If you’ve been following us for a while, you may have noticed that as a nurse I am a liiiitle bit of a Covid freak. But we still found a way to travel a lot over the past year in the safest way possible. Our latest venture was to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and it really was an out-of-this-world experience! In this post, I’ll offer our tips for making the most of your visit, including the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit and the all-new Planet Play experience. But most importantly, I’ll discuss the precautions taken to keep visitors safe and healthy.
First of all, we owe a huge thank you to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for hosting us! Though we were given tickets in exchange for a review, as always, the opinions expressed are all my own.
If you, like us, are visiting the Orlando theme parks, a day trip to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the perfect way to spend a weekend or to take a break from the big parks. They also have a lot of indoor exhibits and attractions so it is perfect for a rainy day or avoiding that Florida heat. Your whole family can enjoy a fun learning experience while being a part of history. And the best part is there are very few lines!
Before you go
First of all, buy your tickets online and print them before you go. This avoids yet another line and ensures you have a reservation since the complex is open at a lower capacity than normal. Plus, it adds just one more touch-free portion of your day.
If you have the chance to go on a launch day, I’d highly recommend it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to schedule it that way, but seeing a launch is a bucket list item many people don’t easily get. If you do get to see a launch, let me know how it is in the comments below!
Keep in mind that the hours are currently 10 am to 4 pm daily, and we recommend getting there about 30 minutes before opening. Even though we tried to see it all, we still missed a few attractions we would have been interested in. Download the free Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex app before your visit and read up on everything they have to offer so you don’t miss out on any of the must-see attractions.
Parking is $10 which is pretty reasonable in comparison to other parks. Just gotta let you know so there are no surprises.
Also, if you tend to get cold in that southern air conditioning (like me), make sure you grab a light jacket.
When you get there
As you’re walking through the gates, make sure you grab a daily schedule (and a map if you didn’t download the app). This is so important!! They can be found in other places throughout the complex, but you want to grab one ASAP so you can see start times for shows and other events.
Start at the Heroes and Legends attraction
This building is on your left as you enter the gates, right next to the Rocket Garden. This was a great way to start because it sort of sets the stage for the whole day. It begins with 2 short but interesting videos about how we define a hero. Then there are multiple exhibits with memorabilia from astronauts. These include things that inspired them as kids, such as model airplanes and comic books, to tokens collected along their journey to space, such as bomber jackets and flight helmets.
They also have the actual consoles from the Mercury control center, a spacesuit, and the Gemini 9 capsule on display. The end features the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, where I realized for the first time just how many astronauts and missions to space there have been.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
Rumor has it the Atlantis exhibit gets pretty busy in the afternoon since it is at the back of the complex. After the Heroes and Legends attraction, head straight to Space Shuttle Atlantis, then work your way back toward the gates and see everything in that direction.
As you enter, there is a really neat video about the shuttle’s beginnings with screens surrounding the room, and then suddenly the curtain opens, and there she is in all her glory. The Space Shuttle Atlantis! It’s actually a bit of an emotional experience. You can view the shuttle from different levels, and see the different materials it was made of. Some areas still have burn marks from re-entry. As Dustin said, it looks like it’s made of paper mâché, but they took that thing to space 33 times! From the ground level you can feel how slick the tires were, see an astronaut’s bed, and take a peek at their toilet!
For kids, this building is also home to a crawl-through space station and a slide that mimics the shuttle landing. For the bigger kids, there is a shuttle launch experience in a simulator that is pretty realistic if you ask me. I fully expected to float out of my seat! This is also where they take your picture and put you in a spacesuit. I couldn’t resist!
From there they have simulation stations where you can practice landing the orbiter, working a robotic arm, and docking with the station. I think we could have spent the entire day in just this one building!
There are currently 4 different IMAX shows, 2 of which are 3D. We would have been interested in any one of them, but the time worked out best for Asteroid Hunters. In this movie, we learned about asteroids and the current research and planning for collision prevention. Again, make sure you pick up a schedule so you can decide which show you’re most interested in and what works for your plans.
In the same building as the IMAX theater is the brand-new Planet Play experience for kids that teaches them about the solar system as they run, jump, and climb through space. If this was all we did all day, my kids would have been perfectly happy.
