Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sesame Place

Last week we took our family on a summer vacation to New Jersey. In addition to our family, we have many friends in New Jersey, and many of them would talk about taking their kids to Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA. With our kids at the prime “Sesame” ages of 2 and 5, it seemed like the perfect time to pay a visit to the home of Big Bird, Elmo and the Sesame Street gang!

As we were planning for the vacation, we mentioned to our daughter that we were going to go to Sesame Place and we’d get to see Elmo and the other Sesame Street characters. She started referring to our vacation as her Elmo-cation and was asking regularly, “When is our Elmo-cation?”

As we began to look into planning the visit to Sesame Place, the first thing that jumped out at me was the price of admission. The single-day price of $50.95 seemed high - especially for my 2-year old. Upon further reading, I did learn that the 2-day park ticket also was $50.95. The 2-day ticket can be used on any 2 days in the season; there is no limitation of using it on consecutive days, which makes it a nice option for those that live close enough to make the drive twice during the summer. With the 2-day pass, the admission seems much more reasonable at about $25 per day.

It actually wasn't until I was at the park, watching my daughter dance in the aisles during the shows that it dawned on me - the admission price is as much for the rides as for the shows. Seeing her dance reminded me of the videos you see of Sesame Street Live or The Wiggles Live, with all of the kids singing and dancing along. When Sesame Street or The Wiggles come to town, those prices are $15 - $35 and more per ticket. At Sesame Place, you can see three shows with your admission! To compliment the shows, there’s also the huge Rock Around The Block parade down Main Street. Suddenly, that $50 admission for one or two days was feeling like a really great deal!

Speaking of the shows - they were great. The first show that we experienced was Elmo's World Live! They did an amazing job of recreating the television show on the Sesame Place stage. It included audience participation, video presentations and even Mr. Noodle. My daughter was in total awe watching the show. She couldn’t believe that she was seeing Elmo right there in front of her. The next show we saw was Abby Cadabby's Treasure Hunt. Abby is admittedly my daughter's favorite character, with Elmo a close second. She was very excited to see Abby and every time she would go off stage, my daughter would ask with concern, "where's Abby?” After the awe of being on the "set" of Elmo's World, by the time we got to Abby's show, my daughter was really getting into the performance. She was standing on the bench, dancing along with the characters on stage, having a grand old time. By the time that we got to Big Bird's Beach Party, she was adventurous enough to walk up by the stage on her own and dance along. These shows are expertly performed and except for Elmo’s World Live!, they feature an ensemble cast of Sesame Street regulars. Abby’s Treasure Hunt also included Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Rosita, and Oscar. Big Bird’s Beach Party also included Ernie, Bert, Telly, Zoe, and Elmo. One of the best things about the shows is the performer participation. During the shows the Sesame Street gang makes visits to the audience, gives high fives and makes their way around the stage several times so everyone in attendance gets to see each character. No matter where you sit at these shows, you’ll have a great view of all the fun.

In addition to the shows and the parade, several Sesame Street characters make frequent appearances on Sesame Street (Main Street) for hugs, high fives, and of course, photos! Lines form quickly for on-the-street meet and greets with Bert & Ernie, Count Von Count, Zoe, and Cookie Monster. Bert & Ernie gather next to the 1-2-3 Steps in front of a black & white background. This makes for fantastic color-popping photos! As comfortable as my daughter was, dancing along at the shows, she was still not comfortable meeting the characters. We got one picture with Zoe, but only because I stood there and held my crying daughter. It was nice in that there are park photographers who take your picture, but they also allow time for you to take your own picture.

Now let’s get to the rides and other attractions! The park consists primarily of water rides, but there is also a carousel, roller coaster and some other dry rides/activities in Elmo's World. When we got to the park, my son asked what he could ride there, we told him that he could ride virtually all of the rides - there were a couple of water slides that he wasn't tall enough to ride, but all of the other rides he could ride, either on his own or accompanied by me or my husband. He thought that was pretty cool because at the amusement park that we normally go to, there are only sections of the park where he can ride the rides, as the others are geared toward adults. One nice thing was that on Ernie's Bed Bounce (an open air bounce house, if you will), they divided the line into two sections: ages 4 and under & ages 5 to 7. This made it easy for them to alternate between the age groups and make sure that the kids bouncing together were of similar size, which you know is a good thing if you have ever watched your toddler bouncing with a larger child.

