Sesame Place
May 27, 2019

copyright Jay Ducharme 2019

When we arrived back at our Lancaster cottage after our day at Hersheypark, I checked online for tickets to our next destination: Sesame Place in Langhorne. Although I loved Sesame Street -- especially the Muppets -- when I was a kid (I could still remember the first year of the show when Oscar the Grouch was orange), I wouldn't have normally bothered making a special trip to this park. It was basically on our way home, which helped. But in 2018, the park installed their first wooden roller coaster, Oscar's Wacky Taxi, built by the Gravity Group, the company responsible for Quassy's terrific Wooden Warrior and Storyland's infamous Roar-O-Saurus. So I figured the park was worth a stop just for that. But my jaw dropped when I saw the admission: $75! The park was only 14 acres of kiddie rides, but they were charging Cedar Point prices. Luckily they were offering a special Memorial Day online 50%-off discount. So I ordered two tickets. Their site kept freezing up when I tried to pay. I checked my bank, and the order did go through. So I had to call the Sea World customer service number (since Sea World, also owner of the Busch parks, was the operator) to straighten that out. They e-mailed me the bar codes for the tickets.

The next morning, Karen and I packed up the car and left our little cottage. There still was no one in the lodge office, so we left the key in our room and went to the nearby gas station to get ice for our cooler. If Sunday in Amish country made it difficult to find a place to have breakfast, Memorial Day was even worse. Nothing in the area was open. So we hit the road at 8:00 and assumed we'd be able to find a restaurant along the way.

We arrived in Langhorne about an hour-and-a-half later and couldn't seem to find the park, even with GPS. Finally we noticed a small sign on a corner that read Oxford Valley Mall. Below that type, barely legible, was a thin orange strip with a small mention of Sesame Place. I did a search of nearby breakfast restaurants, but the only thing that came up was University Grill which turned out to be a hospital cafeteria. Karen spotted a Burger King down the road, so we went there. It was the best-appointed fast food restaurant I've ever seen. It looked more like cross between an Irish pub and an upscale restaurant. I had pancakes and a hash brown. Karen had an egg sandwich and hash browns. It was pretty good, especially by fast food standards.

We then followed that small sign around a corner and past some office developments where we finally encountered the park. It was really easy to miss. The parking lot was on one side of a four-lane highway and the park itself was on the other. We could have paid the upcharge for "preferred" parking on the park side of the highway, but the general lot was actually closer to the entrance. We just had to cross that highway. There was a pedestrian light with a button at the crosswalk. I couldn't imagine that being a good long-term solution with all the traffic. Like Six Flags New England, the park should have built a pedestrian bridge across the highway.

Once we got across the street, the entrance was a bit more obvious. There was a yellow metal archway with the name of the park topped by Big Bird's head. Oscar's Wacky Taxi was visible over on the far left. Beyond the arch was a big display proclaiming 2019 the 50th anniversary of the debut of Sesame Street. And past that was the security checkpoint underneath a wide awning with the park logo emblazoned on it. (We'd see that park logo at nearly every turn.) We passed through security and were then on a wide concourse that curved to the left. There were bathrooms at the far left. In front of us was another coaster, a steel one with the odd name of Vapor Trail. I later learned that Grover (one of the Muppets) takes on the guise of a superhero, and that's his name. Throughout the park, music was playing from the television series. Various Muppet character voices -- especially Elmo and Big Bird -- were prominent. Notably absent was Kermit.

We lined up at the entrance gates. A sizable crowd had already formed, waiting for the park to open. At 10:00 people were let in. The bar codes on my phone were scanned at the gate and we walked onto the main concourse. I wasn't sure what to make of it. It reminded me a bit of the old Riverside Park, with an expanse of asphalt as far as the eye could see. The asphalt had been tinted blue, and it matched the clear blue sky above us. The tar was accented here and there by curved sections of textured concrete. But there was nothing else -- no trees for shade, no benches or tables for resting. Just an open expanse. Way over to the left was the park gift shop. Way over to the right was the entrance to Vapor Trail. A short way ahead was an impressive raised garden with topiary figures of the Snuffleupagus, Elmo and Big Bird. But overall the area was pretty underwhelming, especially as the main entrance. Why not have us enter down a recreation of the actual Sesame Street set? One nice touch: on the other side of the garden was Oscar the Grouch in his trash can, waving to people and having his photo taken. I felt sorry for the performer in there having to kneel down all that time. There were a lot of characters from the TV series wandering the midway. As with most characters in parks, none of them spoke.

We saw a path leading off to the left, so we followed it and emerged onto a pebbled concrete concourse that was home to a large water park. At the far left was Sky Splash, an inner tube waterslide topped by Ernie's rubber ducky. On the far right were more water slides. There were beach chairs with umbrellas scattered about. We walked through that area and emerged into yet another water park area. This one featured Sand Castle Beach, a roped off sandy area. To the right was a boardwalk in front of a large ship facade labeled The Good Ship Sesame, adorned with the Muppet characters. We followed along the boardwalk and were led into yet another waterpark section. This one was a huge splash area themed after The Count.

Opposite that was the end of Sesame Street, a small recreation of the set that I wished had been placed at the park entrance. I thought it odd that they would relegate what was arguably the park's most important feature to the far back of the property. The buildings were completely decorative, which I thought also missed the mark. I mean, how cool would it have been to walk into a replica of Mr. Hooper's store (the perfect place to put a gift shop)? The back of the buildings was along an odd alleyway that didn't seem to have any purpose. Costumed characters occasionally appeared there, but it seemed like wasted space.

