For years, in the name of family fun and magical experiences, my family would make our annual sojourn to Florida to visit the well-known amusement parks which call that region home. We loved the experiences that were available, but as the prices began to increase while our vacation budget began to decrease, I started to wonder if there were options closer to home — options that would offer the same or similar level of experiences — yet without the similar expense.
I’d heard of the smaller, local parks that Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey offer, but wondered if they would ‘measure up’ to the high bar that was set with the previous, out-of-state theme parks. I also wondered if they were geared more toward locals, or if they held enough to merit multiple hour drives to visit them. My husband, children and I were up for the challenge and set out to see what the tri-state has to offer.
My family and I ‘discovered’ Sesame Place a couple of years ago, and I knew that other families would enjoy seeing what the park has to offer as well. Looking back on the years of our trips to the large Florida-based parks, I can say with certainty thatSesame Place provides the fun, memory creating experiences families are looking for, without the huge expense or need to drive or fly to Florida/California.
When you step on to the property, you begin seeing the theming right away. The classic Sesame Street feel is there, yet it’s fresh and energetic. This is one of the main thematic areas where Sesame Place excels, in my opinion. They’ve found a balance between the nostalgia to which parents/caregivers can relate and the energy and freshness our children love (and exude by the metric ton).
This blend of classic and new is evident as well in the newest attraction, Oscar’s Wacky Taxi roller coaster. As you enter the park, you see the new coaster to left — prominent and proud. As you continue to the ticket gate, you walk along a path with beautifully maintained flower beds and subtle Sesame signage. It gives me the feel of walking down Sesame Street as you’d see in an older episode of the popular PBS program I watched as a child. It’s welcoming and inviting — a very good beginning to the day!
Is it as large as the bigger names in Florida and California? No, clearly it’s not. But, scale and square footage aren’t all to take into consideration. When you look at the scope of what is offered, from the amazing character interaction to the well-themed rides, you’ll see that Sesame Place is well worth your attention … and drive from wherever you may be in the region.
Let’s look at some factors that I found to be key:
When the opportunity arose to visit again to explore those points, my family and I were on our way to Langhorne, Pa (located right outside of Philadelphia) — a two and a half drive from our home in northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s surprising just how easy it is to get to Sesame Place from within the tri-state area. In Pennsylvania, the turnpike is truly your friend, with Sesame Place being a short less than a 30-minute drive from the exit. Outside of Pa, it’s still a reasonable (especially compared to a trip to Florida!) drive by car or public transit.
If you’re traveling farther, or want to spend a couple of days in the area, there are plenty of accommodations available, several of which are partner hotels (partner hotels collaborate with Sesame Place, offering a variety of Sesame perks if you book through the links provided on SesamePlace.com).
Whether you’re driving for a day-trip outing like we do, or looking to spend the night (or more), there are plenty of options at varying price points, many with decent savings and perks attached.
Proximity in relation to amusements:
Sesame Place has a variety of rides, including both dry rides and water rides/elements. While it’s a park that is smaller than the ‘big boys’ outside of the area, it packs a lot into its more compact footprint. The ride theming is fantastic. From Elmo’s Flying Fish to Captain Cookie’s High-C’s Adventure, the quality and theming are premier; we’re not talking small town carnival — the rides are on par with the larger parks. They are visually appealing, tie in with the overall theme of the park, and are absolutely well maintained. The staff is attentive and mindful of the rider guidelines to aid in a fun, safe experience.
The water rides/elements are top notches as well. I’ve been to water parks in Florida, and I can say that while Sesame Place doesn’t meet the size of the larger parks, it assuredly matches them in quality. I find that impressive. The other thing that I found very positive is the lifeguard staff. Confession time — I am a worrier. Put my kids around water, and my worry level skyrockets. I was put at ease when I saw how the staff we encountered interacted with not just my children, but others as well.
The lifeguard staff at the Sesame water attractions is fantastic.
We found the lifeguard staff to be very attentive (always a good sign!) and super helpful. My nephew has a physical limitation, and the lifeguard at Abby’s Magical Queue entrance was very patient and thoughtful in making sure he was comfortable and safe on his tube so his grandma could guide him through the attraction. When it was time for him to exit, she again took time and care to ensure he was going along at a pace at which he was comfortable. High marks for their staff’s attentiveness and care.
Live shows — Yes, Sesame Place has live shows! I was surprised not just by the number of shows the park offers (included with admission), but the quality of them as well. Elmo the Musical, Live!, Let’s Play Together, and The Magic of Art are presented daily, at varying times (upon entering the park, pick up a map, which will have the times listed for that day’s performances).
