Have your kids ever dreamed of being an astronaut? When our daughter was in preschool, she had her sights set on space. That is, until she read about the centrifuge all astronauts have to go through as part of training. She didn’t think spinning in circles at high speeds sounded very fun.
Regardless, she was still eager to learn more about space and would now like to be an astrogeologist when she grows up. Which is why when we were visiting family in South Florida and searching for something to do for a “vacation within a vacation,” visiting Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral came to mind.
If you are thinking of taking kids to Kennedy Space Center for a day trip, I say DO IT!
The John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is the U.S. launch site that has been used for every NASA human space flight since December 1968. KSC has changed a lot since I last visited in…let’s see…1982?
The main Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center is an expansive complex that resembles a modern-day amusement park. Its attractions feature an Early Space Exploration exhibit, Rocket Garden, children’s playspace, 2 IMAX shows, an Astronaut Hall of Fame and Astronaut Memorial, the popular (with the younger set) Angry Birds hands-on exhibit, multiple cafes, gift shops, and much more.
A bus tour will take you outside the Visitor Center to catch views of the legendary launch pads and up to the Apollo/ Saturn V center. The website recommends some sample itineraries, but I can attest that it is easy to spend eight hours at KSC without seeing everything.
Visiting Kennedy Space Center with Kids: Before You Go
KSC offers many different types of tours and experiences, so you will want to check out the website prior to departure to see what options are of interest to your family and fit into your timetable (and budget!) You might want to purchase your tickets and book tours online to avoid the lines on-site, because if you are visiting around a school holiday or for one of the rocket launches, the lines will be massive! If you are unsure of your plans, there are self-service kiosks at the entrance if you know what you want.
There are also some amazing experiences you can enroll in, such as Lunch with an Astronaut. I actually did this on a follow up visit. I was a little disappointed by the limited Q&A time and the quality of the lunch food, but it can be very exciting for kids to meet a “real astronaut” in person.
My husband, a self-admitted space nerd, really wanted to splurge for a once-in-a-lifetime Astronaut Training Experience (ATX), which includes a half-day of astronaut training including riding simulators, and building our own rockets. Unfortunately, when we called to schedule our experience, we discovered that it was only offered on weekends and we were planning on visiting on a Thursday just after New Years. It worked out for the best because it turns out that our daughter was too nervous to try to Atlantis flight simulator so I have a feeling the ATX would have been too much.
Another thing you might want to look at is whether or not a launch is scheduled. When we visited, a SpaceX launch was scheduled for the next day. We did catch a distant glimpse of the rocket on the active launch pad from our Launch Pad Tour, although the SpaceX rockets are so narrow it was nearly indistinguishable from the tower next to it.
We were bummed we couldn’t visit the day of the launch but it turns out it was scrubbed and pushed back to the following week anyway. It made a great follow-up to our visit to view the livestream of the launch a few days later. [Update: I recently had a chance to visit Kennedy Space Center on launch day and you can read my tips here!]
Cape Canaveral is only about a 45-minute ride from Orlando and approximately halfway between Jacksonville and Miami at the heart of Florida’s “Space Coast.” Cape Canaveral is home to Port Canaveral, the departure point for many cruises, as well as Cape Canaveral’s Air Force Base, but its real jewel is the Kennedy Space Center.
We were in Delray Beach (between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale) and drove to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in about 2.5 hours straight up Rt. 95.
If you want to stay nearby, I would recommend the Hampton Inn in Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral.
Check rates at nearby hotels in Cocoa Beach on Kayak
Kennedy Space Center for Kids
When you arrive, you will probably want to head in one of two directions, the Atlantis exhibit or the terminal for bus tours and the Apollo/Saturn V — as these are the biggest attractions at KSC. We went right over the to the 90,000 square-foot, marquee Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, the new $100 million home of the historic spacecraft.
On approach, you are greeted with a full-scale, 184-foot space shuttle stack, including external tank and two solid rocket boosters. We were lucky and we walked right through to the first multimedia exhibit without a wait. KSC does a great job of moving people through, by starting with a short-film and then moving you on to another area to finish telling the story of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program.
The doors are then opened to reveal the Space Shuttle Atlantis, hanging in mid-air with the cargo bay open for viewing. Space Shuttle Atlantis features state-of-the-art multimedia presentations and more than 60 interactive exhibits and high-tech simulators.
We had fun using touchscreen monitors to find the right speed to attaining low earth orbit, using Microsoft Kinect technology to accomplish a space walk mission, and operate simulations of the space arm.
