The super cute Sesame Place water park/theme park hybrid opening this weekend glows in a rainbow of Crayola colors from Elmo red and Oscar the Grouch green to Grover blue and Big Bird yellow that should appeal to the pre-tween demographic and their parents.
SeaWorld San Diego hosted a media preview of the new Sesame Place on Friday, March 25 ahead of the grand opening of the new park. Sesame Place San Diego debuts on Saturday, March 26 at the former Aquatica water park in Chula Vista, about 20 miles from the SeaWorld San Diego marine park on Mission Bay.
Super Grover’s Box Car Derby at SeaWorld’s Sesame Place. (Brady MacDonald / Orange County Register)
SeaWorld officials pitched the reimagined park as offering “something for all ages,” but the truth is Sesame Place is laser focused on the pre-tween 2-to-8-year-old demographic that binge watches “Sesame Street” and their stroller-rolling parents. Tweens, teens and 20-somethings and literally anyone else is unlikely to set foot in the kiddie playground — and that should work out just fine for SeaWorld as they go after the Legoland demographic.
A faithful recreation of the “Sesame Street” television set complete with the famed 123 stoop to the right and Mr. Hooper’s shop to the left greets visitors as they pass through the front gates.
The interactive elements along the streetscape are the best thematic elements of the park. A digital Elmo teaches kids how to walk like a penguin when visitors walk past a window tucked around the corner from the 123 stoop. Oscar grumbles from a trash can out front when kids ring the bell under a sign that says “Do Not Ring Doorbell!” The front-loading washing machines at the laundromat are filled with digital bubbles kids and parents can pop. The motion-sensor Tricycle Challenge in the bike shop window lets players rack up points by hopping left and right as they avoid banana peels.
The funnest items for sale at Mr. Hooper’s store? The $30 slippers that look like the fuzzy feet of Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Elmo and Abby Cadabby.
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The simply adorable Sunny Day Carousel stands front and center just inside the front gate with a giant funnel slide hovering over the entire scene as a remnant reminder of the Aquatica water park that has been reinvented with a Sesame Street theme. The laughing carousel horses in vibrant oranges, pinks and yellows — along with a couple purple-striped zebras — serve as an enticing entry centerpiece statement as well as a quality bar for what visitors can expect throughout the new park.
The giant funnel slide looming overhead has been recast as Cookie’s Monster Mixer in honor of the furry blue cookie fiend joining a lineup of a dozen or so holdover water attractions that have been given a “Sesame Street” makeover.
SeaWorld did a masterful job of mixing together the existing “splashy slides” with the new “whirly rides” and making the water/theme park feel like a seamless wet/dry whole.
The Cookie Climb tower ride — also themed to Cookie Monster — offers a panoramic view of the 17-acre park and a bicep workout as riders pull and tug on a rope to go up and down.
Elmo’s Rockin’ Rockets — think Disneyland’s Dumbo ride — operates in a counter-intuitive way with riders pushing a lever up to go down and down to go up. So much for teaching kids about gravity.
The familiar voices of the “Sesame Street” characters can be heard at each of their rides encouraging kids to jump aboard and follow the rules. God bless the poor Sesame Place employee that has to work the Elmo ride and listen to the manic falsetto voice of the furry red monster all day long.
Abby’s Fairy Flight is the perfect size for the little ones — large enough to feel like a big kid’s ride with just enough thrills for preschoolers, but not so small that their parents feel ridiculous riding the wave swing.
Super Grover’s Box Car Derby is a great little ride that perfectly fills the bill of every kid’s “first roller coaster.” SeaWorld could have gone much smaller with this coaster like most theme park kiddie lands, but wisely chose to upgrade to a slightly more robust model. Box Car Derby has just enough height, speed and thrill to get the little ones raising their hands in the air on the lift hill before holding on tight during the helix turns of the pink-knuckle ride.
The Count’s Splash Castle at SeaWorld’s Sesame Place. (Brady MacDonald / Orange County Register)
Most of the towering water slides left over from Aquatica line the back of the new park.
The Bert and Ernie Topsy Twisty Tunnels tube slides pick up the color scheme of the shirts of the apartment-mates — something that’s not immediately apparent until you spot the plush dolls in the Mr. Hooper’s store. That level of creativity enhances the storytelling in the park and adds to the layers of “Sesame Street” theming that visitors can hope to discover on repeat visits.
