If anyone in your family is a space enthusiast, the Visitor Complex at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is a must see! Here you can stand beside rockets that you have seen on TV or in history books from all the different NASA space programs. If you are lucky enough to be in town at the right time you can even view a rocket launch at the Visitor Complex, close enough to actually feel the rumble of the engines!
All the attractions are grouped into five different Mission Zones. Each Zone corresponds to a different space era from the dawn of space flight right up to today.
Mission Zone: Heroes & Legends, Early Space Adventures
Learn about USA’s first space explorers at the US Astronaut Hall of Fame and walk among their chariots of fire in the Rocket Garden. You might even meet a real astronaut at the Astronaut Encounter Presentations.
Mission Zone: NASA Now, Exploring Space in Current and Future Missions
This zone deals with the current missions to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as upcoming deep space exploration. You can look at earth the same way the astronauts see it in the 3D IMAX Theater or travel to the red planet in Journey to Mars. During the Mission Status Briefing, you can learn about current NASA missions and operations. You will also hear about launch activity from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.
Mission Zone: Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other
In this Mission Zone, you can visit the iconic Space Shuttle Atlantis in its permanent exhibit. These shuttles took astronauts to space and back for thirty years. You can practice landing and docking in simulators and then feel the lift off at the Shuttle Launch Experience.
Mission Zone: Race To The Moon, Apollo/Saturn V Center
There are few occasions in United States history that unified our country like the race to the moon did. This Mission Zone explores some of the glory of that time period. You can relive one of the launches in the old launch room. Walk under the full length of a Saturn V rocket, the largest rockets ever were flown. Finally, relive the last few minutes before those famous words “the Eagle has landed.”
Mission Zone: Behind the Gates, Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour
Take the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour in order to get behind the gates of the restricted area. This was the highlight of my visit to KSC. See a historic launch site or even a rocket being prepped. The bus drivers have tremendous knowledge of the whole site. They share it with you as you slowly make your way through the various launch areas and buildings.
You will not be disappointed when you visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. It is well worth the price of admission.
Gatorland calls itself a Theme Park, but it could just as easily be called a Zoo. There are many animals to see, as well as a whole lot of alligators including white ones. It started out in 1949 as a roadside attraction and is still small compared to the Disney parks. However, that is part of its charm. It is also quieter and more relaxing than the big parks. Don’t get me wrong, it is not boring and besides viewing all the animals you can watch shows, hike on a boardwalk through the swamp and even try zip lining!
Stompin’ Gator Off-Road Adventure Fall 2017
This new attraction is slated to open in the fall of 2017. At this attraction, you get to ride in one of three brand new 12-foot tall custom made off-road monster vehicles. Each vehicle seats 12 people plus driver and will traverse swamps and hills in never before seen areas of Gatorland. Of course, it will also drive through waters teaming with alligators.
Screamin’ Gator Zip Line
If you would like to defy death and zip line over alligators on over 1,200 feet of zip lines, then this is the place for you. You get to launch from towers that are over seven stories tall with multilevel launch pads and awesome views of the treetops. For $69.99 you get a two-hour experience starting with a brief safety and orientation overview. The ticket also allows you tour the entire park for the rest of the day.
This show is exciting and a little bit scarry. They actually hand feed gators as they leap four or five feet out of the water. It is entertaining and educational at the same time. You walk away with some new knowledge and a little more respect for the danger of big alligators.
Gator Wrestlin’ Show
In an 800 seat shaded stadium you relax and watch a gator wrangler catch a 6 to 8-foot alligator by hand. They then cover some educational points about the animals survival features. Lastly, they perform some brave (or foolish) stunts with the captured alligator, including rolling it over and putting it to sleep!
This show is more personal and always changing. One day you may get to meet a small alligator and the next a snake. It is a more personal and you get to be close to, or even touch, the animal while the handler teaches all about it. For some kids, this is the most exciting show at Gatorland.
