School is almost out for summer, and that means it’s the start of theme park season! But with young kids, your options are limited. They don't have the stomachs for Six Flags, and who wants to go all out on Disney World when they won't remember it? Lucky for us there's a park less than two hours away that's a slam dunk for toddlers: Sesame Place!
Located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, this all-things-Muppet theme park is the perfect size and scale for toddlers. Part water park, part amusement park, and part theater, there's enough to keep them busy till nap time...and beyond!
But like any outing with little ones (or any advanced military operation), it's only a success if you've prepared for every (un)expected incident. We've got your cheat sheet right here to make it the perfect Sunny Day. Before you load up the sippy cups and strap into the car, read on for our tips on how to win at Sesame Place like your name is Elmo.
The first installment in our guide is about getting in. Tickets, passes, parking: there's a lot to know, and we've got tricks below, all updated for 2019. Click here for our second installment with everything you need to know once you get into the park.
How to Get to Sesame Place
Score Great Tickets
Sesame Place's face value ticket price at press time is $75 for a one-day ticket, but think of this as a starting point. There are plenty of discounts to be found, but keep in mind that everyone 2 and older will need a ticket, and there's no kids pricing.
If you get on the mailing list you'll be alerted to their frequent flash sales, and if you plan to visit more than 3 times a year, a season pass will pay off. 2-day passes, usually offered in the summer, are a good deal because they don't have to be used on two consecutive days. If you buy one for today you can use the second day through the end of 2019. Even if you only plan to visit once this summer, Sesame Place is a great day trip in the fall or winter for Halloween or Christmas. The water rides section of the park transforms into seasonal activities like hay rides, and four additional midway rides are set out on the water park plaza. Visiting on a crisp autumn day without worrying overheating or sunburns is a wonderful thing.
Just make sure you research all the ticket choices because there are a lot of price points: single day weekday, single day weekend, specific-date tickets, any day tickets, 1 and 2 day tickets. Tickets in the fall and winter can be as low as $20, so keep that in mind as you figure out when you want to use your 2-day tickets. You may want to use them earlier and then grab the cheaper tickets if you visit later in the year.
There’s a Groupon deal (valid at press time) for a 2-day ticket with one meal for $70. A meal is worth $10-$14, so this is a pretty good value.
Front Gate Discounts
There are some behind-the-scenes discounts only available in person at the front gate ticket booth. These discounts are off the base admission price, not the lowest discount available, so look around because you may find a better deal online:
• Pregnant women save 50% on the base ticket price.
• Seniors save 50% on the base ticket price.
• Active duty military members receive 1 complimentary visit for them and up to three direct dependents.
• Season Pass holders can purchase single-day guest tickets for 50% off the base price.
So if you think you might be pregnant between now and 2020, you might want to hold off on getting a season pass. Grandpa and Grandma probably don't need them either. The only downside to these discounts is that the lines can be long and slow-moving. If you need to stop at the front gate for tickets, get to the park at least 15 minutes prior to opening to get in line. There are self-service kiosks but we’ve had trouble using them for the discounts we need.
If the difference between an online deal and a front-gate-only deal is not a lot, say, $5, save yourself the hassle and buy online for immediate entry. It's not easy to tell a 3-year-old they have to wait in line when they can see all the fun stuff happening just inside the gate.
2019 Season Passes
There are four levels of Season passes, but unless you visit other Busch Gardens parks, spend a lot in the park boutiques, or need preferred parking only (more on that later), you’ll only be choosing between the two lowest levels, Bronze and Silver. A Bronze pass is $120 and a Silver is $156. The biggest difference between them is that Silver pass holders get free parking in the general lot, while Bronze pass holders will pay $11.50 each time they visit. If you go more than three times (and if you’re getting a season pass, you should plan on it), then the Silver Pass pays for itself in parking privileges.
But everyone doesn’t have to be at the same level! We are a family of four with one Silver pass and three Bronze passes. We just make sure to keep that Silver pass visible when taking advantage of parking and the 20% off discount on many things around the park. And each family member might not need a season pass. Last year we didn’t purchase a pass for my husband since we tended to visit on weekdays while he was working. It was cheaper to take advantage of flash sales and the 50% off guest tickets for pass holders to get him a ticket on the days he was able to go with us.
In 2018 we got one Bronze pass and one Transferrable Pass. This gem is $180 and operates on the same level as a Silver Pass, except that it’s not connected to one person’s name. This is great if you have a nanny or grandparent who wants to take your kid to the park. For just $24 more, you get the flexibility of not having to choose just one person who will accompany Junior to the park. The only stipulation is that the person using the pass has to be visiting with their "Host" season pass holder.
