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STAR TOURS.

I'D wanted to know how it feels to blast off into space since childhood. And when the Atlantis Shuttle's thrusters bellowed into life below me, it was time to find out. I gripped my seat so tightly my knuckles were white as a voice counted down 5-4-3-2-1... lift off!

'D wanted to know how it feels to blast off into space since childhood. And when the Atlantis Shuttle's thrusters bellowed into life below me, it was time to find out. I gripped my seat so tightly my knuckles were white as a voice counted down 5-4-3-2-1... lift off!

I couldn't lift my head because of the G-force as we thundered through the atmosphere. Then suddenly there was silence.

I couldn't lift my head because of the G-force as we thundered through the atmosphere. Then suddenly there was silence.

The roof opened to reveal Planet Earth looming over us.

The roof opened to reveal Planet Earth looming over us.

Of course, I didn't really go on a space flight. But the ultra-realistic Of course, I didn't really go on a space flight. But the ultra-realistic Atlantis simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is the next best thing.

Atlantis simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is the next best thing.

It's the grand finale of a PS60million interactive adventure starting in a huge hangar where a real Atlantis shuttle, used for 33 missions, can be seen in all her mid-flight glory. She's surrounded by interactive toys that reveal a lot about the 30-year Nasa Space Shuttle mission that sent more than 300 astronauts into space.

It's the grand finale of a PS60million interactive adventure starting in a huge hangar where a real Atlantis shuttle, used for 33 missions, can be seen in all her mid-flight glory. She's surrounded by interactive toys that reveal a lot about the 30-year Nasa Space Shuttle mission that sent more than 300 astronauts into space.

As you enter the Center on Florida's Atlantic-facing 'Space Coast' you feel tiny in the shadows of an array of huge rockets. There is a sense of awe that you are at the place where those iconic missions began.

As you enter the Center on Florida's Atlantic-facing 'Space Coast' you feel tiny in the shadows of an array of huge rockets. There is a sense of awe that you are at the place where those iconic missions began.

To find out first-hand what a space mission is like we had lunch with astronaut Mark Lee, one of just eight people to have flown in space with a jet pack.

To find out first-hand what a space mission is like we had lunch with astronaut Mark Lee, one of just eight people to have flown in space with a jet pack.

In the Space Shuttle he travelled at Mach 25 (speed of sound times 25 or 16,250mph) circling the globe three times in four hours.

In the Space Shuttle he travelled at Mach 25 (speed of sound times 25 or 16,250mph) circling the globe three times in four hours.

There are more than 60 other exhibits to fill up a day at Kennedy, such as Hubble 3D, an IMAX film about the space telescope narrated by Leonardo Di Caprio. Youngsters There are more than 60 other exhibits to fill up a day at Kennedy, such as Hubble 3D, an IMAX film about the space telescope narrated by Leonardo Di Caprio. Youngsters will love Angry Birds in Space, where they can slingshot birds at targets.

will love Angry Birds in Space, where they can slingshot birds at targets.

You can't visit Kennedy and not try a space ice-cream. It's freezedried like the stuff astronauts eat on missions and just like the real thing if you ignore the bizarre texture.

You can't visit Kennedy and not try a space ice-cream. It's freezedried like the stuff astronauts eat on missions and just like the real thing if you ignore the bizarre texture.

The Space Center is a 60-minute drive from Orlando on a coast where there's a lot to see and do.

The Space Center is a 60-minute drive from Orlando on a coast where there's a lot to see and do.

We checked into the Hilton Hotel in Cocoa Beach and went off exploring. There are 72 miles of beautiful sands, so you'll have no trouble finding a spot for your towel.

We checked into the Hilton Hotel in Cocoa Beach and went off exploring. There are 72 miles of beautiful sands, so you'll have no trouble finding a spot for your towel.

Most people go to SeaWorld to see dolphins in Florida. But you can spot these wonderful creatures frolicking in the wild on an Eco Most people go to SeaWorld to see dolphins in Florida. But you can spot these wonderful creatures frolicking in the wild on an Eco Riverboat Tour of Cocoa Beach Thousand Islands. We were thrilled to see one pod jumping over each other in the wash behind our boat.

Riverboat Tour of Cocoa Beach Thousand Islands. We were thrilled to see one pod jumping over each other in the wash behind our boat.

The Thousand Islands were formed by a storm that flooded the coast and they have become a haven for all kinds of wildlife - along with millionaires' mansions.

The Thousand Islands were formed by a storm that flooded the coast and they have become a haven for all kinds of wildlife - along with millionaires' mansions.

We wandered Cocoa Beach's picturesque wooden pier, built in the 1960s, then enjoyed a tasty and very filling Cajun fish sandwich and fries at Grills restaurant in nearby Port Canaveral.

We wandered Cocoa Beach's picturesque wooden pier, built in the 1960s, then enjoyed a tasty and very filling Cajun fish sandwich and fries at Grills restaurant in nearby Port Canaveral.

Gourmands will enjoy Cocoa Beach's lovely Cafe Margaux, the kind of fine dining experience you'd expect to find in Paris. But I Gourmands will enjoy Cocoa Beach's lovely Cafe Margaux, the kind of fine dining experience you'd expect to find in Paris. But I ordered a huge, succulent steak with frites - you can't go to the USA and not have a steak!

ordered a huge, succulent steak with frites - you can't go to the USA and not have a steak!

No trip to Florida is complete without a visit to the Disney parks in Orlando. We stayed at the lovely (and huge) Swan and Dolphin Hotel, an ideal base. It's home to Bluezoo, an aquarium-themed restaurant where the seafood dishes are works of art.

No trip to Florida is complete without a visit to the Disney parks in Orlando. We stayed at the lovely (and huge) Swan and Dolphin Hotel, an ideal base. It's home to Bluezoo, an aquarium-themed restaurant where the seafood dishes are works of art.

Disney's Hollywood Studios was our first port of call next day.

Disney's Hollywood Studios was our first port of call next day.

We made straight for Toy Story Midway Mania to put on 3D specs and ride through virtual carnival games like darts and ring-toss.

We made straight for Toy Story Midway Mania to put on 3D specs and ride through virtual carnival games like darts and ring-toss.

I've always loved white-knuckle rides and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of the greats.

I've always loved white-knuckle rides and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of the greats.

Your carriage creeps to the top of a spooky hotel and is suddenly dropped 199ft down a lift shaft. My stomach is still up there.

Your carriage creeps to the top of a spooky hotel and is suddenly dropped 199ft down a lift shaft. My stomach is still up there.

In the afternoon we went to the Magic Kingdom to see an array of Disney characters parade along Main Street USA.

In the afternoon we went to the Magic Kingdom to see an array of Disney characters parade along Main Street USA.

Just like at Kennedy Space Center, I found myself transported back to my childhood. This time even further back to the innocent land of Mickey and Minnie.

Just like at Kennedy Space Center, I found myself transported back to my childhood. This time even further back to the innocent land of Mickey and Minnie.

A stellar Florida experience.

A stellar Florida experience.

CAPTION(S):

| Disney's Main St USA | Disney's Main St USA

| Atlantis from above and, inset left, the Apollo Saturn V Rocket | Atlantis from above and, inset left, the Apollo Saturn V Rocket
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:May 10, 2014
Words:1430
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