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Sesame Place: Special Needs Accommodations

Sesame Place 300x300 Sesame Place: Special Needs AccommodationsThis is the 3rd post in the Sesame Place series. Part 1 was planning your visit and deciding if it’s right for your family. Part 2 was about when to save money and when to splurge. And today I’m talking about Sesame Place and special needs accommodations. My children are autistic, but any disability would go through the same basic processes.

Sesame Place in 2012 was our first theme park visit and our tickets were provided so we could get a chance to try out special needs accommodations in that setting. Now we’ve been around the block a few times and this time came with 2 special needs kids. Here’s how it worked for us and what to keep in mind for your family.

Getting a Bracelet

2012 08 29 13 01 45 897 300x224 Sesame Place: Special Needs AccommodationsWhen we arrived we went to the Welcome Center (easy to miss, right next to the entry gates) and signed up both kids for the Ride Accessibility Program. I gave them the kids’ diagnoses and wasn’t asked any prying or unnecessary questions. They even had Graham still in the computer from our previous visit so we could speed right through. Both kids had their height checked to confirm the rides they were eligible for, and then each one was issued a bracelet.

The bracelets are bright orange and ours had 3 tabs off the side. Three of the water rides only get one line bypass per person, though this wasn’t fool proof, I noticed some of the tabs were coming loose in the morning. Still, we made it just fine. You’re also given a sheet of paper for each person which has additional information. You show this to the ride attendant each place you go, though we had to get a waterproof pouch for it later in the day when we hit the water rides.

Rides and Shows

Like most parks, the disability entrance is just the exit. It’s usually right next to the attendant’s controls. At Sesame Place, it also happens to be the location of Abby’s Magic Queue, aka the line-skipping pass. I actually liked that part of it since using that entrance was used often enough that we never had to try hard to get anyone’s attention. 

Our experience with the employees at Sesame Place was really great. Everyone was very kind as they let us on and off, if we ran into the slightest hiccup they were very apologetic. As my kids have invisible disabilities, it was nice to have the paperwork to just hand over and not have to answer any questions. (And the paperwork rarely got more than a cursory glance.) 

2012 08 29 12 21 04 773 300x224 Sesame Place: Special Needs AccommodationsIt’s not quite so easy when it comes to the shows. For us, going to a show is a bigger commitment than a ride. It lasts more than a couple minutes so there’s always the potential that we’ll have to make a quick exit. Luckily for us we snagged a few of the reserved disability seats at the show we attended in 2012. But you’ll still want to arrive a few minutes early to make sure you can get to the seats. At the indoor show we went to in 2014 it was so full by the time we came in right before showtime that disability seating wasn’t an option.

Shows do have loud sound, those of you with noise sensitive kids will want to bring along your noise-canceling headphones if you think they’ll want to go. A few rides also have sound, but overall it wasn’t bad.

The Water Park

For sensory kids, the water park will either be a breeze or a nightmare. You probably know which kind you have. Graham was pretty happy with all the water rides, but he was not terribly enthusiastic about the two big spray areas, especially the Count’s Splash Castle, which was really loud, really crowded, and really hard to keep an eye on your kid. Ernie’s Waterworks is smaller, has younger children, and is much more low-key, though neither of my kids were up for it. Tessa had to be coaxed through a few parts of the Lazy River because she didn’t like the parts where she could get splashed or sprayed, and so she skipped some of the rides all together to avoid a freakout. 

Tessa’s favorite water ride, Slimey’s Chutes, was a small and gentle tube slide that lets a parent go in the back and a child in the front in a double tube, or a child solo in a single tube. It only has one line bypass and the line can get long. While we waited in line for her second go-round I saw a special needs family encounter a problem that I hadn’t considered. Their special needs daughter, a teenager, was too big to go on the ride with a parent and had to go alone if she was going to go. For most of the rides this wasn’t an issue at all, but for this one my heart went out to them. But the story ends happily! She went by herself with minimal help from her dad, and her mom and brother cheered for her at the bottom. I may have gotten a little misty watching it all unfold.

