“Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” rang in our ears as we stepped through the gates of Sesame Place on Black Friday. For those not familiar with Sesame Place, it’s a Sesame Street themed amusement park near Philadelphia, perfect for the 6 and under set. As we were already in New Jersey for Thanksgiving, Sesame Place was a mere hour away. With our focus on creating experiences more than buying “stuff,” my parents gave us the trip as a major part of Sprout’s Christmas gifts.
Entering the park, we were greeted by a massive Christmas tree with tasteful ornaments featuring the characters. Slightly less classy was our destination, the room where they had the character lunches. It resembled a high school cafeteria more than anything else, with its linoleum floors and plastic seats. But considering toddlers and preschoolers are their core demographic, I suppose the ability to be easily cleaned trumps aesthetics.
But neither the decor or the food (which was one step up from cafeteria) was why we came. We came to see Sesame Street characters! While we usually limit Sprout’s exposure to TV, we’ve been a little looser the last few weeks so he could get to know them. It also helped that he has several books featuring the characters, including a particularly odd one from Chris’s childhood where Ernie sleeps on the street (not kidding at all). So while Sprout didn’t know all of the characters, Elmo, Bert, Ernie, Grover and Big Bird were all familiar. Like all small children, he’s especially enamored with Elmo. It must be the talking in third person thing.
Fortunately, delivering on the characters was something the Dine with Me folks did particularly well. Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster and Telly Monster made rounds to every table, posing for pictures. Cookie Monster in particular was a riot, strutting down the aisle in his gingerbread man tie, all blue fur and confidence. Despite their size, Sprout wasn’t nervous at all. He high-fived everyone with a smile and even hugged Cookie. He especially liked the tie, as we had read the Gingerbread Man book about 30 times over the Thanksgiving weekend. Elmo didn’t come to each table – probably because it would have taken all day – but was available for photos with Santa Claus.
The characters then launched into a song and dance show down the middle of the room. Our table was right on the aisle, so Sprout had the honor of boogying with Elmo. However, he almost missed it – at first, Elmo was dancing with two little girls, which Sprout reacted to by turning around with an almost visible “harumph.” Elmo had to tap him on the shoulder to turn back and pay attention!
The only disappointing thing was that Big Bird wasn’t one of the characters at the character lunch. As we realized later on, Big Bird isn’t in anything except the parade – the logistics of working the costume are simply too complex. Fortunately, Sprout did see him in the parade from a primo location atop my dad’s shoulders.
We also realized later how glad we were to have signed up for the lunch, as the character interaction opportunities elsewhere are very limited. We only saw a single character on the street and the “official” photo opportunity area doesn’t have a schedule for characters, just whomever happens to be there that day.
The other highlight of the day was the shows. We caught two of them, Elmo’s Christmas Wish, which was basically a musical revue of a bunch of Christmas songs, and Elmo the Musical, which was a bit more Sesame-Street-as-a-show-like. In fact, Grover even commented, “Wow, this is really educational!” a joke that the parents all thought was hilarious and the kids didn’t get. It also used puppetry very well, with a singing curtain and costumed, dancing chickens. Grover as Santa’s postman helper lugging packages up and down the narrow stairs running the length of the theater also allowed the kids to feel like they were part of the action.
Between the shows, we hit up the rides. Of course, these were not the height of modern ride technology, like you’d see at Disney or Six Flags. Rather, they were Sesame Street themed versions of carnival rides tamer than the ones at our county fair. In fact, their little trackless train was the exact same model as the one that runs around an outdoor mall near us.
Despite all that, Sprout still reveled in the four rides he went on. He even waited patiently in line, no small feat for a two-year-old! His favorite was the “flying fish,” an adaptation of the Dumbo rides where the cars were an odd genetic cross between Elmo and various fish puns. For example, the Angelfish had a halo and the Dogfish had big floppy ears.
Another big success was the Cookie Monster Land huge climbing structure. There was no line, just a zillion kids clambering up and down several rooms of cargo net, all jumping and bouncing off each other. It was chaos controlled only by the fact that the net was enclosed except for the entrances and exits. Sprout was just old enough to enjoy it, too – any less steady on his feet and he would have fallen or been knocked down.
Wanting to keep the mood tired but exultant without slipping into tired and cranky, we left at 7 pm. I would have liked to see the parade lit up, but I also wanted to keep on the right side of bedtime as much as possible. Fortunately, it was dark enough to see the strands of multi-colored lights festooning every street lamp and decorative tree. Leaving, our only problem was that Sprout now knows to ask to “Watch Elmo?” in the cutest voice possible.