Season passes also have other perks like 15-25% off food, cabanas, and merchandise (making the sting of a $3 water a little less intense). and special privileges such as meet and greets, early park entry, or advance seating at shows or on rides.
Why Go Platinum?
The most souped-up pass of all is the Platinum. It gets you free admission and parking at all 11 SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks. As far as Sesame Place is concerned, the only additional features it offers above the Silver or Gold level is that you can get 2 free guest tickets to use before the end of the year, free access to the reserved parade viewing section, ride again privileges, and some incentives at other Busch Gardens parks. For $242 we don’t think it’s worth it for the average Sesame Place visitor.
Want in? The best time to buy a season pass
There are two great times to buy a season pass. From November to March, season passes start at around $90 and if you buy in November or December for the year ahead, it includes all visits for the rest of the current calendar year.
Another great time to buy is around August, when the "Buy Next Year's Pass and Get the Rest of the Year On Us" sale is announced. It's a great deal because the water park is still open, and if you plan it right you can get 4 months of fun (maybe 6 visits?) for free and still have a pass for all of next year. That's almost 2 years for the price of one. If you wait till August the base pass price will be higher. The price last August started at $113 versus $90 in March. But getting almost another whole yearly pass for $23 more is a great deal.
If you buy 1 or 2-day tickets to the park, watch your email, especially in the Fall. Last year we received an offer to “upgrade our ticket to a season pass!” We could turn our $45 2-day ticket into a Bronze pass for $30 more, or a Silver pass for $60 more. It’s a decent deal…but….when we clicked through we noticed that the price point was good for up to 6 tickets! So for the $45 two-day ticket we had purchased for the summer, we were able to get our whole family passes for just $30 each! It was an insane steal. All in, it was just $37.50 per Bronze Pass!
But wait!! Do you have a teaching license?
Every October, Sesame Place opens a registration period for teachers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware to get a free season pass for the next year. You register online, then bring your teaching certificate and an ID to pick up your pass in the park. It's only valid for the teacher's admission only. You don't have to be currently teaching as long as you have a teaching license.
Sesame Place has a general parking lot for $23 and a preferred parking lot for $27. But don't get nervous, this ain't Disney. Both of these lots are next to the park and set up in a way that you can park about 50 feet from the entrance if you're the first car in. I usually get to the park around opening time and I've never had a longer walk than 30 seconds to my car from the front gate, and that's in the general lot. You do not need "preferred" parking.
If you decide to get a season pass, you're going to want one member to have more than the basic Bronze level so you can get free parking. Ideally you'd use a season pass at least 6 times, right? Based on that you'd pay $138 just to park. You'd be surprised what a deterrent it is to visit when you have to pay $23 each time to leave your car. They don't check IDs at the gate, but they do scan the pass, so I don't think you could hand it to the car behind you, but you might be able to borrow a friend's season pass that has parking privileges if they won’t be visiting the same day as you. The same goes for inside the park. If you borrow your friend’s pass, you can show it for discounts on food and merchandise without having to show ID.
Free shuttles to the park!
If you don't want to deal with the $23 parking fee and are planning an overnight stay, several local hotels offer free shuttle service to and from the park. Just be sure to ask about the hours. If you booked a character breakfast, they might not be able to bring you into the park an hour early. Click here for the list of hotels with shuttles.
Abby's Magic Queue: The Fast Pass of Sesame Place
Like all amusement parks, Sesame Place has a Fast Pass system, but it's not always a good fit for toddlers. Our fickle toddler is constantly changing her mind about what rides she wants to go on, and which are too scary, so for us the Magic Queue wouldn't pay off. Luckily, unlike Disney or Universal, I've never seen the lines that long. Especially if you go early and head straight to your favorite rides. The Magic Queue can be a good idea for an older child who will be riding more independently while you hang back with your younger one. In that case, it's $20 to Fast Pass each ride once, and $35 for unlimited Fast Pass access all day long. They sell a limited amount of these, so once you decide to go for it, call or book online.
PhotoKey Unlimited Pictures Pass
Sesame Place also offers a PhotoKey Access Pass, where you'll receive every photo taken at character meet-and-greets. This $50 one-day pass (also available as a season-long photo pass) is a mixed bag. It can be a good deal if you're going alone with a few kids and won't be able to get your own pictures, or if you want to be IN the pictures without begging the people behind you to use your phone every time.
