Pros: Kids love Sesame characters, geared for younger kids
Cons: Not good for teens, pricey
Our 6 year old had heard about Sesame Place from a classmate who went there last summer and loved it, so he was bugging us to take him. This is quite a drive from our house (around 10 hours), so we weren't really keen on the plan. But when we had a wedding in Elmira, NY, only 4 hours from Sesame Place, we decided to do a family road trip and visit Sesame Place.
Before You Go
When planning our trip, we learned that there were Sesame Place Preferred Partner hotels. If you stay at one of these hotels, you will receive a voucher for a Meet and Greet session at the park. When you arrive at Sesame Place, you take the voucher to guest services, and you are given a time to come to a tent to meet all the characters. As far as I could tell, the only way you could receive these vouchers was by staying at one of the Preferred Partners.
A bit of advice: when we go to large parks such as this with our kids, we prepare in advance. Before we go, we talk to our kids about what to do if they get lost. When we get in, we point out the Lost Kids place. We wear matching outfits so we are easily identified as a family. I have had people tell me where to find my husband when they see me looking around. We have worn matching Disney baseball jerseys, and this year my husband ordered us bright colored shirts with EDELMANN FAMILY VACATION 2001 printed on each shirt. The bright colors helped find each other and the words showed we were together. Another thing we do is to take 2-way radios. If you have more than one child and tend to split up, these are very handy. At a water park such as this, we did have to worry about keeping them dry, however.
Admission to the park has gone up recently. It is now $34.95 for everybody age 2 and up. This makes the park a bit more expensive for families, since usually 2 year olds are free. Many of the hotels offer discount tickets to the park, and people told me about coupons available from local stores (which didn?t help us since we weren?t from the area). However, if you buy your ticket at the gate, you get two days for the price of one. Your ticket is called Elmo?s Passport, and is good for a second day any time during the season. This is a great deal if you plan to spend more than one day. A Twilight Pass is available after 4 p.m. for $18.95.
Two other ?passports? are available. Cookie Monster?s Passport is $89.95 and includes unlimited visits, free general parking, 10% discount on food & merchandise at select merchants, 15% off on additional guest admissions, 50% discount on general admission for pass members at other parks owned by Anheuser-Busch. Big Bird?s Passport offers all those benefits ?and much much more?, with no details provided in my brochure. Guest relations would provide information.
The park is open May through September, with hours varying depending upon the date you visit. In July, the park is open 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. At other times, the park is only open until 5 p.m., so a Twilight Pass then would probably not be worth purchasing.
I am not sure the price for parking, since we took the shuttle from our hotel. However, they have two levels or parking. Preferred Parking (which costs more) gets you a parking spot right near the entrance to the park. Regular parking is farther back (I did not even see it on our shuttle ride).
The park has a special Big Bird & Friends character breakfast before the park opens. This is another opportunity to meet all the characters if you didn?t get a Meet and Greet voucher. You must have a ticket for the park to come to the breakfast. For $12.95 per person, you get a halfway decent breakfast buffet and visits to your table from all the characters. The breakfast included toast, pancakes, eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, boxes of cereal, coffee, juice and milk.
It is almost impossible to spend much time at this park without getting wet. I strongly recommend wearing a swimsuit and sandals or water shoes. This goes for adults as well as kids. We wore swimsuits under our clothes, and ended up with the clothes in the stroller most of the time. Some of the rides require swimwear. I also suggest having some type of waterproof container for your money, ID, etc. and leaving purses, backpacks and fanny packs behind. The park does sell waterproof containers that you can hand around your neck for a reasonable $4. Even if you avoid the water rides, much of the ground is wet, so water shoes are a must.
Being a theme park, the food is pricey, but Sesame Place allows you to bring in picnic lunches and even provides tables for eating. This is a good idea if you live close enough to pack your own lunch.
Entering the park
As soon as you enter the park, make sure you validate your ticket for the second day, and check in for the meet and greet session. Then, find a park schedule for the shows and plan your day to make sure you see the shows. We were there two days and did not see all of the shows because we did not pay attention to when the shows were, and so missed some completely.
The park rents strollers, wagons and motorized carts. Lockers are available near the entrance for storing clothes, food, etc.
Elmo?s World Live is new this year to the park, and is a very popular show. You want to get there early to be able to get in to see this show. This is also the only show we saw that was indoors (and air conditioned, so this is a good one to plan to see in the hottest part of the day). The building has a few activities to keep the kids occupied while you wait (mainly chalkboards). Kids also have a chance to come up on stage and dance with Elmo. Both of my boys got to go on stage and were absolutely thrilled.
The other shows were Big Bird and Company Musical Revue, Sesame Brass (band), David Jacks? Jungle Adventure, Pet Pals and the Rock around the Block Parade.
If you have a child between the ages of 6 and 12, they may have a chance to be in the parade. Near the park entrance was a place for your child to sign up to be in the parade, riding on a float or walking. There are two parades, but sign up is for one at a time, so if you miss your chance for the first parade, you can try for the second parade.
Rides and Attractions
The rides are definitely designed for little ones. Unlike most amusement parks, the only ride restrictions I saw were must be 3 years of age or older. The park map even indicates the rides that are recommended for younger children.
One big plus is that a large number of attractions are simply activities, like playing in the wading pool or climbing up for a slide, so there are NO LINES for many things. My son won?t stay in line for very long, so this worked out very well. He got to do much more than at most amusement parks, since he didn?t have as many lines.
The attractions have cute names relating to the show. The Count?s Ballroom, for example, is a giant ball pit. Ernie?s Bed Bounce is a giant moon bounce type thing, looking like a bed. There are several giant ?sand box? beaches for kids. Kids have balancing beams, net climbs, building areas, two different types of mazes, lots of water slides, a roller coaster, and some splash/wading ponds.
One of my younger son?s favorites was Silly Sand Slides, which looks like a giant bag of marbles to climb, with a slide at the top. I thought he would never make it up there, but he was determined. After he made it once, he did it faster each time.
He also enjoyed Ernie?s Waterworks, which was a bunch of pipes and fountains that shoot out water. He was not too sure about going in the wading ponds or on the rides, but this gave him (and Mommy) a chance to get wet and cool off.
My older son was most interested in the water slides, but also spent quite a bit of time on the net climbs. Now, these are fairly new to me and I was not too fond of them. These are giant nets with tubes and tunnels, similar to McDonald?s play areas and others, but the kids have to go up one flight of stairs to start, and the nets go up three levels. This means the kids are 4 stories high when they go to the top. I am not very fond of heights, and thought this was much too high.
My husband thought the water slides were awesome (he had never been on one before). I liked the inner tube ride down a pretend river the best. It was a relaxing way to cool off. At various points, you had opportunities to get wet by fountains and sprays. At all times a lifeguard was nearby to help out. Sometimes you could get stuck under a fountain and have trouble getting out. I saw one woman get stuck under a spray and she finally tipped over to get away from it (but the lifeguard was only seconds from getting her).
A replica of Sesame Street itself was a big hit with kids. We hung out there for a while and got to meet Elmo, Big Bird and Prairie Dawn there (at different times). All the kids came and knocked on Oscar?s garbage can. The set was pretty lame to me, just wooden buildings painted to look like the buildings, but the kids all seemed to love it. Big Bird?s nest was hidden behind a fence, with holes for kids to look through to see it.
There is an arcade (boo, hiss, take my money) with your typical games to win coupons. Surprisingly, the games awarded tickets much easier than at most arcades, and the prizes were for reasonable token amounts (for 70 tokens, my son got a medium sized plush unicorn, which would be around 500 tokens at Chuck E. Cheese). Several typical carnival games were also in one area, at $2.00 each.
Food & Shopping
As at most amusement parks, you have several restaurants in the park, as well as food carts with beverages, and snacks. If you plan to buy drinks at the park, definitely purchase a souvenir cup. Refills with the souvenir cup are only 99 cents, versus $2.99 for each regular drink. After two drinks, you have saved money.
Sesame Cafe is the ?fancy? restaurant at the park, serving penne pasta marina, grilled chicken, italian sausage, corned beef and Swiss on country rye, hand carved turkey and sandwiches on focaccia bread, and more, with indoor dining. Food Factory offers pizza, chicken fajitas, salads and desserts, with both indoor and outdoor dining. Captain Ernie?s Cafe had turkey sandwiches, burgers, salads, etc. Several other places served ice cream and other snacks.
For some strange reason, many of the restaurants close early. On our first night, we stopped at Captain Ernie?s for dinner at 6 p.m. and it was already closed for the day. An employee told us that only one restaurant was still open (Sorry, I can?t remember which one it was).
If you didn?t take my advice and wear a swimsuit, don?t worry, you can buy one at Sesame Place. Two stores carry swim essentials, such as suits,water shoes and towels. Souvenir balloons (you know, those giant balloons that every kid wants because some guy is walking around with a big bunch of them) are available in a variety of styles. You can purchase all kinds of Sesame Place and character apparel, post cards, typical souvenir stuff, and the wonderful Sesame Street toys. The toys are the same ones you can get at your local store, for the most part.
The park itself was very clean. The staff were polite and helpful. All the rides had lots of staff on hand for smooth movement through the rides, and plenty of lifeguards were ready to quickly help.
It was a nice change to visit a park that is directly geared toward the younger crowd. The atmosphere was different from that of other parks. You saw very few teenagers, and all the adults were there with young kids. It felt more relaxed. There were no ?big? rides that your kids wanted to ride but were too small (with the exception of the ride where you have to be 3).
I would definitely recommend this to families with kids who enjoy Sesame Street, or just want a more relaxed atmosphere for a family trip. Families with teenagers, however, should probably go someplace else.