It was easy to spend two hours in this exhibit alone…learning about the Hubble telescope, International Space Station, what life in space is like, and about all the decades of shuttle missions and astronaut heroes. We could even crawl through a space station model and kids can zoom down a slide that showcases how the shuttle glides in for a landing.
Once you finish with all these exhibits, you can partake in the Shuttle Launch Experience simulator. This is the crown jewel of the Atlantis exhibit. It looks like lines can sometimes be long, but again we were lucky and walked right up to the entrance. As throughout the exhibit, they do a good job of keeping waiting crowds entertained with interviews from actual astronauts.
They did such a good job of convincing us that the launch simulator is very like the real thing that my daughter got too nervous to go through with the simulator. We still could take part by watching the film and the closed-circuit camera into the simulation room to watch Daddy bouncing and shaking along with the rest of the participants. He loved it and I’m sure she would have too if they didn’t have such a dramatic build up.
After a quick lunch at the well-organized Orbit Cafe, one of quite a few conveniently located options, we headed over to the bus depot to catch our 1:30 Launch Pad Tour. This 90 minute tour takes you within the security perimeter fence of Launch Pad 39-A, the launch site for most space shuttle missions and Apollo moon launches. You also pass by the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building and drive-by views of Launch Pad 39-B. The highlight of the tour is the photo opportunities in front of the Launch Pad and up close to the flame trench. (Update: these tours may not be offered any longer, check the KSC website for updated tour options.)
The tour drops you off at the Apollo/Saturn V center, where you can stand under the largest rocket ever made, 363-feet long. Even if you can’t take a tour to a launchpad, everyone can catch the bus shuttle to the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
When you first enter, you view a short multimedia presentation about JFK’s goal of putting a man on the moon. From there, you enter into a viewing area overlooking the control center for the Apollo 8 mission and see what it was like to manage the mission here on land.
You can easily spend at least an hour at the Apollo/Saturn V center, taking in the show, touching a moon rock, and examining the Saturn rocket. Once you take the bus back to the visitor center you can fill your time with some of the other exhibits.
Your younger ones might enjoy shooting Angry Bird slingshots, while your Lego fanatics might want to check out the full-size Mars Rover built out of Legos outside of the Robot Scouts exhibit, and learn more about the role robots play in space.
NASA also gives a persuasive sell to becoming a NASA engineer (worked for my daughter) at the recruitment center, I mean, Exploration Space exhibits. And, be sure to check the daily schedule for a chance to meet a real-life astronaut.
34 thoughts on “Important Guide to Visiting Kennedy Space Center with Kids”
2/14/2020. Thank you very much for this informative page. I read everything and took my grandson to KSC last Saturday for his 7th birthday. We got there at about 1 pm and stayed till closing, which was 6 pm. (Check their site for their hours.) I had bought the Atlantis Annual Pass through AAA for both of us, (a $16.50 savings) as I knew there would be no way that we would be able to see and do everything. It pays for itself, either at KSC or at AAA. Just 2 visits will be a beyond break-even point and also not having to pay the $10 parking fee, is an added perc. (There is also the Explorer Annual Pass which costs more and offers more, but for now, the one I bought for us is perfect.) He bought a kid’s telescope in the gift shop, where he received a 10% savings as an Annual Passholder. The lanyard that was given with the ID is wonderful, too, as was the big Happy Birthday button that he was given when we went to turn in our vouchers and get our passes! We didn’t get a chance to eat there, but we would’ve had 10% off the food, too. The last time I was there was back in 2013 and there have been some wonderful additions. We only spent time in the Rocket Garden, the Space Shuttle Atlantis building, the light-up circles along the path, and upon leaving, the children’s play area across from the Rocket Garden. We were in no rush to take it all in, and I went along at his pace. He loved the slide and the crawl-through model of the Space Station. Also, he loved sitting at the controls of the cutaway of Shuttle Atlantis’ nose. The various simulations also had his interest, as well as the intro movies to seeing Atlantis. When we go back, we will do some things we didn’t get to, and I’m sure, he will want to do some things he already did on this first trip. It’s about 50 miles from home to there, so we are fortunate to live that close. Would be great to live even closer, but I’ll take it! Thanks again!
Thanks for sharing your experience! I’m so glad to hear you had a successful trip.
We are planning to gift our 6 year old grandson with a future trip to the Kennedy Space Center on his birthday tomorrow. Since it is November now, is there a month that would be best for our visit? Or a month that is not a good one for a one day or two day visit? We have flexibility for timing.
