Orlando Family Fun at Disney World and Kennedy Space Center

It’s known as the happiest place on earth: Disney World. Though that might be a debatable claim depending on who you ask, there is definitely something about the group of six theme parks under the Disney umbrella in Florida, that you want to be able to take your kids to experience. I took my daughter to Disneyland Paris when she was 10, and now that she has a 6-year-old son of her own, we wanted to take him to Disney World in Orlando to experience that magic as a family on our summer vacation this year.

Disney and the Magic Kingdom

We decided to Uber to the park from our condo resort about 5 miles away. If you’re not staying at a Disney resort (which would be really fun and easier), or farther away from the parks, I feel like this is an easier option than the cost and hassle of parking there. Once we arrived and got our two-day Park Hopper tickets, we took the monorail to the first place we wanted to experience: Magic Kingdom.

While the other 5 parks include Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and two water parks, Magic Kingdom is the original and in some ways, most magical of the parks in my opinion. There’s just something classic and timeless about it. Upon arrival, it’s clear how many huge fans Disney has: so many little girls dressed up like their favorite princess, lots of people in Disney t-shirts or other gear, and plenty of adults as well dressed up like their favorite characters. In fact, this started well before we even got to the park; at the airport leaving Austin, Texas, we saw numerous families already dressed in their Disney regalia. It’s almost like a cult, the serious followers this place has. A happy cult, though.

The Disney App and FastPass

My daughter and I had downloaded the Disney app, which is a very useful tool to have. We immediately linked our tickets to the app, and set about making FastPass reservations on several rides. In case you aren’t familiar with how FastPass works, it’s free and included with every ticket. It allows each ticket holder to make 3 reservations per day for a window of time to arrive at a ride or attraction and join the FastPass line, which is usually 10 to 20 minutes or so, versus the 30 minutes to an hour or even two hours that some attractions can queue up to. The idea behind this is to allow everyone to have at least a few rides, shows or character greetings that they can skip the long lines for. Make these first thing, as the reservation slots fill up fast. It’s even better if you can buy your tickets ahead of time and make the FastPass reservations in advance, up to 30 days ahead. And once you’ve used all 3 of your reservations for the day, you can go in and make more reservations using FastPass, if time slots are available.

New & Favorite Attractions

Some of the newest Disney World attractions include Toy Story Land, which just opened at Hollywood Studios in June 2018. My daughter really loved the Avatar World at Animal Kingdom, and we all are partial to some of the time-honored classics such as It’s A Small World. I also heard from one of the ferry boat captains that Epcot is building a new indoor roller coaster, which will be the largest one in the United States when it’s completed in 2020. Cool, since Space Mountain is currently my favorite ride! We ended the day by riding it with our FastPass, just before the nightly light and fireworks show extravaganza.

Closing Show: Happily Ever After

We were on our vacation in July, which meant two things: it was hot, and it was crowded. That said, we had a great time, but there were definitely periods where I had to remember what was so magical about the Magic Kingdom. Any annoyances or hassles, however, were completely forgotten with the grand finale that happens every night. The spectacular fireworks show, accompanied by a truly amazing laser light show on Cinderella’s castle, was really a work of art. That show alone was worth coming for, and suddenly I got it: why people keep coming back here and fall in love with Disney. It really is a beautiful, perfect end to the day.

 

NASA Kennedy Space Center

NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FloridaA few days later, we headed to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, for a whole different family fun experience. Florida’s “Gateway to Space” is where rockets launch and inspiration begins. My entire life, I have wanted to be at Cape Canaveral when a space shuttle was launched — I always watched them live on TV, and thought it would be one of the coolest things to be at the launch itself, on the ground right there. I think that space exploration is one of those things that we never grow out of a fascination for, as we leave childhood for adulthood.

Living in Texas, I’ve been to the NASA Johnson Space Center outside Houston many times; and even though the space shuttle program has not been active in recent years as it once was, I jumped at the chance to visit the Kennedy Space Center on my trip to the Orlando area. Walking up to the gates, with the rockets all in a row just behind a waterfall wall with the famous John F. Kennedy quote, gave me a thrill just like when I would sit in front of the television watching the space shuttles.

My partner, Keith, had been to the Kennedy Space Center many years before, and was blown away by how much it had developed and how many cool, interactive, high-tech new experiences and exhibits had opened. We started with the bus tour that’s included with each ticket — because the complex is so massive (42 acres), this is the way to get out and see the launch pads, huge hangar where they build the shuttles and rockets (it’s the second largest indoor building on earth), and hear a lot of great information about the complex and program.

NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida
“For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond…” ~John F. Kennedy

The bus tour ends at the the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which is an incredible place to explore. Visitors begin in a room where a video about space exploration history is shown, and then you can explore the center, where you can stand in amazement under the gigantic Saturn V, the largest rocket ever flown! You’re also able to discover historic moments with Apollo 8 and the Firing Room, in the Lunar Theater, and view legendary artifacts in the Apollo Treasures Gallery — including the space suit worn by Alan Shepard on the moon, still with moondust on it; and even touch a piece of a three billion year old moon rock!

NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FloridaThe other exhibit building that we really loved was the Mission Zone, which is highly interactive for everyone — especially kids. Six-year-old Jude really loved this building, with so much to do and explore in a hands-on way. Here you’ll also find the virtual Space Shuttle simulator, which puts you inside with all the same sounds, motion and feeling as if you were actually taking off in the space shuttle. We ended our day with this, and all of us loved it!

And even though shuttles to the moon and other space shuttle programs may have eased off in recent years, I was excited to learn that the Mission to Mars is very much in full swing, alive and well with a plan to launch the first shuttle in 2020. Lots of exciting stuff is happening — and they still do rocket launches regularly at Cape Canaveral; you can check the calendar to see when they will happen, along with other regular events such as astronaut talks, etc.

There was so much to do and see; we spent more than six hours here, and still never made it to some places like the Heroes & Legends exhibit, which I really wanted to see. You could easily spend a really full day here, or come back for two days.

  • Daily Admission to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is $41-57 includes the KSC Bus Tour along with Apollo/Saturn V Center, Space Shuttle Atlantis®, and the Universe Theater featuring three shows daily: Astronaut Encounter, Mission Status Briefings and Eyes on the Universe: NASA’s Space Telescopes. All other exhibits and attractions are also included: Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Shuttle Launch Experience®, 3D space films in the IMAX® Theater, Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted, the Rocket Garden, the Space Mirror Memorial and Children’s Play Dome. Admission tickets are valid for one day.
  • For more Orlando information, travel planning and attractions, check out the VisitOrlando.com tourism site.

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