One of the top tourist attractions in the Orlando area, outside of Disney World, of course, is Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, located less than an hour from the city.
For the past 50 years, it has served as the hub of all rocket and shuttle launches in the United States. It boasts acres of interactive exhibits and behind-the-scenes tours for families and adults alike.
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There’s so much to do at the visitor’s center that it’s not uncommon to stay from opening to close. I recommend starting your day with a bus tour of the complex, which runs every 15 minutes and takes you past the launch sites and to more exhibits, including the Apollo/Saturn V Center. It gives you a background on the center before you wander through the other areas.
Next up should be the Rocket Garden (pictured at the top) before the Florida heat gets to be too much. It displays decommissioned rockets. There are also guided tours of this area. From there, seek the air conditioning with one of two 45 minute 3D IMAX films, Hubble 3D and Space Station 3D, which take you inside the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope.
Stop to remember those lost in the space program at the Astronaut’s Memorial before admiring the Atlantis, the final space shuttle. It will feature cutouts of the shuttle so you can see the inside. Next door is the Shuttle Launch Experience, a ride, and simulator all in one. This experience is not for those sensitive to shaking movements.
Since the shuttle program is no longer running, you can see even more of the complex than ever before with the behind-the-scenes tours, which take guests to the launchpad, Launch Control, and Vehicle Assembly Building. Rocket launches occur every month, so be sure to follow the event calendar to see what’s going on during your visit. You can also see them from a kayaking tour.
If you can’t get reservations for the Lunch with an Astronaut program but still want to speak with one, there are Astronaut Encounters every day at the complex, where the astronaut describes their time with NASA and answers audience questions. On your way out of the Kennedy Space Center, stop by the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, which goes into more detail about the men and women who pioneered space exploration.
Tips for Visiting the Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame is open from 12 to 5 pm daily, six miles from the complex. The complex is located on SR 405 on Merritt Island, Florida. Parking costs $10 per car.
From Orlando on State Road 528, travel east on SR 528 to the SR 407 exit to Kennedy Space Center and Titusville. Take SR 407 until it dead-ends into SR 405. Turn right (east) onto SR 405 and follow the signs for Kennedy Space Center. You will travel approximately nine miles on SR 405. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is located on your right.
Admission is $57 for adults and $47 for children with discounts for seniors and the military. Your admission gets you into most of the complex as well as the Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. You can purchase additional activities like Lunch with an Astronaut. Purchase tickets for your Kennedy Space Center Tour in advance to skip the line or use the electronic kiosks.
Where to Eat Near the Kennedy Space Center
Lunch with an Astronaut was one of my favorite experiences of my visit, as I was able to listen to former NASA pilot John McBride discuss his experiences over a delicious buffet lunch. There are, of course, other dining options throughout the complex and nearby.
Food and drink are also allowed inside the Kennedy Space Center in a soft sided cooler, but no alcohol. There are also a number of onsite dining options that use recycled plates and bowls with biodegradable utensils.
Orbit Cafe has burgers and sandwiches, while IMAX Snax sells popcorn and candy for movie viewing. Milky Way and Space Dots sell ice cream, including Dippin Dots. Planet Play Lounge is perfect for older visitors, selling coffee, wine, and beer.
Outside of the Kennedy Space Center, you’ll need to drive at least 20 minutes to the closest restaurant, either in Cocoa Beach, St. John, or Cocoa proper. Kelsey’s Pizzeria is a casual spot for Italian dishes. Hawksbill Bar and Grill has a waterfront location and a seafood menu.
Where to Stay Near the Kennedy Space Center
The closest places to stay near the Kennedy Space Center are in Cocoa Beach and Titusville. The Hyatt Place Titusville / Kennedy Space Center has a fitness center, free parking, continental breakfast, and a swimming pool.
Rooms at Homewood Suites by Hilton Cape Canaveral-Cocoa Beach are large for families with televisions, fridges, microwaves, and dishwashers in the rooms. The property also has laundry facilities, a business center, and a fitness center.
We also recommend the Raddison Resort at the Port, which is convenient to the beach and the space center. It’s convenient to the cruise port and has in-room coffee makers, free WiFi, and a fitness center, game room, and poolside tiki bar on the property.
The Cocoa Beach area also has rentals on sites like Booking.com including this charming home and these cozy cottages in Cape Canaveral.
I received complimentary admission and Lunch with an Astronaut on behalf of Visit Space Coast, but all opinions are my own.
D.J. - The World of Deej says
I haven’t been to Kennedy Space Center since I was a kid, and have been meaning to get back. It’s my understanding you can now take a tour inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, which I’ve always wanted to do…