kennedy space center

Tips for Visiting Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

When I started planning our day trip from Florida’s Gulf Coast to the Kennedy Space Center, I was intimidated by all of the information available. I couldn’t figure out which tickets were the best to buy, how to make sure I saw everything, or what to expect.

There is a lot of information out there on visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and it felt like the more I researched, the more confused I got. My hope is that this post helps you feel confident by giving you tips for visiting the Kennedy Space Center to make your vacation go as smooth as possible. It’s a great place to visit for the whole family!

Do note that when you visit the Kennedy Space Center, you’ll be visiting the Visitor Complex. This was actually something that confused me when we were planning our trip. I may use “Kennedy Space Center” and “Visitor Complex” interchangeably, but they are the same place. The Visitor Complex is the only place you are allowed to visit, so you can’t accidentally end up in the wrong place or anything like that.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The Visitor Complex at Kennedy Space Center was originally built for the families of astronauts and employees to view space center operations. Today, it’s where you’ll learn more about the history of space as well as current and future developments through interactive videos, hands on experiences, tours, and more.

Located just outside of Cocoa Beach and within an hour of Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center is a popular destination for people around the world. It’s also a popular destination for people boarding their cruise in Cape Canaveral. It attracts around 1.5 million visitors per year.

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Getting to Kennedy Space Center

If you have a car, getting to the Kennedy Space Center will be easy. You may find that if you try to search for the official address that it doesn’t pop up, other than that it is located on Space Commerce Way.

But if you type Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center to our phone’s GPS and got there with no troubles. There are plenty of signs as you get close and it’s really easy to find. Once you arrive, you will need to pay a parking fee, which is $10 at the time of this writing (though motorcycles are $5 and RVs are $15).

The Kennedy Space Center is around one hour from the Orlando theme parks. There is no public transportation to the Kennedy Space Center. But if want to visit and don’t have your own car (or a rental), you can easily arrange a day trip with transportation to Kennedy Space Center.

Kennedy Space Center Tickets

Like many popular attractions, Kennedy Space Center has a number of different ticket options for your visit. A one day ticket is currently $57 for adults (ages 12 and up) and $47 for kids (children under the age of three are free).

A one day ticket is the best way to see Kennedy Space Center in one day. It includes the basic bus tour, iMax movies, several interactive exhibits, and entrance to most of the zones in the Visitor’s Center.

There are add on experiences such as special interest bus tours and the astronaut encounter. These add on experiences are not available with the general ticket.

As mentioned above, parking is an additional fee of $10.

There are additional ticket options, such as multiday tickets as well.

How long should I spend at Kennedy Space Center? 

The best way to experience the Kennedy Space Center is to plan for an entire day there. If you’re a true space lover and truly want to take your time seeing everything, you might even want to take a couple of days.

The first time we visited, we only stayed for around 6 hours. We could have stayed a little longer, but I was in my first trimester of pregnancy so I wasn’t feeling great. We felt happy with what we saw in that time. Personally, I can really only take in so much information in a day so this was a good amount of time for me.

We do live in driving distance, though, so knowing that we could come back at any time might make our situation a little different.

Main Visitor Center

Like I mentioned earlier, the part of The Kennedy Space Center that you visit is the Visitor Center. This was confusing to me when I was researching. I couldn’t figure out how to get to the Visitor Center, but the entire part you visit is the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center is basically divided up into different zones.

All of the major attractions are located in the Visitor’s Center except for the Apollo Saturn Rocket V Building. When I was doing research on visiting the Kennedy Space Center, I wondered how I’d find it or how I’d know I was at the Visitor’s Center. No one really spelled it out so I was a little confused about what it entailed. So if you’ve also felt that way in doing your research, it just refers to the area of the Kennedy Space Center  that you will be visiting with the exception of the Apollo Saturn Rocket V Building. 

You’ll naturally be in the Visitor’s Center when you get through the entrance, then the different attractions are referred to as zones. It’s easy to see all of the zones. In doing my research, I was also worried about missing one of the zones, but the Visitor’s Center has a really easy to follow layout that makes it hard to miss anything. 

