Up, Up and Away

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By The KAERU KID

RAFU CONTRIBUTOR

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The viewing area at Kennedy Space Center is so far away, the shuttle took off and was into the clouds before we heard the roar of the engines. (Photos by the Kaeru Kid)

The viewing area at Kennedy Space Center is so far away, the shuttle took off and was into the clouds before we heard the roar of the engines. (Photos by the Kaeru Kid)

When I was in the Army reserve, I was fortunate enough to be included on a mission providing security for a space shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base. I was in a helicopter on the runway when the shuttle announced it was on final approach over India. Not long after, double sonic booms were heard heralding the shuttle arrival.

The shuttle has no power at this stage and if the landing is off the mark, it cannot go around. Intense training in simulators assured a perfect landing.

I had never seen a shuttle launch and that has long been on my bucket list. Shuttle launches will be a dim memory since the last one is scheduled for 2010 and who knows when they will be resumed. A friend living in Orlando, Florida, invited me to visit him and this was a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

The website www.kennedyspacecenter.com/event-sign-up.aspx provides information for all scheduled launch dates, attractions and ticket purchase. I recommend buying the launch transportation and admission ticket for $56, because it guarantees a seat only six miles from the launch area. Alas, this package is the most popular and was sold out so the next best choice was to buy tickets to the NASA Visitor Center.

Visitors to NASA can step inside a full-sized replica of a space shuttle.

Visitors to NASA can step inside a full-sized replica of a space shuttle.

One can see launches for free from locales in close-by Cocoa Beach but there will be nothing to do except read books or converse with nearby people while awaiting the launch.

The Visitor Center has an admission fee but then the many interesting exhibits are free. Some of the best are the simulated launch ride, the IMAX Theater film of a launch, inside view of a capsule and access to the souvenir store. Lunch with an astronaut is also available.

Attendance to a launch for an out-of-towner can be a frustrating experience because tickets are nonrefundable and launch dates can be changed and no notice is given so the website must be checked frequently.

Mine was changed three times.

Sitting in a bleacher seat with a huge screen showing a view of the shuttle assured knowing how progress toward the launch was proceeding and informed as to the exact launch time. The Visitor Center is so far away, the shuttle took off and was into the clouds before we heard the roar of the engines. It was all over in seconds. A long way to come to just scratch off a bucket list item.

Fortunately, there are many other fun activities in the area and at the top of the list is Disney World but how can families afford to visit? One has to give up their first born to pay for rooms, meals, admission tickets, parking, and souvenirs. Luckily for me, my friend is a retired Disney World employee with a lifetime pass. We had free parking, free admission and he gets a large discount for Disney memorabilia.

I had visited a few times in the past and was not anxious for long walks visiting an attraction similar to Disneyland except it was much much larger. I only enjoy this type of place if Pollywog or my grandsons are with me.

Other Disney attractions in the Orlando area include Wild Animal Park, Epcot Center, Aquatic Center with water related activities, and Hollywood Studio. I had visited nearby Universal Studios in the past but had never seen Disney’s Hollywood Studio so this was an opportunity to compare them.

Walt Disney World’s Extreme Stunt Show thrills with high-speech driving and pyrotechnics.

Walt Disney World’s Extreme Stunt Show thrills with high-speech driving and pyrotechnics.

As we walked the grounds, I recognized landmarks from the old days of Los Angeles and Hollywood. We rode the Tower of Terror and the Rock and Roller Coaster. The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular was fun but the exhibition that impressed me most was the Extreme Stunt Show where high-speed driving maneuvers are accompanied by pyrotechnics. I was amazed that they haven’t had any accidents. Don’t try this at home, as they are professionals.

I was exhausted by early afternoon and wondered how kids and parents have the energy to visit so many theme parks in such a short time. We tried to go to dinner at Boma Restaurant in Disney’s Animal Kingdom but they were booked up a month in advance so make reservations early if you plan a trip here.

We went fishing one morning with a guide to private Pine Tree Lake and caught some large mouth bass and bowfins that put up a much better fight than the bass but required careful handling because of sharp teeth and spines.

Gatorland has on display venomous snakes, exotic birds, and even rare white (not albino) alligators.

Gatorland has on display venomous snakes, exotic birds, and even rare white (not albino) alligators.

Another day, we visited Gatorland that turned out to be quite fun. Did you know that alligators could run up to 30 miles per hour for short distances? There were many venomous snakes on display, exotic birds, and even rare white (not albino) alligators. They had shows where alligators jumped out of the water to snatch chickens hung on ropes over their heads and alligator wrestling.

We visited the Hard Rock Casino near Tampa, owned by the Seminole Indian tribe. I felt we lost even before we arrived because of the many costly toll roads around Orlando that were irritating for a westerner used to freeways. The odds are as poor as other Indian casinos but the place was packed even in this poor economy. The buffet was good but cost $27. I could not wait to get back to Las Vegas where the odds are better, the food better and much cheaper at most casinos and the heat is a dry heat.

Las Vegas Tidbit: This might be the desert, but one can still see plenty of salt and fresh water fishes in aquariums. The largest aquarium is located at Mandalay Bay, the next largest is at the Silverton, then Caesars Palace forum shop, followed by those at the Golden Nugget downtown and Treasure Island. There are smaller ones in scattered locales. Most of them except Mandalay Bay are free. I took Pollywog to Mandalay Bay and she was enthralled. I’m sure your little ones will be, too.

Here are a couple of inside tips courtesy of the Kid: The best view at the Silverton is go around to an area closest to the Bass Pro Shop and you will see an alcove indentation in the glass viewing area for one to stand in to get a feeling of being in the water with the fish.

At 3:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, there is a free tour of the underground of Caesars’ aquarium. Now here is the best part: Jessica Larkin, aquarium curator, said readers of this column can call her at (702) 893-3807 and she will arrange to give you a private VIP tour. Tell her the Kaeru Kid sent you. She cannot accept tips but I think a nice gesture is to give her a small gift if you do the VIP tour.

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