Gator Night Shine
This educational and thrilling event takes you through the alligator breeding marsh at Gatorland…………..at night! While walking the winding wooden walkways you listen to the night sounds. Then you turn on your flashlights and notice hundreds of glowing red eyes watching you. They are waiting for the hot dogs that you are given to feed them with. There is a separate cost for this event ($19.99) and you need to schedule it at least 24 hours in advance. It takes about an hour to one and a half hours.
Very Merry Aviary
One of my favorite animal exhibits was the Very Merry Aviary. There are hundreds of Budgies (parakeets) in a large screened in the exhibit. You can enter the enclosure and offer them food. If you have any fear of birds, do not go in this one. The Budgies will land all over you.
As you can see, even though it is a smaller attraction, there is still a lot to see and do. So for a lot less money you can have a slower paced, yet still entertaining day and learn a lot about wildlife at the same time. See their website for more information.
Discovering Florida’s Manatees
Your winter trip to Florida will be more exciting if you take the time to experience the manatees in their natural habitat. These gentle giants are fascinating to watch and you may learn something about them along the way. We were happy to learn about Crystal River and how to find the manatees.
Where Do I Find Them?
Crystal River is located along the gulf coast about 90 miles from Orlando. The city is situated around Kings Bay. Kings Bay is the headwater to the Crystal River. There are about 30 known springs in the bay. These springs provide a consistent water temp of about 70-72 degrees, making the area ideal for the manatee. Manatees can be found year round in the bay. However, the population rises dramatically during the cold, winter months of December-February.
About the Manatees
The manatees found in Florida are of the West Indian Species. Manatees are generally salt water animals. However, recent studies have shown that manatees need to have access to fresh water. This helps them to regulate the salts within their bodies.
Manatees, cannot survive in water temps below 68 degrees. They like to spend as much as 50% of their day submerged sleeping, rising about every 20 minutes for air.
Manatees are herbivores and are plant eaters, sometimes known a Sea Cows. When eating they resemble cows grazing on land. They are peaceful in nature.
Female manatees generally tend to be heavier than their male counterparts. They can weigh as much as 2000 lbs.
Calves can come to the surface on their own for their first breath. Gestation is 12 months and weaning is usually complete in 12-18 months.
What We Learned
- First of all, you must decide if you want to see them by water or by land. Federal law requires there is no interaction between the land and the water. Meaning if you arrive by water (kayak or snorkeling tour boat) you must leave by water. You cannot go onto land at any time. If you go by land you cannot enter the water at any time.
2. The Endangered Species Act provides protection for the manatees. You must follow the federal laws at all times.
Some of these include:
You cannot initiate any interaction with the manatees. Look but do not touch!
You cannot access certain areas.
Avoid excessive noise around the manatees.
- According to The City of Crystal River’s website, Crystal river is “ is the only place in the United States where people can legally interact with them in their natural conditions without that interaction being viewed as harassment by law enforcement agencies. ” Follow the instructions of the manatee volunteers and local/federal officials. They are looking out for the best interest of the manatees.
Access By Water
Kayak rentals are very popular in Crystal River. There are several businesses in Crystal River who rent them. Prices and launch locations vary by company.
Crystal River is the only place in the US where you can snorkel with the manatees. Several businesses offer tours. Most provide wetsuits, snorkels, and a training session. depending on the business, full or half-day tours are available.
I have been told this is quite the experience and I may consider this next year.
Here is a YouTube video of one family’s experience.
Access By Land
The only spring in Kings Bay that is accessible by land is the Three Sisters Springs with the Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge managing the area. We chose the land entry and our experience with the manatees was incredible. The boardwalk provided us ample to time walk the springs and view the manatees. Grassy trails also took us to other areas to view manatees in the canals. The only entry into the refuge is by trolley. To purchase tickets for the trolly, click here.
It was a perfect break for us from the theme parks and we learned a lot from the manatee volunteers about these gentle sea creatures.
