When planning our trip to Orlando and everything Disney, we knew that we’d need to take a break at some point and Cocoa Beach was the perfect place to rake a break and recharge. I also really wanted to go to the Kennedy Space Center as well, which is just 30 minutes from the beach. We spent about half the day there, but we could have stayed longer. We were just so worn out from three days at Disney World at that point.
One thing I will say is that if you don’t have the whole day to spend there, definitely start at the Heroes and Legends and the Rocket Garden, but then head straight to the Atlantis exhibit. This exhibit sets the stage for everything. It’s the beginning of the space program and the first astronauts and missions. It starts with a unique 4D movie experience called Heroes and Legends that was incredibly inspirational, but it really gets you in the right mindset for everything you’re about to experience. This building also includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, which is another inspirational exhibit. The Rocket Garden is just really cool. You don’t need a ton of time there, but wander around and take in the massiveness of the rockets and imagine the astronauts sitting at the top of one in a tiny capsule.
Our next stop was a short talk on the Hubble telescope and a new telescope that they are planning to launch in 2019, but have been planning and building since the 80s. This talk was a very interesting presentation on what NASA is looking to discover with the new telescope as well as sharing the amazing images they already have from the Hubble.
From here, we headed to the Atlantis exhibit because I really didn’t want to run out of time and miss it. The exhibit starts with a short film showing how the shuttle program started in the 70s and didn’t come to fruition until the 80s. From there you go into another film area where you are surrounded by a unique theater with rocket launches and then the screen lifts and there she is – Atlantis. The iconic shuttle from my childhood was hanging in the building! You walk from that room through where a huge movie screen had just been to explore the Atlantis space shuttle and how it worked. This is about a level and a half exhibit with hands on exhibits, a replica of the Hubble telescope, and various interesting exhibits explaining how the shuttle was launched. The whole experience was amazing. Then you could take a slide down to the next level where you could access the Shuttle Launch simulator, which was also an awesome experience. There are many more simulators here as well.
You will also find a memorial section to all of the astronauts that were lost in missions, such as the Challenger missions. There were several memorials to the lost astronauts. Having lived in Amarillo, I was particularly interested in the Rick Husband memorial, as he was an astronaut from Amarillo and the airport was subsequently named after him. We spent 2 hours alone in the Atlantis building.
From there we explored the huge gift shop, but there was so much more to do. We could have gone on a bus tour and explored more exhibits, but we were ready to go to our hotel. It had been a long week already. I would love to go back though and see the rest of the exhibits.
Overall, I highly recommend the Kennedy Space Center. We really enjoyed it and will be planning future trips to Cocoa Beach as well. Another cool thing about Cocoa Beach is that you can see the launch pad for NASA from the beach! For decades families have been watching rocket and shuttle launches from Cocoa Beach, another cool little fact you’ll see in the Heroes and Legends film.