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NASA’s Kennedy Space Center: Still Open, and Worth The Trip

space suits

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

This U.S. government shutdown is going to do a number on the tourism industry, since all national parks, monuments, and historic sites are closed. And while NASA, the space agency, is also closed, it’s important to note that Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, FL is still open. The Visitor Center Complex is managed and operated by a private concern, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, and not funded through public monies. There are a few services within the attraction, such as the KSC Bus Tours and the KSC Up-Close Tours, which won’t run until the furlough is over, but there is still a full day’s worth of activities you can enjoy.

This summer, we visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center because it’s home to three world’s largests: the world’s largest twin IMAX® theater; the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut mementos; and the world’s largest store for space-related memorabilia.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

It’s a smart strategy to consult the visitor complex map to make a plan for your day. We scheduled our day around the astronaut meet-and-greet. One of the biggest highlights for us as a family was the chance to meet astronaut Rick Searfross following his presentation at the Astronaut Encounter Theater, during which he described his experiences piloting three space shuttle missions. Translating that from Geek to English, we met Santa Claus, the Dalai Lama, and Bruce Springsteen, all rolled into one.

Rick Searfross

Meeting former astronaut Rick Searfross, and trying to keep it cool.

We actually didn’t get the chance to see a movie in the world’s largest twin IMAX® theater, because we had two other priorities: Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Angry Birds Space Encounter.

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Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, New Orleans, Louisiana


Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. Photo credit: New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation

My brother Mike gets the award for the most comments made on GBOGH posts…seriously, I sent him a plaque. So it was only a matter of time before I cajoled him into writing a guest post. After all, he’s a dad now, and has started traveling with his two adorable kids.

The irony here is his choice of subjects: the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans, which, at 23,000 square feet, is the largest free-standing insect museum in the United States. He’s cursed with my family’s OCD/germaphobe gene, so…insects. Hmmm. Of course, his kids loved it, and that’s why he doubled up on antibacterial products and soldiered on. His report:

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

Having enjoyed a great deal of spontaneous, child-less travel for many years prior to the birth of our children, we were struggling to find any opportunity for travel with the entire family that wouldn’t leave us feeling completely disenchanted about future travel altogether. New Orleans somehow presented that opportunity to us.

Flights were inexpensive, flight time was limited to one hour, and we had a condo available at no cost. We knew that even if this first trip with children quickly melted down, we had invested very little. Plus, at only an hour flight away, we could realistically threaten packing up and heading home if everyone wasn’t behaving.

One very bright spot in an otherwise limited selection of children-friendly options in New Orleans was the Audubon Insectarium. My 3-year old daughter and almost 2-year old son said they wanted to see bugs, and we were all too happy to oblige them, as it was September in New Orleans, and it was 147 degrees (Seriously. Go back and check the records.).

WHY did you go there, exactly?

Two reasons: 1) We had heard multiple, very positive reviews (and it lived up to expectations); 2) a travel blogger who writes about BIG things, and will remain nameless, may have suggested that the New Orleans Audubon Insectarium is the country’s largest and therefore worth a visit.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

I knew we were going to love this place when we were met out front by an insectarium employee running insect races around an official Bug Track. Each child picked an insect that was released and wildly cheered on. Good stuff.

VW bug

This VW Bug was set up in the middle of the impressive beetle display. We turned around and my son had found his way to the driver’s seat and was on his way. Not to be left behind, his sister quickly joined him on his quick “drive” around New Orleans.

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MagiQuest, Myrtle Beach, SC: World’s Largest Live Action Game


MagiQuest, Myrtle Beach, SC

At the tender age of nine, The Boy tore through the first four books of the Harry Potter series over summer break. He found his preferred literary niche, and has remained true to all things mystical ever since. So when he had the chance to actually become a wizard at MagiQuest, and be a part of the world’s largest live action game…well, he showed more emotion that morning than most tweens do in a whole year.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

While planning our Myrtle Beach spring break trip, I read about the Broadway at the Beach entertainment and dining district. Then I noticed MagiQuest, and knew it would be a hit with everyone in our unabashedly geeky family.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

This is the largest MagiQuest location, and one of two “Mega Kingdom Realms.” (The second is in Tokyo.) There are three smaller “Kingdom Realms,” and ten “Forest Realms,” which are located within the Great Wolf Lodge indoor water parks. When you arrive for the first time at any MagiQuest location, you choose and purchase your own casting wand, which you keep and can use at any location. Through some super duper technology, the wands interact with video screen kiosks and the sets within.

