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Beyond Disney: The Unofficial Guide to Universal, Sea World and the Best of Central Florida

Beyond Disney: The Unofficial Guide to Universal, Sea World and the Best of Central Florida

by Bob Sehlinger, Chris Mohney
From the publishers of The Unofficial Guide® to Walt Disney World®

"A Tourist’s Best Friend!"
–Chicago Sun-Times

–The New York Times

Seven Great Ways That Beyond Disney Can Help You Have the Perfect Trip:

  1. Practical tips on when to go and how to beat the crowds at 11 of Central


From the publishers of The Unofficial Guide® to Walt Disney World®

"A Tourist’s Best Friend!"
–Chicago Sun-Times

–The New York Times

Seven Great Ways That Beyond Disney Can Help You Have the Perfect Trip:

  1. Practical tips on when to go and how to beat the crowds at 11 of Central Florida’s best theme parks
  2. Firsthand information on what’s worthwhile and what’s not at major attractions
  3. The inside scoop on where to go for the best roller coaster action
  4. Complete coverage of Universal Florida, including Islands of Adventure®, CityWalk®, and detailed restaurant reviews
  5. Comprehensive chapters on SeaWorld and Discovery Cove®, Busch Gardens®, Kennedy Space Center, Gatorland®, and the Holy Land Experience®
  6. Comparisons of all area water parks
  7. The straight story on Orlando-area dinner theaters and nightlife

Product Details

Publication date:
Unofficial Guides Series , #144
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.46(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.53(d)

Read an Excerpt

Beyond Disney

The Unofficial Guide to Universal, SeaWorld & the Best of Central Florida

By Bob Sehlinger Chris Mohney

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2003

Bob Sehlinger, Chris Mohney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7645-2633-2

Chapter One

Part Five

Kennedy Space Center
Visitor Complex

You may be old enough to remember the excitement and anticipation
of the early days of space exploration. If not, you've
probably seen the movies. Regardless, the pioneer spirit of the
space program-sparked when President John F. Kennedy
promised to land a man on the moon-is contagious.

Kennedy Space Center has been the training area and launch
site for most major U.S. space programs, including Project
Mercury's manned orbital missions, Project Apollo's voyages to
the moon, and the Space Shuttle program. In addition, weather
and communications satellites are regularly put into orbit from

After a $100 million expansion in 1999, the Kennedy Space
Center Visitor Complex is thoroughly modern and offers all the
attractions and amenities of a contemporary theme park. The
complex does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of adventure-and
the uncertainty-of the early days of America's space
program. It alsooffers an unique glimpse into the latest NASA
advancements, and some funky visions of where the future of
space exploration may lead. Aware of the sometimes wide gulf
of interests between the average tourist and the hardcore space
junkie, the Visitor Complex is much more engaging and kid-friendly
than in the past. Serious space cadets can still visit all
the authentic installations and buildings they like, while others
can marvel at gee-whiz exhibits, IMAX movies, and really giant
rockets. Even so, be sensitive to your group's likes and dislikes,
especially when it comes to the specialty tours-some of which
are hours long and involve lengthy bus rides.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, security
at Kennedy Space Center was increased dramatically. Some of
the tours have been drastically altered, with visits to various
secure areas reduced or eliminated entirely. If you're considering
a tour, we advise you to find out exactly what sights you'll be
seeing, and from how far away. Check out the individual tour
profiles below for guidance, but be advised that all of this can
change if security conditions dictate.

We can't stress enough that the tours at Kennedy Space Center
are most enjoyable for those with a serious interest in the
space program and a high tolerance for "touring at a distance"-and
even then, you may not be happy. With stars quite
literally in their eyes, visitors can be disappointed by security
restrictions and the less-than-thrilling visual impact of bunker-style
buildings seen from a mile away (or more). As a reader
from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, writes:

The tours are a waste of time (and money). In particular, the NASA
Up Close tour is anything but. [Like our tour guide said,] "There's
a space shuttle inside that building, over there ... but you can't
see it ... and there's another shuttle on the launch pad over yonder
... but you can't see that either."

If you really want to stay up close with the space stuff, it takes
less time, money, and hassle to just explore the Visitor Complex
proper. This is especially true for visitors with children, who
would likely have little tolerance for a few hours on a bus.

Getting There

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is an easy day trip from
most central Florida attractions. From Orlando, visitors can take
FL 528 (Beeline Highway toll road) east. (A round-trip on the
Beeline will cost about $5 in tolls, so have some cash handy.)
Turn onto FL 407 north, then FL 405 east, and follow to the
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. You can also take Colonial
Drive (FL 50), and travel east to Route 405, but the Beeline
is definitely the quickest and easiest route. Parking is free.

