On Thursday, Dec. 27, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will unveil the first phase of improvements designed to dramatically enhance the guest experience. Those visiting during the holiday season will be among the very first to experience the attraction's brand new $16 million entry. The enhancements are part of a 10-year Master Plan developed by Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex concessioner, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, in partnership with NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
The new entry includes a grand plaza and fountain; ticket stations and self-service kiosks; will call, guest services and information stations; a retail shop; and a restaurant.
"We are eager to reveal to our guests the first stage in an array enhancements that create for them a more meaningful, purposeful and enjoyable experience at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex," said Bill Moore, Chief Operating Officer. "The changes to our entrance and ticket plaza, along with our new Voyagers retail shop and Rocket Garden Cafe, are just the initial elements in a comprehensive plan. Next we unveil the new home for space shuttle Atlantis, which is already well under way for a scheduled opening in July 2013."
The new entrance draws guests from the parking lot into a grand entry plaza where they are greeted by a brand new, first-ever 3D representation of the NASA insignia that spans 13 feet in diameter. To the right of the globe stands a majestic 75-foot-long fountain that pays homage to the dreams of late President John F. Kennedy, for whom NASA's Kennedy Space Center is named. Kennedy's face, along with a quote from his famous 1962 "moon speech" at Rice University, are laser etched onto a skyward-reaching arch of blue granite that stands 30-feet at its highest point. The inscription reads, "For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond..." The 5,000-gallon fountain is spectacularly lit in the evenings with LED lights and features 26 jets of water that can be programmed to create inspiring light shows for guests as they exit the park or during evening special events or exhibitions.
Purchasing admission tickets now promises to be a quicker, more efficient process for guests thanks to a complete redesign of the ticket stations. Two separate stations feature six ticket windows each and now offer a "fair cueing" system to direct the next guest in line to the next available window. Digital screens within each station's covered cue provide descriptions of tour options and prices to help guests make informed choices. Those who wish to bypass the regular ticket lines may purchase directly from one of six self-service ticket kiosks, and guests who have purchased tickets in advance may proceed directly to a dedicated new Will Call station. The ticket areas were designed to inspire and excite guests about the journey that awaits them, and are covered in brilliantly colored tiles to depict selected planets including Earth and Jupiter.
Farther along the plaza, a brand new 2,500-square-foot Voyagers retail shop invites guests to make a last-minute purchase before heading to their vehicle and allows those who wish only to shop to do so without purchasing an admission ticket. Inspiration is the theme in Voyagers, where bold graphics depict the progress of the American space program since the 1950s and challenge guests to "Dream Bigger." Above the check-out area, a 18-foot in diameter glass light fixture modeled after Mars offers an artistic interpretation of the Red Planet.
Beyond the ticket plaza, guests' excitement and anticipation build as they pass through a covered archway where they are boldly invited in six-foot-tall, blue letters to "EXPLORE." In the near distance, views of towering rockets in the Rocket Garden, representing early space exploration, beckon guests to get an up-close look at these sleek yet incredibly powerful vehicles.
Following the new outdoor security checkpoint and turnstiles, visitors may stop in at the new guest services area to the right of the plaza to pick up audio guides in English and six other languages, purchase additional tours or upgrade to an annual pass. Wheelchairs and strollers are available at a new information counter located near the existing exhibit, Early Space Exploration.
As guests continue their way into the park, they may notice two cobbled or slightly bumpy strips running on either side of the paved walkway. This symbolic pathway is made of authentic "crawler rock" — the very same Tennessee river rock that lines Kennedy Space Center's crawler way to support the massive weight of NASA's nearly 3,000-ton crawler-transporter, the behemoth vehicle used to carry launch vehicles such as Apollo/Saturn V rockets and space shuttles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pads. The walkway marks the beginning of the "Vapor Trail," a path named for the plume of steam that follows a rocket upon ascent. The Vapor Trail will be extended in further phases of development to provide visitors with a more deliberate path to guide them through the park's main attractions.
The first stage of enhancements also includes the new outdoor Rocket Garden Cafe which was designed in the retro style of the 1950s and 1960s as a nod to the early days of space exploration — the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Bright green and chartreuse tiles evoke a "garden" feel amidst the rockets of polished steel, while covered outdoor seating provides protection from the elements along with an uninterrupted view of the surrounding landscape. An all-new menu appeals to global tastes with diverse items such as Conch Fritters, Asian Chicken Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette, Chicken Empanadas or Beef Croquettes with Spicy Tomato Sauce, and Mediterranean Flat Bread Pizza. Even staples such as French Fries take on a more sophisticated air in the Seasoned Fries with Chorizo & Blue Cheese.
Work on the entry was completed in partnership with Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., construction management; PGAV Destinations, design management; Freeport Fountains, fountain contractor; Electrosonic, audio/video contractor; and Birdair, Inc., fabric canopy contractor.
The next stage of the Visitor Complex's 10-year Master Plan includes the opening of a $100 million, 90,000-square foot exhibit to showcase space shuttle Atlantis and celebrate the 30-year space shuttle program as a stepping stone to future space endeavors. The opening is slated for July 2013.
About Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex features many attractions and year-round interactive programs, including meeting real astronauts. The standard bus tour, included with admission, explores the history of the Apollo moon and space shuttle programs with panoramic views of Kennedy Space Center, the VAB's exterior and a stop at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where visitors see an authentic 363-foot Saturn V moon rocket and relive the historic Apollo missions that saw man land on the moon.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex opens daily at 9 a.m. Closing times vary by season. Admission includes the Kennedy Space Center Tour, featuring an actual Saturn V moon rocket, Shuttle Launch Experience, 3D IMAX(R) space films, Astronaut Encounter, Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted and all exhibits. Admission also includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame(R), featuring historic spacecraft and the world's largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia opens daily at noon and closing times vary by season. Admission is $50 + tax for adults and $40 + tax for children ages 3-11. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Commander's Club Annual Pass is $63 + tax for adults and $53 + tax for children ages 3-11. For more information, call 877-313-2610 or visit KennedySpaceCenter.com.