But for most children, they’ll be able to go with a parent for several of the water rides, including Slimey’s Chutes, Big Bird’s Rambling River, Sky Splash, and Sesame Streak. (The same goes for dry rides, where you can generally be in the same row/car when you ride together.) 


We don’t have food allergies in our family, but I did see that Sesame Place now offers three special allergy-friendly snack packs (free from wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, and soy) that you can get at various parts of the park. You can also go to the Welcome Center at the front for allergy information and an allergy card. As their food policy does allow medically necessary items, you may be able to bring some food of your own inside. Best to read their info in advance or contact them before your visit.


I recommend anyone visiting with special needs go over Sesame Place’s accessibility page and their full guide.

We received complimentary passes to Sesame Place in 2012, but financed our 2014 trip on our own.

Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to Save

Sesame Place Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveThis 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.

2012 08 29 13 01 24 461 Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveFirst 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. 

2012 08 29 13 01 16 597 Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveWe 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. 2012 08 29 14 03 34 101 Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveA 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.

Sesame Collage Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to Save
Graham poses and Elmo tries to nom Tessa

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. 

Eating Off-Site

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.

2012 08 29 13 45 26 423 300x224 Sesame Place: When to Splurge and When to SaveDespite 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.

Sesame Place: Before Your Visit

Sesame Place Sesame Place: Before Your VisitThis is Part 1 of my Sesame Place series. Part 2 is on saving money and Part 3 will cover Special Needs accommodations.

We visited the park twice, once in 2012 when the kids were 3 and 6 months, and once in 2014, when the kids were 5 and 2. I’ve updated this post to reflect any updates and to help give a broader look at the park. Our first visit had complimentary tickets to help write our review. 

Is Sesame Place Right For Your Family?

The park is geared at children ages 2 to 7, and I think that’s pretty accurate. While there is a substantial portion of the park devoted to water rides, your kids over 7 are probably going to get bored after a few hours. 3 to 5 years old is your sweet spot where they can go on most rides, enjoy the shows and the parade, and really have a great day.

sesame 300x224 Sesame Place: Before Your Visit
Picture by BlueK9

As for infants and toddlers, I’d give Sesame a miss. I’m not saying you can’t bring them. The park makes a lot of allowances for strollers. While it can be a little tough navigating through the water park side with one, you also have a pretty good baby wave pool. Baby Tessa’s visit was pretty smooth, but I don’t think it’s really fair to her that she was stuck in her stroller for so much time. Besides the carousel, there aren’t really rides you can carry a baby on.

Admission is $63 for everyone 2 and older. You can get a 2-day ticket for the same price and it’s worth considering depending on your children and your other plans. Doing two half-days would probably be easier on kids than one long, full day. (And easier on you, too.)

If you can’t get to one of the Disney parks, there aren’t a lot of amusement parks fit for little kids, especially not ones with Elmo. (I think Graham prefers Elmo to Mickey, just between you and me.) So this is a good option if you’re on the East Coast.

What’s In the Park

The park basically has two sides: the wet and the dry. You’ll need to know that going in to make sure you have the right clothing and supplies. There isn’t a lot of shade so bring plenty of sunscreen. There’s also very little around with air conditioning, so when you’re looking for shows with the kids, consider going to the ones in the indoor theaters that are nice and cool. They no longer allow food and drink inside except for formula, baby food, and medically necessary items. So if you’re packing your own lunch have a cooler in the car. There are picnic tables just outside the park gates.

The dry side is going to be better for the little ones, with the exception of the roller coaster right at the front of the park. There are a whole bunch of rides together now that Cookie’s Monster Land has opened. We got a few good hours with both kiddos and they probably would’ve happily stayed there for a good while. Even the 2-year-old could ride nearly everything over there, though she was too little for the giant swing so I distracted her while her brother got a shot. There are a few rides we skipped due to excessive spinning because a parent’s got to make it through the day, you know? Lines on the dry side aren’t too long, which is why I definitely recommend going there first and getting some good time in before you surrender to the crazy of the wet side.

The wet side of the park will amuse your older kids a lot better. The older ones especially congregate at The Count’s Splash Castle, which is basically the biggest spray park-slash-playground ever. You can let them loose in there and you may not see them again for a while. But there’s still plenty for the littles. Mine weren’t too pumped about the loud spray and play areas, but they really loved the lazy river and the slides that even the little ones can go on. The 2-year-old was a huge fan of Slimey’s Chutes, where we rode in a double tube. 