Admission Prices

Visitor Complex Admission Badge

Adults: $33 + tax

Children ages 3-11: $23; Children under age 3: Free

The Admission Badge includes the Kennedy Space Center Tour,
both IMAX films, and all attractions and exhibits. The special
interest tours are an extra $43-$63 per person. Twelve-month
passes are $46 for adults and $30 for children.


Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is open from 9 a.m. to
5:30 p.m. Unlike other area attractions, the Space Center is
closed on Christmas Day and may close for certain shuttle
launches. Call ahead before making the drive. Also note that
even though the Visitor Complex may be open during shuttle
launches, the Launch Complex 39 Observation Gantry may be
closed to tourists when there's "a bird on the pad." Bus tour
guides will try to make it up with some other sights around the
Space Center, but if you can't see LC 39, you're missing one of
the highlights of the tour.

Each of the IMAX movies is about 40 minutes long, and the
bus tour alone can take more than three hours. If this leaves you
feeling overwhelmed, you're right-there's a lot of ground to
cover here. The wrong approach is to race from attraction to
attraction in one day. Instead, take it slow and soak in some of
the better attractions, leaving the others behind.

Most visitors should start their day with some of the exhibits
at the hub, which provide an informative background on space
history. Then-if you've found one that really meets your interests-head
for the bus tour. Buses come frequently (every 10
minutes), but if your timing is off, you can stand a full 15 minutes
before boarding, then sit on the bus for a few minutes
before taking off. Buses visit LC 39, the Apollo/Saturn V Center,
and other locales as the tour's emphasis (or security restrictions)
demand. Each of the stops involves movies and displays that are
very text-heavy but usually interesting. The movies are wonderful
and are of documentary quality, but after a while some may
begin to grow tired of the movie-bus-movie-bus shuffle.

After the bus tour, see at least one of the IMAX movies. The
five-and-a-half-story screens provide amazing views, and the
sound systems are excellent. You can choose from peeking at the
future in 3-D or witnessing the thrilling sensation of space flight.

Contacting Kennedy Space Center

For more information about Kennedy Space Center, call (321)
449-4444. You can also try (800) KSC-INFO, but this is a quick
recorded message of basic information that doesn't allow you to
transfer to an actual person. The Space Center will mail you a
brochure about tours, as well as launch schedule information. You
can also visit kennedyspacecenter.com, which has a page
just for kids.


Visitor Center Complex Hub

Robot Scouts

* * *

What It Is Walk-through exhibit featuring robots

Scope & Scale Minor attraction

When to Go At the end of the day, if there's time

Author's Rating Somewhat hokey; **

Overall Appeal by Age Group

Pre-school ** | Teens ** | Over 30 **
Grade school *** | Young adults ** | Seniors **

Description & Comments Robot "Starquester 2000" will
take you through this exhibition of NASA's past, present, and
future robotic space explorers. Starquester 2000 interacts with
other space probes, like Viking Mars Lander and the Hubble
Telescope, in order to explain how robotic space exploration
aids human exploration.

Touring Tips You can hit this exhibit up on entering the Center,
before the bus tours.

Astronaut Encounter

* * *

What It Is Talk with a real live astronaut

Scope & Scale Diversion

When to Go Anytime

Author's Rating Somewhat forced; *½

Overall Appeal by Age Group

Pre-school * | Teens *½ | Over 30 ***
Grade school ** | Young adults **H | Seniors ***½

Description & Comments At scheduled times throughout
the day, a NASA astronaut appears in the central food court
area for a meet-and-greet. The astronaut's "opening act" is a Visitor
Complex emcee who warms up the crowd with some fun
space facts and nutty science tomfoolery, assisted by a kid volunteer
from the audience. Then the astronaut is introduced,
talks for awhile, and takes questions. It's kind of interesting, but
once the slight thrill of seeing an astronaut wears off, the whole
thing feels like one of those desperate attempts by a school-teacher
to make science Fun and Exciting. "OK, kids! Do you
know how cold the vacuum of space is? Brrrr! Well, it's so cold
that ..." Children do seem moderately intrigued, but they don't
appear to go for the astronaut hero worship more popular with
preceding generations.

For an even more intimate astronaut encounter, sign up to
"Dine with an Astronaut." As the name implies, this involves
sharing a meal with an astronaut, who first shows a video about
life on the Space Shuttle, then gives a personalized presentation
about his or her own space experiences. A Q&A follows, as
well as a chance to take photos (a signed souvenir photo is
included). The meal (lunch, served at 12:30 p.m. daily) consists
of entree, sides, dessert, and beverage, with kid-friendly options
available for children. Cost is $29.95 adults, $19.95 for kids
ages 3-11; call (321) 449-4444 for advance reservations or purchase
online at kennedyspacecenter.com. Tickets for
"Dine with an Astronaut" can also be purchased at the Visitor
Complex, but same-day tickets may already be sold out.

