For kids 5 and under, Sesame Place is a great introduction to the world of theme parks. A compact layout, lots of celeb spotting (of Sesame Street characters, that is), and a wonderland of water rides provide an entertaining experience. But bring lots of sun protection and be prepared to spend more money than just the cost of admission.
I’d been to Sesame Place in 2008 for a two-day trip, and was excited to visit on the Fourth of July in 2012 with my husband and two boys (almost 3 and almost 7). We braced ourselves for the crowds we encountered on the Saturday of our previous trip but were thrilled we didn’t have super long waits this time.
It’s not a far trek from the parking lot to the park entrance, and ticket and security lines moved quickly. Once inside, we chose to check out the non-water rides first. My older son and I rode the park’s one roller coaster, but it wasn’t quite the thrill my adventure seeker was hoping for. It’s listed as being for ages 3 and up.
While it’s a short ride, it is jerky, fast, and high up, so 3 might be a little young for most kids to try it. Parents could ride alone the first time to get a better feel for it. We moved on to join my younger son and husband on the attractions for younger kids.
We first rode the carousel, then checked out an area that’s geared toward toddlers. In this area, there’s a playground structure, a large mat with foam blocks, a set of soft punching bags for kids to maneuver through, a ride that spins with cars shaped like hot air balloons, a moon bounce mat, and Cookie Mountain (resembles a teepee) that I would guess is 15 feet high that kids scale and slide down. My younger son liked the mountain the best.
A canopy of nets hang above this area, and my older son spent half an hour navigating through the different sections. Many parents accompanied their little ones in the nets, which is smart since it can be hard to track which staircase they will use as the exit (and ensures they won’t get stuck!).
We then went on to the dizzy rides: Grover’s World Twirl (teacups), Elmo’s Cloud Chaser (swings), and rotating flying fish with Elmo faces. Most dry rides allow toddlers on with an adult (but not handheld infants). There’s also a freefall type of ride (that really only bounces so it’s not as scary as adult freefalls), and a six-row “bug” car that spins and slides without going very far.
After a quick ride down a playground tunnel slide, my kids were begging to get to the water rides, three of which are next to these dry rides. Two of the three are slides for single riders that drop into a deep pool of water, so my non-swimming younger son couldn’t try these. The other one here is a fun tunnel slide that you can ride with your child on an inner tube.
Not far away is a “splash castle,” basically a huge water playground with short water slides, lots of things to squirt, and an eight-foot bucket that dumps every so often, all above a shallow pool of water. It can be hard to keep track of more than one kid in the castle area as it’s loud from splashing water, kids are on the go, and there are lots of levels and exits.
Then we headed to the other half of the park which is almost solely water attractions and called Twiddlebug Land. A little waterworks area includes gadgets similar to the splash castle but on a smaller (calmer) scale. A sandy area looked clean but since we didn’t bring any toys and there weren’t any permanent ones, my boys skipped over the sand. Surrounding the waterworks and sand is a lazy river for all ages.
We strapped a park-provided life vest on my little guy, and I walked alongside his inner tube in the waist-deep water. There’s very little water current on this ride, so be prepared to go slow or help things along. A couple of waterfalls are along the route, but it’s mostly a relaxing ride.
Next we checked out a sprayground area and a very shallow, but sizable, pool, both of which are great for toddlers. My kids have been to other spraygrounds and baby pools so these didn’t hold their interest and they were anxious to ride the other two water slides nearby.
Life vests for little ones are provided at Slimey’s Chutes, a pair of simple water slides made for riding with your child in an inner tube, and at Sky Splash, an almost-sky-high ride that was worth waiting in a long line for. Sky Splash lets up to six people hop in a giant inner tube (with floor) for a spinning and bumpy ride under waterfalls and down a huge slide. I liked that we could ride as a family, making it a nice way to cap off our family outing.
Dry rides in Twiddlebug Land include some simple slides (closed on our visit) and a dud of a train ride where adults need to push the train cars around a small track.
On this visit, we didn’t make a point of catching any of the shows or the parade. Visitors started setting down towels to claim a spot on the parade route about an hour before it started. Check the day’s show schedule on the park map you receive when you enter the park, as indoor theater shows would provide some respite from the heat.
Characters from the Sesame Street show abound throughout the park, from shrubbery shaped like Elmo and Snuffleupagus to the giant Ernie looming over the shallow pool to the wandering fluffy giants getting hugs and high-fives from adoring fans. For an extra cost, you can book a breakfast/lunch/dinner with character interaction (we didn’t). We glimpsed most of the wandering costumed characters while walking on the main pathway that runs down the center of the park and divides the wet and dry rides (it’s also the parade route). A pretend fire truck that kids can sit in and faux buildings re-create Sesame Street in a small section of the pathway. And be prepared for songs from the show to be playing annoyingly loudly throughout the park (can’t even escape it in the bathroom).
- For kids who think Elmo is a rock star, Sesame Place will have them mesmerized. The theme is carried through in nearly all aspects of the park.
- As a water park, there’s a lot to do here.
- The small size of the park is ideal for little feet.
- If it’s not good weather for getting wet, there’s just not a full-day’s worth of entertainment here.
- There is practically no shade. When my husband and kids were on rides, I was forced to lurk in odd places to seek out a bit of relief from the blazing sun. Lines for rides are almost all completely without shade.
- It’s hard to get away without spending more than the admission price. Parking was $15 (some nearby hotels off free shuttles for guests, or the price is $30 for VIP parking), a locker rental was $15 (plus a $4 deposit), and a “family dryer” near the lockers costs $15. Also, you’ve got to prepare your firm response of “no” for every time your kids glance around and spot something they really, really want. “No, we are not doing face painting.” “No, I am not buying you a $15 mini fan.” “No, we don’t need an Elmo balloon today.”
Comparison to Hershey Park and Dutch Wonderland
Of the other relatively close amusement parks, I’ve been to Dutch Wonderland twice and Hershey Park once. Dutch Wonderland only has a small water area but offers way more than Sesame for dry rides. It’s a more spread out park than Sesame, and, while there are certainly lots of ways to spend extra money, things like free parking and cheap lockers don’t make it feel like you’re getting hosed. Hershey offers both dry and water rides too but is a huge park with toddler rides spread out all over the park — perfect if you have a young and old child but not so ideal if you just have really little ones. The drive to Sesame Place is about 30 minutes longer than to the other parks (Hershey and Dutch Wonderland are each about 2 1/2 hours from D.C., and Sesame is about 3 hours).
As far as value, Sesame Place loses out to Dutch Wonderland and Hershey. In 2012, the price for a single day is the same as for a two-day ticket at Sesame: $57.99 plus tax; free for kids 23 months and younger. Only AAA has discounts on the two-day ticket. Discounts on one-day tickets are available from other businesses (check the Sesame Place web site for a list). Dutch Wonderland’s tickets in 2012 are $35.99 (ages 2 and under free), and Hershey Park’s tickets are $56.95 (ages 9-54), $35.95 (ages 3-8); (ages 2 and under free). Discounts can be found for both parks too.
- Bring a picnic. Or plan to head out to a nearby restaurant for food — there are lots within a short drive. The lines and high prices for fast food in the park don’t make it worth it. We left our lunch in the car since large coolers aren’t allowed in the park. We were bummed to find the picnic area outside the park was under renovation and thus closed on our visit (we ate in a small patch of grass near the car rather than schlep our food into the park). Small soft-sided coolers are allowed to be brought in, and my backpack crammed with snacks and waters was not a problem to bring in.
- Lockers are located near the park entrance, but they aren’t huge and cost $15. The changing rooms (near the splash castle) are a far walk from the lockers.
- Use a stroller as your place to stash gear, even if your kids won’t ride in it much (or at all).
- There is a fast-pass option to skip ride lines, but of course it’ll cost you. On a super crowded day, it might be worth the money though.
- Download the free phone app for the park. I found it most useful for finding the nearest bathroom.
- Bring more adults than kids if possible, or at least an equal number of adults and kids. Depending on their age/height, kids may need one adult per child to go on a ride. A friend went alone with her two kids and had a miserable time.
- Go on a weekday if at all possible to avoid long lines.
- Philadelphia is roughly 30 minutes away (we stayed overnight in Philly on our 2005 trip).
- You can definitely do Sesame Place as a day trip from D.C., but spending two days at the park can make for a less rushed visit.
- Bring swim shoes and rash guards.
Photo courtesy of Sesame Place.