Kennedy Space Center, arguably more than any other theme park on the planet, is the most authentic park you’re going to find. Anyone can build a park themed around space exploration that has space-themed roller coasters, a 3D movie on asteroids and carnival games where you whack an alien to win a plush Spongebob Squarepants.
Port Canaveral is known the world over for being the leader in space travel thanks to Kennedy Space Center and the Visitor Complex. Rather than creating a world of fantasy like every other Central Florida theme park, it plays to its strengths by honoring the history and heritage of the land is sits on.
Over the summer, I got to visit the Kennedy Space Center for the first time in several years. I still stand by my statement that their new Atlantis exhibit is hands down the best attraction to open in a theme park in 2013. It truly must be seen to be believed and is definitely worth your time when you are in Central Florida.
Recently, I got a chance to try a new experience that has always been on my theme park bucket list: lunch with an astronaut. Every day at Kennedy Space Center, guests have the opportunity to book an add-on experience where they can interact with someone who has spent actual time in space.
The lunch buffet is standard fare: salads, mixed vegetables, grilled chicken and salmon. There are also desserts like cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and even jello. Iced tea, sodas and even Tang are also included and unlimited.
Unlike a typical character theme park meal where the Cat in the Hat will breeze by your table for an autograph and a 30-second “love n’ shove” photo, this is an actual presentation by the astronaut. Kennedy Space Center actually brings in many different astronauts to tell their story and the presentation can be different on any given day.
On my visit, the presentation was given by Marcos Pontes, the first Brazilian astronaut to ever fly into space from his country. Marcos wasn’t there because he felt obligated to take the gig; he genuinely loves sharing his story that can help inspire others. This guy has a sincerity that you can’t bottle. His genuine love and affection for space exploration shines through in everything he does from the excitement in his voice to the twinkle in his eye.
This was not a lecture on space travel that you could just get at a high school or a college by a professor reading from a text book. His story was a truly personal one. Marcos has a true Cinderella story. He comes from a family in Brazil with relatively little money and a country with no space program, yet he wanted to be an astronaut.
Marcos received his degrees from the Brazilian Air Force in aeronautical engineering where he later became a Lieutenant Colonel where he logged over 2,000 hours in over 25 different aircrafts. He took his degrees and experience to NASA and then pursued his dream of becoming an astronaut, where he continued his training and eventually became a Space Shuttle Mission Specialiast.
In September of 2005, Pontes got the call he had been waiting for his entire life. However, instead of flying an American shuttle flight via Kennedy Space Center, he would be flying to the International Space Station on board a Russian spacecraft. Through a series of strange events that is probably a series of articles in itself, Marcos found himself in Russia taking a crash course in Russian before he could even start training in their facilities. Clearly, all the manuals for Russian spacecrafts are in… well… Russian.
So Marcos goes into the extensive training process in order to become certified to spend a week aboard the International Space Station. From simulation training to centrifuge and beyond, this guy got put through the ringer and understandably so.
What I loved about the presentation was that at times, it was complicated enough that adults never felt like they were being talked down to, yet the handful of kids that were in the room were never bored.
Marcos ended his talk on a truly personal note, speaking about his Dad. He showed us a picture of his Dad congratulating him once he got back from his mission to the Space Station. Marcos said it was the last time he spoke with his Father and he passed only three months later. Despite all of Pontes achievements and accolades, he said the connections he made here on Earth meant the most to him.
No matter how many times you have been to Kennedy Space Center, if you have never tried the Lunch with an Astronaut, you are missing out. I feel I learned more about what it actually takes to become one in an hour than I did for the rest of my visit there. A definite must see experience.
To get more information on Kennedy Space Center and lunch with an astronaut, visit www.KennedySpaceCenter.com. For the latest in themed entertainment, like TPU on Facebook by clicking this link and follow us on Twitter by clicking here!