Wednesday, May 01, 2013

MTE reviews: Sesame Place 2013 Season

Disclosure: I was provided complimentary admission tickets for my family to attend the opening day of Sesame Place's 2013 Season. All opinions expressed here are my own, based on my life-long love of Sesame Street and our experience in the lovely park environment. 

Sesame-Place-LogoWe traveled for a total of almost six hours in the car last Saturday for this season's opening day at Sesame Place. If you're within a few hours' ride of Langhorne, PA, and you're looking to blow the mind of a young child you love, I would highly recommend Sesame Place, the only theme park based on the fabulous PBS show that has been entertaining and educating young children for over 40 years. This summer, children and families will enjoy the combination of amusement park and water park rides aimed at preschoolers to older elementary school aged kids, along with three shows every day in the park and opportunities to meet the furry residents of Sesame Street. In addition, some big names in the children's entertainment biz will be there, too: Laurie Berkner, Imagination Moveers, Caillou and Max & Ruby!

That's the stuff that any press release can tell you, so now that you've got the basics, let me share with you my impressions and some pics of our fabulous visit on a sunny, but cool late April day. I'll start by saying that my kids aren't all in the prime age range for Sesame Place, but we didn't give JAM much of a choice, so he was along for the ride. It may not be cool to say, but I think he was a little bit excited for he remembered the fun that he had on some of the rides back in November 2011, when we were invited to preview Sesame Place's holiday experience: A Very Furry Christmas. While JAM is 12 years old and past his Sesame Street viewing age, even he was singing a happy tune at the end of the day. "This morning I was asking myself how I got dragged into this, but I have to say, that was a pretty awesome time." I'm going to attribute that to a high number of rides on the rollercoaster.

