With tourist space travel already a reality, we take advantage of 3 May 2019 being International Space Day to explore holiday ideas which are out of this world.
International Space Day falls annually on the first Friday in May to celebrate the achievements and benefits of space travel, to provoke thought about what may lie beyond our own planet’s atmosphere and to encourage children to take an interest in astro-science.
When Soviet cosmonaut and pilot Yuri Gagarin completed humankind’s maiden voyage into outer space on 12 April 1961, he could only have dreamed of the realities to follow…
Holidays in space are no longer simply a starry-eye dream thanks to Virgin Galactic whose mission is to develop and operate space travel vehicles designed to open space travel to everyone. (Or ‘everyone’ who can afford the $250,000 price tag). The first tourist space flights have already landed back on Earth with more sold-out flights scheduled for lift off.
But for those of us with a more down-to-earth holiday budget, there are plenty of options for you to explore your inner-astronaut.
Florida - The US home of space travel and exploration
My parents first visited Florida in their late 50s and headed straight for Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center to relive their childhood memories of the space race rocket launches.
The visitor complex is divided into ‘Mission Zones’ based on the chronological era the attractions, displays and tours relate to. There are plenty of hands-on exhibits to enjoy and you can opt to relax on bus tours around the immense 219 square mile site, or dine with a real astronaut. If you prefer a more active visit, you can choose to take one small step into the moonboots of a space traveller and join an astronaut training session, experience a microgravity simulator and join the crew for a shuttle launch encounter. If you time your visit carefully, you may even be able to watch a history-making rocket launch.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center website offers suggested itineraries for visitors of all ages, based on one or two day visits.
After spending a day or two immersed in the world of real space exploration, how about exploring a more fantasy-fuelled escape?
Theme-park lovers and die-hard Star Wars fans will be keen to time their visit to Florida after August 2019 when the new Star Wars - Galaxy’s Edge Park opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. Set over 14 acres, this innovative new venture is pitched as a ‘fully immersive experience.’ Visitors will meet street market traders, smugglers and bounty hunters, and are even given the chance to fly the infamous Millennium Falcon!
Both Orlando and Los Angeles will welcome the new park addition, with the west coast version launching later in the year.
While you’re in Florida, don’t forget to visit space-themed favourite, Epcot, in Orlando’s Disney World Resort.
Epcot offers an array of futuristic experiences for all ages including rides with a more educational than thrill-seeking aim. There are many more attractions to enjoy during a day or two at Epcot, including parades, displays and rides which bring history, science and innovation to life. Finish your day with the most incredible firework display which takes place over the lake each evening.
With 125 RCI-affiliated resorts in the Orlando area of Florida alone, and flights to Florida getting cheaper all the time, you really should explore this natural and man-made playground. RCI members can also benefit from deals on attraction tickets through RCI Travel†.
California - For star and film-star gazing
Don’t think everything space-travel is limited to Florida. California also hosts rocket launches at locations including the Mojave Air and Space Port and Vandenberg Air Force Base.
You could witness history take off in the morning and head to the famous Griffith Observatory as afternoon turns to night.
The observatory has featured in several films and you can even catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign from the building’s vantage point. The venue offers free entry daily, as well as free and paid-for shows in the planetarium and Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater - named in honour of the Star Trek actor.
Don’t limit yourself to stargazing from inside the observatory - make sure you explore the neighbouring Griffith Park too. Boasting over 4,200 acres of natural and landscaped parkland and picnic areas, this is the largest municipal park with urban wilderness area in the United States. There are plenty of hiking trails within the park, offering spectacular views - with no telescope required.
Couple this with a visit to see the stars of a different kind on the Walk of Fame on downtown Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. You may even be lucky enough to catch a new star being unveiled with their human counterpart. These are free to watch - look out for new stars announced on walkoffame.com in case one coincides with your visit.
We have almost 200 affiliated resorts in California, from the coast to further inland, offering an abundance of choice for RCI members visiting The Golden State.
Las Vegas - Still lighting up the sky without neon signs
Venture away from the main Strip, the heart of Las Vegas and you can witness some of the best natural stargazing opportunities on the planet. Death Valley National Park boasts some of the clearest views of constellations - even better viewed with a telescope, but allow your own eyes 30 minutes to adjust to the night sky and you’ll still enjoy a timeless experience gazing skyward.
Death Valley was home to Timbisha Shoshone Native Americans for centuries before gold rush pioneers arrived, and there’s something special about knowing they witnessed the same view of the starry-sky. The area has been designated as a Gold Tier Dark Sky National Park, with measures in place to minimise light pollution in the area so visitors can enjoy the natural sky at its best.
With almost 40 RCI-affiliated resorts in the Las Vegas area, our members can enjoy the best of both natural and neon skies in Nevada.
Tenerife - Look skywards from Mount Teide
Tenerife has long-been an RCI member favourite, but away from the pools and beachside resorts, you may not be aware of the fantastic stargazing opportunities this popular Canary Island has in abundance.
Teide Observatory sits atop the inactive volcano, Mount Teide, within Teide National Park. The observatory has been in situ since 1964 as an international centre for solar astronomy and research focusing on the sun.
Combine a hike in the national park with a guided tour of the observatory where the ‘Starlight Guides’ will show you how to find constellations. You may even catch a meteor shower during your holiday if you're lucky.
Tenerife is one of RCI's most popular holiday destinations, with almost 60 affiliated resorts to choose from.
Sark - Stunning skies by day and by night
Thanks to low light pollution, no street lighting and a lack of cars, the smallest of the Channel Islands is shrouded in darkness at night. This means stars, especially the Milky Way, and even planets can sometimes be spotted without the need for a telescope. If you’re lucky, you could catch a glimpse of a shooting star too so make sure you have your wish ready!
In 2011, the island became the first functioning community in the world to be recognised by the International Dark Sky Association thanks to its unpolluted darkness and air quality. You can visit Sark’s Observatory to learn more about what to look for and then take a night walk yourself to see the real deal.
We have one RCI-affiliated resort on Guernsey in the Channel Islands, with ferries regularly making the hour-long crossing to Sark.
Finland - Enjoy a natural phenomenon that’s ‘out of this world’
The Northern Lights aren’t strictly in space but they’re fantastical enough to warrant an ‘other-worldly’ experience, and there’s plenty of science behind this amazing natural light show.
Aurora Borealis occurs when electrically-charged particles released by the sun collide with the oxygen and nitrogen within the Earth’s atmosphere. The ionization of the particles emit lights of different colours - and creates the Northern Lights as we know them.
The phenomenon is best viewed in Finnish and Swedish Lapland during autumn or winter, from September to March, when the sky is at its darkest.
Travelling during winter gives you the added magic of a snow-covered wonderland to enjoy by day and night. Soak up the best of Sámi hospitality with a holiday that makes the most of our natural world’s incredible abilities.
With 39 RCI-affiliated resorts in Finland and 11 of those located in Lapland, as an RCI member, you have plenty of reasons to witness Aurora Borealis for yourself.
While we’re not yet able to offer a resort on another planet, we do have every continent on Earth well covered with more than 4,000 affiliated resorts worldwide for our members to choose from. Wish on the next shooting star you see and your holiday dreams may just come true!
If you would like to book a holiday to one of the destinations we discussed in this blog, or see what else is on offer around the world, click on the RCI Resort Directory to search for your accommodation.
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