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Where to eat, stay and visit when in Houston or Orlando

Whether a fan of Buzz Aldrin or Buzz Lightyear, space exploration has always piqued our curiosity. You may not be able to set your boots on a new planet anytime soon, but you can still explore our space program by making a visit to one of two venues in the U.S. where you can get up close and personal with those who have gone beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. You can also pay homage to the Space Shuttle Discovery, which made its final flight last month after operating for three decades. For families who can fly the friendly skies, pack up your mini toiletries and head east to sunny Orlando, Fla. You and your brood can get behind the controls of the space shuttle at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Or, for a quick getaway, hit the road and head to Houston, where your coastal adventure includes the Johnson Space Center. Naturally, you’ll need to know where you can grab a bite and where to go for kid-friendly lodgings … We’ve got the lowdown on those as well.

What to do: No visit to Houston is complete without a trip to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Now, we know you’re no Neil Armstrong, but there’s no reason you can’t pretend for the day. Strap into the Feel of Space Exhibit, where you’ll get a feel (literally) for how astronauts live outside the atmosphere. The Starship Gallery will introduce you to incredible artifacts and hardware (such as the Mercury Atlas “Faith 7” capsule) from space flight. Or poke around the Kids Space Place, where you can explore interactive exhibits that introduce you to different aspects of manned space flight. $20.95 adults; $16.95 kids 4-11. Get $5 off with online ticket purchase. Some height restrictions may apply. Still have more days to fill? Stop by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Here, you can celebrate your state by checking out the traveling show, Texas! The Exhibition, explore the stunning rainforest conservatory or see a fascinating IMAX show. Ticket prices vary per exhibit.
281/244-2100; spacecenter.org
713/639-4629; hmns.org

Where to eat: Why just eat your dinner when you can dive into a dining adventure? At the Aquarium Restaurant, you’re seated around a 150,000-gallon aquarium filled with rays, sawfish, guitarfish and other fascinating creatures. But this is more than just a feast for the eyes. Dig your fork into shrimp parmesan pasta or a broiled fisherman’s platter, while the kids nosh on Tidal Wave Tenders or a Barracuda Burger. Top off the evening with an interactive (and educational) journey into the rainforest and stingray exhibit.
Houston, 713/223-3474
Kemah, 281/334-9010

Where to rest your head: Curl up at the end of the day at a place that’s swank AND cozy. The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa is located on an 18-acre wooded oasis right in the heart of the city, so you can enjoy a country retreat without straying too far from your favorite museums and restaurants. In the morning, get your blood flowing by going for a run (or walk) in the fitness club. And this isn’t just for grownups. While you break a sweat, kiddos can get their double dribble on in the kids gym, or they can stretch their arms and legs on the rock wall. Mom, don’t feel bad about treating yourself to a facial; while you get an hour escape, the kiddos (ages 6 weeks-5 years) can play in the bungalow, where they’ll stay safe—and have fun—under the watchful eye of trained staff. Come nighttime, rollaway beds and cribs are available. Rates vary based on availability.
713/680-2626; houstonian.com

What to do:
Some things you can only learn from experience. Or, at least, have a veteran tell you his own experience! Take a mini-excursion (just 45 minutes by car) out of Orlando and head to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where you can have lunch with an astronaut, and feel free to ask all the things you’ve been dying to know (Do astronauts sleep upside down?). $22.99 adults; $15.99 children. You also can get behind the controls of the space shuttle during the Astronaut Training Experience, where you’ll hear firsthand from a NASA astronaut and perform hands-on space activities. $145 per family (ages 7 and older).
866/737-5235; kennedyspacecenter.com

Where to eat: As if you didn’t already feel magical enough (being right down the street from Disney World and all), Café Tu Tu Tango will make your meal something to really remember. At this eclectic café, each plate is meant to be shared, so you can give your taste buds a variety of flavors. Try the zesty and popular Dynamite Shrimp (served with sweet garlic chili aioli) or the oriental marinated steak skewers (marinated for 24 hours in soy ginger honey). Kids can munch on pizza, mini hot dogs, spaghetti, grilled cheese, chicken fingers and French fries. But this is more than just a treat for the taste buds—throughout the day, local artists set up shop, so you can watch them at work during your meal. And in the evening, you may just catch an exciting dance show, from flamenco to tap to Bolivian.
407/248-2222; cafetututango.com

Where to rest your head: Book a room at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, for ultimate elegance combined with fun for the whole family. With luxurious décor and a relaxing spa for you, a breathtaking golf course (designed by British Open Champion Greg Norman) for hubby and plenty of fun activities for the kiddos, you’ll never be short something to do. While you indulge in a spa treatment, drop the little ones (ages 5-12) off at Ritz Kids, where they’ll play games, do arts and crafts, release ladybugs and more ($20 for one hour). From Monday-Friday, adventurous kids can ride bikes, participate in scavenger hunts, make homemade ice cream, feed fish and more during Nature Rangers ($50 per child). Or, if you and hubby would like a date night, drop the kids off at Kids Night Out from 6-10pm ($80 per child; dinner is included). Rates vary based on availability.
407/206-2400; ritzcarlton.com