I wanted to do something BIG to celebrate hubby’s landmark 40th birthday this past Tuesday, but he’s a more reserved kinda guy. So instead of planning a big party he’d muddle through while silently wishing for it to be over, I did some research and discovered a rocket launch happening in Florida around the same time as his birthday. So after some secret airfare stalking and finding an unbelievable deal, I presented the idea to him (instead of surprising him). Thankfully, he was super stoked! So we were off to Titusville, Florida to visit Kennedy Space Center and watch as Orbital ATK launched an Atlas V rocket loaded with supplies up to the International Space Station!
This is going to be a picture-filled post, so if you get bored by sunshine & giant rockets, I apologize in advance.
This was Mike’s first airplane ride, but I was so proud of how he handled it.
It was a little nerve-wracking being 30,000 feet in the air, but it was an smooth flight with virtually no turbulence and we landed a few hours later in Orlando happy, hungry, and tired.
It was my first time renting a car so I felt super important (it’s the little things, guys), and we had a great time checking out the area around the hotel. As it turns out, the whole area is ALL ABOUT THE LAUNCH. Like, that’s all you see on every sign everywhere. Even the bars are space themed. Seriously, one was named Launch. I kid you not.
We checked in and met the folks that owned the hotel (SUPER sweet people who offered us restaurant tips and coupons for the best seafood ever, more on that later), and they invited us back to the lobby that night for cocoa and cookies and to meet Dr. Ken Kremer, who was in town to cover the launch. Cookies, cocoa, and a fellow science nerd to talk shop with? Sweet!
After settling in, we headed out for dinner at Dixie Crossroads, where I quickly learned that any aspirations of healthy eating I had before this moment were merely fantasies. Because, well, fried dough covered in powdered sugar, you guys.
Seriously, this was the meal our first night, and every night was this big. I didn’t beat myself up though: while it looks decadent, I kept the fried things to a minimum, stuck with mostly broiled seafood for dinner and salads for lunch, maintained a pretty good 70/30 balance (except for the giant gluten free brownie I had on the last day, #sorrynotsorry), and my iPhone’s health tracker clocked us at about 5 walking miles each day, so I think it all evened out!
After dinner we returned to the hotel and met Dr. Kremer where he was discussing the rocket launch and showing off some of his amazing photography in the lobby. As it turns out, he’s a speaker, freelance science journalist, scientist and photographer based out of – get this – Princeton, NJ! We traveled more than a thousand miles and still run into Jersey folks, go figure. He’s a mega-smart guy whose articles and space exploration photography has shown up in NASA, National Geographic, NBC News, CBS, and more, and he was in town to cover the launch. We chatted about the various photos he had on display, got really into some space stuff, and called it a night.
Day 1 was the day of the launch, so we went to Kennedy Space Center to explore for the day, then boarded a bus out to the Banana Creek Viewing Area in the afternoon but (spoiler alert) it was scrubbed due to rain. No matter though – it was rescheduled for the next day and we still had an amazing time! Here’s Day 1 in photos:
Rocket Selfie time
There really is a person in there, I promise.
Atlantis Robot Arm attack!
They snapped this before putting us on the bus – too bad it didn’t happen IRL!
Astronaut Brian Duffy – amazingly intelligent, easy going, and witty too!
With the actual Atlantis shuttle
Excitedly waiting in the drizzle for a rocket launch!
But sadly being soaked by the downpour after the launch was scrubbed.
To drown our sorrows, we went to the Cracker Barrel (our first experience!) across the parking lot from our hotel and feasted. There are no pictures from that because our hands were covered in butter. But we did fall in love with the peg game and now can’t stop playing it!
Day 2 was clearer, but the WIND was very strong. Word from NASA was a 40% chance of the launch happening that night, but we were optimistic (and let’s be honest, we had nothing else to do) so we boarded the bus, took a little tour, and tooled around the Saturn V building then headed to the viewing area once more. Here’s Day 2 in pictures!
Mike with an Apollo capsule.
The view from under the fuel tank at the Atlantis building.
Part of a beautiful tribute to the lives lost in the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters. Truly moving.
The Saturn V rocket on display.
Hubby really got into the action 🙂
The Vehicle Assembly Building
Space Salad! No seriously, they grow some of the greens they use in the cafe’s salads hydroponically, just like they’re trying to do in space. SPACE SALAD!
Panoramic shot of the Banana Creek Viewing Area before it got crowded.
Our marriage summed up in one GoPro shot.
Spoiler alert #2: the rocket launch was scrubbed again, this time due to wind! It was still immensely cool to be at the viewing area again, this time with a smaller crowd, and to hear the live audio feed from NASA broadcasting on the PA system outside. I still get goosebumps when I watch the little video I took of the pre-flight systems check (and the cheer that erupted in the crowd when we got to hear those magic words: “You have permission to launch.”
I dare you not to cheer when you hear it 😉
After the second failed attempt, I won’t lie: I was bummed. That was our last shot at seeing it in person, and that made me sad. Mike was still super happy though, and that’s what matters. OK, he did, at one point, say through gritted teeth while we held our breath waiting for the launch, “Just press the button, send it up! A $100 million dollar rocket can’t handle a little wind??”, but that was it.
To turn the negative of missing the launch into a positive, I decided to take him out for an early birthday dinner at the restaurant our hotel manager recommended: Shiloh’s Steakhouse.
Not pictured: his twin lobster tails and my gigantic sea scallops. Again, butter-covered hands.
It was so nice to hang out in the warm(er) weather with the river right there, eating seafood and laughing about wanting to waste the millions of dollars and take the chance by sending the rocket up even if it wasn’t ready. When we got back to the hotel we decided to bring our peg game (yes, we bought our own for $4) to the open air lobby for some play time, but stopped into the main lobby to see if Dr. Kremer was there – and lo and behold there he was, with his friend Klaus!
We hung out in the lobby with Klaus and Dr. Kremer for another hour or so, drinking cocoa and eating cookies and talking about everything from rockets to Instagram to traveling. We even caught Ken on TV when the local news station did a bit about the scrubbed launch – they interviewed him about his thoughts and we were there to see the magic firsthand. It was pretty fun, to say the least 🙂
After saying our goodbyes, we hung out in the open air lobby and played our games for a bit, then Klaus stopped by again and we chatted for a bit, then we finally hit the hay.
Day 3 was a blur – we went back to the Space Center for a few hours, walked around and generally took our time looking at all of the things we breezed by earlier to get to other attractions. It was so nice, just strolling through the Rocket Garden in 75+ degrees and sun… even though we were headed for the airport at 5pm!
I took a “run” on a space treadmill!
Soaking up some last minute sun before our trip back to NJ
Finally we headed back to the airport to drop off our car, check in, and wing our way back to chilly NJ! It was a whirlwind 4 days that we’re still smiling about, even a week later.
If you’re looking for something fun to do that’s not the usual “sit on a beach and drink all day” vacation, I’d definitely recommend the Kennedy Space Center. It’s totally NOT just for kids – and even as a person who was previously only semi-interested in space stuff, I was riveted by some of the things I learned! No lie, I found myself going “Wow,” on multiple occasions, and learned so much about the space program in general and where it’s headed. It’s really fascinating stuff!
And if you go, definitely check out Dixie Crossroads restaurant. Just wear stretch pants.