Sorry Suzanne, I’m just seeing this now. I would try to avoid school vacation weeks because it will be more crowded (keep in mind that many Florida schools have spring break in March.) I would also avoid summer if you can because of the heat, although so many attractions are inside that it won’t be as big of a deal. You may want to check the launch calendar and see if there is anything scheduled that you can plan a trip around (just keep in mind that they often get scrubbed or moved.)
I have a trip planed with my husband a 2 year old daughter and we have not decided if we can go or not to the Kennedy Space center. Is she allowed in the attractions? is this a park that is not recommended for little ones? please help our trip is this weekend
Sorry for the delay, I was out of WiFi coverage for a week. How did your visit go, did you decide to go?
Hi, Thank you for the review. I am expecting to take my daughter there. she is just 5 and I am worried if a launch sight would be too loud for her. Is there a recommended age limit to see rocket launches?
I’m not sure how loud it is at some of the paid viewing areas but if you are just in the main KSC complex, you are so far away from the launch site that the sound doesn’t even reach you for about 30 seconds and it isn’t that loud at all so you would be fine. It is a fun thing to watch and inspire curiosity.
I eill probably be on at the main KSC complex. Thank you for the information. It helps a lot.
Hi, Thank you so much for your write up of KSC. It is certainly helping my planning! I have two boys 7 & 9, in fact we are going for my older son’s 10th birthday. Reading through the reviews, I’m concerned the bus tour will be boring for them. They are curious kids and love facts, however, I’m not sure sitting on a bus will be all that much fun for them when they can be going to iMax movies and interacting with the exhibits. Can you tell me your thoughts: is it worth the extra money?
From what I recall, you aren’t on the bus very long and we did see some alligators out the window. I think they have changed the tour from when I went and no longer visit the launch pad. Whether you do the tour or not, I’d still take the free shuttle over to the Saturn V building — my daughter says that was her favorite part! But maybe save it for the end of the day as there is plenty to do in the main area!
I’m taking my 3 and 4 year old son who are OBSESSED with outer space this February, fingers crossed that things will go smooth!
Do you need to reserve to have a meet and greet with an astronaut?
You’ll love it! I don’t think you need reservations. Just check the schedule so you know when the presentations start and where and get there early to get close.
Thank you so much for this post!! We went today with a 3.5 year old and he had a blast! We started at Atlantis and stayed there for quite awhile. He was a little bit bored with the movies, but loved the space shuttle and all of the exhibits. We had lunch in the cafe which was quite good. Turns out we probably could have brought our own sandwiches in, but it wasn’t worth it to us to try to keep things, cold etc. The rest of the day we went from exhibit to exhibit and he loved every minute. He even did a fantastic job in the Hubble IMAX movie. We thought the bus ride would be too much for him as he’s super young, but there was more than enough to fill his day without it. We’ll catch it next time. I was hesitant to bring him at such a young age, and your post really cemented our decision to go. Thank you!!!
I am so glad it worked out and you had an awesome time. It is such a great place I feel like I want to encourage everyone to visit. Thanks for letting me know how it went!
I looked through a number of blogs/sites about visiting the space center with small children and yours is by far the best! It is detailed enough to help me plan our visit. Our son is 2.5 but he is obsessed with outer space right now so I think he will enjoy it even if he doesn’t understand a lot of the information. Seeing a real rocket ship will be worth it. I will let you know how it goes with a preschooler.
Enjoy Adrianne! His eyes will pop with all the awesome things to see!
Thank you very much for all the info about the space centre. It’s very helpful. We will be going to Orlando soon and my eldest daughter who is 6 1/2 is crazy about space and everything about it. My youngest is 4 1/2 and we will probably take her as well; hope she’s not to young.
I think there are things a 4 1/2 year old can enjoy, just maybe not for as long.
A quick follow up to our KSC trip. First, this blog post was extremely helpful.
We visited KSC on a Thursday morning after our Disney Cruise disembarked. We arrived right at 9 AM as they opened. I bought tickets for me and my oldest daughter (age 7) online through AAA at a $10 discount/ticket. However, my wife and youngest daughter (almost 3) decided at the last minute to come along with us and not go to the beach.
We walked through the rocket garden first, had the kids sit in the Mercury capsule and all 3 of us sat in the Apollo Command Module. Then we went over to the Atlantis exhibit. No lines at all…in fact I thought it might actually be closed because there was no activity! The reveal of the shuttle was really breathtaking. I thought the liftoff movie noise might be a little too much for my 3 y/o but she really enjoyed it. Both kids really enjoyed the interactive exhibits. And while my 7 year old really got into it, my 3 year old found enough to be entertained which was a surprise.