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PHOTO FRIDAY: Big Fun Toy Store, Cleveland, OH

I included the Big Fun toy store on our Cleveland itinerary for its name, obviously.

Big Fun

It’s not the world’s largest toy store (that would be the Toys R’ Us in Times Square), but it lives up to its name by giving you a really enjoyable trip down memory lane!  Big Fun, which has been around for almost 20 years, has two locations. We went to the one in the Coventry neighborhood. Both are stuffed to the brim – literally from floor to ceiling – with an amazing array of toys, collectibles, novelties and gag gifts.


Their own description says it best: “a cathedral of counter-culture, a warehouse of nerdabilia and nostalgia.”

toy store

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Orlando Science Center: World’s Largest Digistar Planetarium

We’re just back from Boston, and summer is winding down. Say, is that a dim light I see at the end of the tunnel?? Why, it looks like the light coming from a local elementary school classroom…

Orlando Science Center

Photo credit: Orlando Science Center

Of course, we have yet to share all of our Orlando adventures, so…

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

Picture it: Orlando. Summertime. A heat-phobic family of nerdy tourists needing somewhere to escape. Orlando Science Center to the rescue!

WHY did you go there, exactly?

Orlando is not only theme parks, a fact which I urge everyone to consider when they visit. There are some really fun attractions which have nothing to do with a certain mouse and his friends.

Because we proudly fly the geek flag on our homestead, we’re always up for a visit to a science museum. The OSC lured us in with its promise of the world’s largest Digistar Planetarium.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

The Planetarium was our last stop, after visiting the center’s other exhibits. The kids enjoyed the “DinoDigs” exhibit gallery features several reproduction skeletons of dinosaurs and prehistoric sea creatures, including a T-Rex. Two fossil dig areas attracted a gaggle of kids clamoring to find dino bones.

The Girl especially enjoyed being with other pre-schoolers in KidsTown, where she spent an inordinate amount of time at the water table and in the pretend orange juice processing plant.

water table

Remaining relatively dry at the water table.

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International Spy Museum: World’s Largest Collection of Espionage Artifacts

International Spy Museum

BEST GIFT SHOP EVER! Okay, now that I have that out of the way, let me tell you about one of new favorite museums.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

While in DC over spring break, we visited the International Spy Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of espionage artifacts. We also visited the Air and Space Museum, so we continued in the vein of geeky, techy adventures.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

Both kids have watched all four movies in the The Spy Kids series multiple times, and wish they were Carmen and Juni Cortez. (Which would make me Carla Gugino in a black leather get-up. I could live with that.) Naturally, The Girl wants to be a spy when she grows up. Considering her skill at lying with the face of an angel, I would say she has a good shot.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

If you are even slightly intrigued by spies, their gadgets, and their undercover adventures, you will love this place. When you arrive, you choose your “cover,” adopting a name and back story. The Boy took this task seriously, writing down all the details of Yuan Zheng, the 39-year old dentist he had become.

Spy Museum

School for Spies Gallery. Photo courtesy the International Spy Museum

Most of the museum experience is passive – looking at the collection of espionage artifacts behind glass. But I found the displays of disguises, weapons, invisible ink, and buttonhole cameras really intriguing. You can also watch videos describing different facets of espionage, like surveillance and picking locks.

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Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: World’s Largest Collection of Historical Aeronautical Artifacts

Smithsonian Air and Space MuseumI don’t write much about our life in a small town, but one effect of living here is an aversion to crowds. I don’t even drive to our dinky mall on weekends, lest I have to park more than three rows away from the entrance.

So alarm and dread resulted from the realization that the “perfect storm” awaited us at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. A free museum in our nation’s capital. An overcast weekend. The week of Spring Break.

Perhaps I saw you there, too?

WHY did you go there, exactly?