But for the pass to feel worth the price, you actually have to get in front of the photographers, which means waiting in lines at the character meet-and-greet stations. Which can be torturous on a hot busy day. Also, we're not talking about Annie Leibowitz. We've noticed that the framing and quality of the photos are the same or worse as you would take yourself using your phone.
Buying photos a la carte is about $20 a pose, and with overstimulated kids looking around or hamming it up for the camera, I'd be surprised if you had more than two you wanted to bring home anyway. Skip the pass, use your phone, and take your chances on buying any photos taken that you fall in love with at the photo booth on your way out.
Get Perfect Pictures with Your Own Camera
If you're not doing the pass you can take your own photos at the meet-and-greets. Remember to tell your kids to look at your phone, not the photographer's camera, or all your pictures will have eyes looking left or right.
Sunny Day Guarantee: Free Return Tickets at Customer Service
The best deal in the park if it rains or rides are shut down for weather. The Sunny Day guarantee means if it rains continuously for one hour while a guest is in the park, Sesame Place will issue tickets valid for a return visit any operating day during the current operating season. The best part is unlike your admission tickets, there is no name attached to the Sunny Day tickets.
We were there one day last year and the rides got shut down because it was too windy. While it wasn't fun to literally peel a toddler off the carousel that they loaded us onto and then told us to get off, we marched over to the Welcome Center (you can also go to Guest Relations) and got three brand-new 1-day passes to use whenever and for whomever we like.
If you're not sure if your weather qualified for a Sunny Day replacement ticket, stop by anyway. Our friend saw a little bit of rain on her visit, and while she didn't qualify for Sunny Day replacements, she did get Fast Passes to use on rides.
Private Cabanas: How to book one without breaking the bank
You may have noticed blue tented areas all around the water park. Those are the private cabanas available for day rental. There are two types in three locations. The Count’s Cabana and Island Cabana have a base price of $400 for six guests and are located near the Count’s splash zone and the Rambling River. The Twiddlebug Cabanas are towards the front of the waterpark and start at $450 base price for six guests. The prices have gone up since last year, but there are definitely deals to be had. Cabanas may seem extravagant, but bear with us for a little math.
Hotel vs Cabana
Let's say your original plan is to rent a hotel room near Sesame Place because you want the kids to have a nap or you think the day will be too taxing to drive home without a break. What if instead of the hotel, which, let's face it, will be annoying at best (and that's IF the kids fall asleep in their pack n plays at a reasonable hour while you stare open-eyed into the dark), you spend that money on a cabana, chilled at the park allllllll day, then drove home later and everyone gets to sleep in their own beds?
The cabanas seat up to six with an option to add on up to two more guests at $25 each. If you're a family of 4 and you split it with another family, suddenly the $450 total fee doesn't seem like so much after all. For $225 each family, everyone gets free beverages, a souvenir towel for each family member, and a large locker. Plus you'd have a 10' x 10' space that's all your own with a shaded, private, comfortable place to relax.
If you shell out for the most luxurious $450 cabana, you get an exclusive character meet-and-greet in the cabana area, a private splash zone just for cabana guests that's always mellow, unlimited beverages including milk and juice, concierge service, and one meal per person (in addition to the towel and locker perks I just mentioned). For $8 more per person I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t book the pricier cabana. The free lunch more than pays for the price of the upgrade to Twiddlebug.
Oh, and if you're a season passholder, take an extra 25% off those prices! That's a sweet $112.50 off the luxury cabana! If two families of 3 split the Twiddlebug cabana with the discount, they pay only $168.75 each. How much would your hotel room have been?
Children's birthday parties can be upwards of $800 nowadays at those indoor bounce gyms. For half of that you could have an intimate family celebration at the park. I'm not suggesting you get a cabana every time, but if you cut your spending somewhere else like a hotel, it wouldn't be the craziest thing to splurge on once a year. Don’t have a season pass? A friend can book a cabana for you with their discount.
I hope this has gotten you all revved up to experience the park for yourself! Click here for our next installment where we dish out our favorite tips once you get inside the gates. This has all the insider info you need to have a great sunny day!
That's it for this week! Like what you're reading? Help keep the tips flowing by following us on Facebook or Instagram and signing up for our weekly emails at BabyGotChat.com. And as always, check our website for events and our easy-to-navigate chart of every weekly kids library program in Westchester. Just be sure to check the date you wish to attend against the library's calendar, because many programs are wrapping up for the school year.
See you next time!