Of the three, my favorite is The Magic of Art. This show is upbeat, holds interest, and has a ton of characters (who from time to time mingle among the audience). Days after visiting the park, I still have the catchy “The Power of Yet” playing in my mind J
The Magic of Art live show
The daily Neighborhood Street Party Parade is also a huge draw and is presented in the afternoon and evening. There are songs, characters, dancing — everything you’d anticipate seeing in an amusement park parade. Can I tell you a secret … my children and I enjoy the Sesame parade more so than the Florida based parades we’ve seen. Shhh, that’s just between us ;) The characters are not just on display, rather they seem to bring the audience into the overall experience, often times giving a high five to parade viewers along the route. It’s fun and engaging for children and adults of all ages.
Not a parade person? Head over to the rides or water attractions and be greeted by shorter lines as others are watching the parade J
If your children (or you!) love games, Sesame has that covered as well. Throughout the park, you can find various games, the newest being Oscar’s Disc Drop (think Sesame themed Plinko J ). On our recent visit, my younger son tried his hand at playing, and won a small prize, a cute little multi-colored caterpillar. While these games are an additional fee to play, several have the ‘everyone wins something’ aspect, which is nice.
Proximity in relation to amusements offered ✔
Moving on to cost and value for the price…
The price of the park admission is also something that I was happy with — still, it’s worth checking to see if they have a special available. Now through July 23rd, 2018, Sesame Place is holding a FlashSale, with up to 50% off of park admission! A one-day ticket purchased through their Flash Sale is $35. If you think you will be visiting more than once, consider purchasing one of the Season Pass options — again through their Flash Sale, you can get a Cookie Monster level season pass for$75 (a 35% savings over the regular price of $119)! That is a huge saving, and the season pass itself will bring you additional savings of 25% on purchases on food and merchandise within the park.
Aside from the Flash Sale and savings by purchasing tickets online through Sesame Place, there are often discounted tickets through AAA and Groupon.
Time for a little nosh …
For those who are familiar with character dining at the larger theme parks, you will love this — Sesame Place offers character dining! Dine with Elmo & Friends is the perfect opportunity to meet your favorite furry characters, snap a few pics, and enjoy a buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner. The price is reasonable, and booking is a cinch online or in person. Throughout the year, they even have special characters stop by including Super Why, PJ Masks, Peppa Pig, and more! Check out their Dine with Me page on their website to check out dates for special characters and availability for dates you may be visiting. Fall and Winter bring additional Halloween and Christmas themed Dines. Super cute!
Sesame Place has numerous counter service restaurants that fit with the theming, including the new Abby Cadabby’s Garden Grille, Cookie’s Café, Elmo’s Eatery, Grover’s Island Grille, and Elmo’s Eatery. The kids’ meals come with a souvenir plate and cup, making them a very good value.
Menus can be viewed online by visiting SesamePlace.com.
A food truck and popcorn/pretzel/snack carts round out the offerings quite well.
Interested in a snack that doubles as a souvenir? Pick up a cute, refillable popcorn bucket or drink cup at one of the snack carts or restaurants. It’s a saving over purchasing the items individually throughout the day and serves as a cute souvenir to remind you of your visit long after you’ve returned home (and perhaps enticing you to visit again )
Speaking of souvenirs … the gift shop prices and variety were a pleasant surprise. The range of items is impressive, and their accompanying prices won’t break the bank.
Finders Keepers and Hooper’s Emporium (the larger of the two) are treasure troves of all things Sesame. From magnets to t-shirts to more unique items, they’ve got you covered. (seriously — they have it all … my younger son’s choice in souvenir? A pack of Sesame character … socks! Yes, amidst the bubble blowers, stuffed animals, hats, toys … my guy chose a pack of socks as one of his souvenirs J).
Trader Burt’s Treasures and Oscar’s Garage also offer a variety of merchandise for sale, as well as vendor carts and kiosks with sunscreen, swim essentials, sunglasses, balloons, and more.
Cost and Value ✔
Character Interactions is an area in which Sesame Place shines the brightest. Whether you encounter your child’s furry favorite in one of the characters meets and greet spots throughout the park or at “1–2–3, Smile with Me” (where select characters are perpetually available for photos) your child will be delighted by the level of attention shown. The characters take their time with guests, and you don’t have to worry about being ushered in for the quick click of the camera and hurried along — the characters are playful and seem to be able to gauge the child’s level of desired interaction very well. If you have an autograph book, many of the characters will even give you their signature.
