Orlando, home of Disney World and NASA

I like my holidays to be jammed packed, trying to do and see as much as possible in the small amount of time we have.

Orlando, Florida, was an example of this.

We left New York on Boxing Day and returned a day before New Years Eve giving us a full three days of tours, rides and theme parks. We decided to spend two days visiting Walt Disney World and the last day visiting NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre.

Disney World is huge, with four main parks and an additional water park; you need to spend at least a whole day visiting each one. There are even ten day passes available! As we had previously visited Hong Kong Disney Land, which is essentially a combination of Magic Kingdom Park and Animal Kingdom Park, we chose to visit Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

As expected, having visited right in the middle of the holiday season, it was extremely busy with families.

Day 1: Disney World – Epcot

The Epcot theme park was interesting, a lot of sciency rides and attractions; our first was a go at a Segway, which was really fun. Sonya didn’t quite get the hang of it. A lot of the more childish attractions, where actually quite enjoyable, like the Innoventions – Test the Limits Lab, slamming doors and dropping barrels.

One of the main attractions of Epcot, besides the giant Epcot sphere, is the World Showcase. The World Showcase is a section of the park divided up into eleven individual country themed areas, within each were replicas of the country’s most iconic buildings and landmarks, information on history, culture, and many restaurants and small themed rides. Visiting it all used up most of the day, being sunset when we left England, England even featured a replica Beetles band. The World Showcase did make us want to discover more countries, and this was all while we were already on a holiday.

We finished the night off with some of the edutainment rides, and the Mission Space ride which simulated up to 2.4Gs of g-force. We both left the ride feeling quite queasy. We also had the obligatory photos with Disney characters; Mickey, Pluto, Minnie, Donald and Goofy.

Travis and the Epcot sphereSonya on a SegwayWorld Showcase Mexico wood carved art
World Showcase Mexico Chichen ItzaWorld Showcase Norway large TrollSonya in a Chinese garden including replica Temple of Heaven
Sonya in World Showcase GermanyTravis in World Showcase ItalyWorld Showcase Morocco
Travis wearing the iconic French beretEpcot sphere at nightSonya and Travis with Minnie Mouse

Day 2: Disney World – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The second day was spent at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which I thought was a lot more fun. We started the day with a live performance of Beauty and the Beast, while we waited for our Fastpass (Disney’s solution to the enormous queues) time to the Tower of Terror to arrive. As we waited in the queue for Tower of Terror, Sonya started to have childhood flashbacks of the time she cried after the ride; after all, she was only 17. I didn’t know what to expect, thinking it to be more of a horror house, especially after experiencing Disney’s famous pre-ride entertainment. The ride turned out to be a series of ‘high-speed drops’ which left me grinning the whole time all while Sonya had her eye’s closed.

For lunch we shared a giant turkey leg, which at $7 wasn’t too bad value, given Disney’s ridiculous prices. After we visited The Magic of Disney Animation, a live show that gave an insight into the creation of the dragon Mushu from Mulan. The entry and exit to the show had a lot of cool Disney artwork and stills. “A Spectacular Journey into the Movies” was a ride that toured the audience around various movie scenes, some memorable ones being The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca and Indiana Jones. There was a little gallery on the history of Walt Disney, titled One Man’s Dream, which included his achievements and various memorabilia, which was also very interesting.

For the last part of the night, I managed to convince Sonya to queue up for the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster a “high-speed roller coaster”. It was a pain staking 80 minute long line, but the 2 minute ride was all worth the wait, I, again walking out with a cheesy grin. Sonya again had her eyes closed the whole time! And this was confirmed by the ‘memorial’ photo that gets taken during the most intense part of the ride.

Disney World ticketsEntrance archRock n Roller Coaster
Sonya and the Fantasia gardenTower of Terror warning signSnow white and the seven dwarfs painting
Travis and Walt DisneySonya and Travis with Mickey earsEntrance to A Spectacular Journey into the Movies ride
Wizard of Oz sceneSonya with angels aboveRock n Roller Coaster memorial photo

Day 3: NASA – Kennedy Space Center

Visiting NASA was just one of those nerdy things I have always wanted to do, I wanted to always view a space shuttle on its launch pad, unfortunately I wasn’t able to do this due to arriving about a fortnight too early (Shuttle Endeavour was due to launch on 8th February 2010, and the shuttle is usually on the launch pad for about one month prior to launch). However, I was not left disappointed.

Kennedy Space Center, located at Cape Canaveral, located roughly 72 kilometers east of Orlando. After talking to our hotel’s tourist information lady, and being informed buses would cost $80 each, we were advised to rent a car. We were extremely lucky being able to rent a car in a days notice, due to the holiday season, we also paid and arm and a leg $135 USD for one day rental). When we casually hopped into the car for the first time, I was presented with a missing steering wheel, while Sonya on the driver’s seat, then it clicked, for that moment we had forgotten the driving sides were reversed to that of Australia. This would be fun we thought. However, Florida was very easy to drive around, as the roads were wide and long, which made things easier. I had left my GPS in New York as I didn’t think we would be driving in Orlando, but the locals were happy to provide directions.

The amazing thing about the Kennedy Space Center, is it is a working site, that huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) the tour bus drives past is actually where they ‘mate’ the space shuttle to the rockets, those huge dirt tracks (the Crawlerway) the tour bus drives next to, are the real tracks produced by the crawler-transporters when moving the space shuttle to the launch pad. We where taken to the closest observation platform for the Launch Complex 39 – A and B launch pads, but it was still a fair distance away, though, it was still a good feeling seeing them from afar (minus the shuttles).

One of my highlights was The Apollo/Saturn V Center, it started with a tour through the actual Apollo 11 launch control room which leads to the massive Saturn V rocket. I could have starred at those five F-1 rocket engines for hours, the size was overwhelming. In the Apollo/Saturn V Center you could also touch a real moon rock as well as visit an eerie dark museum which featured the original Apollo 11 space capsule and space suits from various time periods.

The final destination on the bus tour was the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) where International Space Station modules are tested. Unfortunately, it was very quite in the assembly plant as there was nobody working there.

Back at the Kennedy Space Centre park, we got up close and personal with a retired space shuttle, and finished the night visiting the Rocket Garden, a large collection of illuminated rockets.

Welcoming NASA logoAres I mobile launch platform under constructionLaunch Complex 39 observation platform (gantry)
Launch Complex 39ASonya and Travis with the shuttle launch pad in the distanceSonya and the Kennedy Space Center Tour Busses
The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)Apollo-Saturn V Center logoApollo 11 launch control room
Saturn V F-1 rocket enginesTravis and the Saturn V F-1 rocket enginesSaturn V F-1 rocket engines with Sonya (for scale)
Crawler Transporter CleatEerie past space suitsSonya and an International Space Station node
Travis and a retired Space ShuttleRocket Garden at nightSonya and the Rocket Garden