In 2019, we went to Sesame Place with my sister-in-law and her kids. Molly loved it, especially the water slides. We have always been big fans of Dutch Wonderland and it’s pint-sized rides, relatively small crowds, and small size. But it doesn’t have an awesome water park, and Sesame Place does. It’s also closer to my in-laws, and since we usually try to stay there for a week in the summer, it “made sense” to buy season passes in early 2020.
OBVIOUSLY 2020 had other plans, but they extended the passes through the end of 2021 so we were able to use them this year. We had to make a reservation, but I think the park is operating at full capacity. The advantage of season passes is not feeling like you have to get the most possible out of every single trip. The disadvantage is that you feel like you have to go at least 3 times to really get your money’s worth.
A few people have asked me whether Sesame Place is worth it, whether kids Lila’s age/ability will enjoy it (kids under 2 are free, compared to Dutch Wonderland’s 2 and under are free, ), or whether the park accommodates people with disabilities. For starters, Sesame Place has been certified as an Autism center, which means they have low sensory rooms, and they accept a disability card that you can get through a private certifying company (it’s free). You have to take the card that you get to the counter when you get there and then get an access pass. The pass gives priority boarding for up to 3 dry rides and 2 wet rides. The biggest question for whether you are eligible for this pass is whether Lila could handle standing in line for 10 minutes. But…she’s two. Two year olds, even typical ones, are not famous for their ability to stand in line for ten minutes. Also, the lines on a Saturday were well over ten minutes. Physically, she would be exhausted if she had to stand that long. And she doesn’t fully understand waiting so it did get very hard to get her to wait for some of the rides. We didn’t ultimately get a card though because…the line to get one was also really long? So that was frustrating.
Amusement parks and rides were hit or miss for Molly at various points until she was 4. When she was a baby, she liked them fine, when she was around Lila’s age, she was terrified of all of the rides at Dutch Wonderland and sobbed while riding them. Now she loves them, although doesn’t love most roller coasters, and she loves water slides.
It turns out that currently, Lila is at an age where she loves rides. She was super excited to go on several different rides. The frustrating thing about Sesame Place compared to Dutch Wonderland is that parents have to go on almost all the rides until kids are over 48 inches tall. Dutch Wonderland has several mini rides that the kids could at least ride together themselves, but Sesame Place does not. It does, however, have a miniature wave pool.
The thing that was the most disappointing this summer has been that the park closes the water slides at 6pm, whereas last time they were open and empty between 6 and 7 and Molly just rode them endlessly.
They have also been cracking down on outside food and drink, but the line to get food when we stayed for dinner was 35 minutes long. On a Wednesday. On Saturday, the lines wrapped around the buildings and didn’t look like they were moving very fast either. I think the pandemic has affected seasonal staffing in a way that was hard to predict, so I don’t think we’ll go back on a weekend this year, and I don’t think we’ll purchase season passes again.
One of the biggest risks I have had to adjust back to navigating is big kids around Lila, both teaching her to be aware of where she is in space and not to wander, and to not put her in situations that aren’t safe for her. When we were getting ready to go on the lazy river, she stepped out into the walkway as an older kid came running up the sidewalk and just completely knocked her over. She hit her head pretty hard on the concrete and was upset (not as upset as her mother, or the mother of the kid who ran her over). When we went back on Saturday, I was much more hellicopter-y than I would normally be, and we also worked hard to implement some strategies our behavioral therapist gave us to encourage walking close to us (which is mostly saying, “if you don’t hold my hand, I have to carry you”). She did much better than I expected with that guidance, and we were able to escape the park on Saturday without another visit to the (top-notch) first aid building. (There is no longer a mask mandate there and so Lila happily let the unmasked doctor examine her, which is a more positive experience than any of our recent medical visits.)
We steered pretty clear of the Count’s Splash Park, which has several small and several medium sized water slides, partly because it is extremely loud and I struggle with auditory overstimulation, but also because it didn’t feel very safe for a hypermobile 22 pound kiddo. Even with Sesame Place being a certified Autism Center, I feel like this feature in particular is pretty dangerous for kids with any kind of sensory issues or who gets overstimulated easily. It is crowded, it’s loud, water is coming at you from all directions, and the kids are sort of expected to be able to go up fairly slippery slides by themselves and stand in line for water slides, and they are somewhat expected to police themselves. Molly often struggles with this kind of line because other kids will cut in front of her, and I didn’t even let Lila try any of them because I didn’t think this was going to be a good introduction to water slides. We stuck to the wave pool and finally made our way to Ernie’s Water Works, which I could see from the Lazy River but couldn’t figure out how to get to (warning, you have to go across a GIANT SAND PIT to get there, whose idea was the sand pit, why is there sand.) There was still a lot of water splashing here but it was much more little kid friendly and they did a good job of making the things that appeal to little kids be SUPER BORING for big kids, and it’s small and well contained.
Since we have been home, we’ve been watching a lot more Sesame Street and I will say, Lila is pretty willing to sit and watch at least part of an episode before getting bored and finding her talker to tell me to change the channel and watch wheels on the bus. I don’t know if going to a place with tons of pictures of all of the characters makes her more interested in it or not, but it seems like the repetition helps her connect things. I’m hoping we can still make a trip to Dutch Wonderland this year, and if we do I will report back on that experience as well. For now, I will say that I would skip Sesame Place if you have a kid under 3 with a disability, unless you have an older kid who loves rides and is tall enough to ride the rides by themselves (48”), especially if you are going to the park without a second adult to ride with them. Sesame Place has a policy about letting parents leave one child at the front of the ride and ride with the other child, but they don’t seem to have contemplated what to do when your child is disabled and not capable of understanding that instruction.
If you have experience with other toddler friendly theme parks in the Maryland/Delaware/Pennsylvania/New Jersey region, please share your recommendations!