After having spent a couple of days in Orlando enjoying a park or two it was time to continue on our USA road trip, with the goal for the day being Sarasota which is West of Orlando, however before doing so we had to take the chance of visiting the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
Day 13 – NASA & Sarasota
It is not an overly long drive to Cape Canaveral from Orlando, however I recommend that if you have other things to do that day, want to avoid the crowds and beat the heat, you leave early and get there for opening time. Once again we purchased our tickets through Attraction Tickets Direct which really saved us a decent amount of money again, and being a UK based company made the process really easy before we left for the USA.
In the UK we don’t have anything quite like this, and whilst you can go to a number of places (including the science museum in London) to see various space craft and equipment, the rocket garden at the Kennedy Space Center is something quite extra-ordinary! There are numerous rockets stood upright in the open, as if ready to launch, and especially on a sunny day they really do look spectacular, but they are nothing compared to the booster rockets outside the newer Atlantis exhibit. For us this was one of the last stops, however to flow with this article lets start there!
Atlantis is the last space shuttle which was in operation with NASA and this exhibit allows you to actually see the real shuttle from all angles – it is displayed as if it were in space deploying equipment from its loading bay! You have to queue to get in to this area as you first see a movie which you can be seated during, before going through a set of doors which shows you another video on a second screen. This video is a recording of an actual Atlantis launch, with it being project all around you. As you follow Atlantis in to the sky and then beyond to space the screen changes and it looks like an image of Atlantis fills the wall in front of you – in reality the screen is moved and the video shown on a mesh door which open to reveal that the image is actually the Atlantis shuttle itself.
I’m not mega interested in space but the theatrics of the whole spectacle, the sheer size of Atlantis and the emotional reactions of all the Americans (many of whom were air force veterans) really does make this a very special event and even gave you slight goosebumps. The only way I could once describe it to my dad when we returned was that it makes you feel proud to be an American… No matter where you are from… It’s a weird feeling!
This exhibit also has a simulated space launch which ex-shuttle pilots have said s very close to the real thing… There is a massive build up and to be honest the end result is pretty underwhelming – but there are plenty of other things you can do in this exhibit including fixing something on the International Space Station, carrying out shuttle maneuvers and sitting in a mock cockpit.
The rest of the center is made up of various museums, each with their own theme and containing great one of a kind exhibits with really easy to follow signage, as well as a theatre… This is something I recommend you do not miss! During the day there will usually be several times where an astronaut will give a talk about what it is like in space, what they did there, what they did when they got home and what space means to them – with a Q&A session at the end. This is a really rare and interesting opportunity and I think the nicest thing was seeing some of the kids ask questions – we didn’t have a clue who the astronaut was but to these kids they are rock stars!
After buying some disappointing astronaut ice cream we made our way back West on our way to Sarasota.
The drive was a little longer than expected but we had hoped to still visit the Ringling Museum which is just down the road from the hotel we were booked in, which was the Rodeway Inn, Sarasota. When we arrived we were a bit confused and weren’t sure if we were in the right place as we arrived at the Days Inn, Sarasota. It turns out that they had taken over the Rodeway Inn – BAD move! There was working going on and we just wanted to get some rest however there was no chance of this (coupled with nosy builders spending a lot of time lurking and working around our car and room). We decided however to check out the room – it was disgusting! The worst room I had ever seen… It had dirt & food on the floor, stains & and holes in the bedding and even holes in the walls! This was the first time we ever decided not to stay at a hotel, and to make matters worse the receptionist had no interest what so ever in why we were leaving.
Stay in Sarasota ruined we went to the next available and affordable hotel we could find – The Best Western Plus Siesta Key… This hotel was absolute bliss in comparison, and apart from some noisy neighbors the best hotel we stayed in during our USA road trip! Sadly there was no restaurant but Harry’s Sports Bar & Grill next door is incredible!
Day 14 – Miami
Day 14 wasn’t very eventful for us because we really had one main aim for this day… To make the legal preparations for day 15, which is when we got married on Miami Beach!
The drive to Miami was pretty much all on the freeway as we had been recommended not to use the Tamiami Trail as it is slow and boring… But there is no way it was more boring than a plain old motorway, and as we had already passed Sarasota the previous day we had plenty of time to get to Miami. On hindsight we should have gone with our gut instinct and gone for the Tamiami Trail which would only have been an hour or so longer.
Our last base for this USA road trip was the Days Inn Miami Beach / Oceanside. This is a slightly dated looking hotel on the inside however it is more than adequate, especially for the price you pay here. There are a lot of hotels in this area (in fact it’s petty much just hotels) with the vast majority costing several times what we paid here!
We’re not really beach people, but all of the hotels along this strip back on to the ocean and the whole stretch of the beach is really clean and tidy, so if you enjoy soaking up some rays, this is certainly a great place for you to stay. We used the opportunity to talk a walk along the bay and then explore the area for something to eat. As I said its pretty much just hotels here, with a lot of office space in between, however there are a couple of nice specialty shops (such a a great little chocolatier) and a couple of places to eat.