The Rub A Dub Sub adds Ernie in a bathtub to the backdrop of the classic Crazy Bus ride found in virtually every theme park kiddie land — this time done up as a submarine with a giant rubber ducky on top. The simple backstory speaks volumes to the target audience who counts bath time as a big part of their daily routine.
Rub A Dub Sub also serves as a perfect example of the “just enough” theming approach SeaWorld took to the Aquatica makeover to turn the former water park into a Sesame Street theme park. The seven new off-the-shelf, on-the-cheap carnival rides would be right at home at any county fair minus the Sesame Street characters.
The new “Welcome To Our Street” features five life-size Sesame Street characters who possess some truly impressive dance moves that immediately get their fur flying during a stage show sizzling with the signature crazed energy of the long-running PBS children’s program.
Rosita plays a mean guitar solo, Cookie Monster mugs for the ubiquitous smartphone cameras in the audience and Elmo dances himself into a frenzy befitting his enthusiastic personality. Kids will clap and stomp along with the show while their parents sit back with a smile and marvel at the sheer madness of the completely over-the-top performance. The show serves as the perfect reminder for both young and old of why they still love “Sesame Street” after more than 50 years.
The Sesame Street Theater bakes in the midday sun and the shadeless aluminum stadium seating turns the outdoor arena into a reflective mirror ball of blinding terror. During the media preview, show patrons attempted to shield themselves from the blinding heat with pool towels over their heads to no avail. SeaWorld has to know this is a problem — considering the number of outdoor arena shows at the Mission Bay marine park — and will hopefully add a shade canopy over the seating area for the sake of the vision of visitors.
If nothing else, the Sesame Street Theater should serve as a good place to dry off after enjoying the wave pool, lazy river and water slides. The hybrid park encourages visitors to bounce back and forth between wet and dry rides without toweling off in between. Kids and parents can hop on any of the dry rides in their bathing suits provided they’re wearing shoes, aquasox or flip flops.
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The massive wave pool features gentle undulating breaks by water park standards. Lounge chairs resting in sandy beaches surround the sides of the wave pool with a wide swath of artificial turf in between covered with Adirondack chairs, picnic tables and high tops amid a smattering of young palm trees that don’t yet offer much shade. Cabanas can be rented at the back of the park — ideal for moms to work on their suntans while the kids take an afternoon nap.
The Count’s Splash Castle and Elmo’s Silly Sand Slides are anchored on the island in the middle of the lazy river. The water play tower elicits squeals from the kids every few minutes when the mega dump bucket unleashes its watery fury.
Sesame Place hasn’t laid out its year-round schedule just yet, but the park is expected to be open seasonally in the fall and winter without many of the water attractions in operation. The wave pool and lazy river are heated, but the park is going to wait and see whether visitors will want to take a dip when temperatures become chilly by Southern California standards.
Outside of the entry scene featuring the famed Sesame streetscape, there’s not a ton of theming in the new theme park. Much of the storytelling effort is accomplished through that Crayola box of colors that appears to have exploded all over the park.
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Sesame Place sets out to be an exploration of a single intellectual property — but Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or Wizarding World of Harry Potter it is not. It’s more on par with the Simpsons themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood.
That’s probably more than enough thematic immersion for your average 6-year-old looking for a day of fun with Big Bird, Abby Cadabby and Rosita. Discerning parents may notice sub-Disney and Universal standards, but they’ll likely give SeaWorld’s effort a pass as long as their kids are having a good time.
It’s not fair to compare SeaWorld to Disney, but the comparisons are inevitable. On its own, Sesame Place should please the park’s core demographic and their parents looking for a day of “splashy slides” and “whirly rides” with a healthy dose of Elmo, Big Bird and Cookie Monster.
The introductory price point is pretty astonishing with season passes selling for $129 with unlimited access and free parking. A trial season pass seems like a no-brainer for any family with a preschooler or early grade schooler who loves “Sesame Street.”
Sesame Place also makes sense for SeaWorld passholders with young kids and Legoland loyalists who are already going to be in the San Diego area and want to make a long weekend out of a family outing.