Caribbean Vacation 1998Caribbean Vacation 1998
Caribbean Vacation 1998

Part 7: Port Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center

Introduction: In July and August 1998, the four of us took the most expensive vacation of our lives. This page is Part Seven of a report on that vacation.

This was all written back in 1998 and 1999. Other than updating links, the text below has not been brought up to date. References to "now" or "soon" or whatever are all as of 1998. Photos have been retouched, but not re-scanned -- the originals were film, not digital, and the scanner used to transfer them back in 1998 wasn't very good.

Note: I haven't bothered repeating the same link over and over, but several may be repeated from one installment of the report to the next. Usually, the first time on each page I mention something that I thought it appropriate to link, I've linked it, but after that it's generally in plain text. A few items are linked more than once; usually (but not always) these links will go different places.

Our next stop was Port Canaveral. We'd arranged to meet my cousin Chris there at 9:00 a.m., at "the entrance to the terminal," that being the best suggestion I could get from the ship's crew. The ship docked on schedule at 7:00 a.m., before any of us woke up; we arose, breakfasted, and went ashore to find ourselves in Cruise Terminal #4.

No one had mentioned that there were multiple terminals, but looking around we saw that there are lots of terminals. I don't know how many, but I could count half a dozen cruise ships from where I stood, and there were freight terminals as well.

And there was no sign of Cousin Chris at the entrance to Cruise Terminal #4, as of 9:08, when we got there.

Leaving the others there, I took a quick walk a couple of terminals down, hoping to spot her, but gave up and returned -- that complex is huge. We stood there, worried and unsure -- and Chris drove up.

She almost didn't see us -- we'd stepped back away from traffic -- but we ran out waving and flagged her down.

It was about 9:25.

Chris explained that she'd arrived at the entrance to Cruise Terminal #1, at the entrance to the entire complex, right at 9:00, and been very proud of herself -- until she saw that the ship there was the Disney Magic, not the Leeward. The Magic was preparing to depart on its maiden voyage, as it happens, so there was much excitement surrounding it, and it took a moment for her to get answers from anyone, but eventually she was directed down the row of terminals, and found us.

(I note in passing that Chris is in her seventies, hair white as chalk and with sciatica that makes it uncomfortable to stay on her feet for long periods, but otherwise as alert and vigorous as most people half her age. She's my first cousin once removed -- her mother was the older sister of my mother's father.)

Thus united, we drove off to carry out our plans for the day -- a tour of the Kennedy Space Center.

The landscape between Port Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center is not beautiful. It's mostly flat and sandy, with lots of scruffy subtropical flora scattered about. It was a bit more interesting than usual this time because we passed through one of the areas that had been burned over by the wildfires a few weeks before, but in general it's unexciting.

In the Rocket Garden with Cousin ChrisAnd of course, that's why Kennedy is there -- the site was chosen because it was an ugly, worthless stretch of seacoast where nobody cared if a few rockets blew up. Which lots of them did. The shuttle launch complex is 39; a good many of its 38 predecessors are ruined or gone completely, and in some cases it's because they were demolished by exploding rockets.

We arrived at Kennedy in good order, and got our tickets -- the tour plus one IMAX movie. (They have two IMAX theaters there, but we didn't want to see two films.) We started with the movie, "The Dream Is Alive," which is a decent propaganda film about the shuttle program, made in the early 1980s.

Then we looked over some of the exhibits at the Visitors' Center, which are also decent -- but we live right near Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum, and visited NASA's museum in Hampton Roads recently, so there wasn't much we hadn't seen before.

After that came lunch, at the Orbit Restaurant, where we all pigged out on pasta -- I'm not sure why we all wanted pasta, but we did; that's one basic food group the Leeward's chef doesn't overdo, which might have something to do with it.

The Vehicle Assembly BuildingAnd then we took the tour.

The tour works like this: There's an endless stream of air-conditioned buses looping from the Visitors' Center to Launch Complex 39 to the Apollo/Saturn V exhibit center to the International Space Station complex and back to the Visitors' Center. On each leg the driver provides some guided-tour commentary over the bus PA system. You can get off or not at each stop, and then, when you've had enough, board any bus to continue. At at least one of the intermediate stops you can, if you choose, get a bus straight back to the Visitors' Center and skip the rest.

We didn't skip anything.

(Note for anyone who visited Kennedy some time ago: They used to have two separate bus tours: one took you to Pad 39 and the other Apollo sites, and the other to the older part where the Mercury (and early Gemini?) flights were launched -- the red tour and blue tour, respectively. They've dropped the blue tour entirely. They still have the old ticket booths and signs, but those are now closed and they've got an entire new set of ticket booths and signs, as well. Chris remarked on that. Near as we can tell, you can't visit the Mercury sites any more. And the halfway cut-off was apparently added when they added the Space Station stuff.)

Pad 39aThe stop at Launch Complex 39 does not take you right to either launch pad, but instead to an observation gantry, where you can see both Pad A and Pad B as well as get a good look at a lot of the surrounding terrain and some of the other, older installations. The bus ride there takes you past the Vehicle Assembly Building and the crawlerway used to transport the shuttles to the pads. The scale of some of this is impressive -- a lot of brute-force engineering at work.

