Kennedy Space Center – Rocket Launch Packages & Review

Are you interested in watching a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, but don’t know what to expect or what ticket package to choose? We’ll explain about the various packages that KSC offers, as well as our review from booking tickets to launch day to leaving after the launch (in this case, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy inaugural flight).

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy is a reusable super heavy-lift launch vehicle – the most powerful rocket of this generation. It was designed initially to carry humans into space, particularly the moon and Mars, however there are no crewed mission dates currently set*. The inaugural flight’s payload included Elon Musk’s personal red Tesla Roadster, as well as a SpaceX spacesuit-wearing mannequin nicknamed Starman.

*A test flight with crew, Astronauts Doug Hurley & Bob Behnken, is tentatively scheduled for June 2019 at the time of writing.

Courtesy of SpaceX Flickr.

Ticket Packages (Overview):

Kennedy Space Center offers multiple ticket packages to view a rocket launch, named according to how close the viewers will be from the launch pad. The ticket packages available included (from closest to furthest): Feel The Heat, Closest, Closer, and the Close ticket package.

**Some launches may have different, less expensive packages. Notable launches like this one had the most expensive launch packages.

Feel The Heat – $195/per person (excluding tax + fees)

Viewers are the closest to the launch pad as any member of the public can get, which is approximately 3.9 miles (6.27km). Viewers are sent by bus from the Visitor Complex to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where you can walk around freely and tour the museum.

Included in this package is a parking pass, catered meal, 2 drink tickets, SpaceX hat, digital photo, champagne toast, commemorative champagne glass, 2 day admission ticket (to be used within 90 days), and bus tour (including a stop to see the landing runway and final wheel stop for the space shuttle Atlantis). We assume that launch specific extras (like the hat and champagne glass) will either be changed according to particular launches or not available in future packages.

*Our review of this particular package will start following the information on the other ticket packages below.

Closest Package – $115/per person (excluding tax + fees)

As the second most expensive package, viewers will witness rocket launches from the Space Shuttle Atlantis north lawn at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which is located about 7.5 miles (12km) away from the launch pad. This viewing area is listed as minimal obstruction, which includes trees. Most viewers will see the rocket as it makes its way above the tree line.

This package includes buffet dining, a SpaceX souvenir, commemorative launch item, digital photo, parking pass, and 2-day admission.

Closer Package – $75/per person (excluding tax + fees)

Even though this package’s location is the same distance away as the Closest Package, viewers will be at another location in the KSC Visitor Complex separate from those at the north lawn. It is noted that the rocket will be visible only after liftoff at this location.

This package includes a digital photo, parking pass, commemorative item, and 2-day admission.

Close Package – $35/per person (excluding tax + fees)

This is the furthest package that KSC offers at approximately 12.5 miles (20.1km) from the launch pad. It is 6 miles (9.7km) west of the visitor complex. The official title of this location is the ATX Center located on Vectorspace Blvd.

This package includes a parking pass. Food and beverage are available for purchase. Admission to the KSC Visitor Complex is not included.

FEEL THE HEAT REVIEW

Courtesy of SpaceX Flickr.

Before Launch Day

Upon booking the ‘Feel The Heat’ ticket package online through the Kennedy Space Center website, we received a confirmation email with printable tickets (which also included a ticket for the champagne toast and a ticket for the Shuttle Landing Experience – the runway where Atlantis landed).

You can opt for Preferred Parking ($15-optional) at checkout, but we found it not necessary for people with this package. Also, there was a standard $15 delivery fee (plus tax) in addition to our ticket package price.

At the time of booking, the launch date was not announced, but the tickets were applicable to the specific launch, not a specific date. It was explained that once a date and time were set, we would be notified by email. The email notifying us of a February 6 targeted launch date came on January 29. The official launch time was not announced until the day before, Feb. 5. A targeted launch date was announced personally by Elon Musk, founder & CEO of SpaceX, through his social media on Jan. 27 for a Feb. 6 launch date – 2 days prior to the email we received.

Since we ordered tickets the day they released them for sale, we received notification that our parking pass would be mailed to us. We received it within a few days via FedEx. Inside the envelope was our parking pass and a 2-page summary of our package (which included a brief overview of what to expect). Arrival times were staggered to ensure a smooth process due to the expected crowds. Our parking pass stated that we had to arrive 5 hours prior to launch (with other ticket holders receiving either a 6, 5, 4, 3, or 2 hour prior to arrival time). From our experience, those in the Feel The Heat package had the earliest arrival times since all visitors arrive at the KSC Visitor Complex, but only these ticket holders have to take a bus to another location (Apollo/Saturn V Center).

