Many of my friends make the trip every summer with their families, and I often ask them for advice on everything from when to go, which hotel to stay in, and even, how to avoid mental breakdowns! Below you will find my take on Sesame Place, as well as, some of the tips that I've received, and used, over the years. Hopefully, they will help make you a smarter Sesame Place traveller, and lead to a happy – and tear-free – adventure!
Sesame Place understands that little ones need their "special" snacks and sometimes, even an ice cream sundae served up in a bright blue Cookie Monster bowl, simply won't cut it. So, with everyone's sanity in mind, Sesame Place allows visitors to bring a soft-sided cooler into the park as long as it is no larger than 10"x10"x12". This means that you can pack food and snacks that you know your kids will eat even when they're completely overstimulated.
This has saved us from many meltdowns. We always bring an assortment of fruit, granola bars, water bottles, juice boxes, milk cups…and even their beloved gummy worms.
With that said, it's important to know that food, in general, is expensive at Sesame Place, and is mostly cafeteria-style. Think chicken nuggets, pizza, french fries, and such. However, I was able to get some red grapes and watermelon at Captain Ernie's Bistro – it's set back by Big Bird's Rambling River, and isn't as crowded as the rest of the pit stops.
But, the best advice I have to offer came from one of my dear friends, Carrie P., from VA, two years ago. On our first trip down to Sesame Place, she advised me to pack a cooler with all of our lunch items in it, and leave it in the car. This way, you have to take your kids out of the park for awhile and they can eat tailgate-style, or just chill out in the AC and decompress for a few minutes. Plus, this way you're guaranteed to have something in the cooler that they will eat – my kids are always happy with some PB&J's and milk!
In theory, Character Meals should fall under Food, but they really are a beast of their own. Everyone has their own staunch opinions about whether these over-priced meals are worth it, so I'll just give you my two cents.
The first year we went down to Sesame Place, we went to breakfast with Cookie Monster and Abby Cadabby…and my kids LOVED it. They got to spend some quality time with almost all of the characters before the park opened. This saved us the hassle of having to take a picture with every single character on the street because we banged them all out at breakfast. The only characters we needed to hunt down were Super Grover and Oscar the Grouch. But as far as the food goes…just keep in mind that you're paying a crazy anount for some boxes of dried cereal and a few bananas. There is a hot buffet, but I won't go there…
With that said, we did not go to a Character Meal this time and we regretted it! Every time our kids saw a character on the street, they begged us to take a picture, and we had to stop what we were doing and get on line. Unfortunately, the characters can only withstand the heat for so long, and as it happened, every time it was our turn, a staff member would sadly smile and tell us that so-and-so had to go get a drink of water!
I'm not kidding – every…single…time. This of course, led to many tears – and at one point, I actually jumped in front of Abby Cadabby and begged her to let my poor sobbing daughter just…touch…her…hand. (I'm really surprised they didn't call security, but I was truly at my wits end!)
Needless to say, next time, we'll fork over the money for a Character Meal and it will save us from many tear-induced headaches later on in the day.
Also keep in mind that you can take pictures with some of the characters at the 1-2-3- Smile With Me booth. But, you'll have to wait on line here too, unless you take Carrie P's advice, "If you need to take some pictures, go to the back of the park at the 1-2-3- Smile With Me booth after 5 PM because nobody is there.")
If you do NOT go to a Character Breakfast, plan to wait on line for at least 20 minutes once the gates to Sesame Place open. Seriously, it's like feeding time at the zoo – people are pushy, cranky and snarky as they all fight their way into the park. I would suggest arriving early, so you can safely park your car and get into the park before the mad dash begins.
We also went to the nearby Babies-R-Us and picked up two umbrella strollers right before we went to the park. It made life so much easier. When one spot got too crowded, we just put the kids in the strollers and zipped them on over to a less crowded area. Our 5 year old son wasn't happy about being in a "baby" stroller, but he got over it once he realized he could rest his tired feet in between rides! Or, as my good friend Cari Y. reminded me, you can rent a stroller, "This last time, we rented a stroller from the park (it's more like a cart) and were very happy."
Also, the Street Parade is at 2 o'clock so beware – make sure you are on the side of the park that you want to be on before the parade starts! Once the characters get moving, you're more or less stuck on one side of the park for a solid 20 minutes or so. The first day we watched the parade right on the street, but the second day we watched it while standing on line at Big Bird's Rambling River.
Speaking of which, the line to Big Bird's Rambling River is always long. It's the one ride that everyone wants to go on, especially when it's hot. To keep our kids, and ourselves, from having heat-induced breakdowns while waiting in line, we make sure that we cool off before we get on line. How? Well we hang out in Ernie's Waterworks until we're completely cooled off and then we go stand in line! It worked like a charm this past visit. I was also surprised to hear about Carrie P.'s most secret tip of all, "I can't believe that I will publicly share this, but there are TWO, yes two, entrances to the lazy river. Use the back beach entrance, not many know about this, and it's a much shorter line!"