The reason it’s referred to specifically as the Visitor’s Center is because the Kennedy Space Center is quite large. It’s actually 6,000 acres of land and 564 miles of roads. In other words, the Kennedy Space Center is so much more than just the Visitor’s Center, but as a visitor, this is the only area you’re actually allowed to visit. Except for, of course, the Apollo Center, which you’ll take a bus from the Visitor’s Center to get to. 

Rocket Garden 

The Kennedy Space Center is broken up into a couple of different mission zones. When you enter to park, the first zone that will grab your attention will be the rocket garden. It is a display of historic rockets that helped us get to space. All but two of the rockets are real. You can even get a free tour, there are multiple different tours throughout the day and the tour schedules are posted right outside of the rocket garden. 

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Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour

The only way to get to the Apollo/Saturn V Center is by bus. This is included in your admission ticket and it’s really easy to figure out. You’ll literally just get in line, get on the bus, and go!

The bus ride to Apollo/Saturn V Center from the Visitor Center is around 7 miles. On the way, you will drive by the famous vehicle assembly building, which is the largest single story building in the world! You may have seen pictures of it before, but they honestly don’t do it justice. I think that’s potentially because it isn’t next to any other buildings, so in pictures it’s hard to have a frame of reference. But it is huge! The Vehicle Assembly Building is so large because it’s where rockets are put together.

While on the bus, you’ll learn about the Vehicle Assembly Building as well as the history of the Kennedy Space Center, animals on the lands, and more. 

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Apollo/Saturn V Center

The Apollo/Saturn V Center is my favorite part of visiting the Kennedy Space Center. It focuses on the Apollo missions by paying homage to people and machines that first brought people to the moon.

The first thing you’ll do is watch a short video on the history that made going to the moon possible.

After the video, you’ll be led to the Firing Room. This is where you get to experience the launch of Apollo 8. It is just like sitting in the control room and it is as realistic as it possibly can be. Even the consoles in the room are the same ones they actual sat in when man flew to the moon. 

When you finish watching the video, you’ll get to explore the rest of the center at your leisure. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the restored Saturn V rocket (the most powerful rocket ever built). There are no words to accurately describe how incredible this was. It was so big that it was almost hard to comprehend! The restored Saturn V model is 363 feet long, which is 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

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Also in the center is the Lunar Theatre where you can relive the Apollo landing. This was a very touching experience. The film is around 10 minutes long and even waiting for the film to start is a fun experience because the waiting area is a 60’s living room. So you can imagine what it might have been like to await watching this incredible moment on TV. 

There is also a tribute to the astronauts of Apollo I. It is well done and a good opportunity to learn more about each of their lives.

Heroes and Legends

Heroes and Legends showcases America’s first astronauts and qualities that define a hero. This exhibit typically takes around 45 minutes to get through. There are a couple of media shows that fly you through the history of space exploration. You can also see a Mercury Redstone Rocket, the Mercury control center, and see a capsule from the Gemini 9A. This is also where you’ll find the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Space Shuttle Atlantis is impossible to miss with the full rocket booster replica sitting right outside. This is another one of my favorite exhibits at Kennedy Space Center. Once inside, you’ll see the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit after watching a very cool video about the history. Atlantis is just as incredible as the rocket in the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

There is also an option to do a guided tour. This will be a 15 minute walking tour. You will learn more about the Atlantis and its 32 trips to space.

Also inside this zone are several interactive exhibits. You can walk through a simulation of using the robotic arm. The robotic arm is how they complete tasks in space that are too dangerous or too difficult for astronauts to do.

Other interactive exhibits include a playground designed as the International Space Station for kids. There is also a shuttle launch experience that takes you through an 8.5 minute ascent into space.

You can also see an exhibit of the Hubbell telescope which has an exact replica of the telescope.

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Nature and Technology

Merritt Island is not only home to the Kennedy Space Center but it’s also a wildlife refuge. The Nature and Technology zone features some of the wildlife you could expect to see on Merrit Island. As a wildlife lover, I appreciated the exhibit and I’m glad that they’re doing all they can to protect the local wildlife. However, if you are short on time, this is probably one I’d skip to make more time somewhere else.

IMAX Theater

Kennedy Space Center has an IMAX theater. The theater shows space movies daily. This is a great activity if it’s a very hot day or if it’s raining.