#mantees #floridawildlife #crystalriver
Posted by Joanna at vacationorlando.rentals
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When you visit the Orlando Eye complex you do not want to miss a fascinating little museum called Skeletons: Animals Unveiled. Over 450 skeletons of animals from all over the world is sure to amaze and excite all ages from beginners to those with advanced knowledge of animals.
It is sure to beg the question: Why Skeletons Will Make You Question Everything?
Not only is the experience fun but it is educational as well. It was amazing to see the similarities and differences between all species. Did you know that dolphin fins have five digits just like humans? It does make you question everything about what you thought you already knew.
As an added bonus it is fairly inexpensive at $19.99 for adults, $12.99 for kids ages 3-11, and under 3 free.
Why Skeletons Make You Question Everything
A few months ago this unique museum opened on I-360 drive at the Orlando Eye complex. Our daughter (who has loved animal sciences since she was a little girl) begged us to make this one of the highlights of our Florida vacation. We were not let down.
There was so much to see we walked through the museum twice. With each trip around we found new and interesting things. Much of what we saw left us questioning everything about what we thought we already knew, like how is it that so many of the skeletons look so similar even though the actual animals looks vastly different from each other.
What amazed us the most was the section on birth defects and diseases. One animal had died from rickets and you could see how the bones had been affected by the disease. There were also specimens showing the results of severe infections and healed bone breaks. We thought we already knew what infections and other diseases did, but here was proof that bones also can be strongly affected.
The Enthusiasm Shows
During our visit, we met Jay, the founder of the museum. His love for what he does shows in his enthusiasm to share his knowledge of skeletal systems, and nature in general. His biography explains how this love began at the age of 7 years old when he found a dog’s skull in the woods near his home. He has not stopped collecting ever since.
Jay kindly invited my daughter to enter one of the exhibits so that we could photograph her with the extremely large male elephant skeleton, which is almost 12 feet tall. He then spoke with us at length about how the animal was acquired and processed by the museum staff. (View a video of the assembly in the museum here)
The museum exhibits extend well beyond animal skeletons. Other exhibits included myths such as cyclops and centaurs.
The displays do an excellent job of posing the skeletons in positions that capture the life and character of the animals as they were in life. One exhibit even has an array of farm animals interacting with a farmer. Some of the other displays included examples of giraffes, rhinoceros, orca whales, dolphins, lizards, alligators, birds, fish, small mammals and rodents, canines and feline species, as well as primates and humans!
The staff at the museum are very enthusiastic about their jobs. On our way out we met John, the general manager. He asked us if we had seen the two tiniest skeletons in the museum. He took us back in to show us the hummingbird and the tiny shrew. We saw how the bones had been reassembled after the long arduous cleaning process.
You can even view the flesh eating beetles doing their job! How cool is that?
OK, maybe a little creepy, but on the way in we expected the whole museum to be a little creepy. After all, it is skeletons, yet other than the beetles, none of it felt creepy at all.
The bottom line is that this little museum is well worth the visit. Make sure to take the time to read signs and look for the tiny and the huge displays at all heights in the building.
And yes, you will find yourself also questioning what you knew about animals in general. We highly recommend this one!
Have you visited this museum? We would love to hear what you loved about it in the comments below.
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By Guest Blogger Dave
For me it was Alligators Love At First Sight. When we first visited Florida I must admit that one of the highlights I was looking forward to was seeing a real live American Alligator in its natural habitat.
I have always enjoyed nature and for me the alligator just seemed to scream nature at its wildest. I was not disappointed, although where I first saw them was a surprise. At one of the parking lots for the amusement parks I noticed some small drainage canals and wondered over to look and to my surprise found alligators. Small ones, a few feet long, but none the less, alligators, one of which is pictured below. For me it was love at first site and I continue to look for them every time we go back to Florida.
Where To Look For Alligators
When you visit Florida keep your eyes open around rivers, ponds and swamps and you will also most likely see one of the largest reptiles in North America, the American Alligator. The alligator was first named by the early Spanish explorers and was called el lagarto, which meant “the lizard”. Over time it was slowly changed to just alligator.