Touring Tips Check the daily entertainment schedule for
times. If kids get bored, the spread-out seats make it easy to
tactfully get up and wander off to another attraction.

Exploration in the New Millennium

* * *

What It Is Exhibits about the future of space travel

Scope & Scale Diversion

When to Go While waiting for the bus or IMAX films

Author's Rating Future funky; **½

Overall Appeal by Age Group

Pre-school *** | Teens ** | Over 30 **½
Grade school ***½ | Young adults *** | Seniors **

Description & Comments A collection of hands-on exhibits
that speculate on where our spacemen will go and how they will
get there. Some exhibits are educational and straightforward,
like many dealing with the various Mars landers and the
Pathfinder mission (you can even sign up to send your signature
to the Red Planet on the next mission). Other exhibits go on
flights of fancy about how futuristic space craft will work and
what colonizing other planets would be like. A live-action show
called "Mad Mission to Mars 2025" uses special effects and
"splatter cannons" to teach the audience about the physics
involved in space travel.

Touring Tips An easy walk-through, with nothing too surprising.
Kids will like the touching-encouraged exhibits. Hit this
one as filler when needed.

IMAX Films

* * *

What It Is Large-format films projected onto huge screens with incredible
sound systems

Scope & Scale Headliner

When to Go Check daily entertainment schedule; perfect during rain

Author's Rating Excellent; ***½

Overall Appeal by Age Group

Pre-school *** | Teens ** | Over 30 ***½
Grade school **** | Young adults *** | Seniors ***½

Duration of Shows: About 40 minutes

Description & Comments Kennedy Space Center offers two
excellent IMAX films:

The Dream Is Alive Get inside the cabin with amazing in-flight
footage shot by astronauts in space. You'll enjoy the
beauty that astronauts experience firsthand, and learn about the
challenges of living in space.

Space Station 3-D Narrated by Tom Cruise, this film
includes footage shot by 25 astronauts and cosmonauts as they
lifted off from Earth and visited the International Space Station.
Various effects and 3-D models create the illusion that the
audience is actually flying in the space shuttle and visting the
station themselves.

Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience The Academy Award-winning
drama is digitially remastered into the more expansive
IMAX format. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon play
the astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert, who
are faced with dire mechanical failures three days into their
lunar mission.

Touring Tips The Dream Is Alive is the oldest film here and the
nostalgic favorite. Space Station 3-D is a good bet too, as it's both
the newest film and also the most complete look at the space station
available at the Visitor Complex (since the International
Space Station Center is usually closed to visitors nowadays).
Apollo 13 is a solid, gripping drama, but many have already seen
it-and the movie represents a pretty substantial time commitment.
Regardless of which movie you choose, we recommend
sitting toward the back of the theater for the best view and to
fully experience the awesome sound system. You will need to
arrive early because these theaters are fairly small. As in most theaters,
popcorn, candy, and sodas are available in the lobby.

Universe Theater/Quest for Life

What It Is Film about life on other planets

Scope & Scale Minor attraction

When to Go Anytime

Author's Rating Amusingly similar to pre-ride film at Universal's Men in
Black: Alien Attack; **½

Overall Appeal by Age Group

Pre-school * | Teens **½ | Over 30 **
Grade school ** | Young adults ** | Seniors **

Duration of Show 15 minutes

Description & Comments Does life exist on other planets?
Leading scientists lend evidence that there may have been life
on Mars. The film addresses the likelihood of other planets sustaining
life and NASA's plans to determine if life exists in other
parts of the universe. It's a bit too earnest in this X-Files world of
ours, but still interesting.

Touring Tips Make this your final stop before leaving the Visitor
Complex proper.

Nature and Technology:
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

* * *

What It Is Small exhibit on the coexistence of local wildlife and high

Scope & Scale Diversion

When to Go Anytime

Author's Rating Unremarkable; **

Overall Appeal by Age Group

Pre-school * | Teens *½ | Over 30 **
Grade school *½ | Young adults ** | Seniors **

Description & Comments Though it's harmless enough, this
walk-through exhibit is largely uninspired. Small displays catalogue
the lives and habits of various wildlife in the Refuge as
well as Cape Canaveral National Seashore, including bald
eagles, alligators, otters, sea turtles, manatees, and the like.

Touring Tips Skip this one unless you're killing time while
someone else is on the bus or in the movie theater.


Excerpted from Beyond Disney
by Bob Sehlinger Chris Mohney
Copyright © 2003 by Bob Sehlinger, Chris Mohney.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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