From my travel journal: Wednesday 13 April 2011, 8 am

Charleston

Our last full day of travelling today – by early tomorrow afternoon we should be in DC. It’s been such a wonderful trip that despite the lure of the convention and seeing so many friends again, I’m really not looking forward to getting to DC – I don’t want this all to be over.

As is probably evident from the gap in the dates of these entries, it’s been a busy couple of days. Monday was an especially full one. We spent Sunday night in… arrgh, the dreaded blending together of too many motels! I can’t actually remember where it was – somewhere in Florida, anyway (DOS just reminded me – Gainsville). We got away reasonably early and headed to Cape Canaveral. We’d been debating in the last couple of days how to best use our day in Florida. Skyring, DOS and I were keen to visit the space centre, but FOS really wanted to go to Disney World, so we were trying to figure out the most efficient way of dropping her (and possibly SOS, who was undecided about which he most wanted to see) off on our way to the Cape, then picking them up later, and it was all getting horribly complicated. So in the end we decided to attempt the impossible, and all do both in a single day.

We started with the Kennedy Space Centre. Driving in, the first thing we noticed was the massive Vehicle Assembly Building on the horizon – seriously huge.


(Taken from the tour bus later that morning – it doesn’t look that big from here, but the driver told us the bus would comfortably fit within the width of one of the stripes on the flag…)

A long time after we spotted the VAB we actually reached the Space Centre (sorry, “Center”). In the entrance were a full-size replica of a shuttle and its tank and boosters, plus assorted rockets – that was enough to get me smiling 🙂

Because we had limited time, we went straight for the tour bus that took us out to the viewing platform where we could see Discovery sitting on the launch pad ready for her final flight in a few weeks. Or rather, where we could see the tip of the big fuel tank – the rest of the shuttle was hidden by the scaffolding they put up around it while they’re preparing it for launch. It was still pretty cool to see it, though 🙂 and to see the vast crawler that had transported it there from the VAB. I was surprised to see that the road (or roads – it travels on two parallel roads, one track on each) the crawler uses is gravel, not paved, but I suppose that makes sense – those huge tracks would destroy a paved road pretty quickly.


There’s a shuttle under there somewhere…


The crawler

Next the tour bus took us to a building housing a Saturn V rocket. We had to sit through a couple of presentations first, though. The first was pretty boring (video presentations in museum-type places always annoy me – if I wanted to watch TV I could do that at home – I want to see the actual stuff!), but the second redeemed itself slightly by being in the mission control room for the Apollo launches. The presentation replicated a launch with voice recordings, and lights lighting up on the various control panels, and images on the giant video screens (which somehow I suspect weren’t there in the 1960s…)

Finally they let us through into the main hangar area, which elicited “Wow”s from most of us – there suspended from the ceiling were the huge exhaust nozzles of the Saturn V, towering way above our heads.

Then the rest of the rocket came into view, hanging horizontally and taking up the entire length of the hangar – another one of those “almost too big for the brain to comprehend” moments. There were a few other displays off in side rooms (another chance to touch a moon rock!) but the main attraction was the Saturn V, which dominated everything and kept drawing me back. I sat under it to have my lunch – lunch was horrible (luke-warm hotdog and dry chips) but the setting was pretty good 🙂


The second-worst lunch of the entire trip…


… but with one of the best views 🙂

When we got back to the main complex we had a quick look at the rocket park and the shuttle replica, but didn’t have time for much else before we had to leave for Orlando and Disney World.

We obviously weren’t going to have time to visit all the various Disney parks, so decided on the Magic Kingdom park as being the most iconic. I wasn’t sure how much I’d get out of it, as the idea of Disneyland hasn’t really interested me since I was about 10, but I was happy enough to tag along with the others, thinking it would at least be an experience.

I was wrong – it was actually great fun! It may have been the company, of course 🙂 DOS, SOS, and FOS made it clear pretty quickly that they didn’t want the oldies tagging along, so Skyring and I set off at random into the park. The one ride I was vaguely interested in doing was Pirates of the Caribbean (because I’d read that they’d updated it after the movies were so successful to better reflect the movies, and a ride based on a film based on a ride sounded like a interesting cultural phenomenon), so we decided to try and find that. We of course immediately got lost (I think I’ve got too dependent on the GPS on this trip – I seem to have forgotten how to read a map!), and found ourselves at the entrance to a haunted house ride which promised a waiting time of only 5 minutes, so we decided to give it a go. Actually, the queue turned out to be almost as much fun as the ride – there were all sorts of interactive gravestones lining the path – one with bas reliefs of musical instruments that played if you touched them (including a cat that screeched :-)), a bookcase with sliding books, and all sorts of cheesy rhymes and puns. At the end of the queue we were ushered into a room which descended into the ground, and thence to the actual ride, which depended greatly on projection onto glass to produce the illusion of ghosts (including one clever bit where the cars went past mirrors and it looked like a ghost was sitting in the car with us :-)). There was a nice sense of humour to it all, so we were laughing madly by the end.


Ghost horse 😉

Still in search of pirates, my eye was caught by a water ride featuring a big drop into a splash pool at the end. Seeing as I’ve never been on any sort of roller-coaster type ride, I thought it might be fun to try it… Skyring looked a bit worried, but gam
ely joined me in a slightly longer queue than the one for the haunted house (actually, the queuing system is very clever – they have the queues winding around in and out of buildings and things, so that you can never see the entire length of the queue ahead of you, which makes the wait seem shorter. There’s usually things to see and do along the lines too, which helps pass the time even more). By the time we got to the head of the queue I was feeling a lot less confident.

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