On the Road – Sesame Place

As I mentioned yesterday, this weekend we managed to make a trek up to Pennsylvania for a trip to Sesame Place for a few hours of fun in the sun and a visit with Chica and Kelly.

(As I always state with reviews – I was not compensated in any fashion for this review.  We paid for our own admission to the park.)

This was not our first trip to Sesame Place – we visited twice last year, thanks to Variety, once for A Very Furry Christmas and once earlier in the season for a normal day.  However, last year, the Monster wasn’t in too much of a mode to want to do much around the park, and allowed us to drag him onto a few rides, though he was more content to play in the play area…

So this year, we got season passes on our own to the park – as Sesame Place is part of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, their higher level passes are also good for free admission to their other parks.  My sister-in-law and her husband have season passes to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and since we tend to go at least once with them a season, it seemed like a decent idea to get something that would save us cash if we went down that way.  Plus… to be honest, Sesame Place is on the way to my parents’ homes (in the same way that Six Flags Great Adventure was as well), so there’s the potential, if the Monster enjoyed it, to stop there a few times this summer on the way to or from family visits.

Sesame Place is a very short drive off of I-95 northeast of Philadelphia, PA, about two hours and change north of where we live in Baltimore.  Because of this, we ended up deciding to spend the night in a hotel rather than day-tripping it, to avoid the kids being worn out and antsy from being in the car as they’re wont to be after more than an hour or so.  The park is geared towards the younger set, with rides an adult can fit on to accompany their little ones, but there is a (small) roller coaster just inside the gates.

Accessibility Wristband from Sesame Place, 2013So when we entered the park, the first stop we made was to go to the Welcome Center just inside the gate.  The wife had the letter from the doctor as usual, and went in to request accommodation for the Monster.  The folks at the Welcome Letter did not want to see her letter, but took down some basic information – his name – and looked him up in the system from last year.  They did ask her to confirm the reason that the Monster needed accommodations and the number of people in our party.  (As I mentioned in the trip in December, they asked his height, his age, and his disability as well on that first trip – the folks at Sesame actually keep you on file once you’ve been through the process to speed it up on the next visit.)

Last time, they’d given us a printout for the rides and a bright orange wristband.  The print out gave us the list of rides that might require accommodation, listed his Autism at the top of it… and that let him go wild.

RAP Sheet, Sesame Place, 2013This year, of course, is also after the fiasco at Walt Disney World with folks ‘renting’ special needs “family” to bypass the lines.  Granted, Sesame Place is not Walt Disney… but on the other hand, given the problems we’d had at Six Flags America, we thought maybe that things could end up different.  And they were.  This year, the sheet wasn’t a general “one size fits all”… but something they call the “Ride Accessibility Program” Sheet (RAP sheet, get it?) which is customized for the guest.  It listed his name, the party size, the date of our visit (and the date that the RAP sheet expires – the next day) and his height.  This sheet listed every attraction in the park, as well as what limitations existed for each – maximum/minimum age – and whether someone had to accompany him on it based on his size.  And then, they let him go wild.

Seriously, unlike Six Flags, this list includes every ride and attraction at the park including all of the water park rides and slides, the play area, everything, even rides that don’t have lines so you don’t have to do huge amounts of research before you visit.

Let me say one thing – this is brilliant.  The wristband is no good without the RAP sheet.  It prevents you from passing the band around to other people, and prevents someone from ‘finding’ it if it slips off in the pool and using it.  Of course, it also requires checking in at the Welcome Center each time you come to the park, but that’s a small price to pay, yes?  And every single staff member asked politely for the RAP sheet when we showed up at rides.  (It took us a few seconds to understand what they were asking for at the first ride, but… after that, it was smooth sailing.)  In every case, they quickly looked over the sheet for their respective ride, confirmed that he was tall enough to ride, and then welcomed him aboard at the first opportunity.

Frankly, this is how it should be for traveling with a child with disabilities.  Do as much as possible to let the kids feel like, well, kids while they’re at the park, remove all of the barriers possible, and set up sensible restrictions for where accommodation cannot be made.  To the Monster, it was just a lovely day at the amusement park and he had a blast, bouncing from ride to ride without repeating a single one.  He even scaled the cargo net structure like any of the other kids.  (Well, that and we learned he doesn’t like the flying swing ride, but that’s alright – his mom’s not too fond of it either, and maybe R’ll go on the swings with me when he’s a bit bigger.)

So, other thoughts and aspects:

  • As the wife put it, one of the only bad things is that the water rides are all spread out around the park.  They’re not centralized like other amusement parks, and so that may entail some walking between water rides when it gets to that kind of day.
  • The RAP sheet’s really little good for watching the parade, for obvious reasons.  If your kids want to see the parade, either go towards the lockers area (where the parade starts, so there’s less of a wait) or where the walkway goes from blue to black (best view).
  • Sesame Park lets you bring in a decent-sized cooler.  For folks with picky eaters like our Monster, this is a godsend, because you’re no longer trapped between the choice of whatever is in the park or having to go out to your car for a picnic.  If you do decide to head out of the park because you can’t store your food in a small enough cooler, there’s a picnic area by the Preferred Parking lot.  The only restriction they had – beside size of the cooler – is a prohibition on glass bottles.
  • If you’re relatively local and might go to the park at least twice, get a season pass.  Season passes not only get you into the park, but they also give you a 30% discount inside the park on nearly everything and include parking.  The two higher tiers of passes let you have discounted/free access to other SeaWorld Entertainment parks and character meet-and-greets.
  • If you’re not local, and are going to stay at a hotel, there’s a hotel across the street (SpringHill Suites) and five more that offer shuttle service to the main entrance of the park, to avoid the parking hassles.

I can’t recommend Sesame Place highly enough.  If you’re in the Philadelphia area and are looking for something of the amusement park scene without wanting the headache that comes from going with a younger child on the spectrum… check this place out.  It’s worth it.

Now, we’re going to be going to Water Country USA and Busch Gardens Williamsburg in the coming weeks, so I’ll let you know if these kinds of accommodations are typical for their parks and what kind of information carries over from park to park in their chain…

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