Monday, June 8, 2009

Two Big Kids, One Big Yellow Bird: Part 1

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out Part 2 of this two-part series as well!

They say it's always a "Sunny Day" on Sesame Street, and yesterday was no exception. In utter defiance of Father Time and all things grown-up, Mike and I reverted to the mindset of our youth and headed out to Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA to attend their annual Media Day event. (That whole "reverting" part turned out to be pretty easy...a little too easy.)

Welcome to a land where the "stars" are warm, friendly, and fuzzy! Sesame Place has been serving up smiles for 29 years and counting. And when I say "counting", I'm not just talking about time. Education and childhood development are at the core of this park's mission. Conceived by the Children's Television Workshop, which produces the famed Sesame Street TV show, Sesame Place brings learning to life through its variety of fun, interactive attractions.

Nobody can accuse this park of lacking character. Every detail--even down to the bushes!--has been carefully planned and executed to give children a truly sensational "first theme park" experience. You will find nearly every single one of your favorite Sesame Street friends immortalized in one of these creative topiaries, which are scattered throughout the park. (And, in turn, you will find nearly every one of these topiaries immortalized on my memory card...I had become more than a little obsessed with them by the end of the day.)

Now that's what I call "character".

Having no experience with building theme parks, the Children's Television Workshop sought the help of well established theme park operator Busch Entertainment Corporation to help bring their dream to life. This proved to be a fruitful partnership, as the park was an immediate hit when it opened in 1980. In fact, Sesame Place drew such large crowds during its first season that some people had to be turned away! This success paved the way for the cycle of expansion and growth which began almost immediately and continues to this day.

Vapor Trail

Evidence of Sesame Place's growth is visible from the moment you approach the gates, in the form of a Vekoma junior coaster dubbed Vapor Trail. The introduction of Vapor Trail in 1998 ushered in a whole new era of traditional rides at Sesame Place, which had previously featured only water rides and other sorts of interactive, non-mechanized "dry" attractions.

Topiaries. Roller coasters. Super Grover. Life is good.

Of course Mike and I had to join Super Grover for a couple spins on his intergalactic adventure. It is a refreshingly fun little coaster! We've even captured it on film for you...

Beyond Vapor Trail, the entire right side of the park is now dominated by traditional amusement rides that have been given a Sesame flair.

Big Bird's Balloon Race

Grover's World Twirl

Big Bird's Balloon Race and Grover's World Twirl were added in 2002. Now the skeptic in you may be wondering what could possibly be educational about rides. Allow me to enlighten you! The wise folks at Sesame Place recognize that children absorb all kinds of information, in the most unlikely of places and at the most unlikely times. Consequently, they have incorporated educational theming and visuals into many of these rides. For instance, though you can't see it very well in the photo above, the wall behind Grover's World Twirl is adorned with world flags and the address "123 Sesame Street" translated into countless different languages. Perhaps we could all learn a little something at Sesame Place!

Nets & Climbs. Do you think this big kid joined the rest of the children for a bit of rope climbing action? You bet I did!

Monster Maze

Nestled among all the newfangled mechanical rides are some oldies but goodies. Ernie's Bed Bounce as well as the 40-foot play structure pictured above, which includes Nets & Climbs, Cookie Mountain, Monster Maze, and Big Bird's Court, are among the few remaining original attractions at Sesame Place. It just goes to show: Kids of all ages (myself included) can't get enough obstacle courses!

"I'm the Elmo topiary! Tickle me!"

In 2006, the ever popular "Elmo's World" came to Sesame Place in the form of a new themed area. This area, which features three rides and LOTS of color, was themed after the Sesame Street segment of the same name which stars none other than...Elmo! (See, we're still learning! Those are some important cognitive skills I just taught you.)

Flyin' Fish (*Not to be confused with Flyin' Phil)

Blast Off


Of the three Elmo rides, Mike and I just couldn't pass up the Peek-a-Bug. This cute contraption is a Zamperla Rockin' Tug in caterpillar clothing. Snuffy's Slides were also located near this area, but sadly I exceeded the age limit by a good 20 years so that was a fail.

Sunny Day Carousel

Just on the other side of some shops from Elmo's World is the Sunny Day Carousel, the last of the traditional rides which can be found at Sesame Place today. This colorful take on the traditional carousel is "last" from a timing perspective as well, as it was just added last year. Might we see even more rides in the future? It's certainly a possibility according to Paula Pritchard, Director of Communications & Resident Marketing at Sesame Place.

"We try to keep a good balance of water attractions, dry attractions, and character interaction shows so that we can extend the seasonality of our park," she told us. "If it was just a water park, our season would be limited." Paula also pointed out that Sesame Place's season now extends beyond the summer, as The Count's Halloween Spooktacular takes over the park in the fall. This event will be expanded again in 2009 to feature an all new Elmo's World Live Halloween show as well as new decorations and opportunities to dine with the characters--always a crowd pleaser!

Sesame Place may excel at striking a balance between wet and dry attractions. But in 2009, the scales--er, bucket--definitely tipped in favor of the former. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our "sunny day" at Sesame Place, which will feature the brand new wet-n-wild adventure known as The Count's Splash Castle!