Kids can climb through worm holes between planets, slide with a rocket through asteroid fields, walk on Saturn’s rings and chill out on the sun. Planet Play also has areas where they can get a little artsy and upload their work to a giant screen, and interactive video games they can play while up on their feet. There’s a section for the little ones, 2 and under, as well as a lounge for parents to enjoy an adult beverage while watching their kids soar through space.
This area is also fun just to look at! With the lights turned down and the blacklights on, the whole area is like walking through a dark, but colorful solar system.
Capacity is limited so there is sometimes a short line, especially when each IMAX movie ends. My suggestion is to get lunch or a snack after the IMAX and then go back into Planet Play. That way a few families can clear out and you can walk right in.
On our way out, we visited the rocket garden. We missed the tours due to rain earlier in the day, but it was still so neat to walk through them and learn a little about each one. Our favorite part (other than getting some fun pictures) was getting into the capsule and seeing just how small that piece is in comparison to the whole rocket.
There are several attractions we missed, such as the Hubble Space Telescope Theater, Cosmic Quest, Journey to Mars, and the Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator, which is especially disappointing with the recent Mars landing. So we’ll just have to go back! We also plan to add on the Astronaut Training Experience with our next visit. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be the beginning of our kids’ future!
Ending your day
Since the complex closes at 4 pm, you still have a decent part of the evening for a little more fun. Our kids have been wanting to play in some sand, so we made a quick hop over to Cocoa Beach. It was a little chilly that February evening, but that didn’t stop the kids from running straight into the water, and it was a great way to see the sunset light up the sky.
In the distance, you can see the empty cruise ships anchored offshore. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to watch them come and go again, which brings me to everyone’s burning question:
WHAT ARE THEY DOING ABOUT COVID?!
Obviously, there is a risk of contracting Covid any time one is outside their home and around other people. If a person is high-risk and has not yet been fully vaccinated, then I still would not recommend visiting anywhere they may be around large crowds of people. But as a nurse and long-time germaphobe, I was very observant of the precautions taken by the staff at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and I feel like they are doing everything they can to ensure they are maintaining a “Trusted Space.”
Before entering the gates, every single employee and guest has to have their temperature checked. It didn’t slow the lines down much and it is totally worth it to know no one is allowed with any overt symptoms.
As with any place you go these days, masks are required for everyone age 2 and up. They must be worn everywhere within the visitor complex, indoors and out, except when eating or drinking while stationary. There are no requirements here on the type, but masks really do work well if they are worn properly over the nose, mouth, and chin. Most people seemed to be very compliant and the staff was good about making sure everyone was wearing their masks appropriately.
Hand sanitizer stations
We noticed hand sanitizer stations at the entry and exit of all exhibits, as well as in other high traffic areas of the complex. The gift shop also had plenty available for purchase. It is funny (and comforting) to me to see lines being held up these days by everyone needing to sanitize their hands.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is currently limiting their capacity to 50%. While this may or may not affect your visit, it is highly recommended to reserve your tickets online prior to visiting to ensure admittance. Plus, it makes for a faster, touch-free experience anyway.
Within the complex, every time we came across an employee ushering people into an exhibit or pre-show, they reminded everyone to maintain that 6 foot distancing, and there were lots of those floor markers we have all come to rely on as our guides. Seats were blocked in the theaters and tables were appropriately distanced. Each exhibit had a specific entry and exit point to control the flow of traffic as much as possible.
Only CDC-approved cleaners are currently being used, and the frequency of cleaning high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, guard rails, and interactive exhibits has been increased. Visitor hours have also been shortened to 10 am – 4 pm to allow staff more time for deep cleaning of the entire complex.
Aside from a small gift shop and a couple of the smaller dining options, there are only 2 main attractions that are currently closed. First is the bus tours that brought visitors to see launch sites as well as operational facilities and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Second, are the astronaut encounters where they would ordinarily have a real astronaut on-site every day. While somewhat disappointing, it is very difficult to maintain physical distancing on a bus and we want to keep those heroes safe, so understandably, these attractions would need to be closed for the time being.
The Little Things
There are signs throughout the complex reminding guests and staff to wash their hands, maintain physical distance and wear their masks appropriately. I also noticed several signs informing guests of their employee illness policies, cleaning products, and employee education on maintaining a “trusted space” for all. In addition, credit card transactions are now all touchless, meaning there is no longer a need to sign for purchases.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is clearly committed to staying up-to-date on CDC guidelines to keep guests safe, while still providing a fun learning experience for all. And now, while crowds are smaller, is the perfect time to go!