Visit 1–2–3, Smile with Me to see Elmo, Big Bird, Julia, Abby Cadabby, and others
Character Interaction ✔✔✔
There are several ways that you can upgrade your visit to make it even more enjoyable.
If you’re not one to wait in line, purchasing Abby’s Magical Queue may be perfect for your family. There are two options, one-time per ride and unlimited. If it’s a busy day, and you or your children love a particular ride … opt for the unlimited — you won’t regret it. My husband made three laps around Big Bird’s Rambling River without even having to exit — our son loved the attraction, and when they reached the point where you would typically exit, they simply lifted their arms to show their pink Unlimited Abby’s Magical Queue wristbands and were nodded on by the lifeguard. Later on the dry rides, we did need to exit the ride and proceed back to the Abby’s Magical Queue entrance, but it was so nice to not have to join the general line to wait. The unlimited option was perfect for us.
Their third lap around Big Bird’s Rambling River, compliments of Abby’s Magical Queue :)
If you’re looking to relax and have your own private space (especially on high attendance days, this is an extra special treat!) consider renting a cabana. We were given the opportunity to spend the day in one of the cabanas that Sesame offers its guests for rental on our most recent visit. Wow! While we’d seen the cabanas before, we never experienced one first-hand. My entire family agrees — the cabana experience was amazing.
There are three levels of cabanas offered, in three different sections of the park. Visit SesamePlace.com and choose “upgrade your visit” to see the varying prices and to check availability.
The Count’s Cabanas
We were guests in one of the Counts Cabanas, located in the back of the park, right next to the Count’s Splash Castle. Our cabana comfortably accommodated our group and held a table and 6 chairs along with a refrigerated soda cooler stocked with bottled water and assorted Coca-Cola products. In the center shared space, there was a row of lounge chairs for those who wanted to stretch out and soak up some sunshine. We were also provided with Sesame Place towels that were ours to take home with us.
My family enjoyed having the cabana to spend time relaxing during our visit.
To store our valuables while experiencing the water attractions, we were provided with a large locker to use for the day. The locker was nearby and was simple to use. The photo below shows the ample size of the locker — I was able to fit a large tote, with plenty of room to spare. Cabana guests also have the perk of having preferred access to Big Bird’s Rambling River. All guests are given Count’s Cabana wristbands to wear and are needed to enter the cabana throughout the day.
A large locker provides ample room for a large tote, with room to spare.
The location was fantastic. Positioned next to the Count’s Splash Castle, we were just steps away from enjoying the attraction. Restrooms, a snack stand, and Captain Ernie’s Bistro were also all just steps away.
The Count’s Splash Castle — just steps away from the Count’s Cabanas
I loved being able to have a quiet, private space to return to throughout our visit. We had such a relaxing lunch in the cabana, and it was so nice not being in a crowded restaurant or outdoor seating area in the middle of the park. Our kids loved being able to sit and relax, and in their downtime sat at the table and played with the Legos we brought along with us. My husband appreciated being able to step out of the sun and enjoy the quiet as well. Even with other cabanas in the section, it was remarkably peaceful. It did put a different spin on our visit — rather than going from one attraction to the next in a hurry, we took our time, and were able to see and do things we otherwise wouldn’t have.
We took a break in the middle of the day to play in the sand at Sand Castle Beach — a highlight of the day for my younger son. Having this more relaxed day the cabana provided, we more thoroughly enjoyed our visit. I’d highly recommend looking in to choosing a cabana if you’re looking for a relaxing time and to have a guaranteed private space during your stay.
A Sesame Street character visits the cabanas daily for a private meet and greets with cabana guests.
My younger son and nephew enjoyed the character interaction during a stay in a Count’s Cabana. Daily, a character visits the cabanas for a personal meet and greet. There are no lines, and the character comes right into the cabana to spend a few moments and take pictures with guests. The expression on my son’s face when he saw Super Grover walk into the cabana area was priceless!
If you’re looking for a fun, family destination for your family, Sesame Place is a perfect option throughout the year. While theme parks are generally thought of as warm weather destinations, Sesame keeps the magic alive almost year round. They open select weekends in the Fall for The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular (during which characters don Halloween costumes and children can trick-or-treat throughout the park) and in November and December for A Very Furry Christmas (see Santa and enjoy the spectacular holiday decoration display). While the water attractions will not be in operation during these colder times of the year, many of the dry rides will be.
Sesame Place, while smaller in size to its out-of-state counterparts, most assuredly packs a lot of fun and excitement into its footprint. It checks off all of the elements that many families like mine look for when planning a theme park getaway — yet at a more affordable price point, and so much closer to home.