The water rides are located throughout the park and includes a wave pool (with a maximum depth of 24"), a lazy river, an assortment of slides, and other water features. The new feature for this year was The Count's Splash Castle. Life jackets are provided for many water rides and are required for children of certain height on a ride-by-ride basis. The water rides were very enjoyable; however, after waiting in our first queue line, we understood clearly why Sesame Place recommends wearing water shoes! We were all wearing our Crocs, which we would leave in the shoe caddies provided at the entrance to each water ride. The problem is that many of the line queues were a pebbled concrete walkway which, especially when heated by the sun, was not very comfortable to walk on. Those wearing water shoes had no trouble with the hot, pebbled surface. But for those of us with bare feet, it was no picnic.

The park was nice & clean and everything was in good condition. As we were standing in line for one of the water rides, we were talking about the date listed on the raft next to a Sesame Place logo and began speculating about how old the park was. When we got home, we looked it up – Sesame Place opened back in 1980. The park is very well maintained and based on the condition of the park, I would never have guessed that it was nearly 30 years old. In addition to being in great shape, the park is Smoke Free, which, as a mom of young children is something that I really like.

With all of this playing, you will be sure to be hungry and thirsty. At Sesame Place, you are allowed to bring into the park a soft-sided cooler no bigger than 10 x 10 x 12. In addition, there are picnic groves near the parking areas, which make it easy to enjoy a picnic lunch. Cups of ice water were available at no charge at each of the concession locations where we asked. The food and drink prices seemed to be fairly reasonable compared to other theme parks. Of course, if you’re looking for the full Sesame Place experience, they also offer character dining. The buffets, available by reservation for breakfast, lunch and dinner, range from $15 - $17 for the kids and $17 - $22 for the adults. Breakfast is with either Cookie Monster or Elmo, and friends as available. Lunch and Dinner is with Big Bird and friends as available.

Since we only were able to visit for one day and we were so busy playing, aside from a picnic lunch we enjoyed at the park, we ran out of time to eat much else. We had planned to have dinner at the park, but the next thing we knew it was 7 pm and with only one hour left to play, we decided to wait and eat when we left so that we could get the most playing in.

Towards the end of the day, as we were walking towards attractions at the front of the park, my husband was asked to take a short survey pertaining to our park experience. He had many positive things to say, save for the pebbled concrete surface in the water ride area. It was great to see that the folks at Sesame Place value customer input as much as they do. That sort of customer service goes a long way and it really sets them apart from other theme parks.

I would say that my 2 year old daughter enjoyed the overall experience the most. She had a great time on all the rides, although early on it was clear that Snuffy’s Slides (the dry tube slides in the Elmo's World section) were her favorite and she definitely loved the shows. My nearly 6 year old son thought it was great that he could ride almost every ride and with time, he even worked up the courage to ride some of the water slides on his own. However, he was not overly interested in watching the shows or the parade. My husband and I had a lot of fun sharing the experience with our children and, having grown up watching Sesame Street, the nostalgia of Sesame Place really hit home.

My overall Sesame Place experience was wonderful. I really appreciated being at a park geared toward younger children, where my kids could enjoy almost every ride and attraction and were familiar with all of the characters. It was nice to be able to enjoy our day at a family-friendly, smoke free, and clean theme park. I definitely would plan a return visit and would recommend the park to friends and family.

I’d like to extend a very special thank you to the group at Sesame Place that provided me with the one-day tickets to the park. My family and I had a great time visiting Sesame Place as part of our Elmo-cation.

This blog entry has been brought to you today by the letter A and by the number 2. (My husband made me do it!)