Even as Earth’s wondrous feats of engineering careen about the universe - scanning solar flares, Martian landscapes and the many moons of Jupiter - space remains the final frontier. And the fount from which all these wonders arguably sprang sits prime on the Atlantic shoreline of Cape Canaveral, FL. It’s been dubbed the "Space Coast" for some time now, a haven not only for the scientists who explore it but for the millions fascinated by how they make the impossible happen.
3-2-1 . . . Liftoff! Forty-four passengers at a time can experience the shuttle like a real astronaut — Photo courtesy of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, just an hour’s drive from the main attractions of Orlando, affords its guests a fascinating glimpse into the past, present and future of NASA. It’s also a stellar opportunity to break free of the Central Florida gravity and head to where the glittering waves break on an off-the-highway, rural road trip.
For those in a hurry, the straightest line from A to B is spent mostly on SR 528, but those heading out from downtown – or interested in a more leisurely journey – can spend most of it on SR-50 – which passes through the St. John’s National Wildlife Refuge.
Looking for a picturesque place for a picnic with a side of history? Make a pit stop at the Fort Christmas Historical Park, where the full-size replica of this circa 1837 fort, along with seven restored cracker homes, will be a nice contrast to your space-travel experience on the Cape.
Horticulture? Hardly. But KSC's Rocket Garden is both artful and educational — Photo courtesy of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is unfailingly awesome. The littlest astronauts in your party may be eager to head straight for its high-tech features, but there is wonder in simple presentations of miraculous achievements.
The Rocket Garden, for example, makes outdoor art of the actual Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Rockets. Wander amid these husks that have been to the outer reaches and back, climb in and imagine being the human cargo. Read, learn, marvel and then bring the kids to the Angry Birds Space Encounter, where intergalactic egg-chasing is the order.
KSC’s exciting Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction – installed in June 2013 – features more than 60 displays and hands-on exhibits. Of course, the shuttle itself is the magnificent centerpiece of the 90,000-square-foot exhibit, and may well inspire the boldest among your group to check out the Shuttle Launch Experience.
Birthed by engineers with extensive input from the men and women who’ve done it for real, the Shuttle Launch Experience offers up a safe but incredibly authentic simulation of the shuttle’s journey into orbit. Riders are briefed pre-launch, but really, what can prepare you for a 17,500-mile-per-hour ascent followed by a breathtaking view of our Big Blue Marble from space? Even simulated, it is undeniably humbling.
After “riding” the shuttle, you might think a cruise would seem humdrum, but when these behemoths motor past your table at Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar, you’ll quickly change your tune. And while on the coast, it’s best to take advantage of water views and local seafood. You may or may not spy a luxury liner, but with live music playing, drinks flowing and plenty of smaller boats passing to enjoy with your sunset, you won’t be disappointed.
Salt life: live it, if briefly, at Grills in Cape Canaveral — Photo courtesy of Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar