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Saturday, June 14, 2014

our Sesame Street Place adventure

When my mom said she wanted to take us on a special trip to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania, right outside New Jersey, I was SO excited! Not only was I psyched about it for my kids, they adore Cookie Monster and Elmo, but also for myself. I'm a huge Sesame Street fan! Huge.

Disney World seems like a far away trip to us, something we won't be able to afford for quite some time, so to me this was the next best thing at this stage in our kids' lives. Of course it's nothing compared to Disney, just saying on a smaller scale it was SUPER exciting for us to take a mini vacation to Sesame.

Hope this helps you plan a trip yourself!

(Next post will be about our second day of the mini vacation, to Philadelphia Zoo!)

We had the most beautiful day at Sesame Street - 80 degrees, not humid, just such a nice sunny day! 

1. When did you go to Sesame Place? Who went with you?
We went the first weekend in June. It was me, my husband and two kids (ages 2 and 4), and my mom and sister and her boyfriend. It was about six hours from southern Maine, so not a terribly long trip.
2. What did you do beforehand to prepare for the trip? How far in advance did you save money? 
I read a lot on the Sesame Place Web site. Tons of information on there! Also, my co-worker had told me a lot about it already so we had some ideas (she also gave us those adorable Sesame Place t-shirts! Score!). As far as saving money, we didn't save long because it was a combined birthday special trip my mom wanted to give to us, so she took care of hotel and tickets to the amusement park, we did food and gas and other things.

I also printed off from the Sesame Web site all of the parade and show times, as well as how much things were going to cost so we could budget.
3. How much did your trip cost, including hotel, park visits, food, etc. (try breaking it down as much as you remember for us... $$ on hotel, for example, etc.)?
Since my mom did this as a gift to us, I'm not sure exactly how much everything cost...but I do know we stayed at a hotel outside the park, so about 25 minutes away in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, because it was much cheaper than staying at a hotel across the street from the park.

We also stayed at Marriott because they include breakfast the next morning. That was a huge money and time saver! I highly recommend staying in a hotel that offers breakfast.

We went to the park in early June to beat the heat and crowds, but also because they offered a spring special, $20 off per ticket. We saved $140 right there! This was a deal that was only online, so check their Web site ahead of time to score some deals!
4. Where did you start researching for this trip? Any helpful Web sites, you used, etc.?
We used their Web site
I had Googled looking for people's reviews on the park but hadn't found much.
5. Did you receive any special discounts, coupons, or have some secret tips to share about saving money?
We saved money by going early in the spring, $20 off per ticket, printed online. Kids under 2 are free also if you have younger children.

6. Best places to eat, stay, visit, etc.? Things you encourage families with kids MUST do while in that area?
We were PSYCHED to find a Margarita's Mexican restaurant literally right outside the park. At the end of a hot, exhausting, busy day, that was the perfect ending - endless tortilla chips with salsa and cold drinks and dinner - perfect! We sat out on their patio, because it's part of the bar area we could get right in without waiting and it was nice sitting outside.

Also right near Sesame Place is the Philadelphia Zoo (another blog post coming on this one!), a children's museum, aquarium, Please Touch Museum, etc. We easily could have stayed in this area at least 4 days!
7. Did you eat there, pack lunches, leave at a certain time and go back, etc.? 
We ate breakfast at the hotel. I packed yogurts and milk from the hotel breakfast in our cooler for later for snacks. I packed tons of snacks: granola bars, peanut butter crackers, nuts and raisins, animal crackers, Goldfish, fruit pouches, bananas, etc. I had these all rationed out into small packages so it was easiest to give to the kids while on the go. We had tons of water also.

My husband loves cold drinks, but those are so expensive at parks like this. So I prepared ahead of time with a tip from my co-worker, and got some single serving mix drinks, Iced Tea, lemonade, etc. He just poured into a water bottle and had a cold drink without the cost. It was $3 for 12 of those single drink mixes!

I also packed peanut butter rice cake sandwiches for both kids. I knew they'd be hungry early on and probably at inconvenient times like in line waiting for a ride, so I wanted to have something on hand that was easy. That with the yogurt from the morning and some fruit was perfect. 

For the adults, we bought lunch there, it was just easy this time to do that. Lunch was not terribly expensive. They had tons of options- healthy and not so healthy. The lines were long though... so for this reason alone next time we go I'd pack a cooler of sandwiches and things and leave that in our car, head out of the park at lunch time to just get a bite to eat in the car (there are picnic tables and a covered shady area right out by the parking lot to sit and eat). I think the break from the crowds would have been nice, too. They do allow you to re-enter, you can even drive away from the park (across the street are TONS of malls and stores and restaurants). 

8. What is your best advice for visiting Sesame Place ... pack ___ in a backpack? wear swim clothes? go in afternoon and go back the next day? etc.? 
In the backpack we had tons of snacks, spare clothing for each child, sun hats, sunscreen, chap stick, band-aids (that we did end up needing for someone who stubbed her toe!), diapers, wipes, sunglasses for the kids, bathing suits, hand sanitizer, etc. Then we brought a small cooler with ice packs, water, yogurts, etc. They only let you bring in a small size cooler, nothing large into the park, you can keep a larger one in your car though.

