Today will be our last full day of the cruise as well as our final day in port. We usually prefer the final day to be a sea day since we can start packing throughout the day and we seem to be less rushed.
We arrived in Port Canaveral at 8 AM and would depart at 7 PM which would allow enough time for excursions to Disneyworld or the Kennedy Space Center. The weather was forecast to be beautiful with nice blue skies and temperatures in the 70’s. Port Canaveral has a large cruise terminal and is a homeport for Disney, Carnival, Norwegian, RCI and others.
Our plan was to rent a car and drive to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Hertz has a car rental agency next to the nearby Residence Inn, less than a mile away. The agency closes at 4pm but they accept after hour drop offs. HAL offered a tour to the KSC for $110 per person or $220 for the both of us. We were able to rent a car for $30 (including gasoline) and buy two tickets to the KSC for $53 per person – total cost – $146 including taxi fare back to the ship from the Hertz once we returned the car.
The cruise terminal is pretty big, so there was plenty of walking once we were off the ship. We noticed on our way a sign ready to divert people boarding ships to different lines for having an embarkation picture taken or not.
Once clear of the terminal we came across a few people selling van sized tours to the KSC. We didn’t inquire about the cost. There was a Hertz shuttle bus standing by which took us to the Hertz car rental agency. There was only one person working the counter. It took 15 minutes for us to get a car as the people in front of us all had various issues regarding credit or something, but we weren’t in any particular hurry and we were soon on are way to the Kennedy Space center, about 18 miles away or 25 minutes. The GPS built into our phone gave us great directions and we arrived at the KSC around 11:30.
We bought our tickets in advance on-line so we avoided the line once we arrived. The line wasn’t very long this time of year regardless but you could tell by the number of line barriers they had set up that the lines in the summer could get pretty long.
Once inside the KSC we headed over to the area where they were held the extra event called “Lunch with an Astronaut”. It cost an extra $23 pp which included a buffet lunch followed by a 20 minute presentation by an astronaut. Today’s astronaut was Bruce Melnick (Space shuttle missions STS 41 and STS 49). Every 4 days they seem to switch to a different Astronaut (The KSC website has a schedule of who is appearing when.) After his presentation he took questions and then we had a chance to take a photograph with Bruce. The KSC staff takes a picture with their camera, but they also take a picture with your camera as well which was nice. We enjoyed this event and recommend it for anyone visiting the KSC.
After the lunch we walked over to the “rocket garden” where they have every rocket on display that was used in the space program from Mercury through Apollo. The one rocket missing was the Saturn V moon rocket which is on display over near the launch control center a few miles away. We would visit this area as part of our tour later. Every hour or so, one of the KSC’s docents stands in the center of the “rocket garden” and takes about 15 minutes to describe the significance of each of the rockets on display.
Our next stop was out to the Apollo 8 Launch site at the Apollo/Saturn 5 Center. A bus leaves every 15 minutes and we didn’t have to wait for more than one bus. Once again, based on the available waiting area, these lines could get pretty long in the summer. The ride out to Apollo/Saturn 5 center takes about 10 minutes. Upon arriving we filed into a holding area which then opened up to the actual Apollo launch control center. We sat in a gallery overlooking the various positions and monitors which were used to control the launching of the Apollo rockets back in the 1960’s.
Once everyone was seated they started a 10 minute program that replays some of the news commentary from the time alongside some of the actual commentary and displays from inside the launch control center. After the countdown reaches zero and they show video of an Apollo launch, a large wall on the far side of the control center dramatically opens and the 5 rocket engines on the bottom of the mammoth Saturn 5 rocket come into view in the huge adjacent room.
The Saturn 5 rocket, over 360 feet long, is displayed horizontally and is separated into its 3 stages. This is an actual Saturn 5 rocket that was held in reserve as a rescue rocket, but fortunately never used, and then retired and is now on display. Surrounding the rocket are many displays from the various moon landings and in one area there is an actual moon rock that you can touch. This rock is quite smooth and is fairly unremarkable if you weren’t aware that it came from the moon.
We spent about 1 hour here wandering thru the various exhibits and completed our visit with sometime in the gift shop before we headed out to wait for a bus to take us back to the main KSC visitor center.
Back at the visitor center we chose to spend our last hour enjoying the Atlantis Experience instead of one of the IMAX movies or other exhibits.
After we entered the large Atlantis Experience building we walked up a ramp that took us up to the building’s third floor where we staged outside a theater. Once inside the theater we watched a 10 minute movie that gave some background on the Space Shuttle Program. After this movie finished, a large door opened and we went into another large theater to watch a movie that described and showed the launch of the Atlantis Space shuttle, which was the last space shuttle to fly in space.
When this movie ended another large set of doors open and we were now staring at the Atlantis space shuttle head on, in a 30 degree bank with the cargo doors open. The shuttle was not cleaned after its final mission. It still showed all of the burn marks and other minor damage the shuttle experienced during its final reentry.
The shuttle is suspended over an open area that is surrounded by a circular ramp that gradually returned us back to ground level. Along the ramp we passed various exhibits and memorabilia from the shuttle program. When we were one level above the ground we had an option to continue down the ramp and stairs or ride down a large plastic slide to simulate our “reentry” back to the ground floor. We took a pass and continued down the ramp.
Our final stop was the Space Shuttle Launch Experience which is a Disney style ride that simulates a Space Shuttle Launch. After an extensive safety brief and numerous warnings about how noisy and shaky the ride was going to be we entered the simulator which consisted of about 7 rows of seats roughly 8 across that sat in a simulated space shuttle cargo bay. We were strapped in like we were ready to go on one of those inverted roller coasters and then the simulator rotates backwards 90 degrees until we were flat on our back facing up. The countdown began and soon enough we were immersed in a sea of light and sound along with tremendous vibration simulating lifting off the launch pad. The back of our seat also inflates and moves to simulate the intense “g” forces associated with a shuttle launch. The ride took about 7 minutes, which was approximately the length of an actual shuttle launch. I found it interesting and worthwhile while Judy felt the intense vibrations jostled her too much and she probably wouldn’t do it again. There is an option to take part in the visual and sound part of the experience and bypass the jostling and tilting which is something to consider if you think you won’t like all the motion of the simulator.
We had a wonderful day here at the KSC, but with an all aboard of 6:30 we needed to leave by 5:30 to give us a little buffer as we headed back to the ship.
At 6 pm we arrived back at the Hertz car rental agency and after dropping off the car we used Uber to get a ride back to the ship, arriving back on board at 6:15pm.
Once back onboard we realized that the ship had been without power for the last hour or so. We didn’t need the elevator to get to our room and the ships emergency lighting in the passageways was sufficient to make our way around. About 15 minutes later power was restored and we were still scheduled to leave Port Canaveral at 7pm. Unfortunately, the power loss caused the ship’s navigation or control computer to crash which required them to reload the software and try to get everything working again. It took a couple of hours and a few phone calls back to the experts in Seattle to finally get the computers working correctly. The Captain kept us informed about the status and we finally pulled away from the terminal about 10 pm.
The Captain said that they would be going full speed throughout the night to make up time so we wouldn’t be late getting to Fort Lauderdale.
Since we missed our early fixed dinner seating, we ordered some room service hamburgers and continued packing in preparation for our debarkation tomorrow.