There are some beach chairs around the spray park areas but not a lot. And there aren’t many places to stash towels so you’re probably best off leaving them in the car or a locker. There isn’t much in terms of seating or shade, so I recommend you pace yourself and not try to do too much. You won’t have a lot of options to rest.

Where To Stay

Sesame Place is North of Philadelphia, pretty close to New Jersey and not far from New York City. If you’re planning a visit of Philly or NYC, you can certainly come in just for the day and get back out again. But if you’re making a special trip and want a hotel nearby, I’d definitely recommend where we stayed in 2012: Homewood Suites by HiltonĀ® Newtown. (I wanted to stay there again in 2014 but it was booked. Apparently the secret’s out.)

Traveling with young children is not easy. I made the 2012 trip solo with a baby and a 3-year-old. Absolutely essential to me was a suite where I could close a door to separate sleeping space from living space. This usually limits me to Homewood Suites, Embassy Suites (both Hilton) or Residence Inn (Marriott). I’ve had great experiences at all 3 chains, but after doing some research I decided for this trip to go with Homewood and I’m glad we did.

The hotel is about a 10 to 15 minute drive from Sesame Place. It’s located in a small industrial park that didn’t have too much traffic and there were plenty of signs directing you from the freeway.

Our suite was a 1-bedroom with a King that had a living room with a pull-out sofa and a kitchen. The kitchen had silverware and tableware included and a good-sized refrigerator/freezer. There was a microwave, dishwasher, coffeemaker and a full stove/oven. The bathroom was attached to the bedroom and had a full tub/shower. It was a huge relief to be able to put Tessa down for a nap, then shut the door and let Graham run rampant and watch TV or whatever. Sleep can definitely be the most stressful part of that kind of trip. Since it was just me, I had the two kids in bed with me, but it would’ve been easy to put Graham on the fold-out and Tessa in a crib. I was very pleased with the cleanliness and quality of the room. I’ve stayed in a lot of mid-level hotels and this was one of the better ones.

homewood 300x300 Sesame Place: Before Your Visit
A look at the King Suite and the lounge at the Newtown Homewood Suites

They offer a full breakfast in the morning that continued past 8 a.m. (Hooray! I hate it when I have to wake up early for breakfast.) The hot items were nothing to write home about, as is generally the case with hotel breakfast. But the variety was really extensive. Along with your hot items (of which there were 3 or 4, including eggs, bacon, potatoes, etc.) there was a make-your-own-waffle station, oatmeal, cereal, pastries, bagels, fruit and juices/coffee/milk. It was quite easy to get enough different items to please my picky 3-year-old and myself each morning.

In addition, there was a light evening meal Monday through Thursday which included complimentary beer, wine, lemonade and iced tea. For me this was a big plus. Right after we got back from the park I needed a pick-me-up big time. And so did the kids. A great alternative to stopping for fast food or trying to survive a sit-down restaurant while we were all tired and cranky.

The hotel had just a few Sesame-going families, it was mostly businesspeople. The breakfast area was never close to full. The staff was top-notch, very kind and helpful.

The only real criticism is that there is nowhere to eat within walking distance. But the hotel guide in the room had menus for several local restaurants, including many that delivered.

There are lots of other hotels nearby. The Sheraton is within walking distance of the park though due to the lack of sidewalks in the area, walking may not be a great choice. And there are a few hotels with shuttle service to the park, which may save you the $15 parking fee. Many are listed on the Sesame Place site.

Planning Your Visit

This is a theme park, so you’re definitely going to have issues with crowds during peak times. In 2012 we went on a weekday in late August when a lot of kids were already in school and found it very manageable. In 2014 we went on a weekend in June and it was more crowded, though not as bad as I expected. They start full-days in May, so that may be another good time. And since it’s mostly outdoors, keep in mind you may have a hot crew on your hands.

sesame place site 300x158 Sesame Place: Before Your Visit

The Sesame Place website is very very good and has virtually all the information you’ll need to use on your trip. They even have the menus of all the in-park restaurants listed. That’s gold, my friends. The park isn’t so big that you won’t be able to know in advance where the best spot to eat for your bunch is.