There are about 1.25 million of them in Florida today. It was not always that way and hunting almost drove them to extinction. In 1967 the American Alligator was designated as an endangered species meaning hunting was outlawed. They bounced back in a big way, and by 1987 the Wildlife Service decided the American alligator was fully recovered and removed it from the endangered species. It was also named the official Florida reptile in 1987.
If you don’t see one, you are not alone. Sometimes I can go days without seeing even a tiny one and then all of a sudden I will come across one in a small pond in the middle of a very populated area.
Don’t Feed The Alligators
The last time I was in Orlando I visited the town of Celebration, an upscale community with a nice little pond in the middle and there was one, about four foot long, right up against some stone steps that lead to an outside eating area. Normally they will shy away from people, particularly at this size, but this one did not seem to be bothered.
I would guess that some people have been throwing it food scraps when they are eating. This is not only dangerous, but illegal in all of Florida. The reason it is dangerous is because it teaches them there is food when people are around, and the next time someone gets too close with a little puppy or infant it will not know the difference between them and food.
Larger alligators do not shy from people and in fact look at us as potential food. The average size of these large ones is about thirteen feet, but there are exceptions, and the largest ever caught, was just over nineteen feet. As you can imagine, although I love to see them, when I walk near bodies of water, I keep my distance from the actual water whether there is a danger sign or not.
They can be hard to spot being black and looking a lot like a floating log. By the way don’t lean too far off of a dock either when you see one. The average adult alligator can leap up to six feet out of the water.
Beware If You Drag The Wife Along
Still, I love to look for them and take pictures when I can. My favorite is above, and the alligator looks just as mysterious as I feel they are. This particular picture did cost me a little grief; actually my wife got the worst of it. I knew where to find this alligator as I had been to the pond before.
While there I had noticed that there were quite a few anthills, but did not worry about them because I could see them and after all what is a few ants. Well, as it turns out not all the anthills were that visible in the deep grass, and these ants were more than the usual ones I knew of from living in Massachusetts.
These were Fire Ants, which I found out after dragging my wife to come see the alligator with me. She had on flip-flops and happened to stand near a small nest of the ants while I was taking the picture. Well… do I need to say more?
The fact that alligators have survived for millions of years in basically the same form amazes me. Clearly they are survivors and the only other animal dangerous enough to almost drive them to extinction is humans.
How have you encountered alligators in Florida? Please comment below.
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Be Adventurous and Go To the Parks Anyway
Break out that rain poncho you brought with you (What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You; 12 Must Haves For The Parks) and enjoy the smaller crowds in the parks. Most queues are covered and there are plenty of indoor attractions: It’s Tough To Be A Bug! at Animal Kingdom, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor at the Magic Kingdom, Muppet Vision 3-D show at Hollywood Studios are all indoor attractions to enjoy during the heavier rains. If you are playing the Phineas & Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at EPCOT game, head for the Mexican Pavilion and play entirely indoors.
Go To I-360 Drive
There are numerous places to visit in this area for indoor activities. Madame Tussauds, Skeletons: Animals Unveiled, WonderWorks Orlando, iFly Orlando and the SeaLife Aquarium are all indoor activities in the I-360 drive area. There are plenty of entertainment and learning venues to be found. See our Insider’s Guide: I-360 Drive for more details.
Shop Until You Drop
Take a Day Trip
Plan for Some Down Time
A trip to Orlando and its theme parks can often times leave you feeling like you haven’t had time to rest and relax. Instead of rushing off to do more, enjoy a day at your vacation rental home. You will be glad you didn’t rent a cramped hotel room. Let the kids play in the home’s game room, curl up with your favorite book and a cup of tea or rent a Disney movie that features your favorite attraction from the parks; our favorite is Monsters Inc. Making a special family meal together in the fully-equipped kitchen is a great way to connect and make memories.
No matter what your family decides to do on a rainy day in Orlando, you are sure to find something for everyone. Have fun playing in the rain!