Maximizing our Kennedy Space Center Adventure

Since we live in Utah and are a large family, we tend to take most of our family vacations on the west coast. Flights and driving times are obviously easier, plus there is an abundance of things to see and do within the western United States. Now that our kids are a little older, and flying with them has become a little easier, we decided to turn our family vacation compass in the opposite direction and start discovering more of what the eastern U.S. has to offer.

For our eastern U.S. discovery trip this year, we decided to visit Florida for two specific reasons: The first reason is that we’d just finished a record snow and cold winter season in Utah, and we were excited to find out if the rumors were true about Florida's warm ocean water and pristine long beach fronts. The second major reason we decided to go to Florida was to visit the Kennedy Space Center. 

My 10-year old daughter, Ali, has wanted to be an astronaut since she was five. As she got older, I assumed that, like most kids, her career hopes would bounce in many different directions, but hers never did. She continued to read and learn as much as she could about rocket ships and space exploration. Her dream of becoming an astronaut has grown over the years, and she has now decided that she would like to be the first woman to walk on the moon. For our family, this trip was not only about seeing some of the fun things that Florida has to offer, but also about helping our daughter discover what it takes to realize her dream.

Family vacation to Walt Disney World Family vacation to Walt Disney World

Once we landed at Orlando International Airport, we headed over to the Alamo Rent A Car kiosk. We were grateful to find a van large enough accommodate all eight of us comfortably because we knew that we were going to be doing a lot of driving. When we arrived at our condo, it didn't take long for our kids to change into their swim clothes and head down to the pool. We stayed at the Vista Kay Resort which offers condos conveniently located near the major theme parks in Orlando. Their condos are convenient, clean and very family friendly.

The next morning, we surprised our kids by telling them that we would be spending the day at Walt Disney World in the Magic Kingdom. Two years ago, we surprised our kids with a trip to Disneyland, so before we left for Florida, they thought we were going to surprise them again. But my wife and I decided to throw them off by waiting until the very last minute to tell them. When we didn’t tell them before we left for the airport they assumed it wasn’t going to happen, so when we made the big announcement in Orlando, screams of joy broke out and the kids started to magically move a lot faster at getting ready for the day.  

The Disney theme parks are a big hit for our family for a lot of different reasons, but we truly love how accommodating they are for our son Wil, who has Down Syndrome. Wil has sensory issues, so standing in lines can be very difficult for him, but the DAS (Disability Access Service) pass allows our family to have multiple “Fast Pass” opportunities on all the rides. The DAS pass also allows us to use our stroller as a wheelchair which is incredibly convenient and more comfortable for him. Disney also offers a ride share pass which allows my wife or me to stay with one of our children while one of us rides the ride, then switch places after the other gets off the ride so that we can both enjoy rides with our other kids. Click here to learn more about Disney Parks Disability Access Service Card. 

Kennedy Space Center family vacation Kennedy Space Center family vacation

The next morning, my 10-year-old daughter was beaming with excitement because we were going to visit the mecca for all things space: The Kennedy Space Center (KSC). For Ali, this was bigger than going to Disney World. Recently, Ali has started to doubt that she could ever be an astronaut, so our visit to the KSC was the perfect opportunity to help her discover what it will take to achieve her dreams of going to space.

Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center

We picked this day to visit the park specifically, because well-known female astronaut Wendy Lawrence was speaking, and we were looking forward to hearing her story about the challenges she overcame to pursue her dreams of going to space. As we entered the park, we were immediately drawn to the Rocket Garden, where historic rockets stand as monuments to the achievements of the early astronauts. The KSC is set up into Mission Zones that take you on a chronological journey from the early days of space (Hall of Heros) to the present day (Shuttle Atlantis exhibit). As you go to each exhibit, actual artifacts from each era are displayed between the connecting buildings. Thankfully we visited the KSC website before our trip, so we already had a good idea of what exhibits we wanted to spend the most time exploring.

Hall of Heroes and U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Hall of Heroes and U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame

At the Hall of Heroes exhibit, we watched a 3-D presentation that shared the stories of early astronauts. Afterward, we walked into a showroom with artifacts from the early days of space travel. At the end of this showroom is the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. At this point, Ali became very excited to find the section for her favorite astronaut, Sally Ride. Sally was the first American woman to fly in space. She is one of Ali’s heroes and has inspired a generation of women.

Meeting astronaut Wendy Lawrence Meeting astronaut Wendy Lawrence

Learning about these previous heroes and seeing Sally’s section was the perfect segue for us to head over to the IMAX theater to hear astronaut Wendy Lawrence speak. Ali bounced in her seat as Wendy entered the theater. We learned that Wendy struggled with people telling her that she would have a hard time becoming an astronaut because of her height. I could see Ali smile as Wendy told the crowd that she did not listen to the doubters and never gave up on her dream.  

Space shuttle Atlantis Space shuttle Atlantis

After Wendy’s inspiring talk, we made our way to the final exhibit, the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The Atlantis building features hundreds of different artifacts from modern day space travel include the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis. As my family and I approached the Space Shuttle Atlantis, none of us spoke. It was such an amazing sight to behold.

Exploring Kennedy Space Center Exploring Kennedy Space Center

As we left the park and headed back to our van, I asked Ali was she learned from this amazing opportunity. She said she was inspired by Wendy’s talk and told me that she never wanted to give up on her goal of becoming an astronaut. Her response was the perfect ending to the day.

Daytona Beach family vacation Daytona Beach family vacation

For the last two days of our trip, we traveled an hour north of Orlando to explore one of the most famous beaches in America, Daytona Beach. This beach definitely lives up to all of the hype. The water is indeed warm, and the waves are moderate enough for kids to dive in or ride boogie boards for hours. As we peered up and down the beach it seemed to go on forever especially from the view of the Main Street Pier.

Our home for the next two days was the beautiful Wyndham Ocean Walk Resort. If you are traveling to Florida with kids, I highly recommend staying at this hotel. The rooms are very functional for families and are furnished with a full kitchen, which is great if you are trying to stay within a food budget. The pool has a slide, a lazy river and a gated kiddie pool so when our kids were ready to step out of the ocean there were a ton of different options to keep them happy outside.

Sunset and fireworks at Daytona Beach Sunset and fireworks at Daytona Beach

Our room was on the top floor and the view was amazing. On our first night, there were fireworks on the pier which we watched from the balcony – a memory with the kids that I will never forget.

The surrounding area offered lots of unique activities within walking distance, including a full-size water park at the Daytona Lagoon and thrill rides at Screamers Park near the pier. Two of our favorite activities in Daytona were feeding live alligators and playing mini golf at the 18-hole miniature golf course at Congo River Golf.

Congo River Golf and Daytona Lagoon water park Congo River Golf and Daytona Lagoon water park

Before we knew it, our Florida adventure had come to an end. After we finished packing the van to head to the airport, my wife and I walked over to the view from the fifth floor of the parking garage. All the kids were in the car, it was quiet and we both took a deep breath. This is a common ritual for my wife and I at the end of each family trip. It’s nice to take a minute to think about some of the highlights from our adventures and remember how important it is to give our kids these traveling memories. After our moment of quiet, we jumped into the van and headed home full of new experiences and memories, and a daughter newly inspired to chase her dreams.

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About the Author

Alan Lawrence

Alan Lawrence is the father of six incredible kids and married to his best friend. His family is his number one pastime, but he also enjoys photography, tech and the outdoors. He started his blog, That Dad Blog, in October 2014 shortly after his son Wil was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. He hopes to inspire others to find joy in every opportunity in life.