The Apollo/Saturn V exhibit is in three sections. First there's a short film, which I found tedious, about the space race. Second there's a recreation of an Apollo launch, as seen from mission control -- and they use the real mission control, not a replica, which is neat. We liked that part.

Third is an exhibit hall where a complete Saturn V -- again, a real one, not a replica -- is hung down the center of this immense room (it obviously must be immense to fit a Saturn V), with exhibits alongside it about each Apollo mission. (There's also the Moon Rock Cafe, the only place in the world, they say, where you can eat your lunch next to a genuine piece of the moon.)

Rocket engine at the Observation GantryThe simulated launch and the exhibit hall are definitely neat.

The third stop is in two parts. This is in the working industrial part of KSC, not a launch area nor a mere exhibit; the first section is an exhibit, though. Specifically, it's an exhibit of the mock-ups of various space station components that were built for training and demonstration; you can walk through them and get a good close look. It's a bit like being on the set of "2001" in some ways; Kubrick obviously got a lot of stuff right, with latched drawers and grab bars on all sides.

And the second section is a visitors' gallery overlooking the actual preparation area for the components of the International Space Station; we happened to be there just after one of the Italian sections, nicknamed Leonardo, had just arrived, so we got a look at it, with technicians swarming all over it. There was a delivery ceremony scheduled for that evening, so we got a look at it even before the welcoming VIPs did.

That was cool.

And then back to the Visitors' Center, where we bought some trinkets in the gift shop, spent far too long waiting in line for ice cream, took some photos in the Rocket Garden.

In the Rocket GardenAfter that, Chris drove us back to the ship, and we parted with much hugging. We don't see her very often; this was the second time in a year, which is a lot for us.

The ship departed Port Canaveral on schedule, headed up the coast to Charleston. That night's show in the Stardust Lounge was a French-Canadian comic magician, Jean Boucher -- who pronounced it correctly, not anglicized like Anthony Boucher. All four of us went and watched him; he was good, but unspectacular, with a habit of drawing tricks out just a little longer than optimum. He used a lot of volunteers from the audience.

Because we were in the main seating we saw the early show -- that's how it's set up, with the first seating at the show while the second is still eating. This was a good thing, because ever since we left port the seas had been getting rougher. This didn't bother us in particular -- we're tough, I guess -- but it definitely bothered some folks. We heard later that the second show had been punctuated by people dashing for the exits, trying to escape before seasickness got the better of them, and not all of them made it in time.

Movement's worst in the bow, and higher up. The Stardust Lounge is in the bow, Decks 8 and 9. Not a good place to be during a storm.

And in fact, that's what it was -- the Atlantic was rough pretty much as soon as we left port (around 5:00), but somewhere around 9:30 or 10:00 it turned into a full-blown storm at sea. The ship's movement got pretty drastic, and very uneven.

There are stabilizers -- wings, more or less, below the waterline, that are swung out to steady the ship's rolling -- but the Leeward's are not the best (Fielding's rates the Leeward's stability as "fair"), and did not, by any means, entirely compensate.

The forward portion of Deck 5 -- everything forward of the forward elevators -- was closed to passengers because waves were breaking over it. Spray was reaching Deck 6 even at the stern. (Deck 7 was dry.) Ten-foot swells were reported. We had a great time wandering about the ship, watching the weather, trying not to gloat at our failure to become ill.

The rain didn't amount to much; lightning was just distant flashes; but the wind was very impressive indeed. Before they closed the foredeck, walking up the port side of the promenade had already become a real challenge just because of the wind.

The crew didn't like it all that much better than the passengers; many of them had never before sailed through a real storm.

When the kids were settling in for the night I went up to the casino for awhile, and they were short-handed because some of the dealers were too seasick to continue; as I watched, one Turkish woman gave up, warned her pit boss, and made a dash for the ladies' room.

Not that there were all that many customers, either.

(I hung out in the casino enough to feel as if I was getting to know some of the dealers; Huseniye, the seasick Turk, was one of my favorites.)

This was supposed to be the night of the '50s sock hop in the Observation Lounge; that was cancelled, as dancing was considered unsafe. It was also the night that the midnight meal was the Chocoholic Buffet, which was not cancelled, but had the lowest attendance any of the staff remembered seeing. Several of the people who did attend (Julie and I were there) loaded up plates so that seasick companions could have chocolate breakfasts.

After the buffet we went to bed, where the storm rocked us to sleep. I noticed, on the way to bed, that there were more "Do Not Disturb" signs out than I'd ever seen before.

Kiri had developed the habit of referring to the Leeward as "Shippy-doo," as a pet name. Later, she remarked that the storm was fun, with Shippy-doo tossing about like a carnival ride and then rocking us to sleep, but that it sure smelled bad the next morning.


This concludes Part Seven. Links to the other parts of this trip report are below: