Welcome to Part 2 of our Sesame Place series! In Part 1, (click here if you missed it) we told you how to get in for cheap—or free! Now that you're ready to play, here's how to make the best of your sunny day!
Sesame Place Expert Tips: Inside the Park
What's the best age to bring kids?
This answer depends on your child. If you're only going to bring them once, a very-mobile age 2 is great. They'll have watched enough TV to know who Elmo is (and will probably be close to the apex of their Elmo obsession) and they'll be able to go on almost every ride.
There are a few faster "coasters" and swings that they won't be tall enough for, but almost everything else in the park and waterpark will be fair game. Earlier than age 2, and they can't experience most of the rides, and later on they don't freak out as much about Elmo, so a bit of that magic is missing. At any age it's a fun amusement park that's not too big, not too small, and best of all—no bratty teenagers! Or childfree people relaxing and having fun (the worst, amirite?).
Start off on the right foot: How to walk in with no line, no drama, and full bellies
It takes us an hour and forty minutes to go from Westchester to Langhorne, Pennsylvania, which is just long enough for everyone in a car seat to get hungry and grumpy. Who wants to pull them out of the car and directly into a long line for security and admission, then more hot lines to get a few seconds with their favorite characters?
Skip all that and have a #winning morning by booking a character breakfast. At $27 a head per adult—before season pass holder discount—it's a little pricy, but the amount of problems it solves is worth every penny. (Or maximize the buffet by bringing extra tin foil or tupperware and take out enough food and dessert items for a picnic lunch picnic later). Breakfast is only $11 for kids 2 to 9 and FREE for kids under 2 and comes with a free 6x8 family photo!
Breakfast with Elmo—and almost everyone else!
Here's why breakfast with Elmo is the best: You get to walk into the park an hour early, way before the parking lot and the entry lines fill up. You get to take those groggy kids out of the car and stick food in front of their faces in a comfortable indoor space, so that when they are actually let loose in the park an hour later, they aren't hot and weary.
The buffet is no Ritz-Carlton. It's very basic breakfast food, fountain sodas and juices, and cupcakes and cookies (cue the tin foil!). But it's all the stuff kids will eat. Elmo sets up shop in one corner and during the hour you can visit with him as many times as you’d like and take pictures with your phone or let the staff take pictures for you. While you're eating, other Sesame Street characters will come by your table to say hello. They don't guarantee anyone but Elmo, but the last time we were there, we were visited by Bert, Ernie, Zoe, Cookie Monster, The Count, and Abby. Big Bird tends not to be there. Maybe because of ceiling height?
Having an hour to relax, unwind, and fill up before you head out into the park is amazing, and since they've met almost every character, you don't have to wait in the long lines at the meet-and-greet stations. Our little one visited Elmo three times during breakfast and was so excited to be able to be around him for more than the few seconds you get at the meet-and-greets. And once it's over you get to be among the first in the park to hit the rides.
Breakfast too early?
If getting there early's not your thing, you can also book lunch and dinner character dines. Our kids are so little we can't ensure they'll actually make it to lunchtime or dinnertime and be in a good mood, plus those are $5 more per person. But they’re still a great way to take a break and see all the characters up close. Meals always sell out, so you’ll need to book in advance to ensure your spot.
Need more one-on-one time with Elmo?
Those character dines can fill up fast! One fall weekend we were too slow to prebook, so breakfast on the day we were visiting was sold out. I panicked—my kid was at prime Elmo-loving age, which unfortunately coincides with the age they can't wait in a line for more than 4 seconds without darting. I needed a golden ticket to Elmo!
The customer service agent suggested an Elmo The Musical VIP Meet-and-Greet. $100 for ten minutes with Elmo, Cookie, and the dancing chickens might sound crazy, but once we got into the details, it didn't seem so bad. Hear us out! First of all, our party of 6 was about to shell out $125 for the character breakfast. so for $25 bucks less we could all eat yogurt in the car on the way there. We get a private meet-and-greet, which means she gets the characters all to herself for ten minutes (which is probably as long as her attention span anyway).
There's a professional photographer taking pictures which are included in the cost. The $100 includes a single day Photo Key with unlimited downloads so any pictures you get in the park later are also free. That's a $50 value! Included also is a free framed 6x8 photo printout. We also got VIP admission to the Elmo the Musical Show.
It was something I’d do only once, but if you're splitting with friends (for ten minutes you could even split it multiple ways and have one grownup come in with five kiddos), and want to take advantage of the Photo Key day pass, it's not a bad deal.
I'm at the front gate! What can I bring?
Sesame Place has a lenient policy towards things you can bring in. They allow soft coolers up to 10" x 10" x 12" and drinks and snacks. They don't allow booze or glass containers, or hard plastic coolers. They also don't allow "picnic lunches" but we've brought in plastic containers of strawberries, goldfish, granola bars, pouches, a diet coke can, water bottles, milk, baby formula, etc., and it was fine.
You can bring strollers, wagons, life vests for the water park (though they have their own for free), even a pack n play (for that cabana rental?).
So what should I bring?
This is more of a gray area. We like to be prepared, so our list might be a bit longer. Sesame Place is small, so if your child can walk longer distances, you might not need a stroller. We brought our sit-and-stand tandem stroller and our 3.5 year old barely needed to hop on the kickboard for a ride. You can't bring your stroller into the shows and it can only get so close to you at the water park, so keep in mind you'll have to be constantly ditching it.
Off-season Packing List
You'll want a non-valuables diaper bag that you can leave in the stroller with a change of clothes, some snacks, and other stuff you don't need to have with you at all times. We've never worried about theft at Sesame Place, but we're careful not to leave any valuables in our stroller. If you're visiting the water park, a waterproof necklace phone case that you put some cash and a credit card in will be the perfect thing to stay safe on the lazy river. And you can take photos through the plastic! If you're visiting in the fall, a small crossbody bag of valuables will do the job.
Kids meals come with souvenir plates and cups. Bring some empty bags to hold them. You may also want to bring tin foil or a tupperware container for any lunch food they don't finish. Those extra fries may come in handy an hour later when they are hungry again.
Water Park Packing List
If you're visiting the water park, your packing list will be a bit more extensive. Water shoes are recommended, and diaper-wearing kids who need to be in swim diapers at all the water rides (though we never saw employees checking butts). You'll want to bring a bag for all the wet stuff, and some towels. Don't forget the hats and sunscreen! There's not a lot of shade to be found.
Bring refillable water cups. You'll be able to get ice at the concession stands, and there are water fountains located around the park.
Don’t forget the fun snacks!
You may want to anticipate your kids' impulse buy demands and bring toys or snacks that you can substitute for the high-priced items they'll see in the park. Our daughter always begs for popcorn and lollipops, so we try to bring our own. A small jar of bubbles may save you from buying one of those $20 light-up bubble wands that every kid HAS to have.
Bring a few reusable bags and a stroller clip in case you go shopping. The park hands out paper bags, which do not mix well with wet towels or sippy cups. Plus if you have to ditch your stroller after a shopping spree, there are no shopping bags shouting NEW MERCHANDISE INSIDE!
Where to start? Water park or theme park?
Once you get inside the gates, you can go left for the water park attractions or right for the theme park attractions. There are two schools of thought on this. If your kids like specific rides, and those lines fill up quickly, you may want to head to the amusement park side. But keep in mind you're going to get hot and sweaty pretty quickly.
If your kids are like mine and only like the rides with little to no lines, and can turn from having-a-blast to get-me-out-here in five minutes, you may want to start with the water park. That way everyone can stay cool and run around until they get tired. Then you can get them changed before meltdowns happen. Have a quick lunch, then hit the amusement park side. When they go from hero to zero, they'll already be dressed, fed, and ready to leave. You can make a quick exit. You may get sweaty again walking around theme park, but at least you'll have the sweet salvation of an air-conditioned car to look forward to.
What’s new for 2019?
Sesame Place has spent the past year upgrading their main street area that runs down the center of the park. It looks almost the same to us, but there are a few new features such as interactive buttons (Oscar the Grouch’s trash can will now talk to you), photo op spots such as Big Bird’s nest, and most importantly, the space can now accommodate their new show, Our Street Is Sesame Street, which features the actual Muppets from Sesame Street (instead of the oversize Muppet suits with people inside.) The area now looks like the current set of Sesame Street instead of the more 70s’ look of the past.
Our Street Is Sesame Street
This show is about 20 minutes long and takes place on the parade route. Read below for our synopsis. You can find a spot to watch about 10 minutes before the show starts. It’s a cute show but it’s very sunny. It’s the only show without a shady spot to watch.
The last few times we went, Hooper’s Emporium (the park’s main store) had a sign banning strollers inside. While we appreciate that it can get crowded in there with strollers, the Emporium was the only air conditioned spot in the park with easy access in and out. We’ve ducked in there several times with a sleeping, red-faced sweaty baby in a stroller. It’s a godsend on a hot day.
It’s also a little crazy to expect a parent to shop with a toddler allowed free reign in a store. We tried it and couldn’t even lift our eyes above 36” from the ground. The last time we were there we saw some strollers in there anyway so we’re hoping when the hot weather hits they will relax this rule.
Gone are the metal-and-plastic beach chairs lining the pools. They’ve been replaced with more comfortable colorful mock adirondack chairs. The dry climbing area near the splash pool with a slide and what looked like yoga balls in a net has been replaced by a seating area with more adirondack chairs. The quieter left side of Hooper’s Emporium has been renovated into a grab-and-go food market. Mr. Hooper’s Food Market features prepackaged sandwiches, salads, and kids’ meals.
All about the parades
Theme park parades always seem to have a cult following. Be it Disney World or Sesame Place, you'll see people sitting along the route hours before the parade. We've heard they are fun, but we have two impatient, easy-to-overheat toddlers, and sitting on a blanket in the sun while nothing happens is the opposite of what they can tolerate. Plus the parades tend to happen later in the day when we are thinking more about sitting back in our car seats than lining up on a towel in the sun.
The parade takes place every day at 3pm, with a second parade on select days at 7pm. We’ve caught part of the parade on our way out and it’s a cute show. The parade starts towards the beginning of the park and goes down the main street. For a faster experience, stand towards the front of the park to watch. You’ll see all the floats and characters streaming out but won’t have to wait for the dance acts. If you want to catch the entire experience, and maybe even get a high five, line up towards the back of the street. Some of the acts stop about halfway through to do a small show and wave to spectators. This is the best place to see every character on Sesame Street.
Reserved Viewing Areas
Sesame Place parade viewers are a more chill bunch than Disney (we once got scolded by a Disney parade fanatic who wanted their spot in the shade by the fence to include the entire ten feet of lawn in front of them). It seems like there are a lot of spots to get a great view. But if you don't want to wait, for $22 a head (kids under 2 are free), you can buy your way in to the Reserved Parade Viewing Area. Just select the date and time online before you go, and you'll get your own priority viewing area. Keep in mind THAT area is first-come-first-served, so if you want to be in the front of the front, you still have to arrive early.
There are also free reserved viewing areas for certain levels of Season Pass holders. You still have to reserve online as there are a limited number of spaces.
Extras to ward off The Gimmes
For sale along the parade routes are bubble machines, light-up wands, and all sorts of toys that are both expensive and tantrum-inducing. Ward off a case of the gimmes by bringing your own small bubbles or some glow sticks. Spending $2 ahead of time can spare you $20 later. The same goes for sweet treats. If you bring a small lollipop for the afternoon meltdown, you won't be guilted into buying a $5 huge one later on.
Try out the shows
There are usually three different variety shows that repeat daily throughout the park. They are short with open seating, and they are a great way to find out if your kid can handle a show before you shell out for Sesame Street Live tickets at the County Center. If they melt down, it's easy to head out. And if they love it, well, there are shows about every hour. Have fun!
This season there are three shows: 1 indoor theater, 1 outdoor theater, and one that takes places outside along the parade route.
Elmo the Musical
Elmo the Musical Live takes place inside (air conditioning, ahhhhhhh!) and is a cute show featuring Elmo and Cookie on the hunt for cookies. You can reserve your seat online for $15, but save your money and show up early. This isn’t the type of show where your seat matters, but front row seats have a better chance of getting high fives from the characters. Elmo the Musical takes place 3 to 4 times daily.
The Magic of Art
This show takes place in the outdoor theatre, hot in the summer but shaded, and features Abby and her friends. It’s a cute show with song and dance and takes place two to three times daily.
Our Street is Sesame Street
This smaller show features actual Muppets! (The other shows use people inside oversize Muppet costumes). Taking place along the parade route, this 20-minute show follows Big Bird, Abby, and Elmo. You’ll hear songs from the Sesame Street show such as Letter of the Day. This one takes place three to four times a day.
Where to refill
If you buy one of those all-you-can-drink cups and the lines are long at the concessions stands, you'll want to seek out a self-service refill station. There is one inside Cookie's Sometimes/Anytime Food Market, but on our last few visits we had limited access. There's also one on the upper level of Cookie's Cafe, but sometimes it's turned off. All the self-serve refill beverage areas have water, and the staff is chill about you refilling kiddie cups with water and ice. There are also a few water fountains around the park. If you’re a season pass holder, don’t forget to show your pass for discounts on food and drink.
The best place to eat
There are a lot more dining options in the summer, when Abby Cadabby’s Garden Grill, Captain Ernie's Bistro and Grover's Island Grille, all outdoor cafes, are open. The two main eateries are indoors: Elmo's Eatery, with all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta, and Cookie's Cafe, which operates like a buffet line. We find it the most mellow to eat at the upstairs mezzanine at Cookie's Cafe, which is climate controlled, roomy and less bustling than the downstairs seating area. There's an elevator to get your stroller up and plenty of high chairs.
Abby’s Garden Grill features order ahead service, where you place your order at the register, take a number to your table, and they bring you your food. Captain Ernie’s is another type of buffet line and Grover’s has counter service.
If you’re not looking for a full meal, there are plenty of spots to grab and go. New for 2019 is Mr. Hooper’s Food Market located inside Hooper’s Emporium and featuring prepackaged sandwiches, salads, and kids’ meals. You can get funnel cakes, DIY slushies, and Dippin Dots near the Count’s Splash zone. There are two places to get soft serve ice cream in the park. One is the Coffee and Cone corner near the carousel, but we’ve heard the better maintained spot is Snuffy’s Sweet Treats. Since it’s managed by Starbucks, they have higher standards towards food prep and maintenance. You can find it along the parade route.
There are a few more food trucks and kiosks that sell sweet and salty treats as well as beverages to keep you fueled up (and hyper) all day. Don’t forget to show your season pass for discounts!
Unlimited refills: a good deal? Depends on the alternative
On the season pass holders’ preview day, we visited the park and picked up an unlimited beverage and popcorn bucket good for free refills until the end of the year. When we had one kid, this wouldn't have made a lot of sense. With just one child to bring, we would pack the soft cooler with some Diet Cokes and bring our own snacks. Then we'd hit up a drive thru on the way home for some caffeine for the adults.
But two kids means double the stuff and double the breaks (ours like to trade off on tantrums), and in the summer with towels, suits, and water shoes, you have even less room in the stroller to pack a soft cooler with enough in it to make everyone happy. There's no way we can avoid in-park purchases unless we turn ourselves into (sweaty) pack rats. We gave up.
$53 later we had popcorn and drinks for everyone all day long for the rest of the year. Getting the refills takes time because you have to stand in line for the popcorn (see above for where to DIY your soda refills), but we can get the kids juice, ourselves soda, and everyone can snack on fresh popcorn all day long.
Being able to grab a fresh snack is a life saver to keep the kids calm when we are changing into dry clothes right after the water park. The popcorn bucket kept them happy till we could get into an air conditioned cafe. And the beverage bucket kept the adults perky and hydrated all day long. Soda, juice, and water are about $3.50 and popcorn is about $5. So in two trips this has already paid for itself. If you want the convenience of fresh food and drink on command, go for it. Otherwise you can totally make a soft cooler and bag of snacks work for 1/5th the cost, especially if you plan to visit less than five times.
Changing tables and changing rooms
Sesame Place has both. There are changing tables in every bathroom, but these can get busy...for the women's side. If the men can step up and change the baby, they’ll have no wait and near-immaculate amenities (this trick works in almost every public venue, by the way). I can't count how many times my husband has returned from changing the baby and said "I think I was the first person ever to use that changing table." Meanwhile the line for the one women's room table is out the door.
If you're doing the waterpark with more than one kid and one adult, pack each child their own changing bag with fresh diaper/underwear, wipes, clothes, and towel, so you and your partner can split up and save time in the changing rooms. It can take a while to wait for each person to get ready and be done with the towels and the one changing bag
Family Care Center and First-Aid Station
If you have an infant, the best spot to visit for a quick change is the Family Care Center close to the carousel. The Family Care Center has four private nursing areas, bottle warmers, and changing stations. This is also the spot to find any lost children. If you’re worried about getting separated, stop by the Center on your way in for identification wristbands for your kids. If any boo-boos arise, head to the First Aid Station in the center of the park near Oscar’s Garage.
Character meet-and-greets: tips and tricks
There are two designated meet-and-greet spots. 1-2-3 Smile With Me! is a tented area in the rides section. You wait in one line to visit the two sides of the tent where two or more characters await. We haven’t been able to find paper maps at the entrance yet this year, but when you arrive at the park, you can check the sign at the front for show times, or download the Sesame Place app for more info on the times and places for your favorite characters. You may want to show up a few minutes early to the meet-and-greets, as the lines can fill up quickly. Bring your stroller unless you have the most obedient, still-standing kid. If the meet-and-greets are outside in Sesame Neighborhood, be sure to bring hats and sunscreen, as you’ll be standing in the sun for your chance to shake hands with Big Bird.
Use your phone
There will be "professional" (read: college students with Nikons) photographers taking photos of you, but you can absolutely take your own photos. Just coach your kids to look at Mommy's phone so all your shots don't feature them looking left or right at the other camera. The photographers can be friendly about taking pictures with your phone if you want to be in it, but I usually ask the people in front of or behind me if we can team up to get a picture of the whole fam. If you go with the photographers' photos, you'll have to buy them later at about $20 a pose or $50 for the whole day, but as I wrote in part 1, it's not a great deal. Click here to read part 1.
How to see the most characters
Additional characters not listed on the map also roam around the parks in the sections labelled "Sesame Plaza" and "Sesame Neighborhood." In the fall and winter, the waterpark areas are re-designated as character meet-and-greet areas, so you can see more characters in less time if you visit after the summer. Of course, you can see everyone if you wait for the parade, but you won't be able to stop them for a photo. Shows are another fun way to see the characters from a comfortable position, but they won't hang around afterward for photos.
Our favorite way to see most of the characters is to book a "Dine with Elmo & Friends" meal. For more info on that, see Part 1.
What's the deal with Julia?
Sesame Place's newest character is Julia, a "sweet and curious 4-year-old with Autism". Read all about her here. Julia made her debut in the park last season, and on TV Elmo and friends learn about how Julie does things, “in a Julia sort of way.” Julia is around the park for character meet-and-greets, but keep in mind she does stay true to character the entire time. We went with two over-eager 3 year olds and were held back from taking a picture with Julia because the kids were too ramped up. Julia's handler made sure we were calm and approached her gently and without too much noise. If kids are noisy, Julia and her handler move to a corner to wait it out till everyone calms down.
If you have a child who is too young to modify their behavior in a stimulating setting, you may want to focus on the other Sesame Street friends, but with a little pep talk, most kids will be just fine taking a photo. Meeting Julia at Sesame Place is a great way for kids to learn about empathy and how their behavior can affect others. Click here for more info.
Seek out the new sensory friendly services
Sesame Place has recently become a Certified Autism Center, meaning that their team members receive training sensory awareness and other issues. While the entire experience of the amusement park might not be sensory friendly to every child, they have worked to develop a IBCCES Sensory Guide which provides insight on how a child with sensory processing issues may be affected by each sense for rides and attractions. You can enroll your child in the Ride Accessibility Special Access Program which allows them priority access on rides, and download their Ride Accessibility Guide.
Guides with sensory needs are also encourage to check out two new Quiet Rooms installed in the park, or borrow Noise-Cancelling Headphones, available at The Family Care Center or Welcome Center.
That's it for this week! Like what you're reading? Help keep the computer screen on 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!