I'm also bummed that I didn't find out about Abby's Magic Queue until I was writing this article! If I would have known that I could ride on Big Bird's Rambling River, over and over and over again, without ever having to wait on line, I would have purchased "Magic Queues" for everyone.
The Street Parade is actually really cool, so check it out at least once! But, if you've seen the parade before, follow Carrie P's advice, "If you frequent the park often, and have already seen the parade, ride the roller coaster instead – no one is on line during the parade!"
It sort of goes without saying, but if you can go while school is still in session, the park will be way less crowded. If you need to wait until school is out, Cari Y. says that, "Going during the week is definintely key. Weekends, and of course July & August, are just crazy busy and hot. Plus, it's very difficult to wait in the water park lines, especially with little ones. They also tend to run out of life jackets at the lazy river on the weekends – especially the toddler-sized ones."
There are a ton of places to stay near Sesame Place, but not every place is a nice place, so it's good to know where to go!
The first year we went down, we stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Newtown. The hotel is on the list of Preferred Hotels for Sesame Place and it's a great option for families with little kids who need extra space. We booked a suite because we really wanted a kitchenette so we could safely store all of our daughter's baby bottles and baby food without having to worry about keeping a cooler packed with ice in a hotel room.
The Hampton Inn & Suites was very clean, and the king-sized bedroom in our suite was huge; we were even able to fit our pack-n-play in between the bed and the wall! The room also had a pull-out couch in the living room, but our son opted to sleep in the king with us.
The Hampton Inn & Suites also has a lovely, private pool surrounded by plants. It was nice to have a place to come back to and relax without feeling like we had to stay in our hotel room. The Hampton Inn & Suites may not be the closest hotel to Sesame Place, but the perks far outweigh the extra few minutes it took to drive to the park.
This year, we waited until the last minute to book our stay, and had to try a new hotel, so we opted for The Courtyard by Mariott . This hotel is also on the list of Preferred Hotels for Sesame Place and is another family-friendly option.
The Courtyard by Mariott does not have suites, but the king-sized rooms are quite spacious. Our family of four had more than enough room to get ready and relax before bedtime. Our room had two queen-sized beds, so we each slept with one of the kids and it worked out just fine. The pool is nothing to write about, but The Courtyard by Mariott has a shuttle to Sesame Place and the shuttle drops you off right by the front gates!
However, the best part of The Courtyard by Mariott is not the rooms, nor the shuttle, it's the cafe/lounge area down by the reception desk! Directly off the main lobby, there is a small cafe and bar that opens on to a large television / play area for both children and adults. The two media rooms play kids' shows all day and night, and are loaded with comfy couches! So after a long day at the park, parents can sit down at a table, order dinner for everyone, and let the kids go off to play until it's served.
I must say – it was really nice to just sit back with a beer and not freak out that the kids didn't want to "sit down to dinner" with us. After they ate, they just left the table and we could watch them coloring and watching tv just a few feet away. Plus, the hotel staff at The Courtyard by Mariott is incredibly accommodating – you can even order food from a nearby restaurant, have it delivered, and sit in the cafe/bar and eat it! Better yet, they even let us take our Bailey's nightcaps to our rooms!
Carrie P. from VA, offered up the following tips on what to wear:
"Wear comfortable, all day water shoes (make sure they're sturdy enough to also handle the scary, scary ropes course!). Keep in mind that in the heat of the summer, parents are going to be too hot and frazzled to deal with coverups and such, so wear a sensible all day swimsuit and ghetto it (string bikinis not recommended) but for the love of God, put on a t-shirt before taking the family photo with super Grover (unlike me)."
Cari Y., from VA, shared her hotel experiences with us:
"The Holiday Inn, about 1/4 mile away is very gross. The Courthouse Marriot is nice, but has a horrible pool. We like the suites at the Hampton Inn (Denine told us about it) – it's about 7 miles from the park and doesn't have a shuttle, but well worth it. Very nice."
Jennifer B. from NY, shared an interesting idea about when to go:
"We've been there twice and I definitely think that going when it's raining (but not closed down) is the best. The kids were able to go on all of the water rides that they wanted to – as many times as they wanted, with no wait. Now I understand that you probably can't plan this, but despite the soggy, wet feeling you'll walk away with, it was definitely worth it."
Cari Y., from VA,offered up the following tips on parking:
"Spend the extra money on the Preferred parking. It's only about 3 or 4 dollars more than regular parking and takes you right up to the gate!"
Carrie P. from VA, offered up the following tips for getting the most bang for your buck:
"The Season Pass, is so worth it if you can get there more than 3 times a year. If you get season passes, you only need to buy one at the medium or top level – the rest can be basic level passes. Get the medium or top level pass in one of your kids' names – it will allow them to meet the characters before the parade (with an adult of course, score!), get early seating at the shows, and it will get you the free parking. Also, make sure you save your cups, popcorn buckets, etc (even from year to year) and you'll get big discounts on refills (even bigger discounts when paired with a season pass).
Well, I think that about covers it. Do you have some advice, tips or tricks to share about Sesame Place? We encourage you to leave them in the comments section below!
Thanks for reading,