Here's the thing, this isn't a huge park, but that actually appeals to me, because I'm not really looking for a huge park experience. There are enough rides and attractions to keep the kids busy all day, especially if you bring bathing suits and utilize both parts of the park. At the end of the day, you won't be completely exhausted from walking miles and miles, and some areas allow for extended play rather than just a short ride.
The logistics that you need to know:
  • Parking: There are three options for parking. General ($15), Preferred ($18), and VIP ($30). Anything past General should just be called Sucker Parking, because no matter where you park even in General, you're not going to have a super-long walk. Don't pay the extra money, and consider even a walk from the furthest part of General Parking just an excuse for an extra Elmo-shaped pretzel during the day.
  • Food: According to the park's FAQ page, no outside food is permitted. I'm a rule follower and all, but even the guy who checked our bag told us that coolers are allowed as long as they're no larger than 10"x10"x12" and that you can have food in them. Seriously, I saw tons of folks unpacking sandwiches, drinks and snacks from their bags and eating at the many picnic table areas around the park.
  • Discounts: If you're a local PA resident, or if you have a friend who is, be sure to check out the various retailers that offer discounts. Sesame Place is so cool that they even tell you about these discounts on their own site!
  • Exit and Re-entry: If you need to leave the park to get something out of your car, be sure to have your hand stamped so you can re-enter the park. You can also actually leave the parking area and come back in without paying again if you hold on to the receipt they give you when you pay for parking upon entry. We opted for a local restaurant for lunch, and this allowed us to drive down the road and come back without dropping another parking fee.
Now let's talk about the park's most fun features. The highlights according to my kids (and maybe for me and Hubby, too):
  • Vapor Trail: We were not inside the park's gates for more than two minutes before JAM (12) and Pudge (5.5) were dragging their dad to the line for the Vapor Trail. Red (almost 7), wasn't as gung-ho, but the boys did this one multiple times throughout the day. Somehow, even though even a mild roller coaster makes me terrified, I ended up doing this one at the end of the evening with Pudge, who wanted "just one more time," and whose father said, "I'm officially old, because I can't do that one more time today." The very first ride of the day was even recorded for memory:
  • Nets 'n' Climbs: This is one that the whole family can get into, as there are tons of grown-ups climbing-- and even rolling around-- up in these nets. There's a lovely shaded area with picnic tables where parents can sit while their children explore up above if they're not the cargo net types. Our kids are old enough that we were comfortable sending them up there after telling them where they could find us. When we didn't see Red for a while, Hubby went up to look for her and found her up in a tube area laughing with a newly-made friend.
  • Elmo's Cloud Chaser: For days, all Red could talk about was "the big swings," and she was thrilled to take several rides on this, her favorite ride. Soaring around, looking at the other rides from way up high-- this is a fun one, for sure!
  • The Count's Splash Castle: Yes, we went to Sesame Place in April. Yup, Sesame Place is in Pennsylvania. And finally, you are correct in thinking that PA in April is not usually a hot and humid kind of environment. But, my children did indeed experience some of the water park features that were open on the day of our visit. We had decided to pack their bathing suits and towels for the day, but we didn't tell them this of course, because we thought it was HIGHLY unlikely that they'd get used. But by midday, when we saw that some of the water park features were open, including Big Bird's Rambling River and The Count's Splash Castle, we thought we'd offer it up. Even though it was only in the high 60s, all three children accepted the offer enthusiastically, to say the least. JAM ran off to enjoy the lazy river (an area in which we had witnessed a teen floating while wearing a sweatshirt earlier in the day), and Red and Pudge joined a small mass of other insane children in the splash area, which they lovingly compared to the fort area they enjoyed so much at Great Wolf Lodge last winter. I, however, stuck my feet in a few times and declared us all horrible parents. The children's joy and my disbelief for the experience made for some fun Facebook fodder to fill the time while they played. After a while, they reached their breaking point, and we called the water park portion of the day to a close. 
  • Neighborhood Street Party Parade: Who doesn't love a parade? Even the oldest among us had plenty of smiles and laughs as the whole Sesame Street Gang danced and sang down the middle of the park in the early evening parade. Red and Pudge got excited over high fives from Ernie, and even JAM might have sung along to some familiar songs. But Hubby and I got the biggest laughs when we realized that Pudge's growing complaints about having to stand in one place were so in line with the piped-in voice of Oscar the Grouch, who spoke in between song parts to tell us all to scram and made it clear that he, too, wished for the parade to come to a close. (For what it's worth, we chalk up Pudge's grumpiness at this time to be the direct result of hunger and exhaustion, not a reflection of the awesomely fun parade itself.) Oh, and in the parade, even some of the lesser-known Sesame Street characters get highlighted, like one of my favorites who has an awesome name-- Prairie Dawn! (Loved my surprise from Hubby, too-- a plush Prairie Dawn of my own. If only I still had my old stuffed Grover from childhood, I'd have my two favorite Sesame Street pals together!)
  • Silly Sand Slide: Okay, if you've read far enough to get to this point, then you're in for a little secret treat. After the parade, we were heading to the exits to call the day to a close, and then Pudge remembered that he wanted to try one more area before we left. Hubby said they looked at this area earlier in the day, and there was something that he thought I would get a big kick out of here. This play area near some of the water park features is meant for the younger crowd, but the slides themselves weren't what attracted my wacky family. Just take a look at this picture first, then I'll get to the explanation:
This was, by far, my favorite part of the day. Honestly. Maybe it was because we were all feeling a bit loopy from hunger, but this giant net of yoga/exercise balls was the most fun thing to play on ever. The park was clearing out as it was about 30 minutes from closing, and we spent a good fifteen minutes hurling ourselves at the balls and bouncing back down, laughing like maniacs. I'm pretty sure that Hubby and I had more fun than any child who had visited that area all day. Wanna see?

Okay, maybe no one will laugh at that as much as we did, but I'll tell you that we were a source of much amusement to the young attendant on duty that evening. He even gave us the highest compliment a couple of late-thirty-somethings can receive after bouncing around like lunatics. "You're like the coolest parents I've seen here all day. Most parents just stand around and watch. You guys are fun!" You're damn right, buddy. Fun is what we are.

We enjoyed several other rides including the Blast Off (which made me laugh uncontrollably out of embarrassment at my inability to NOT scream when we dropped), Grover's World Twirl (teacups + crazy fast spinning = nauseated parents), and Monster Maze (an area in which our children may or may not have been on their best behavior). Red and Pudge were saddened to see that they had grown too tall for some of the attractions they had enjoyed a year and a half ago, but that's okay. My big kids' loss is your little ones' gain!

So, as you can hopefully see from my words of praise and photographic and video evidence, Sesame Place makes for a fun day for the whole family. And trust me, if you head up to the park for a day, make sure you don't miss the balls. Bounce away, my friends, bounce away!

Ready to sweep the clouds away again sometime soon,