Our Visit to Kennedy Space Center
We are often asked how to a spend a day before or after a Disney cruise, outside of visiting Walt Disney World (WDW) or Universal Studios. We frequently have time to kill ourselves pre and post-cruise, as we recommend getting in a day prior to embarkation, and encourage caution around booking return flights too early in the day of disembarkation. Because we are annual pass holders at WDW, we frequently find ourselves spending time at one of the parks or Disney Springs. We’ve also got plans next month to do a VIP tour at Universal Orlando on the day we disembark from a back-to-back sailing the Wish. But, not every Disney fan has an annual pass, or wants to spend money on park tickets at WDW or Universal for a single day.
Following our recent cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas in May, Nathan and I had a flight back to Seattle at 7pm on disembarkation day, leaving us with 6-7 hours to kill before heading to the airport. The friends we sailed with suggested giving KSC a try. So we did.
Getting There (and your luggage)
First things, first. How do you get to KSC; and what do you do with your luggage? If you a rented a car and have it parked at the port, or plan to pick-up a rental car near the port, you’re all set! You have transportation to KSC and a place to keep your luggage all in one.
If you don’t things get trickier. We haven’t found a port transfer or bookable excursion to KSC that will also get you to the airport (if you know of one, let us know!). So, you’re looking at a private transfer (car service, Uber, Lyft or taxi). There are places around the port that can store luggage, and we’ve even seen an app or two out there that will help you find those spots and book them in advance. Otherwise, you’ll need to do some Internet sleuthing as KSC, unfortunately, does not offer luggage storage. If you don’t have a car, I’d highly recommend pre-booking a car service for your transfer both to KSC and from KSC to your onward hotel or the airport. KSC is not in an area that I expect would have frequent taxis or ride share options.
Visiting the KSC is much more affordable than a day at the parks. A single day admission ticket is (currently) $75 for adults, and $65 for children (ages 3-11). Two day tickets are available if you’re staying in the area and really want to explore all KSC has to offer ($89 for adults; $79 for children). If you’re a multigenerational party, KSC offers senior tickets (age 55+) for $70 for one day or $84 for two days. Military rates are also available ($70-$84 per adult and $60-$74 per child for one or two day tickets. Discounts are also available for Florida residents, and the KSC does occasionally offer sales on tickets. Annual passes are also available.
Your KSC admission tickets includes full access to all the exhibits and the kids play area (more on that below). There are some ticket “enhancements” available, including
- The KSC Explore Tour (a guided tour of KSC) for $25 per adult, or $19 for children;
- Chat With an Astronaut for $50 per adult, or $35 for children;
- Land and Drive on Mars Training Stage for $30 per ticket, regardless of age;
- Walk on Mars Training Stage for $30 per ticket, regardless of age; and
- Microgravity Training Stage for $30 per ticket, regardless of age.
Note, all KSC ticket “enhancements” are in addition to your base ticket. The “Chat With and Astronaut” does require picking a specific time, so make sure it will work with your schedule before booking.
Parking is extra at KSC, and is currently $10 per car.
Things To Do
We arrived at KSC about 9am on disembarkation day (after a 30 minute drive) and found the parking lot was still relatively empty (even for a holiday). We had a flight that evening at about 7pm and planned to be at the airport between 5 and 5:30pm. We found that gave us more than enough time to explore the marquee attractions, and still give Nathan some play time in the “Play on Planets” experience.
Major attractions at KSC include:
- The “Heroes and Legends” exhibition that celebrates pioneering NASA employees and astronauts.
- A “Rocket Park” with an impressive display of various rockets that have been used over the years to launch space vehicles and satellites into space.
- A “Behind the Gates” tour that includes a bus ride out to the historic flight operations center for the Apollo program, that also houses an actual Saturn V moon rocket.
- The “Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other” exhibition that includes a permanent installation of the space shuttle Atlantis, along with touching tributes for the crews of the space shuttles Columbia and Challenger.
We started our day with a trip through the “Rocket Park” that took about 20-30 minutes. We were able to listen to a roaming tour guide explain some of the rockets, and could also read plaques on others to understand their significance of the space program.
Following the Rocket Park, we boarded the bus for the “Behind the Gates” tour. On the drive out to the Apollo launch facility the bus driver played a tour video and supplemented the video with lots of interesting facts, while also pointing out interesting buildings and the famous “crawler” that takes rockets from staging facilities to launch pads. Once we arrived we went through a series of “pre-show” experiences, including a show that replicated the launch of an Apollo mission inside a mocked-up control room. As we exited the control room we were immediately met by the Saturn V rocket spanning a building the size of several football fields, as well as additional exhibits and another show about the moon landings. After a stop for a snack at the café, we peeked outside quickly at the famed Apollo launchpad, visible in the distance and still used today.
Following a bus ride back to the main exhibition area, we immediately headed to the space shuttle exhibition. This portion of the tour had an impressive pre-show that ended with an exciting reveal of the shuttle Atlantis. It was truly awe inspiring. There were lots of exhibits in this area, including interactive activities for kids – landing a shuttle, flying a shuttle, etc. We also decided to try out the simulated launch experience, which was pretty impressive (note, Nathan enjoyed this a lot).
Our last stop was at the “Play on Planets” area, which was one of the most impressive kids play areas I’ve ever seen. Included with your admission ticket, “Play on Planets” is a multi-floor play area that includes comfy seating for adults, with lots of spots to plug in cell phones for a needed charge, and a bar that sold beer and coffee. While we only had about 20-30 minutes in this space before we had to leave for the airport, it was the perfect end to the afternoon to get the kids tired out before a long flight home.
We did not get a chance to see the IMAX movie or visit the Heroes and Legends exhibit, or to really check out the gift shop or larger café.
After departing the KSC it took us only about 30 minutes to get to the airport. We had plenty of time to fill the rental car up with gas, and made it to our gate with more than enough time to spare.
KSC is something I’ve always wanted to see, as I was big into space and astronauts when I was kid. Space Camp was a favorite movie, and legos were used to imagine rockets and futuristic space ships. I remember watching shuttle launches in my class room, and know precisely where I was when I learned the Challenger had exploded on launch. I really wanted to introduce my son to this amazing world – and KSC did not disappoint. He couldn’t stop talking about all the fun things we did and saw for days after. So, my verdict, KSC (especially for the price) is a great way to spend a debarkation day before heading to the airport. I can also easily see us staying at Port Canaveral before a cruise and taking some time to visit KSC. It’s a highly recommend for me, for sure.