You can also get information on other items in advance that you may want to book. Think about the Dine With Me lunch. Characters like Elmo aren’t all over the place and you’ll appreciate the break to sit and cool off. (More on our Dine With Me lunch in the next post.) There are cabana rentals if you plan on spending a lot of time in the pool area. We didn’t get to try one, but they were off in some quiet areas and looked pretty swanky. When I had a stroller with us we didn’t use a locker, but when the kids were walking it became kind of essential for us to manage the water rides. You can rent strollers and wheelchairs.

There are 3 parking lots, priced at $17, $20 and $30 for VIP which is booked in advance. The $17 and $20 lots really aren’t that far and if you get there early you’ll have just as good a $17 spot as the people in the $30 lot. We arrived at 10:15, not long after the park opens at 10, and decided to go for a close and shady spot in the $20 lot since the $17 lot was already looking pretty packed. But no parking spots are really that far away.

If you’ve got the cash and you don’t want to waste time you can buy an Abby’s Magic Queue pass which allows you to skip the lines on certain rides. While this may not be the most democratic approach and maybe not the best “teachable moment,” it’s your money and your kid and this is the age of the FastPass.

If you forget anything, fear not: there is a Target just down the street from the Sesame Place. (I might have stopped there both times…)

Other Attractions

You’re close enough to Philadelphia to visit the Zoo, the historic sites and I’ve heard great things about the Please Touch Museum, which is also geared at kids 7 and younger. It’s about 90 minutes away from Atlantic City.


Stay tuned for more in my Sesame Place series, including how we handled the park and accommodations for special needs families…


Disclosure: I was provided one-day passes to Sesame Place for my 2012 review.  All expenses in the park, including food, parking, etc., and my stay at Homewood Suites were paid for myself for both visits. Images of Homewood Suites Newtown were provided by Homewood Suites.

Building Vocabulary with PBS Kids and Martha Speaks

review pic Building Vocabulary with PBS Kids and Martha SpeaksGraham and Tessa have never lived in a house with cable TV. They still get to watch television, but we do everything through our Roku, which gives us plentiful access to Netflix and their other favorite, PBS Kids. Lately I’ve been sending them to PBS Kids more and more often because it gives us lots of options without having some random, horrific thing show up. (Yeah, horrific as in grown-up shows. But also horrific as in Barney. *shudder*)

FFA73364 6B0B 4211 899D C6CA62EA65D5 Building Vocabulary with PBS Kids and Martha SpeaksWith a toddler and a child starting kindergarten next year it’s been pretty easy to find shows that appeal to them and incorporate the kind of learning I want them to pick up. I love Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which mixes parental nostalgia with strong social skill teaching. The kids have recently gotten very into Peg + Cat, so much so that afterwards Graham likes to pose addition and subtraction questions to me, an excellent sign that things are sinking in beyond the fun and silliness. We’re throwing some Sesame Street into the mix, since we’ll be making a trip to Sesame Place in the not-too-distant future. 

One thing that’s surprised me is that my kids are able to jump into shows that are just slightly above their age level really easily. Wild Kratts is getting them really interested in animals. Word Girl and Martha Speaks build vocabulary. And as Graham will be building reading skills very soon, that’s a high priority. Graham will amaze me at the way he can pick up a word really quickly, or how he’ll ask me to explain a word he doesn’t know. 

Reading is one of those things that I’m a little scared about. I don’t remember learning to read. I was an oldest child and a precocious one and I learned to read well before kindergarten. I know what an important part of my life it is and I know well that my strong reading ability as a child had a lot to do with my confidence in academics. I know Graham is going to face challenges I didn’t have, and making sure he develops reading skills is a big deal. 

So where does vocabulary tie in to that? Teaching reading is only part of the battle. Helping children build their vocabulary helps with reading skills and with academic success. Like me, you’ve probably read all those studies about how parents who use broader vocabulary tend to have children who perform better in school. I definitely need to work on this, since I tend to make my vocabulary smaller around the kids, especially since I have a toddler who’s still very early in the language acquisition process.

604 A 2 Building Vocabulary with PBS Kids and Martha Speaks

The kids and I were excited to preview the new episodes of Martha Speaks that start next week for Martha Speaketh Weeketh. (Yes, Martha does Shakespeare. Prepare yourself.) The thing that struck me the most is just how many words Martha Speaks uses that I wouldn’t have used in front of the kids. I would’ve replaced them with simpler words. And yet both kids were excited about the show and Graham was able to follow the story. 

PBS Kids has tons of resources for parents specific to Martha Speaks (and their other shows, of course). Perfect for summer when kids are out of school and you want to build a little bit of education into your activities. The Martha Speaks resources include book lists and activities to build vocabulary. 

If your kids haven’t watched Martha yet, you can introduce them to the series of books by Susan Meddaugh or check out this preview for Martha’s Shakespearean English…


Hello WP Engine, Goodbye Hosting Headaches

affiliate links pic Hello WP Engine, Goodbye Hosting HeadachesThere are so many things that can go wrong when you have a website. Losing data that isn’t backed up, getting hacked and figuring out how to fix it, hosting outages with no explanation or apology. Honestly, I was over it. Sure, I used to make money off of helping people with these problems, but I don’t have the time for that anymore and I’ve seen enough things go wrong that I don’t have time to deal with these headaches with my own site.

So I made the switch. I am officially hosted at WP Engine

I started talking to them last year after I’d heard really positive reviews from other bloggers. I set up my personal site there and gave it a few months to see how it went.

Without further ado, my thorough WP Engine review.

My Favorite Things About WP Engine

One of my very favorites? Getting emails like this:

We’ve just finished updating your WordPress site to version 3.8.2. Everything should have gone well, and your site should be all souped up with the new WordPress 3.8.2 goodness. Awesome!

No further action on your part is required, everything is running smoothly. We just wanted to let you know that your site has been automagically updated and you didn’t have to do a bit of work. Super awesome.

Instead of emails like this:

PHP, the web programming language, has several different versions and we will be phasing out PHP version 5.2 in the near future as it has been unsupported by its creators for several years now. You are receiving this email because your account was found to be using PHP version 5.2.

If you’re not certain of your sites compatibility with PHP 5.4, you can quickly and easily test it by changing your account to PHP 5.4 single using the outlined steps below. If, after changing your PHP version to 5.4 and your site looks normal and operates without any errors then your site is compatible. If you update to PHP 5.4 and you find your site showing errors or a blank white screen that is a good sign that something in your site is not compatible. Most commonly these are plug-ins or themes that need to be updated. Switch the PHP version back to 5.2 and login to your admin panel and check for any available updates. If none are available you will need to check with the plug-ins/theme developer to see if they have compatibility with PHP 5.4.

It is strongly encouraged you check your sites plug-ins/themes/3rd party scripts for any updates in the next 7 days to avoid any downtime or issues with this process.

Yeah, your eyes started to glaze over with that second email, right? Those were the kinds of emails I used to get from my host. And the time it would take me to decode how all of this applies to my site was not minimal. I have a lot of balls in the air and I don’t have time to deal with my site running anything except perfectly. I definitely don’t have the time for a crisis.

Sometimes WordPress updates can cause a crisis, which is why I happily let WP Engine test it out and then manage it for me without having to lift a finger. Sweet.

And while we’re talk about crises? My blog, and many many others, started to have outages. A lot of outages. An unacceptable number of outages. We didn’t get emails, we didn’t get apologies, we didn’t get a discount for our hosting fees. Want to talk to customer service? Good luck. I have yet to have any kind of problem with WP Engine. And if I do, I have people, real people, I can talk to. I can’t even mention them on Twitter without them popping in to say hi. They’re really on the ball. And I’ve visited their headquarters, which happens to be in my hometown, so I saw for myself that they are all right there just waiting to help.

Then there were many stories of people whose blogs would get a traffic spike and then go down unless they were moved to a more expensive hosting plan. WP Engine customer service is hands on enough that they can DEAL with a traffic spike, make sure you’re covered, and only talk to you about switching plans if it looks like this new traffic is going to be a regular thing. If you think you’re going to get a spike or you see you’ve gone viral, you can call them and they will actually answer the phone and help you. Shocking, right?

