the NASA rockets on display.
The rocket garden is a large outdoor area near the front gate that encompasses a wide variety of different rockets, vehicles, shuttles and modules. The garden is spacious and you can walk around freely. The Space Center does offer guided tours as well if you wish. We overheard one as we were just leaving and it sounded very informative.
Other Areas of the Complex
As I mentioned above, the complex has vast amount of exhibitions and tours. Some of the things that we are aiming to see on our second visit is the Heroes & Legends building which includes the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
NASA have also put on a variety of different short films and live shows. This includes the Mission Status Briefings, Journey to Mars and the ‘Step. Power. Launch!’ interactive launch exercise. The IMAX theatre at the center shows a variety of different films on the past, present and future of NASA and space exploration.
Kennedy Space Center Tips
Kennedy Space Center Tip 1 – Hire a Car (if you can)
My first tip is to hire a care to get to the space center (is you can). We rented a Mustang for 24 hours just so we could drive to Cape Canaveral. Having the car gave us the freedom to leave our hotel when we wanted and leave the space center when we wanted. Parking does cost $10 so just factor that in to your pricing/budget.
If for whatever reason you can’t or don’t want to hire a car, you can get a dedicated bus that will take you to the complex. This isn’t a normal public bus, but one run by tour operators and ticket outlets. There will be a certain pick-up point, time and drop-off point and time. A little bit more restricted than the car but still an excellent option to get you to the Kennedy Space Center for your NASA fix!
If you do hire a car, read all about my tips for how to survive an epic road trip!
Kennedy Space Center Tip 2 – Get there Early
My Kennedy Space Center tip number two would be to get there early. There is so much stuff to see and do at the complex that you have to dedicate a full day to see most of it. If you can, dedicate two days to it but we just didn’t have the time on our 14 day holiday. I definitely means we can return though.
Kennedy Space Center Tip 3 – Grab a Schedule
I highly recommend grabbing yourself a map and a schedule for the day you are attending. The complex is vast and it’s important you don’t miss out on something. We don’t want to walk away with any regrets! The map also details things such as gift shops, toilets and dining options. You can pick up a map from the information center at the entrance of the complex.
The schedule is something a little different from the map. The schedule is specific for that day that you are attending and details the times of each and every film, show and live exhibition. Things like the bus tour run every 15 minutes so you can just turn up when you’re ready. However, things like the Astronaut Encounter are only on once or twice daily. Other tour times are also listed. So, if you are away on your bus tour, you could miss it!
Kennedy Space Center Tip 4 – Visit an Astronaut Encounter
One of the main things that stuck with me was his comments on comparing space travel to going on holiday. Just like going on holiday, he had fully prepared himself for space travel (training, study etc.), but it wasn’t the familiar aspects of space that stick in his mind. It was the surprises that have stayed with him all these years. And just like on holiday, it’s the unexpected surprises that we go home and tell our family about, not the parts we knew expected.
This is one of the reasons I’m including the Astronaut Encounter as one of my Kennedy Space Center Tips. It was one of those unexpected ‘surprises’ on our holiday that we continue to tell everyone about.
Kennedy Space Center Tip 5 – Visit the Kennedy Space Center Gift Shop
Gift shops. My favourite. I had already spent a fortune in Disney and Universal gift shops but I couldn’t not visit the Kennedy gift shops. The reason the Kennedy gift shops are on my tips list is because how COOL they are. If you are a space, aeronautic or NASA geek, you will want to buy absolutely everything in here.
The best part is that the gift shops have something in everyone’s budget. You can grab clothing and high-end memorabilia at a higher price or you can grab a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich for around $5 or even stationary for a similar price. One of my favourite souvenirs is my reusable bag that I got from the gift shop. It only cost around $2.50 but means I can use it every day when doing my normal weekly food shop.
So, that’s why I highly recommend the gift shops: not only do they house cool stuff but they also have very affordable souvenirs.
Kennedy Space Center Tip 6 – Get a Guided Tour of the Rocket Garden
As I mentioned above, we walked around the Rocket Garden on our own but had overheard a tour starting. It sounded so informative and if we weren’t finishing up for the day I would’ve hopped on the back of that tour.
It’s labelled as an opportunity to ‘walk with giants’ and that’s exactly what it is. Walking through historical rockets that tower above you. And what better way to accompany your epic journey than for an expert to detail rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
Kennedy Space Center Tip 7 – Look out for the Wildlife!
If you didn’t know, Kennedy Space Center sits smack bang in the middle of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. KSC themselves say it is “one of the largest and most diverse wildlife preserves in Florida”. When you find yourself driving down to the complex or going round on your bus tour, look out the window to see what wildlife you can spot lurking in the bodies of water, grass or marsh land.
On our trip, we seen some alligators walking along the grass at the roadside as well plenty of eagles circling. The official KSC blog states that you could find “sea turtles, otters, dolphins, manatees, bobcats, coyotes, bald eagles, and even a Florida panther.” Just to name a few!
Kennedy Space Center Tip 8 – Visit 2 Days
Time is something we all wished we had. We booked a 14 night holiday to Disney World and Universal. I know I couldn’t go all the way to Florida and not visit NASA. I wished we had more time to do everything but it gives an excuse to return again.
If you are lucky enough to have the time, I would recommend trying to do the KSC over two days. They offer 2-day tickets which are discounted from the 1-day ticket. There is just so much to see and do, and to read and participate in absolutely everything you need to be able to take your time. Although we didn’t feel rushed in 1 day, we did A LOT. But two would allow us to go at a slower pace and take everything in.
How to get to the Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is located on Merritt Island and is around a 1 hour drive from Walt Disney World.
My top would be to make sure you have enough change for tolls, unless you have a Toll Pass!
Hopefully these Kennedy Space Center Tips are helpful to you in some way and gave you an idea of what to expect during your visit. My last comment would be that you will love this place. It’s so unique. And if you can, visit more than once to make sure you tick everything off!