This is Part 2 of my Sesame Place series. Part 1 was about planning your visit and if the park is right for you. Part 3 will cover Special Needs Accommodations.
When you think of visiting a theme park, you probably think about parting ways with a good deal of cash. If you don’t go prepared it’s possible to drop a lot of money for very little. It helps to be savvy and to know what is worth your money and what’s not.
First off, at Sesame Place you can save yourself some effort by getting the Discovery Dollars wristband. You can get it at Guest Relations just outside the park or the Welcome Center just inside. You give them your credit card, they put down a $50 hold, you are free to spend as you like without having to pull out your wallet. Your account will settle at the end of the day, so it’s not like you have to spend at least $50. If you’re planning on getting wet or leaving your things in a locker or in the car, this is a great option. I just hated the thought of digging through my bag full of diapers and extra clothes and such every time we needed something.
Parking is $17 for the least expensive lot. You can stay at the Sheraton across the street or try to find a local hotel with a shuttle to the park. (Though those may save you some cash on parking, you may also want to consider the non-monetary cost of waiting for a shuttle or walking to your hotel at the end of your day with wet, exhausted children. And the value of being able to keep extra stuff in the car just in case.) The cheapest lot really isn’t far from the park entrance. We’re not talking Disneyland parking here. We’re talking parking at the mall.
As far as food goes, Sesame Place allows you to bring in a small soft cooler for baby food and formula. So sorry, no snacks to get you through the day. It’s a recent policy change, and one that I don’t love, but it’s typical for parks. Keeping a cooler in the car for a snack break at the picnic tables is a smart idea.
We did buy the refillable cup from one of the many drink stands. The cup, filled was $6.99 and refills were $0.99. Not cheap, but for a theme park it’s certainly not bad. Plus the cup came with a handle so we just hitched it to our stroller and it was super easy. Theme park drinks usually run upwards of $3 so a comparative good deal. Also it meant we could all share it since none of us have cooties. We used it mostly for water and lemonade to keep us all hydrated since we couldn’t bring drinks in the park. If you plan to return, it makes sense to get one to re-use on future trips.
As far as food goes, we’ve gone two different routes.
Dine With Me
If you are bringing Sesame-obsessed kids to the park, doing a Dine With Me meal may be a good splurge option. The Dine With Me meals are the only time your kid will have time to chat with their favorite monsters without a line of kids waiting behind them. Sesame is a little skimpy with the characters, and there’s usually a line, so this will win you big parent points. There’s a breakfast with Elmo & Friends that’s $19 for adults, $10 for kids. There’s also lunch or dinner with Elmo & Friends for $25 for adults, $15 for kids ($27 for adults at dinner). For these, you book a time and you get reserved seating. (As a bonus, if you book the early breakfast of 8:45, you’ll be able to ride in the park at 9:30, a half hour before the park opens. That is, if you can pry your kids away from Elmo…) There’s also a Cookie’s Country Breakfast and Big Bird’s Backyard BBQ, though be aware these are outside whereas Elmo’s meals have air conditioning.
For our 2012 trip, our Dine With Me lunch was by far my favorite part of our Sesame Place experience. First off: the food. A buffet is a nice change from the a la carte dining you get in most theme park restaurants. I was pleased with the variety of food available. I was able to get a bunch of different, healthy choices for Graham, including applesauce, green beans, corn, rice and he even took a bite of salmon. They had plenty of kid-friendly options like mac & cheese and chicken fingers. But happily there is also grown-up approved food. There was salad, the aforementioned salmon, chicken stir fry and more. The line was never long.
At our assigned table we were waited on by very friendly staff who brought us drinks and refills. Graham’s milk came in an Elmo cup with a straw that he got to keep.
There were two family restrooms inside, which meant I could take my kids in and change them into their swim clothes in peace and quiet and without the insanity of a theme park bathroom. (This was the only bathroom we used while we were there and it was lovely. I can’t vouch for how the others were.)
There was also a plentiful dessert bar after the meal, including a soft-serve machine, cakes, cookies, cupcakes and more. You will not go hungry.