Got plug-ins? Sometimes a new plug-in or an update can cause crazy problems on your site. Not only does WPEngine backup your site for you daily, you can also request a backup before you do anything new to make sure you can go back and fix it should anything go wrong.

backups 1024x232 Hello WP Engine, Goodbye Hosting Headaches

Hacking is one of those horror stories. Malware put on your site without you knowing it, or bringing your site down all together, and then you’re footing the bill for hours of repair. WP Engine guarantees you won’t get hacked. And if you do, they fix it for free. WIN.

Biggest Drawbacks

So let’s be straight, nobody’s perfect. If you have a pre-existing site you’ll have to migrate hosts. Which can be tricky and time consuming on your own, or take some more cash out of your pocket to have someone else do for you. (I used The WP Valet. More on them in an upcoming post.)  

Your biggest issue is likely to be email-related. WP Engine does not host email accounts through your domain (aka whatever@yourdomain.com) but they do give you simple directions to set it up for free or for a small fee with Zoho or Google. 

They also have a list of disallowed plugins. Though for me, this is a perk not a drawback. You never know if a plug-in is going to mess with your site. And it’s really better to keep your number of plugins low. Many of the disallowed plugins are just not necessary anymore because WP Engine does so much for you. You no longer need a caching plugin to speed up your site load times, for example.

For those of you with bigger sites, the main concern may be the size of your plan. The smallest plan is for 25,000 visits a month. The next one up is 100,000. If this is an issue for you, I’d suggest shooting them an email to see what your options are.

Leaving the Cheap Hosts Behind

You know that saying “you get what you pay for?” It’s very true with hosting. Sure, my old host was really cheap, but I didn’t get anything except hosting. And with the outages, it wasn’t like my hosting was always doing what it was supposed to. (Oh, and can we talk about how it’s really cheap with your first sign up and then goes up on renewal? Or requires years of commitment at a time to get a good rate?)

WPE affiliate promo 6 15 Hello WP Engine, Goodbye Hosting HeadachesMaking the jump from $4 a month to $29 a month is not small. And yes, I am paying for my new hosting out of my own pocket. This is not a sponsored post. I made the change because I needed a host that had my back and once my blog bank account had the necessary funds, I made the plunge. My blog priorities are lined up pretty clearly and it was easy to put this on my list once I looked at it that way.

Oh and HEY LOOK AT THIS save some serious money if you sign up by June 15th. I’m jealous. Perhaps I should’ve waited to sign up?

You can get full info on what’s available in their plans here.

I see someone ask about hosting about once a week these days. It’s obvious there’s a lot of dissatisfaction out there. So give it some thought and if you have questions you can definitely leave me a comment or send the kind folks at WP Engine an email. 

This is not a sponsored post. My personal site was provided by WP Engine, but my new hosting for the blog and my migration were all paid for out of pocket.

Blue Man Group Boston for Kids

event Blue Man Group Boston for KidsWhen the Blue Man Group in Boston invited us to come to a show, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into. I’d never been to a Blue Man Group show before and I didn’t know how Graham would feel about it, but I figured the worst that could happen was we’d leave early and he’d still be happy we got to take the train to the show. (The Charles Playhouse is very close to the Tufts Medical Center stop on the Orange line and a short walk from the Boylston stop on the Green line.)

It turns out it wasn’t hard to get Graham excited. When walking around town we saw a big sign for the Blue Man Group on the back of a tourist trolley and I told Graham we would go to that show. He was pretty pumped after that and spent a good week talking about going to see the “blue guys.”  

 CTP3532 Blue Man Group Boston for Kids
Photo provided by Blue Man Group

I learned pretty quickly that The Blue Man Group is an experience from the moment you walk in the door. The Charles Playhouse has been totally remodeled all around the BMG experience.

Inside there’s a wall of light and sound called the “Lounge-U-Lum” where kids can interact. No more standing around before the show listening to whining for snacks, instead they’re immediately engaged and curious and interested. 