We wore regular clothes into the park, did all the rides first, had lunch, watched a show, then we changed into bathing suits. My husband had to buy some water shoes there so I'd encourage everyone who is going with you to bring water shoes.

I didn't know if we should wear sneakers or flip flops into the park for the rides at first. I'm SO glad I wore sneakers! It's a ton of walking, and in the afternoon after we'd been in bathing suits and I had flip flops on, my feet were killing me from walking around those last couple of hours in flip flops.

We got there right when they opened, just after 10 a.m. and stayed until 5:30 p.m. when we were all exhausted and hungry for dinner. We did not attend 2 shows, didn't make it on two rides, and did not go on the water slides area... but we did everything else. So if you wanted to make sure you hit absolutely every little thing, I'd say you'd want two days there, one more for rides, and another for water stuff.

9. Top 3 tips for spending the day at an amusement park with your children? 
1. Hydrate! We had to keep reminding our kids to drink, drink, drink, and same with us! I thought I drank enough, but near the end of the day I could tell I was dehydrated.

2. Be in the moment. It's great to take pictures. It's great to make sure you have a route and plan and stay organized, but stay in the moment. Laugh, hug, hold hands, and try to memorize the look on your kids' faces. This is something they'll remember!

3. Pack ahead of time. Because I spent the whole week before we left packing, little by little, making lists, picking things up at the store, etc. it reminded me of things I wanted to be sure we had. Don't leave packing for kids to a big park to the last minute.

Also, when packing, make sure you pack and prepare ahead of time, be organized, not to be controlling, but more so that you can really enjoy your time there. We didn't have to stress out when our child complained that they were hungry while waiting for a show because we had snacks in our bag. We could drink up as much as we wanted to because we brought water bottles. 

We had everything we needed with us in the backpack and stroller, so it made our time much easier and smooth while in the park trying to have fun. You don't want to stop and wait in line for a drink instead of heading to meet characters, instead just pack some drinks! It honestly saved not only money but time.
10. What would you do differently if you went again on this trip?
I'd pack sandwiches and leave a big cooler in the car, instead of eat in the park. The park food was not bad, I had a good mozzarella tomato sandwich. But it's more expensive and not as good as if you make something quick yourself or pick up subs. Also, you save time by packing things... so instead of wasting time in line waiting for food that wasn't awesome, we could have quickly been outside the park, eating quietly, resting a bit, getting more energy, saving money.

I'd also bring a diaper changing pad. I forgot ours (mainly because it's something I used more when kids were babies, now that my daughter is two I rarely use it...) it would have been nice to use because that is my only complaint about Sesame Place... bathrooms were not very clean.

I'd explore the water park more. Most of the water rides are for bigger kids (slides,etc.) but there were some things over there like a wave pool that we didn't even remember to check out.

I'd also bring a carrier for my toddler. We don't use a carrier now and we did have the stroller... but she was in and out of the stroller tons to see characters, to wait in line, etc. and she got super heavy for me and my husband to carry. If we'd had a carrier that would have been nice even just for the lines! 

This water area (above) was super fun and filled with TONS of slides, climbing stairs, water spouts, etc. It was tons of fun, but a little overwhelming. I went in with both kids and had to get out, because I couldn't watch the two of them, they wanted to go to different spots and tons of kids all around us, water pouring from the top and bottom. So I had to have help in there. It was a lot of water! Fun, but just be careful, with tons of kids running around and so much water, it'd be easy to get lost in there.

SECRET TIP: To get on this AWESOME lazy river tube ride (below) instead of getting in line when you first enter the big ship water area, go under the ship toward the water part, follow signs to the cabanas, and there is another entrance to the lazy river. We got right on, no line... whereas the people in the front line waited and waited, at least 30 people in line... Sneaky tip that will work well for you! 

11. How old were your kids when they went on this trip, and do you think they got a lot out of it, remember it, etc.? Was it a good age span to go to this amusement park?
They were 4 years old and 4 months, and 2 years old and 2 months. YES, they got tons out of it! They loved every bit of it! I'm not sure I'd take someone less than 18 months old though, mainly because it's a looooong day in the sun, running here and there, standing around waiting in line, etc. and with naps, I'd think that babies would get fussy there. Younger toddlers can go on the rides though, that was one of our favorite parts - all the kids' rides an adult can go on, too.

I think my son enjoyed the rides more than my younger daughter, but she enjoyed the characters a TON so honestly they both were a great age for it. My co-worker took her boys at age 7 and they loved it and asked to go again the following year.

