REVIEW: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

I tend to geek out a bit when it comes to NASA and the space program. One of my favorite memories of growing up in Texas is gawking at a visiting Space Shuttle Challenger through the chain link fence at Kelly Air Force Base in 1983. I was so little, and it seemed so huge… larger-than-life! This amazing thing I was gazing at could blast off all the way to the moon – maybe beyond – but right now, it was less than a football field away from me. This whole concept just awed and astounded me at that very young age. Truth be told, it still does! 

It was this lifelong love of all things space that had me positively giddy over our recent visit to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral. I’m immeasurably ashamed to admit that in all my years of living in Florida, this was my first visit to KSC, and to the Space Coast area, in general. I loved visiting Johnson Space Center during my Texan years, but I’ve always heard that Florida’s complex is quite a different experience. 

The short summary: I squealed, I gasped, I cried, I smiled, I took more than 500 pictures.

Just past the Heroes and Legends building, you’ll find the Rocket Garden – a display of actual rockets from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Free 20 minute tours are offered throughout the day, but the Rocket Garden is open for self-exploration all day long as well. Frankly, I could spend hours right here and thoroughly enjoy every minute. Standing in the shadow of these mammoth rockets is beyond humbling.

Sprinkled throughout the rocket garden, you can get up close and personal with rocket engines and capsules as well. This will absolutely convince you that claustrophobia and space travel don’t combine well together! The Rocket Garden is somewhat like Alice’s adventures through the looking glass – whether you feel shrunken or gargantuan, your surroundings will consistently reveal an entirely unique perspective.

Of course, that perspective may also be that of an overgrown child, but this is perfectly okay! 

Journey To Mars: Explorers Wanted features a brilliant combination of interactive “gaming”, simulators, live Q and A, and mission replicas surrounding the exploration of Mars and the evolution of rovers. To go from the earlier phases of rockets to the more current rover explorations is genuinely an eye-opening progression when presented in such close proximity!

The Shuttle Launch Experience is incredible. A scenario is created that puts you directly into the astronaut’s seat, and it’s probably as close to this experience as most of us will ever come!

Continue your simulations as you crawl through a recreation of the International Space Station, then experience a shuttle landing… with you playing the role of the shuttle. These experiences are much better shared in video form.

Arguably, the highlight of a visit to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the Bus Tour. The entire scope of this experience can easily justify two to three hours of time, but buses depart every 15-20 minutes for the one-way journey to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where you disembark for self-paced exploration, until you are ready to catch a bus for your return to the main public areas of the Visitor Complex. The entire experience is a wonderful combination of an expertly-guided sightseeing excursion and a self-led mission of selective discovery, and there was so much to absorb and admire!

The Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour takes you behind-the-scenes to view the secured, off-limits launch pads and assembly buildings that hold prominent placement in many landmark historic events. Our tour guide was simply phenomenal, and this really enhanced the journey! You’re provided loads of details, facts, and trivia tidbits along the tour – from both your guide, and pre-recorded video supplements. The in-depth knowledge you gain on this tour is priceless, and so much more than what you’ll read in research books. We appreciated the fact that our guide paused at significant locations for photo opportunities. He was also quick to point out the alligators and birds we encountered on our path, including a Bald Eagle nest holding recent hatchlings within it. Special interest bus tours are also offered at an additional cost. 

Once you pick your jaw up off the ground, you’ll find that there is much more to discover in this exhibit. There are fun educational stops scattered throughout the building, and genuine mission artifacts both around and above you. It’s an inclusive and worthy tribute to the progressive accomplishments of the lunar mission series, and a thoughtful glimpse into the rapid growth and achievements of the Apollo program.

The Apollo Treasures Gallery is so appropriately named. There are some spectacular items stashed away in this exhibit, including spacesuits, astronaut journals and tools, salvaged mission artifacts, and the Apollo 14 crew capsule. Don’t miss out on the chance to touch a genuine slice of a moon rock yourself!

A tremendous thrill – the Firing Room Theater allows you to relive the historic launch of the Apollo 8 (the first crewed NASA mission to orbit the moon) in the very setting that Mission Control kept watch from in 1968. This experience is exceptionally sensory – allowing you to see, hear, and feel the dramatic events leading up to, including, and following the groundbreaking launch. 

Outside of the Apollo/Saturn V Center, there is a gorgeous area that serves as a launch viewing location. This waterside spot features lush greenery, bleachers, individual covered tables, and stunning views of the launch pads, wildlife, and more. Grab a snack at the Moon Rock Cafe inside the Center, and enjoy some picnic time when the weather is right for it!

There is so much more to see and do at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex than what I’ve covered here. It’s safe to say that you’ll have your own highlight must-sees when you visit. There’s nothing wrong with planning more than one visit either, for those who really like to get the maximum experience. Scheduled events and appearances vary greatly, so that alone is reason for return visits. The annual pass is not an unreasonable consideration, at a price that is less than two days’ standard adult admission. The prepaid admission of an annual pass will also make it much easier financially to explore add-on enhancements and unique special experiences. 

Kennedy Space Center is open 365 days per year – hours vary. Daily admission is $50 for adults, $40 for children 3-11. A wide variety of add-ons and special experience packages are available. Parking is an additional $10 (for standard automobiles). For more information, follow Kennedy Space Center on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

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