There are so many wonderful, kid-friendly museums in Washington, DC, but I knew the one which would most interest my kids would be the Air and Space museum, home the world’s largest collection of historical aeronautical artifacts. For The Boy, it meant geeky science stuff. The Girl, ever fearless, would get more ammunition for her dreams of space flight.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

Of course, it’s awesome, and truly amazing, that admission to this facility is free. There are additional experiences which cost extra, but these are still affordable, and totally worth it. As soon as we arrived, we bought our tickets for one of the three IMAX movies and one of the three planetarium shows which are shown on a frequent, rotating basis. We were glad later when we saw the long ticket line.

Both the IMAX movie – To Fly! — and the planetarium show – Cosmic Collisions – kept both kids entertained, but more than that, it was SO nice to sit!

I was correct in assuming that The Boy would want to try the virtual flight simulator. Matt went with him, and looked a little green upon exiting. “He’ll never be a pilot,” was all he was capable of uttering. Apparently, barrel rolls were part of the experience.

Air and Space Museum

Look up! It's a bird! ...No, wait...

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World’s Largest Four-Millimeter LED Screen, Philadelphia, PA

Illuminated screens play a far larger role in my family’s everyday life than I care to admit. So I was sure that the tip I got from Mara at Mother of All Trips would result in a memorable stop during our Philadelphia weekend getaway.

She suggested we visit the Comcast Center, for a look at the “Comcast Experience” wall.


This image is displayed on only the top half of the screen. The panels below aren't really panels, they're video replicas of the room's actual wood panels.

The 2,100-square foot HD video display wall is the world’s largest four-millimeter LED screen. For 18 hours a day, you can watch various short films; original programming created exclusively for this screen, which measures 83.3 feet wide and 25.4 feet high.

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Carnegie Museum of Natural History: World’s Largest Collection of Jurassic Dinosaurs


Measuring up to 90 feet, the Diplodocus was one of the longest animals ever to walk the earth.

Dinos rule. The Girl knows this. She likes her animals fierce.  She also appreciates a take-no-prisoners approach in plant life — her favorite is the Venus Flytrap.  I’m not worried.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

As we found out on our recent road trip, Pittsburgh is dinosaur country. In 2004, a public art project called DinoMite Days commissioned artists to create 100 uniquely decorated fiberglass dinosaurs, which were installed throughout the city. We discovered several which remain on public display.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

For the real dinosaur deal however, we knew we had to go to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, home to the world’s largest collection of Jurassic dinosaurs.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

Walking through the “Dinosaurs in Their Time” hall gave us quite an education. Now I know that the Jurassic period was the middle of the three stages in the Mesozoic era (and the others are the Triassic and Cretaceous periods. Look at me how smart.)

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Carnegie Science Center: World’s Largest Permanent Robotics Exhibit


Andy, the "RoboThespian"

I married a geek. Three years later, I gestated his miniature. So it’s not a stretch to say that the world’s largest robotics exhibit would be something of interest to these two. But here’s the thing. Even if you’re not a geek (or haven’t outed yourself yet), you’re still going to love roboworld™, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition,  at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

On our road trip to Pittsburgh, PA last week, the four of us spent the morning at the Carnegie Science Center. NOTE: A single morning was not enough time. I hated myself for having to rush the kids from exhibit to exhibit.

Bad Mommy: “No more Bernoulli Effect for you! Keep moving!”

WHY did you go there, exactly?

Did you know that there’s a $500 billion emerging robotics industry in southwestern Pennsylvania? Pittsburgh, then, was the natural location for roboworld, which opened in 2009. This $3.5 million exhibition occupies 6,000 square feet, with three distinct areas featuring robots sensing, thinking, and acting.


roboworld at the Carnegie Science Center

Okay, what was so cool about it?

The Science Center is four floors of pure geek revelry, but roboworld is on the second floor. You’re greeted by Andy, the life-sized RoboThespian™, who you can program to speak and move via touch screen.

Along one whole wall is a robot Hall of Fame showcasing robot replicas from popular movies and TV shows spanning several decades. The Boy was overjoyed to see C3-PO and R2-D2, while Matt and I related more HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and Robby from “Forbidden Planet”.

Star Wars

"Can I trade my sister for this?"

Practically every exhibit had some interactive component, so you could spend hours just in roboworld. (But you do want to leave time for the other exhibits, especially the model train village right next door).

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