We continued along the path by the splash park, which took us to -- you guessed it -- more waterpark, this time two large sets of water slides that dove off a cliff at the back of the park. The cliff overlooked a large lake. I'm not sure whether the park owned the lake, but incorporating that feature would seem like a good idea if they did. By this point, Karen and I were coming to the conclusion that Sesame Place was a water park, not an amusement park. As if to counter that thought, the midway at that point opened up into the one section of the park that had actual rides. I assumed the area was called Cookie's Monster Land, from the giant blue cookie jar tucked at one section. Most of the rides were the usual fare that most parks offered: a swing, jets, teacups and the like, all themed of course to Sesame Street characters. The closest the park got to a thrill ride was Honker's Dinger Derby, a Troika-like spin-and-barf ride. But my favorite ride in that section was Oscar's Rotten Rusty Rockets. I had never seen anything like it, a sort of combination of a swing ride and a Whip. Next to that was the Monster Clubhouse, which was a kid's play area. At the far end of that section was a marvelous showpiece: a carousel themed to the Muppets with a statue of Big Bird at the top of the canopy holding onto the Sesame Street signpost.

We exited that section alongside Sesame Studio, one of the park's theaters, which was presenting Elmo the Musical. Abutting that was a restroom, one of only two we saw in the entire park. That brought us back onto the main concourse. There was only one other section we hadn't explored, and it was the main reason we came to the park. So we walked over to the front corner of the park to experience Oscar's Wacky Taxi. The entrance was nicely designed, with a maze-like queue line. There were little references to Manhattan here and there, like some Broadway show posters altered to suit the Oscar the Grouch theme. There weren't many people in line, and the station allowed us to line up for the front seat. The trains were short, but the park was running two of them. The trains were whimsically designed cabs, with Oscar driving at the front topped by a worm and with a license plate that read either SCRAM! or I♥TRASH They were Timberliner trains, and could accommodate both large adults and small children together, quite a remarkable achievement. They could also take incredibly tight turns, which is how so much coaster was able to be packed into such a small area. We sat down in the comfortable seat and pulled in the adjustable lap bar. The PA system announced the usual pre-ride spiel, followed by Oscar's voice saying, "And don't enjoy it too much! I want you to scram!" Off we went up the short lift. That was followed by a tight left-hand turn and then a steep drop. We then flew over two speed bumps with strong air time and dove into a right-hand tunnel with heavily banked track. That was followed by three bunny hops, another banked track around the lift structure and then a bouncing s-curve back to the station. It was a short ride, but really thrilling (and yet comfortable). Everyone who came back to the station was laughing and clapping. It was a really wonderful coaster.

From there, Karen and I walked across to the other side of the park. I wanted to take a ride on Vapor Trail. Karen took a pass on that. As with Wacky Taxi, I was able to quickly queue up for the front seat and in short order was gliding up the tire-powered lift hill. After the lift, the track spiraled down into a double-helix in a gully. Strangely, the track never dropped very low, staying high above the ground. Then the track rose up a bit, headed back perpendicular to the station and into a figure eight. Then after another curve we hit the brakes. It was another fun family coaster, certainly not as thrilling as Wacky Taxi but a good first coaster for children.

By that point, Karen and I were getting hungry. So we looked around at the different eateries. They reminded me of Six Flags: most of them, regardless of their name, offered the same thing (hamburgs, hot dogs and chicken tenders). Even Captain Ernie's Bistro in the waterpark, which sounds like it would have fish, offered those three stock items. Abby Cadabby's Garden Grille didn't have much to offer us either. Mr. Hooper's Food Market had a few grab-and-go items. We ended up at Cookie's Cafe, the largest eatery in the park. It had an upstairs area and could seat nearly 300 people. They were offering the Impossible Burger (an increasing trend at fast food restaurants) -- but at a really steep price of $14. We decided to pass on eating in the park.

Instead we took another fun ride on Wacky Taxi. After that, Karen browsed the gift shops while I recorded a walk-thru of the park. Then we strolled around the park a bit more. Ernie and Bert were having a photo op next to the Sesame Street set. Nearby was Big Bird's tree and Oscar's trash can. There was a buzzer next to the trash can with a sign that warned kids not to press it. When they naturally did, Oscar's voice would make a snarky remark. We also saw a gate that led to a queue line where families could meet with Big Bird. But there wasn't much else for us to do so we called it a day.

Sesame Place had a lot of potential. They definitely needed more space to grow, and needed to keep adding more things to do. As it stood, I felt the price point was way too high. After all, Knoebel's most expensive all-inclusive day ticket was $45, and they offered a lot more activities for families. Plus, all of Knoebel's food offerings were way more affordable. And Knoebel's wasn't all that far from Philadelphia. So I'm not sure who the target market for Sesame Place was. People from the area who had a lot of money to blow and didn't want to travel? Oscar's Wacky Taxi was a terrific addition to the park, but coaster enthusiasts weren't going to pay $75 to ride it. With such expensive food at the park, it would have made more sense to charge $40 for entry. Maybe because of the small size of the park, management was trying to thin out the crowds. Also I found it strange that it was mostly a water park, which wasn't at all what I was expecting. Its website certainly didn't give that impression. But I guess for families whose kids want to interact with Sesame Street characters, this would be the place to come ... that is, if they could find it. Management really did need better signage outside the park unless they wanted guests to live out the show's theme song, stop people on the way and ask, "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?" Karen and I were glad we went for half-price and were able to experience the park's limited offerings. It was a sunny day, and we swept the clouds away. But unfortunately it was one street we weren't interested in revisiting.

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