Monday 10 to Thursday 13 November 2014
I’ve always been fascinated by space travel and exploration. So a key motivation of visiting Florida was to tour the NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. The place of moon landing missions, space shuttle lift-offs and now the new Orion outer orbit exploration program. So, it might have been tough leaving my Miami Beach apartment, but I was excited to go on a road trip north.
I bussed to the airport to collect my Kia Forte rental car – not fussy on the car make/model. I’d read that this can take a long time waiting in line and it was true. About an hour to get to the front of the line and then collect the car. January was the last time I drove on the right, and that was in Ghana where driving is more about dodging pot-holes than staying inside your lane. So I was a little anxious, but for no reason, a few miles in and I was in the zone. I’m glad I got an electronic toll pass thing so I didn’t have to worry about what route or lane to be in. One less stress. I selected ‘scenic route ‘ on my GPS as I wanted to follow the coast. Turns out scenery = traffic gridlock on a suburban road that saw about two glimpses of beach. Frustrating, but lesson learned and lots of time to listen to American radio.
Palm Beach: My first pit stop for lunch. Only because it’s a place I’d heard of. Very upper class swank ville with all the buildings lacking the usual advertising vomit that is everywhere else. Immaculate gardens and clean streets. At times it felt like walking a movie set.
Melbourne: Picked this place to stay simply because of the Australian city connection. And that it is only a 45 min drive to Cape Canaveral. Nice town with a bit of history and had a brilliant steak for dinner at a classy beach steakhouse. I ended up staying 2 nights here because the day I’d planned to go to NASA was Veterans Day (Remembrance Day) public holiday and also because I saw a news story that they were moving Orion to the launch pad and if I delayed by a day then I might see it. That’s the beauty of making it up as you go – amend your plans on the hop. Although it did mean I would not make it to Orlando. I was relieved by that as I didn’t want to tackle another big city and the theme parks – I like Disney and Universal, but going to Disneyland alone is possibly the most depressing thing I could think of at that point in time. Another time.
NASA Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral: 10/10. Exceeded expectations with a full day (8 hrs!) on 12 November 2014. Lots to see, read, watch, touch, tour. $50 entry and a 2.5 hr up close optional bus tour for $25 extra. I didn’t see everything, but saw the hit-list I selected from the tour map and particularly enjoyed the Space Shuttle Launch Experience, Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging from the ceiling, and the moon landing Apollo/Saturn V exhibit with one of the unused Saturn V rockets on display. Excellent audio/visuals and very educational on the space race with the Russians, the new commercial space programs and ‘simple’ stuff u don’t think of like how they transport the rockets/shuttles to the launch pads from the vehicle assembly building. With the sun set and a head full of new info, I drove to the nearest town (Titusville), pigged out at dinner after skipping lunch, then had a big fat Glenfiddich scotch whisky to close a memorable day.
NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame: 8/10. Just out of Titusville, I went here the day after Cape Canaveral, but it doesn’t open til midday so a good excuse to sleep in and chill. Brief compared to yesterday and it does a good job displaying in chronological order the achievements of the NASA space program starting with the very first astronauts to today. Free with yesterday’s ticket.
Fort Lauderdale: I headed here with McDonald’s in hand following the astronaut thing. This time much wiser not to select ‘scenic’ route, however I still met peak hour gridlock eventually but was smart enough to get off the 95 and take a different road – I only got honked twice the entire 300 kilometres! I found a good beach bar with live music and then found a cheap hotel just up the road. Good way to spend my final night in the US of A.
Websites Used to Make this Trip
Booked the ‘Dollar’ rental car through rentalcars.com
Found booking.com had the best for cheap hotels. Their mobile phone app (Android) has become very intuitive and one of the best apps out there. I stayed at Days Inn, except for Fort Lauderdale which I can’t remember and wouldn’t recommend.
Research on NASA at www.kennedyspacecenter.com. I debated booking online tickets, but didn’t and didn’t need to either. If paying by credit card, use the self-service kiosks at the entrance to bypass the line up entirely.