Sometimes the Happiest Place on Earth is the One With No Lines

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[This is a guest post by John Booth]

Not that there’s a shortage of attention-grabbing things to do in
Orlando, but during a recent trip, my wife and family and I made the
40-mile trip due east to Titusville for what turned out to be an awesome day without a queue, turnstile, or cartoon character in sight.

ArmadilloArmadillo
First stop: The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge .
My daughter’s a big animal enthusiast – and it’s not just the cuddly stuff. She’ll fill the DVR with those not-for-the squeamish emergency vet shows . Walking the looping path behind the visitor center, she shot this photo of a nine-banded armadillo we found nosing through the underbrush (And who knew these things had ears like Rodians?), and this one of a close encounter with an eight-foot alligator that glided up to the shore right in front of us, near enough that we could see its nostrils flaring with each breath.

AlligatorAlligator
After leaving the refuge, we headed for the seashore itself – there’s a
$3 per adult charge collected at a guard house along the way. (Take note: Canaveral National Seashore is a largely untouched place, so there’s no running water restrooms or food stands or any other conveniences. It’s gorgeous.) The access road we took in runs along the northern edge of Kennedy Space Center.

I’ve been a space exploration nut for pretty much three-plus decades now – seeing space shuttle launches is one of the things I truly miss about living in Central Florida – and I still get a thrill out of just being near Kennedy, looking through the binoculars at the mammoth
Vehicle Assembly Building and the gantries and platforms and cables and giant liquid oxygen tanks of Launch Complex 39.

SsatlantisSsatlantis
So we’re driving toward the shore and I catch a glimpse of orange on the far pad, and I realize it’s the external fuel tank of a shuttle –
Atlantis, as it turns out, scheduled for a May 12 launch. We park the cars and I can’t take my eyes off it: I’m recording shaky video through the binoculars, and thankful every second that my friend Jim is there with his professional-grade camera. My daughter climbs up to the railing of the walkway we’re on and stands next to me, peering over the marshes, and we’re talking about the size of the buildings and the big crawlers NASA
uses to move the shuttles around, and the escape cables from the orbiters

Even just sitting there, the orbiter itself hidden from view, it’s magnificent. And between now and the launch date, you can head out there for the rare chance to see two shuttles on the pad for what will probably be the last time.

So for less than it would have cost us to park our two cars at any of the big Orlando-area theme parks, we got armadillos, alligators and spaceships, all within five minutes of pristine, wide-open beach.

The happiest place on Earth is where, again?

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