Kennedy Space Centre and Tico Warbirds, Florida, January 2019
As you can read elsewhere, I decided to make a trip the 2019 Daytona 24 Hour race.
Iíd always had in mind to have a couple of days to get used to the time difference, but I also planned to do something useful with the Friday and Iíd discovered that Kennedy Space Centre was only about 45 minutes drive away from Daytona Beach and had bought an advance ticket to tour. I was a bit concerned that, being a National Park run site, that Trumpís latest tantrum of shutting down the government might stymie my visit, but, although a few parts were closed, the main sites were open, which was plenty for a dayís visit as it turned out.
After a light breakfast and a coffee in my room, I set off down the I95, which was remarkably quiet and within an hour I was parking up at the Kennedy Space Center car park.
Having purchased a ticket in advance, as for the race, meant heading to the ĎWill Callí desk and, as with the race ticket, this was a bit of a double edged sword. I saved a few dollars (in both cases), but ended up queuing for a while as various people (and school groups at KSC) sorted out complicated cases. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, to be honest, Iíd expected a flawless, customer first attitude and service, but it wasnít the case.
Eventually, after about 30 minutes, I headed into the center. The first part was the Rocket Park, where early rockets (pre Saturn V) are displayed, along with some of the early Mercury and Gemini capsules. It was a sunny day, but I was surprised how chilly it was and a few people I spoke to told me it was unseasonably cool, but it was rarely cold enough to regret leaving my coat in the car - The coat would earn its keep on this trip though!
I wandered around the various rockets and capsules and listened to a short presentation on them by a former NASA employee and then started to queue for the Heroes and Legends museum, but frankly out of the sun, but in the wind, it was too cold to stand still for long and skipped it and headed on towards the Shuttle display.
KSC has the Atlantis shuttle on display and itís a remarkable sight. Atlantis is displayed slightly on its side, with its cargo bay doors open, so you can get a really close look at the top and bottom of the shuttle.
Around Atlantis are numerous displays including a mockup of the cockpit, which kids especially seemed to love, a Ďspace toiletí (Hey, now you think about it, itís a challenge right?) and lots of displays and artifacts.
If Iíd only seen the Rocket Park and Atlantis I would have felt it was a pretty decent visit, but when I came out of the Shuttle Building, I was faced with the hour plus long queue for the buses that take visitors to the Saturn V building.
This is some distance (a few miles) from the main visitor centre and you pass numerous active sites, so thereís no way to get there without taking a bus. I decided, as it was still only about Noon, to have a quick snack first and hope the queue declined a bit as the buses started running at 1.
After a cereal bar, apple and a soft drink, I went into the Mars Exploration display, which was pretty interesting and more worthwhile than I imagined. It also killed an hour in which the queue did decrease a little and I only queued for about 20 minutes before boarding a bus out to the Saturn V/Apollo display.
On the way, we passed a huge Bald Eagle nest, with a Bald Eagle sitting in it, with few people around, the whole area is a nature reserve, too, and I spotted more Eagles over the visitorís centre. A sign on the grass outside the Apollo cafe area warns visitors of Alligators and Snakes and our driver slowed at one point, crossing a bridge, hoping there may be a Manatee basking there, but it wasnít there that day.
Like the Shuttle display, you get an impressive background presentation/show, including a chance to see the genuine ĎMission Controlí desks (relocated from Houston), before passing through doors into a massive hanger building (I seem to recall one of the buildings is the biggest structure in the world, but I think it was a different one - Needless to say, itís big!).
There, protected from the elements (Iím sure Iíve seen photos of the Saturn V lying in the sun), is a full Saturn V, plus Command and Lunar Modules.
A guide walks you through the various stages of the rocket and the parts required to get men on the moon, if you want to listen and I found it well worthwhile to spend a few minutes doing so, before wandering back around the Rocket a couple of times and then exploring the various displays.
Thereís also a sound and light show which relives the Apollo 11 mission, which I found really revived the feelings of excitement and wonder that Iíd experienced as a young child when my parents got me up in the early hours to see the first pictures of the moon landings.
I know some like to discredit them as faked propaganda these days, but there are also people who believe Donald Trump is a fit president, rather than a mentally ill, deviant fraudster, so you can choose to believe what you like and so will I.
I did go into the Heroes and Legends building before leaving and it, too, was well worth the time, with lots of history on the early Astronauts, especially.
I was quite surprised as headed out of the gate, to realise that Iíd used up a full day at Kennedy. I did wonder if a morning or afternoon would have been enough time, but really I could have spent at least another half day there and not got bored.
You can have a photo taken with your favourite Astronaut - Mine is John Glenn
The next couple of days were spent watching the Daytona 24 Hours, before heading back to Orlando airport on the Monday.
On the way to Kennedy Space Center, Iíd spotted a sign for a ĎWarbirds Museumí at Tico, so I took that route back and spent the morning there.
One of the enthusiastic guides at Tico Warbirds Museum - Former Navy pilot
Itís not a huge museum, but they have an interesting variety of aircraft and the guided tour by a former USAF pilot was really informative and enjoyable. One of the highlights was the chance to sit in the cockpit section of a B52 bomber, which was remarkably cramped given the huge size of the full plane (which isnít there).
If you like aircraft museums and youíre in the area, itís certainly worth a visit, especially if youíre a visitor from outside the US as, unsurprisingly, it features a lot of aircraft youíre less likely to see in UK or European aircraft museums.
So, that was it. I got my car back to the airport with about 30 minutes to spare (I should have planned to return it an hour or two later, on reflection) and headed back on an overnight Virgin flight to Gatwick, arriving early on a Tuesday morning.