CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Effective Monday, it will cost more to see the retired space shuttle Atlantis, a Saturn V moon rocket or IMAX movies at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
The standard admission price is going up $7, to $57 for adults (age 12 and over) and $47 for children ages 3 to 11, increases of 14 percent and 18 percent, respectively, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
A smaller $4 bump will be implemented for senior citizens and military service members, who will now pay $50, up 9 percent. There’s no change for student field trips or to a $10 parking fee.
Delaware North, which has operated the tourist center for NASA since 1995 without federal or state tax dollars, says the price increase is the first since 2012 and follows major upgrades in recent years, with more on the way.
“We just felt the need with all the improvements that are being done, and almost doubling the staff since 2013, that this was the time to implement a price increase,” said Chief Operating Officer Therrin Protze. “We really worked hard with NASA to make sure that we felt it was not a number that was intrusive, but one that would continue the improvements and the growth, so we can make our guest experience better.”
The price increases follow record Visitor Complex attendance of more than 1.7 million guests in 2017, topping levels before the shuttle program retired in 2011.
"After carefully reviewing the supporting data, NASA determined that Delaware North’s requested change in ticket pricing was warranted and reasonable," said Tim Ferris, NASA Visitor Complex program manager. "This will allow Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to continue to deliver and expand upon its mission to inspire everyone who comes here, while also preserving the sustainability of this world class asset."
Last year, with three years remaining on Delaware North’s operating contract, KSC awarded the company an eight-year extension that runs through 2028. The contract’s potential value was not disclosed.
Protze said a “substantial” portion of the revenue from higher ticket prices would support schools with high percentages of students eligible for free or discounted lunches, known as Title I schools.
“A lot of the dollars will be put back into education,” he said. “I think that was very important to NASA, and that helped with the negotiation, is understanding it is not just a gate-driven increase, there is a true educational focus behind this as well.”
Notable Visitor Complex improvements in recent years include the $100 million Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit opened in 2013 and the $20 million Heroes and Legends attraction in 2016, which includes a modernized U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame relocated from its former mainland site.
A redesigned Astronaut Training Center, or ATX Center, also opened recently but is not included in a general admission ticket.
A new exhibit is expected to be announced in the coming months, as are plans for the former Hall of Fame site on State Road 405 near U.S. 1 south of Titusville.
The Visitor Complex is responsible for storing, maintaining and displaying many historic space artifacts. A major restoration of a Saturn IB rocket is now in progress.
Guests now also have the chance to see more recently flown spacecraft, including the Orion capsule from NASA’s Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014 and a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule.
“Our goal is to move away from the museum aspect and really focus on a space experience about today and future,” said Protze. “You’re going to see a lot more interactives, a lot more educational activities that really inform our guests about what’s coming.”
The ticket increases come a few months after a public relations debacle for KSC and the Visitor Complex, when thousands of would-be visitors were stranded in traffic before an April 2 SpaceX launch that drew an unexpectedly large crowd. Protze called the Spring Break traffic, on the day after Easter, “a perfect storm.”
The Visitor Complex reached capacity by 11 a.m. that day, but did not alert tourists that they would be turned away until hours later, and some guests who had bought tickets in advance never reached the gates. (Their tickets were refunded.)
Passengers bailed out of cars to go to the bathroom on the side of the roads, and walked between cars and on narrow drainage canal shoulders to reach the entrance. In one case, security was called to remove an angry tour bus passenger. Buses carrying VIPs with experiments flying on the rocket nearly missed the launch.
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Part of the problem: There’s only one way in or out of the Visitor Complex, causing traffic to bottleneck on State Road 405. But Delaware North is now building a new, four-lane access road from Space Commerce Way that may be completed before Christmas.
“Having that double-entrance I think will really help with those big launch days and those peak days to improve our guest flow, to make sure they get in here to have a great experience,” said Protze. “We’ve already increased parking, and we’re looking to increase parking even more.”
The rough day in April highlighted strong public demand to see a growing number of rocket launches, enthusiasm that should grow as NASA prepares to launch astronauts in Boeing and SpaceX capsules within a year or so — the first launches of humans into orbit from U.S. soil since Atlantis in 2011.
Protze said the Visitor Complex is working hard to be ready for the next astronaut launches.
“I think it’s going to be a true ‘wow’ factor for our guests,” he said. “We want to make sure we have a product that is just as exciting as what’s happening in the space industry.”
Delaware North last increased ticket prices in 2012, by $5, following a $2 hike in 2011.