This must-see attraction, just southeast of Titusville, is one of Central Florida's most popular sights. Located on a 140,000-acre island 45 minutes outside Orlando, Kennedy Space Center is NASA's launch headquarters. The Visitor Complex gives guests a unique opportunity to learn about—and experience—the past, present, and future of America's space program.
Interactive programs make for the best experiences here, but if you want a low-key overview of the facility
(or if the weather is not ideal) take the bus tour, included with admission. Buses depart every 15 minutes, and you go past iconic places including the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Pad 39-A, the starting point for space missions since the 1960s. Stops include the Apollo/Saturn V Center, with a don't-miss presentation at the Firing Room Theater, where the launch of America's first lunar mission, 1968's Apollo VIII, is re-created with a ground-shaking, window-rattling liftoff.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction offers views of this historic spacecraft as only astronauts have seen it before—rotated 43.21 degrees with payload bay doors open and its robotic arm extended, as if it has just undocked from the International Space Station. The attraction includes a variety of interactive highlights, including opportunities to perform an Extravehicular Activity (EVA), train like an astronaut, and create sonic booms while piloting Atlantis to a safe landing.
The Apollo/Saturn V center displays one of three remaining Saturn V moon rockets. Other exhibits near the center's entrance include the Early Space Exploration display, which highlights the rudimentary yet influential Mercury and Gemini space programs; Robot Scouts, a walk-through exhibit of unmanned planetary probes; and Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted, which immerses visitors in exploration beyond Earth. Don't miss the outdoor Rocket Garden, with walkways winding beside spare rockets, from early Atlas spacecraft to a Saturn IB. The Children's Playdome enables kids to play among the next generation of spacecraft, climb a moon-rock wall, and crawl through rocket tunnels. Astronaut Encounter Theater has two daily programs where retired NASA astronauts share their adventures in space travel and show a short film. The most moving exhibit is the Astronaut Memorial. The 70,400-pound black-granite tribute to astronauts who lost their lives in the name of space exploration stands 42½ feet high by 50 feet wide.
More befitting Walt Disney World or Universal Studios (complete with the health warnings), the Shuttle Launch Experience is the center's most spectacular attraction. Designed by a team of astronauts, NASA experts, and renowned attraction engineers, the 44,000-square-foot structure uses a sophisticated motion-based platform, special-effects seats, and high-fidelity visual and audio components to simulate the sensations experienced in an actual space-shuttle launch, including MaxQ, Solid Rocker Booster separation, main engine cutoff, and External Tank separation. The journey culminates with a breathtaking view of Earth from space.
The only back-to-back twin IMAX theater in the world is in the complex, too. The dream of space flight comes to life on a movie screen five stories tall with dramatic footage shot by NASA astronauts during missions. Realistic 3-D special effects make you feel like you're in space with them. Films alternate throughout the year. Call for specific shows and times.
Add-on activities include Lunch with an Astronaut ($79.99, general admission included), where astronauts talk about their experiences and engage in a good-natured Q&A; the typical line of questioning from kids: "How do you eat/sleep/relieve yourself in space?" The Cape Canaveral: Then and Now tour ($71, general admission included), visits America's first launch sites from the 1960s and the 21st century's active unmanned-rocket program.
Rte. 405, Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Florida, 32780, United States