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Monday, July 28 2014 09:43

The Great American Road Trip: Our Adventure at SESAME PLACE...

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When we kicked-off our first-ever family road trip earlier this month, my wife and I did a fantastic job of keeping our destinations largely a secret from the little ones. In fact, they only knew of one stop (Chocolate World), and that's because Addie caught me looking at it on the computer prior to our journey. The centerpiece of our trip was kept well under-wraps, and keeping it a surprise until we entered the gates was completely worth it as the reactions were priceless. After spending the night in Philadelphia, the family and I headed for Langhorne, Pennsylvania - home of SESAME PLACE - the Nation's only theme park based entirely on SESAME STREET.

Spinning things back about 32 years, I first became aware of SESAME PLACE through THE OAK RIDGE BOYS (my first concert!) - specifically, their "Thank God For Kids" music video, which was shot in a former SESAME PLACE location down in Texas. Funny thing is - and I don't even think I'd told my parents about it - I actually had dreams of visiting SESAME PLACE, just because I knew that somewhere it existed... and that somewhere the mystery of "How to get to Sesame Street?" had been solved. I never imagined that I'd one day be able to take my own kids to the original, and still rockin' location, right outside of Philly.

Upon arrival, the girls had already been dozing off, so it was a little disorienting. Addie was the first to really start taking stock of where we were. She got out of the car a little dazed and confused, but once she started to realize what was up, well, take a look...

Addie was not only excited for herself, but also for Little Finley (off camera getting a diaper change) who is a huge fan of Big Bird. Once in the door, we made an immediate stop at the Vapor Trail - a steel roller coaster perfect for kids. Addie's been asking to do a coaster, and this one became her first "big girl" ride, aside from those tiny ones at the local carnivals. I sat this one out to tend to Finley, who sometimes has a meltdown when it comes to new people and new places. SESAME PLACE was no exception, but after a quick meeting with Zoe, she showed some signs of loosening up.

#SesamePlace

sesamesplashThe Wet and Wild:

About 50/50 between dry rides and water rides, we opted to stay dry first, then move onto the wet side of things. That said, I'll cover the liquid side first since I only have photos from one ride in the aquatic realm, as I'd put my camera and phone in a locker during that portion. Addie and I (after much discussion) took a ride on Sky Splash, a massive, six-story ride in which we cruised with four other park-goers in a raft, ending in a pool at the bottom where a park photographer managed to catch us upon landing. It was exhilarating.

While we experienced just about everything that the water side had to offer (Sesame Streak, Ernie's Waterworks, Slimey's Chutes, Big Bird's Rambling River and Teeny Tiny Tidal Wave), the big winner there was The Count's Splash Castle - which we stopped by a couple of times. With so much to do on it, it's like a park in itself - but with some water slides, water blasters and a whole lotta climbing fun built in. And yes, perhaps Count von Count is my favorite SESAME STREET character, and indeed I do enjoy the 1,000 gallon tipping bucket that comes complete with thunderous sound effects. 

The Dry Rides:

Back on land, the adventures were many, with stops on the Sunny Day Carousel, Elmo's Cloud Chase and Blast Off. I actually road the latter with Addie, who loves the similar "Frog Ride" when the fair comes to town. I'd actually never been on one, so when we went skyward and started falling, it was a lot of fun.

WANT TO SEE A FULL GALLERY OF 177 PHOTOS FROM OUR TRIP TO SESAME PLACE? See them on Facebook!

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COOKIE'S MONSTER LAND:

The big attraction at SESAME PLACE this year is the newly-opened COOKIE'S MONSTER LAND, the largest renovation in park history, and featuring Captain Cookie’s High “C’s” Adventure, Oscar’s Rotten Rockets, the Honker Dinger Derby, the Flying Cookie Jars and the Monster Mix-Up. We road nearly everything, but had to pass on the Dinger Derby since Addie wasn't quite tall enough. The Mix-Up is essentially a new spin on teacups, and one of a few rides that we did as an entire family. Also fun? The Monster Clubhouse, which Addie and I climbed while my wife and Finn played in the Mini Monster Clubhouse below.

THE SESAME NEIGHBORHOOD:

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At the heart of SESAME PLACE is a recreation and variation on the most famous street around - complete with the famous 1-2-3 Sesame Street Steps, Oscar's garbage can, Big Birds Nest, Mr. Hoopers Store and more. There's some creative liberties taken - a Fire House has been added, and Oscar has a garage, and the whole thing is a lot of fun. The girls peeked in to see if Big Bird was home... and very cautiously approached Oscar's can to find it locked (we'd meet up with him later). While it's not a "screen accurate" representation, the kids just accept it, and that's magical - much like most never seem to question the differences (or silences) of the walk-around characters vs. their on-screen counterparts. We got to catch the Neighborhood Parade, and the girls were enthralled - but here we saw Little Finley really open up, shouting to all of her heroes like Big Bird and Elmo.

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Addie laughing at ElmoDINNER WITH ELMO & FRIENDS:

We paid a premium for this, and while the food was pretty standard, the experience was priceless. As some of you know, I work with PBS as a PBS KIDS VIP (Very Involved Parent), and occasionally my work with them brings me face-to-face with some genuine Muppets of SESAME STREET. I've sung with Cookie Monster in San Francisco and have hung out with Rosita and Mando in Miami, therefore, my girls think that I know all of the Muppets - even ones I've never met. This was made crystal clear when Elmo snuck up behind me at dinner, just as I was getting ready to snap a picture of Addie. At that very moment, what I caught was the reaction of my girls (see Addie, right) with Elmo over my shoulder. When I got up to go grab some food, Addie would explain to my wife that "Elmo came up to Daddy because he knew him from Miami."

At dinner, my girls got to chat with Cookie Monster, Abby Cadabby and The Count... then dance with Grover and Elmo. Does it get any better than this? I don't know, but it's a time capsule moment that these little ones will never forget, and one that falls right in the perfect age range for them to be even that much more meaningful.

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THE BOTTOM LINE:

We were at SESAME PLACE from open-to-close, and if we'd had the time, we would've returned already. There has not been a day that has passed that the girls have not asked to "go back to Elmo's World" or "go back to SESAME PLACE." The park map, something that I would've anticipated to be a throwaway has become a treasure. They want to look at it and handle it constantly, and as such, I'm having it framed. 

What I do know now is this: We will return to SESAME PLACE. I'm not sure when, but it has to happen.

Disclosure: While the folks at SESAME PLACE and SeaWorld Parks knew we were coming and were kind enough to hook me up with a media pass along with discounted tickets for my family, we bought quite a few add-ons and souvenirs that enhanced an already-fantastic experience.

James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, a writer for the Netflix #StreamTeam, and serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. Current special projects include promotional campaigns for PJ Masks (eOne/Disney Junior) and Beat Bugs (Netflix). 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for Napalm Records' PRODUCT OF HATE.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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