The ‘Feel The Heat’ & ‘Closest’ packages sold out first, followed by the ‘Close’ package, and lastly, the ‘Closer’ package. We recommend booking a hotel relatively quickly once a launch date is announced (particularly for highly popular launches). We used Expedia to get a great rate & we were fortunate to be able to book the last available room at a nearby hotel on Cocoa Beach. Many other area hotels were completely booked for that date. Another great option is AirBnB.

Be aware that it is possible for the launch to get scrubbed (ie. canceled/rescheduled) due to weather or mechanical issues. We learned through social media that the backup launch date was possibly set for the next day, Feb. 7, but we weren’t officially told that until Feb. 6 (by the commentators during the event, not through email beforehand).

Courtesy of SpaceX Flickr.

Launch Day

As mentioned earlier, we had a 5 hour prior to arrival requirement on our parking pass. It stated that we should not arrive very early as to not interfere with those who had a 6 hour arrival time, but to also not arrive late as buses for our ticket package would only run for 2 hours. Due to large crowds, they extended the bus time by 30 minutes.

Initially, our destination to KSC was only about 15 minutes away from our hotel, so we decided to leave approximately 30-40 minutes early. On launch day, there was some utility work being done in Cocoa Beach along our route and one lane was closed around several utility poles, so traffic was heavier than usual (besides the fact that there was launch day traffic). It took about 30 minutes to get to Kennedy Space Center.

Expect lines once you get near the KSC Visitor Complex, especially since some nearby roads are single lane only. Have your parking pass displayed on your windshield as KSC employees will be checking prior to entering the parking lot. We waited in line for approximately 20-25 minutes before we reached the parking lot. Parking staff helped guide people to available spaces much like Walt Disney World does, which made the process quick.

After parking, we walked a short distance to the KSC Visitor Complex entrance. There was a small information booth, food truck, SpaceX merchandise stand, restrooms, and a photographer near the NASA globe monument. Everyone (other than those with the Close package) is required to go through security here. There were multiple lanes open and we were in line for about 30 minutes or so.

The security process is relatively quick once there. All visitors were required to first pass through a metal detector (remove all metal articles from person and pockets, including belts). For those with bags, it was required that bags be checked at the next station. Lastly, it is required at a third (automated) stand for visitors to scan their tickets and wait for it to signal an acceptance before entering the complex.

We had to wait in another line to get onto the bus that would take us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which was estimated to be a 60-minute wait (and that is accurate from what we experienced). Other package holders did not get on the bus, as they watch the launch from the visitor complex. Prior to getting on the bus, we were given a bus admission wristband, a photo pass wristband, and a goodie bag (with the SpaceX Falcon Heavy hat and commemorative champagne glass that came with the package).

Once on the bus, our driver gave us an overview of what we would experience before we arrived at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. We traveled in a group of 4 buses. Educational videos played throughout our bus tour, as well as the bus driver providing information about the facility and wildlife in the area. Once we arrived at the Shuttle Landing Facility Experience (ie. the shuttle runway), we were allowed roughly 5 minutes to view the plaque noting the final wheel stop for STS-135 (space shuttle Atlantis). Visitors are not allowed to stand on the grass or the runway, only the shoulder of the runway. We found it’s easiest to access this quickly if seated in the front of the bus. Once everyone reboards, the next stop is the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

Once off the bus and inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center, we were free to explore the museum. There is also a gift shop, restrooms, and a restaurant (although closed for our catered event).

This area offers several various green-screen style photo opportunities where a photographer will take visitor’s pictures. A hard-copy of the photo is available for $20 for 1 or $35 for 3, but digital versions are available later and included with this launch package. Be sure to ask for a card on how to retrieve them later as this information is not emailed.

In this package, a catered meal was provided, but it was more of a buffet-style meal. Unfortunately, it seemed that they were unprepared for our event. There were lines – although the waits were typically because we had to wait for them to restock the buffet. There were 3 center buffets where we could help ourselves to roughly 5 options: edamame salad, greek salad, a breaded spinach dish, a beef-filled pastry type dish, and a greek chicken dish. While we waited in line, only the spinach dish and the beef dish seemed to get refilled. All portions were small. The beef-filled pastry dough was unfortunately undercooked.

Luckily, we did discover 2 other table areas serving vegetable fried rice and an egg roll. These were pre-portioned for visitors (roughly 1/2 cup of rice and 1 egg roll). All dishes were disappointing and we ended up purchasing snacks at the gift shop (limited snack section – mostly candy/sweets). We highly recommend bringing your own packed lunch and avoiding the buffet.

