I am what some people might call a bit of a curmudgeon. If I am in a mood, it doesn’t take much to frustrate me and set me on edge.
Thankfully, my son is the perfect antidote for that tendency, with his unique ability to refocus my perspective and make me happy. He’s not a panacea, but my experience this past weekend visiting Sesame Place, the Sesame Street themed amusement park outside of Philadelphia, showed me just how much good he does for my daily mood and overall outlook.
Because holy shit that place is a nightmare.
Just kidding. Partially.
The kid loved the place…except when he didn’t. Which was basically any time an 8-foot-tall version of Ernie and his unibrow came within spitting distance.
(Watching my son react to the proximity of the larger-than-life Sesame Street characters reminded me of my first encounters with the opposite sex: from a safe distance the excitement and anticipation was off the charts, but as soon as things looked like they might get physical, I needed a diaper and my mommy. Especially if she had a beak like Big Bird.)
Being an adult, it wasn’t the muppets that freaked me out. It was the humans.
My nightmares won’t feature the Cookie Monster’s googly eyes. The visions that scarred my psyche involved hordes of shirtless, soaking men parading the park’s grounds, assaulting me with their hairy backs and misshapen tattoos. Because Sesame Place isn’t merely a replica of the Sesame Street we see on TV, or a collection of recycled carnival rides emblazoned with the faces of those familiar muppets. Half of the grounds are dominated by an enormous waterpark.
There is no demilitarized zone.
There is something deeply unsettling about seeing half-naked adults sharing the same pavement with infinite numbers of screaming children. And trust me, the children were ALL screaming, either at that one naked guy’s resemblance to Jabba the Hutt or the fact that someone vomited on the tea cup ride or a glimpse into the Cookie Monster’s lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes.
The juxtaposition of the water rides with the dry, less-urine soaked rides; and the cafeteria; and the various theaters that allow kids to sit in the stands and recoil in fear as Abby Cadabby and Elmo march into the crowd like unrepentant Frankensteins, made for a bizarre, often disgusting experience.
Do you want to sit on aluminum bleachers, with a toddler on your lap, when some guy, fresh off the water slide, plops his drenched body down next to yours, then stands, dances and shakes off droplets of water, sweat and other when the Cookie Monster breaks into his rap routine (not a joke.)? Because I didn’t.
On top of all the general, obvious annoyances about amusement parks – the crowds, the prices, the parking lots, the children, the lines – there were bizarre little touches that made Sesame Place a walking fever dream. It didn’t help that I was hungover and running on little sleep.
But I’m a parent. And a curmudgeon. And I’ve seen worse at college tailgates. Besides, this wasn’t about me; it was about the kids, and they had a great time.
We went with some friends who have a son just a few months younger than ours, and both boys were amazingly well-behaved. My kid and his friend were too young for many of the rides (the ones we did brave were a big hit), they loved seeing their favorite characters in the
flesh fur, so long as it was from a safe distance.
One nice touch is that there are a few “rides” that are really just jungle gyms on steroids, and even a little toddler-based play area that was the perfect place for parents to collapse on the sidelines and let their kids burn off some energy.
For little kids that can’t go on the roller coasters and other fast rides, that romper room, and the constant character-based shows, are a great way to get your money’s worth – and once you pay, you’ll want to make sure you get your money’s worth. Because it ain’t cheap: $60 bucks per parent ($50 online)! Kids under two are free (thank God).
It was expensive, and crowded (we geniuses went on Labor Day weekend), and a little bit gross, but it was definitely worth it. Because any nightmares my son might have won’t last, and the negative memories I have of the attendant frustrations will eventually fade in favor of happier ones, of my son excitedly pointing out Elmo and Bert and Cookie and Grover, and dancing beside his friend during the “Elmo Rocks” concert, and falling asleep from exhaustion on the way home.
And also because we got plenty of pictures of him smiling and not a single shot of a naked adult. Well, none that are safe for work.