Special School Vacation Week Bonus for April 21-24: there will be face painting before select shows as well. 

Inside the theater there are snacks and drinks for kids and grown-ups. Yes, you can get a beer. And yes, they have bags of goldfish for the kids. Though I’d recommend finishing your snacks before the show, since it’ll get pretty dark.

Once the show started, I admit, I worried a little bit. I knew BMG involved drumming but I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. The first 5 minutes of the show were loud and I started to worry that maybe the noise would be too much for my noise-averse kid. We did get some earplugs from the ushers (who are SUPER nice, the nicest and most helpful ushers I’ve ever encountered anywhere by a long shot) but after those first 5 minutes the noise wasn’t so loud that Graham had any problems.

 CTP3970 Blue Man Group Boston for Kids
Photo provided by Blue Man Group

After those first minutes, my fears abated. The show is great for kids. No intermission (I’ve found intermission is just an opportunity for kids to say, “Can we go home now?”) and not too long. The show is made up of several small pieces so the action is constantly changing and no one part gets boring. There’s interaction with sight and sound and then there’s plenty of audience interaction, too.

It’s a huge relief for me to go to a show with my kid that’s also fun for ME and not just for him. Yes, I love watching him enjoy things, but being able to enjoy myself is a big plus and a reason why I’d take Blue Man Group over a little-kid-geared-live-show  any day. Jokes abounded, the show is really funny, and even if the humor is often over the kids’ heads, they’re still so excited to be a part of it that they don’t notice much. They’re also pretty excited to watch the adults be silly.

I cannot express to you how excited Graham was. This was not a show where people in the audience were expected to watch silently. The relaxed atmosphere made him very comfortable. Maybe too comfortable. He would yell out with glee to the point where I had to shush him a little. At one point, there was a rousing version of “Tequila” on the drums. So of course, at the end, all the adults in the crowd yelled, “Tequila!” The kids looked around in delighted confusion. Then someone in the back yelled, “Free Bird!” The adults laughed, the kids looked around in delighted confusion. Graham thought he had this figured out. We were taking turns yelling out words, so at this point he hollered, “School bus!” It was perhaps one of my proudest moments as a parent. His enthusiasm, his excitement, his willingness to jump in and be a part of it, it was thrilling for me.

bmgp 782 FinalCrop Blue Man Group Boston for Kids
Photo provided by Blue Man Group

If you ask Graham about the show, even though it’s been two weeks, he will happily tell you all about the very end where the giant balls bounced through the crowd. He had never seen anything like it before. I think he would’ve happily watched those giant balls bounce through the audience for hours. 

So what do parents need to know for a family Blue Man Group Boston visit?

  • Pay attention to where you sit. The front rows of the theater require a poncho because you may get… well, not wet exactly but you’ll want that poncho. We sat in Section C which was perfect, right in the middle with a great view but not too close. The theater is nice and small so most seats are good seats, though if you sit in the balcony, you won’t get the full bouncing-giant-balls experience.
  • Kids 5 and up should be just fine at the performance even though it’s officially recommended for 7 and up. They have booster seats for smaller kids so they can see over big people’s heads. 
  • If you have a noise-sensitive kid, consider bringing some headphones for them in case they need them.
  • There are jokes about butts. So, you know, do with that what you will.
  • After the show the guys in blue came out into the lobby for pictures. Don’t be surprised if your kid is a little scared to have a picture with them, even if they loved the show. Most of the littler kiddos kept their distance.
  • There is a garage where you can get discount parking for the show just a few blocks away.
  • School Vacation Week is a great time to visit, with extra shows and extra events. (Oh, and free meals for kids at MJ O’Connor’s Park Plaza.) 

I honestly never would’ve thought to bring a child to Blue Man Group, but it turned out to be one of Graham’s favorite events of all-time, and as the kid of a blogger he gets his fair share of cool stuff to do. 

Blue Man Group only has 5 locations around the country, so if you’re visiting Boston it’s definitely something to put on your to-do list. If you live here and have friends or family visiting, it’s a nice break from your usual Duck Boats and walking tours. Tickets start at $49, but you can also find them at the BosTix booths for same-day sales or advance sales.