That's one thing I'll say about Sesame Place, it may seem that Sesame Street characters are for young children, too babyish for older kids, but the amusement park is NOT that way. It's got something for everyone! There are young toddler type activities, shows, and character pictures, and then there are tons of water slides and bigger kid rides for older kids, just like a regular amusement park.
12. Misconceptions: Something you think people don't know or are confused by when making plans to visit Sesame Place that you learned from?
I was totally not thinking this is a big water park. I knew there were water rides, but I had no idea that the water part is at least 50% of the park, if not more! There were tons of people who wore swim suits and cover ups into the park and wore that onto the rides, they were there mostly for the water park. Luckily I packed our bathing suits and towels just in case, so we had a few, which was enough, but you'll want to prepare ahead for this.

It's not just for little kids. I work with middle school teenagers who I think would like this park. Some of the rides they'd think were too babyish, but the water part they'd love, so really any age in your family this is a fun park experience. 

13. Best part about Sesame Place? What did your kids LOVE? What was your favorite part?
Best part was that it was not too large, but also not too crowded. The kids LOVED seeing Elmo, Big Bird, etc. and the parade. The parade is a must-see, in my opinion! We did the 3 p.m. one (they do another at 7 p.m. I think it was). We loved that! Really any spot on the main road (Sesame Street) is a good spot for the parade. 

My favorite part was honestly watching my kids' faces light up when seeing a character. They thought it was the coolest thing!

I also loved that the park was colorful, totally made for kids, and overall clean and so much fun, music playing, ice cream, etc.

We also LOVED the show! We only attended one (there were at least two others we could have seen) because that's just what worked with what we wanted that day, but we loved it! It was cool, air conditioned in there, and a nice break to just relax. We planned on a show right after lunch, during our kids' typical nap time, because we thought they would be exhausted and want to crash. They loved it. It was a good re-charge for all of us.

I also couldn't believe how much was included in the price of admission at this park... water park, amusement rides, several shows, a parade, etc. all for not expensive money! Much better than just Sesame Street Live shows in the winter!

We will definitely go back some time.

14. Anything else you want to add?

  • Park in preferred parking, it's $20, versus $17 for regular, but it's closer and has a picnic area right near it, it was easier to get in and out of the car this way. I'm always the one saying save the money, but with this and only $3 it was a good thing being in preferred parking.
  • People had posted on blog posts here before to just go with the flow, not plan too much, enjoy the time with the kids, even if that meant we went on the same ride 5 times, just enjoy what the kids want to do... and I totally agree with this advice and love that someone told me this ahead of time. I wanted to race out the door in the morning to be in the parking lot at 9:30 a.m., so that we could get sunscreen on and unpack the car, load the stroller, etc. so we were literally in line by 10 a.m. when they opened... well, that didn't happen, we arrived at 10:30 a.m. I think in the line, which wasn't too long, we didn't lose ground, it was totally fine. Going with the flow is a better thing when you're doing a big park like this.
  • Don't forget towels! I didn't see any towels there for you to use, tons to buy but not use, so if you're going for the water part then make sure you bring towels. Also water shoes for everyone, after wearing sneakers to walk around!
  • Re-apply sunscreen often!
  • To see the characters, you kind of have to be in the right place at the right time. We happened to really luck out... coming off a ride we happened to catch Elmo walking to his picture spot, so we were like 15th in line, which went very quickly. The characters walk around all day, random spots, so as you're walking around or waiting in line you see them and can take pictures with them. I would suggest if you see a character and want a picture with them, then jump in line right then, don't think you'll see them later.
  • The lines go quickly! We went in the off-season so I'm sure that had something to do with it, but honestly we never waited more than 10 minutes to get on a ride, most times it was 5 minutes.
  • We brought at least two water bottles per person, and then kept refilling them at fountain drink stations at the restaurants at the water tab for free. Easy and cheap!
  • The gift shops are cool! I saw some things I've never seen from Sesame Street, so it was worthwhile going in.
  • Don't buy their photos. Yes, allow them to take your photo with the characters (they'll give you a card to hold on to so you can check the pics later at the end of the day), but honestly if you have a regular camera or iPhone, you can take just as good pictures yourself! We checked their pictures and honestly all of ours were just as good so we didn't buy theirs. Every time you see a character and get in line to take a picture with them, their staff take your picture first, then allow you to take your own picture, it's totally acceptable there. I loved that!
  • Kids meals come on a souvenir Cookie Monster or Elmo plate and a cup with a cover that you can take home. That was cute!
  • Put easy on and off clothing on your kids. I'm so glad I thought of this ahead of time. Instead of jean shorts with buttons, my son wore shorts without buttons or zippers, much easier to help him slide on and off with the frequent bathroom trips (all that water has to come out!). Same for our daughter, with changing her diaper, it made it so much easier that she had on a skirt with shorts built in, easy to pull off and on. It's a simple thing, but honestly all these little things added up to make things less stressful, more fun!

I highly recommend going on this trip! It was so much fun. Our kids loved every minute of it. And it was also nice to see them be kids... oftentimes even at age 2 and 4, I see them as growing up way too fast, big kids... but at Sesame Place they were so little and so excited, like Christmas morning excited. It's incredible to see that look on their faces.

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