Cape Canaveral brings to mind rockets and moon launches, but it was named in 1513 by Ponce de Leon, who called it Cabo de Cañaveral, which means "cape of weeds" in Spanish. Today, a chunk of the peninsula has is a national wildlife refuge, as well as the home of NASA. It's exciting for kids to see the actual launch sites where they blast the space shuttle into orbit. The Space Coast is an easy day trip from Orlando.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex -
The Kennedy Space Center is a working space facility, and the visitor complex includes launch pads, rockets, exhibits of space exploration, past and present. The Kennedy Space Center has plenty to see and it's spread out, so allow lots of time for your visit, don't rush through things. There are picnic tables near the entrance and cafes inside the complex.
Tip: Get on the bus to take the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour, a 40 min. tour to learn more about NASA and different areas of the working space center. The bus tour ends at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
Apollo/Saturn V Center
- Saturn V rockets, the largest rockets ever made, were used for the Apollo moon landings. At the center, it's impressive to stand underneath the actual gigantic Saturn V rocket
, and service and command modules for the moon landings!
Kids can also touch a real moon rock, peer into a full replica of the Lunar Module cockpit (it's cramped), watch mission control in the Firing Room Theater, relive events of July 1969 in the Lunar Center, see lunar spacecraft and spacesuits in the Apollo Treasure Gallery. These exhibits truly captures the spirit and triumph of space exploration.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
– This complex includes galleries and exhibits about the space shuttle program, Hubble telescope and International Space Station.
- Atlantis space shuttle - See permanent home of Atlantis, the space shuttle that flew 33 missions, and often landed at the Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle is positioned with its doors opened, the way it would have looked for missions to the Space Station.
- Shuttle Launch Experience - In this launch simulation, feel like the astronauts when they take off in the space shuttle at 1000 mph, the sensation of g forces, and once orbit is achieved, a view of the earth and stars. A very realistic experience for us, without all the training it takes to become an astronaut.
- Hubble Telescope Space Theater – See an exact replica of the telescope, and amazing images of space from the telescope.
- Not a garden at all, but here are actual Mercury, Gemini and Apollo rockets. Standing in the shadow of such giants, kids can imagine just what it took to launch the rockets into space. Sit in an actual space capsule (perfect size for kids).
Next door is the Children's Play Dome
, a playground
for little kids with climbing structures, tunnels and slides.
- Kids can ask a real shuttle astronaut questions, half hour Q& A session, several times daily. Check the schedule near the entrance.
For an additional fee, there's also "Lunch With an Astronaut
," something special (reservations required).
- Several shows daily, with special 3-D where you'll feel like you're standing on the moon too.
The Kennedy Space Center is in the middle of a wildlife refuge. On the bus tour, en route you might see alligators, egrets, herons, and bald eagles. There's also sea turtles on the beach and manatees in the waterways.
Midway Airboat Rides - At Midway, take a 1/2 hour or 1 hour ride through the St. Johns River waterways. Skim over the water and grassy land, where you can see bald eagles in the cypress trees, white egrets in the air, great blue herons in still lagoons, and best of all, alligators in their natural habitat.
The day we took the ride, numerous alligators were sunning themselves on the river bank, and we came close enough to two large "bad boy" alligators to hear them making hissing noises.
Parents and kids will also enjoy the chance to hold a baby alligator (don't worry, it can't bite).
Fort Christmas Historical Park - In 1837, during the Seminole Indian Wars, a fort was founded on this site. Today, visit a replica of the log fort, with blockhouse, powder magazine and storehouse for army rations and supplies, plus rustic pioneer homes, and exhibits about homesteaders and Seminole Indians. (Fort is open Tuesday - Saturday.)