My oldest and I went to the Shuttle Launch Experience. Again, no line. And yes, they do a good job of trying to weed out riders. I’m not sure why. I felt so sorry for a mother and daughter from Spain who were riding with us…she seemed legitmately terrified because of the warnings. Luckily my daughter wasn’t as scared but I kept telling her it would be okay. In all honestly, the SLE is very fun and yes, a bit intense for someone young, but mostly it felt like a 3 minute back massage. It was very fun. Atlantis alone is worth the price of admission.
Next we boarded the bus to go to the Apollo center. The girls both went to sleep on the bus, but my wife and I enjoyed the tour. At this point we decided we should just walk through the Saturn V exhibit as we were facing a long drive to get back home and I didn’t want to push a meltdown. We spent about 20 minutes there which was entirely too little, but meltdowns were averted and we got back on a bus to the visitor’s center.
We were there about 5 hours and felt like we got our money’s worth. Even my 3 y/o was kept occupied enough for the rest of us to enjoy it. I’d echo your sentiments that it really should be for 7 y/o and up, but wouldn’t let a younger child prevent me from going.
Next time…probably BEFORE our next Disney Cruise (yes we are already planning to go back) we’ll go to KSC again and try to explore the rest of the visitor’s center.
Thanks again and great blog!!!
Thank you for coming back and leaving such a thoughtful comment so that other readers can also judge for themselves what attractions might be a fit for their family. You really made my day and I appreciate it so much!! I’m also glad that you all had a great time. I was so impressed by our visit to KSC that I’m passionate about encouraging others to go.
Hi – Just wondering if you just bought the general admission tickets or a different package. With all the different add on options I am not sure what would be best. I have a 7 year old. thanks for the advise!
Hi Kirsten, when we went, we bought general admission tickets and added on the launch pad tour. It looks like they aren’t offering that particular tour any longer, which I do recall them mentioning that the launch pads would shortly be closed when we were there last December. Unless you see a tour that you absolutely must do, I think with a seven year old the general admission (or purchasing advance tickets online with AAA like Chris did) would be plenty. General admission includes the bus tour past the Vehicle Assembly building and launch pads to the Saturn/Apollo center. Between the Atlantis experience, the Saturn/Apollo building and all the other activities you will have more than enough to do for a full day at KSC. I hope that is helpful!
ps – if your travels ever take you near Nashville, let me know and I’ll be happy to share some info about my hometown with you.
Thanks so much for this review. I’m a space nerd and my 7 year old daughter is developing an interest in it too. So I really appreciate your review as it gives me some good ideas on things to do with her when we go in a few weeks (after a Disney cruise).
One thing I remember about my visit there (30 something years ago) was the amount of hands-on activities for kids. Did you feel like there were lulls here and there in the exhibits or was there plenty to keep a young mind occupied all throughout? We will probably not do the extra hands-on tour as you guys did, but that certainly does look like a lot of fun.
We’re tentatively planning on staying about 6 hours…does that sound like enough time for the basic tour and activities?
Thanks so much. Great blog!
Chris, thanks for coming by and asking these great questions. My daughter was 9 when we went and she loved it (but then again she has dreams of being an astro physicist). Without an extra tour, six hours should be enough to do almost everything and it is a great activity to tack onto a cruise. You may not get to see all the IMAX shows but there are tons and tons of hands on exhibits to keep kids interested. The Atlantis exhibit is a good place to start. It is so well done with a great video introduction before leaving you to explore. Kids will enjoy climbing through sections of the space station, sliding down a slide, using Kinect like displays to learn about gravity and pretend they are astronauts by practicing docking, etc. The complex is set up like an amusement park with different buildings, places to sit and hang out in between, cafes and snacks spread throughout the complex. For a physical break kids will also enjoy the Angry Birds exhibit and maze. There is also a free bus that take you down past the Vehicle Assembly Building to the Apollo/Saturn V building where you can touch moon rocks, see the original mission control, and walk under the old rockets. If you don’t do any extra shows there, visiting the Apollo building should only take an hour. I think it is great for kids, especially if they have an interest in space. Six hours is a nice amount of time to do most of the main attractions. 2-3 hours definitely wouldn’t do it justice. I hope you go and have a great time! If you do, let me know how it goes.
Thanks so much! That makes me feel even better about our decision to go there. I’ll definitely pop back in to let you know how it (and the cruise) go in a few weeks.
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