Planet Play

If you’re visiting with kids ages 2-12, you might want to visit Planet Play. It is an immersive playground with multiple stories of interactive and climbing activities. There is also a soft play area for toddlers. Parents can even relax here with options to sit down and enjoy a coffee, wine, or beer while the kids play.

Journey to Mars/NASA Now and Next 

This is where you can learn more about NASA’s future missions and future of space travel. This includes exploration of Mars. You can see some full scale replicas of the Mars rovers. 

Meet Astronauts

The Kennedy Space Center has astronauts on site that you can meet and ask questions. They are there most days. There are a few different ways you can meet the astronauts. There is typically a free presentation at the Universe Theatre and they sign autographs at the Space Shop. For an additional cost, you can dine with an astronaut. The Kennedy Space Center website has an events tab where you can check which astronauts are visiting and the schedule of events.

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There are two main restaurants, the Orbit Cafe and Moon Rock Cafe. Both serve pretty standard food such as pizza and salads.

There are also some other options as you go about your day, such as IMAX Snax which offers snacks similar to what you’d find at a movie theatre such as popcorn and candy.

Planet Play Lounge has coffee, wine, and beer options for parents to take a break while the kids play.

For dessert, Milky Way offers ice cream and Space Dots also has ice cream and gelato. 

Seeing a Space Launch 

Getting to witness a real rocket blasting into space is a really special experience. There are a couple different viewing locations you can get an up close view of rocket launches. Because you will be so close (within a few miles) to the launch pads, you can see and feel the liftoff which adds to the excitement.

To watch a rocket launch from one of the viewing centers at Kennedy Space Center, you’ll need to purchase a ticket in addition to your daily admission. You can view a launch from the Main Visitor Complex for no additional cost, but this is a bit further from the launch sites. From the Visitor Complex, you’re not going to see the engines blasting at the start of the launch. But once the rocket is in the air, you’ll definitely have a great view.

Also keep in mind that a launch day will make Kennedy Space Center much busier than a normal day.

To experience a rocket launch up close, here are your options for viewing:

One observation area is the LC39 Observation Area, which is the closest view visitors can get (around 2.5 miles from the pad). It includes shaded seating, snacks and beverages, and seats that are wheelchair accessible.

The Banana Creek area is at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. A benefit of this watch area is that you can access the Apollo Center while you wait. This is convenient because sometimes you’ll be waiting a couple of hours, so nearby access to restrooms and food is convenient.

what to see at kennedy space center

Itinerary for a Full Day at Kennedy Space Center

When I was preparing for our visit, I got a little overwhelmed at all of the zones. I had notes on my phone because it felt complex and I was worried about missing something. I really had nothing to worry about because once you get there, it all flows naturally.

For example, the rocket garden is impossible to miss when you walk into the Visitor’s Center. I thought I was going to have to seek it out, as well as every zone within the complex.

The itinerary we used was based on recommendations from others, who told us that this was the best way to experience the Kennedy Space Center. Here is our Kennedy Space Center itinerary:

  • Start with the Rocket Garden
  • Get on the bus (or get in line for the bus) to the Apollo Center
  • Take your time at the Apollo Center, then make your way back to the main Visitor Complex
  • Once you are back at the Visitor Complex, wander each zone at your discretion. We found it very easy to naturally explore each individual zone at this point.

The property is very large and you can go through each zone in any order you wish. I really don’t think there is a “wrong” way to do see everything and it’s nearly impossible to miss the main attractions.

Taking the bus first early in the day was recommended to me and I am glad we did it this way. The bus ride and Apollo/Saturn V Center can take at least 2 hours to experience, maybe even more depending how in depth you like to explore.

We liked taking the bus first because the lines tend to be shorter early on and we also didn’t have to worry about time. The last bus tour departs from the main complex 3.5 hours before closing time. 

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There is a reason visiting the Kennedy Space Center is so popular. The exhibits, historic artifacts, and the excitement of exploration is inspiring. And seeing the vehicles that have brought humans to space is humbling. The Kennedy Space Center is a testament to dreaming big and reaching for the stars. Hopefully these tips for visiting the Kennedy Space Center help you plan a perfect trip!