And, of course, the big draw: the characters. Our Dine With Me lunch had Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, the Count and Abby Cadabby. Big Bird, being quite tall, was kept in one place in the center of the room where you could take your kids for pictures. Elmo had a special spot for pictures, too. But later on in the meal he came into the center of the room where we snagged him.
The other characters went to EVERY SINGLE TABLE in the place. Not only that, later in the meal they asked who hadn’t seen them and everyone was visited before a character left. It was wonderful. The kids had plenty of time for pictures and cuddles. Cookie sat at our table and the Bug was pretty thrilled. Each character also had a few minutes to perform a song for the kids.
I’d worried it would be kind of a madhouse, but our lunch was very calm and happy and once everyone realized they’d all get a chance to see everyone it was pleasant and lovely. The staff was solicitous and helped with spills, which is kind of a given with so many toddlers around. There were plenty of highchairs and lots of space.
My plan for our 2014 visit was to give ourselves a park break in the middle of the day and head off-site for lunch. I didn’t feel confident we’d be able to get a parking spot again so I did some Google Map scouting to find a good option nearby. Walking is not encouraged around here. My city kid was thoroughly confused and wondered why no one was walking. Spoiler: no sidewalks. Not very family-friendly. BUT there is one sidewalk heading away from the park and what do you know, at the end of that sidewalk is a Red Robin.
It took us about 5 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the restaurant. We had a nice meal, a good break from the craziness of the park, we all had plenty to eat, the kids got balloons, and overall it worked out very well. Initially we had a bit of complaining from a certain almost-5-year-old about leaving the park but once we were there he was happy as a clam. Happier once he got a balloon.
On the way back we stopped at the car for our things to do our midday change to swimwear. Because we weren’t allowed snacks, I promised the kid an Elmo cupcake. It was only $2, cheaper than I can find cupcakes around here, and bought me some parent points.
A Two-Day Low-Cost Visit Plan
Here’s the way I’d master plan it:
Day 1: Eat lunch on your own, come to the park afterwards, around 12 or 1. Get in a few good hours, buy a refillable cup, and you can probably get out without a meal.
Day 2: Do a Dine With Me breakfast, get in a few good hours, and leave for a late lunch and a nap back at your hotel.
You get 2 days free with a 1-day pass, so you can get maximum park in without having to cram everything into one big day with some cranky kids. To avoid tantrums, make sure you chat about your plan with the kids in advance. You could also use this plan to have a “wet” day and a “dry” day, so you don’t have to worry about changing clothes and packing a big bag.
There are cabanas and lockers available, though I’d recommend you bring just one basic bag. If you’ll be getting wet with the kids, you will need a locker for your bag, or some kind of waterproof bag you can keep with you with keys and such necessities. If you have a stroller, bring it instead of renting one. It’ll also give you some extra storage space. I don’t think you need it for bigger kids, but if you have one you think will crash it’s not a bad idea to have it around.
Despite our frugal tendencies, I did totally do the obnoxious parent thing. I bought a DVD of Graham on his first roller coaster. I could not deny the cute face. SO CUTE. Yeah, it was $16. I’m a sucker. But we all have those moments, right? I still think we played it pretty frugal. There are a couple gift shops in the park on the small side. They have better stuff than you’ll find at a lot of museum gift shops, mostly toys, stuffed animals, and shirts. Prices are high but not crazy. They’re also pretty easy to avoid, none of that funnel entry stuff some places force you into.
The fact that Sesame Place isn’t in the middle of nowhere makes saving money easier. You’ve got a mall, a Target and lots of hotels and restaurants close by so you don’t have to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. But make sure you check on whether re-entry is possible if you’re getting in your car to head out in the middle of the day but still want to come back.
And just like most theme parks, make sure you check their website for promotions and deals as well as local vendors. Check with the hotels listed on the Sesame Place website in particular to find out about discounts.
Do you have any tips on saving money while traveling, visiting theme parks in general and Sesame Place in particular? Please share!
I received passes for Sesame Place for our 2012 visit to facilitate this review.