There were dessert options, which included 2 tables of different types of brownies, as well as an ice cream cart with approximately 2 standard flavors. On the way to the outdoor bleachers, there was a stand selling fruit (bananas & oranges), candy, drinks, and individual bags of chips. Side note: Beer, champagne, bottled water, and several soft drinks were also provided in the buffet area. We found that we didn’t need any drink tickets that came with our package as it was a grab-and-go situation.

There were 2 areas for visitors to watch the launch – directly in front of the building and to the south of the building. There were bleachers and open grass areas in both locations. We sat in the southern location because there were more bleachers there. Seating was easy to find and we weren’t tightly packed when launch time came.

*Our launch time was pushed back about 2.5 hours due to an increase in upper-level wind.

We had two commentators, with our main host being former CNN correspondent John Zarrella. He educated us on various launches and provided information about what to expect (as well as answered a few questions from the audience). An unexpected special guest, Bill Nye, also spoke for a few minutes. There were many screens throughout the viewing areas for people to watch the commentators and the SpaceX broadcasted countdown (airing from California).

We had learned towards the end of the day that Bill Nye took pictures with the visitors who managed to be on the earliest buses to the Apollo/Saturn V center. He was located by the south side bleachers, not in the building itself. He did not take pictures with guests later in the day, probably due to the amount of people. Buzz Aldrin was also on location, but he did not make an appearance. Celebrities and other high-profile figures have a special viewing area at the Apollo/Saturn V center on the second floor of the building.

Courtesy of SpaceX Flickr.

Launch Time

After the standard warning of possible scenarios (shrapnel for instance), the 10-second countdown began. With this package, visitors can clearly see the rocket on the launch pad, as well as liftoff when it occurs. Visitors will see the launch happen before they will hear it – so be prepared for that. This is the most exciting part (it’s why we’re here in the first place, right?) and witnessing a successful launch and hearing the cheers throughout the crowd is an awesome experience.

While the monitors displayed the visuals from the cameras on the rocket itself, we also waited approximately 2-3 minutes for the side boosters to land. You will see them briefly in the uppermost part of our atmosphere as they descend, and then again as they get ready to land (the landing pads are south of the launchpad). Only seconds after they land will the sonic booms finally reach those in the stands. The video feed from the rocket included Elon’s personal Telsa vehicle and ‘Spaceman’ (the mannequin) “driving” above Earth.

The third part of the rocket (the center) was set to land 300 miles off the Florida coast on a SpaceX drone ship. We watched the monitors for the drone ship’s live feed, but contact was lost. It was later reported through media that only one engine was working and it did not slow the center module enough. It crashed into the ocean at 300mph, roughly 300+ feet from the drone ship. However, it was recovered according to Elon Musk and will not be used in a future launch.

Courtesy of SpaceX Flickr.

After The Launch

Once the launch had been completed, visitors can freely tour the Apollo/Saturn V Center or take the bus back to the KSC Visitor Complex (where you can tour the facilities there as well). Traffic will be much worse compared to the arrival traffic from earlier in the morning as all visitors are generally leaving at once. Once out of the Kennedy Space Center area, traffic was still heavy throughout the 528 toll road. In our opinion, it is best to leave as early or as late as possible. It frequently took about 30-45+ minutes to travel 5-10 miles. I would recommend staying in your nearby hotel another day instead of driving a long distance (even if it’s just to the Orlando airport). Traffic doesn’t clear up for awhile, especially if heading to Orlando.

Courtesy of SpaceX Flickr.

So, Is It Worth It?

If this is a historic launch, a visitor’s first launch, or it’s important to see it on the launchpad, I would recommend this package. Otherwise, the other packages & the free viewing areas around Cape Canaveral are perfectly fine to view a launch (and landing).

Tips

  • There are free viewing areas on the NASA Causeway, as well as along the beach. These tend to be extra busy during launch days, so arrive early and have backup locations to view the launch. Depending on location, most views will be of the rocket after it has left the launchpad. Some areas of the surrounding beaches may be restricted for specific launches.
  • Bring lawn chairs, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. Shaded chairs were quite popular. Chairs are not necessary for the Feel The Heat package as there was plenty of space on the bleachers. Long-term exposure to the sun is probable however, so sunscreen is a must.
  • Hard-sided coolers are not allowed at the complex. I recommend a soft-sided cooler instead.
  • Free WiFi is available. Cellular signal can be spotty from these locations and is often slow.

For more information on the Kennedy Space Center and upcoming launches, please click here.

-The Florida Couple


Disclaimer: Some (but not all) links found in these articles may be affiliate links. We only recommend sites that add value to the reader and that we personally use. Some links may provide you with discounts as well. Please check it out & help support more informational articles like these!

Professional photos courtesy of SpaceX Flickr.


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