9 Examples of How Sesame Place has Declined Since Sea World Bought It

I thought long and hard about our visit to Sesame Place yesterday. On the drive home yesterday, I was thinking, “Well, when you visit Sesame Place as often as we do, you’re bound to have a bad visit.” I was going to let it go.

But then, I woke up, still feeling disappointed. And, remembering how much money I spent on yesterday’s visit. And how Sesame Place really needs to “Do Better” as they say.

sesame place entrance

Sesame Place Visits

Sesame Street is less than a year older than I am. I am a solid Gen Xer who grew up with Sesame Street. When I had kids, of course I introduced them to Sesame Street because I had so many fond memories of it. Living just 90 minutes away from Sesame Place was just a bonus.

I never went to Sesame Place as a child, but remember longing to go. As soon as my kids were old enough to go, we went. Kevin has been riding the Vapor Trail since he’s 2 1/2. Seriously!

Back in the day when brands and venues had Mom Bloggers as brand ambassadors, I was one for Sesame Place for 4 years. I promoted them HARD and loved doing it.

I don’t know if it’s because I fostered his interest in Sesame Street characters, of if it would have happened naturally anyway. But for Kevin, Sesame Street is his hyper interest. In particular, Count von Count and Oscar the Grouch.

We’ve been going for the better part of two decades. He still enjoys going and I still enjoy taking him. Usually.

We pay now, and I’m fine with that. This isn’t a bitter or revenge post because I’m not an ambassador anymore. At this stage in life, I genuinely would rather pay and just enjoy the day. When you’re an ambassador, every time you go you have to post what you’re doing on social media.

But now, we’re not even really enjoying it.

boy on the sesame place carousel
This is one of the few rides he enjoys now.

Sesame Place and Sea World

Several years ago, Sea World purchased Sesame Place. At the time, I had my reservations about Sesame Place becoming too corporate and too expensive. Now, it seems that has come true.

Yesterday, we went to Sesame Place for two reasons. One is that it’s the Count’s Spooktacular and since Kevin loves Count, we never miss it.

It also was the grand opening of the Sesame Place store, which I had been anticipating.

But I left feeling aggravated, disappointed and more. Sesame Place just has that “money grab” feel to it. Like all they care about is making money. Customer experience be damned.

Here are some of the ways we’ve noticed that Sesame Place has negatively changed since the Sea World takeover.

sesame place count spooktacular

Sesame Place Sells Alcohol

There’s just no need. Even if legal adults are enjoying an adult beverage in a responsible manner, it sends a message to kids. Kids are always learning–even when we’re not actively teaching them.

Our society worships alcohol and we absolutely cannot do any event without it. Now, you can’t even visit a theme park for preschoolers without alcohol.

For Cookie Monster, a “cookie is a sometimes food” and he has to preach to kids about not eating cookies and making healthy choices.

According to the CDC, all alcohol increases your risk of cancer.

But adults can have beer whenever they want. Mixed message much? They didn’t even serve beer when they were owned by Annheiser-Busch!

No More Straws at Sesame Place

Wait, before you all come for me screaming, “BUT, THE TURTLES!” hear me out.

Banning straws, or only using paper straws, is a performative gesture at best. It’s not making any significant impact on the planet. Not at all.

When you look at Sea World’s history of how they have treated animals, making me drink through a paper straw is just laughable. If it wasn’t so sad for the animals. If Sea World really cared about the environment, they’d close Sea World.

“Autism Friendly” Gestures are just Gestures

Several years ago, Sesame Place got some special designation for being autism friendly. As a mom to an autistic teen, I was excited. Surely our visits would be more enjoyable, now, right?

Not really.

Much like the rest of society, they don’t seem to care too much for older autistic kids and adults.

If you want your special needs access, you have to wait in a long line at customer service. And, rather than an all-day access pass like it used to be, you get to pick a few rides and that’s it. But, my son is actually autistic all day, every day. Not just for certain things.

The family bathrooms are barely manageable because of the size (very small). They are rarely clean and you cannot maneuver a wheelchair easily in one. The toilet is very low to the ground. The doorways and angled access to get into and out of bathrooms is poor for wheelchairs.

You have to have a special code to enter the quiet spaces. And, when you need a quiet space, the last thing I want to do is wait in line to get a special code.

The special needs parade viewing area has been reduced to one small sign. The former large blue area is gone. But, it was never monitored anyway, so it often wasn’t useful.

But rather than figure out a way to actually make it so disabled people can watch the parade more easily, they just removed the blue paint, put up one sign and called it a day.

Money grab: If you do want a guaranteed good seat for the parade, it’s now $24 extra per person.

Everyone thinks that little autistic kids wearing their brightly colored headphones yelling “Elmo!” are just so cute. When that same kid comes back 15 years later….they’re not so welcome.

Navigating through the park yesterday, there were so many areas that just were not the required width for a wheelchair. In stores, in line queues that were set up, security screenings, everywhere.

And, even though my son is tube fed and does not take in any nutrition by mouth, I am required to pay full price for the customer dine. He literally just wants to sit there, watch the shows and greet the characters. I’ve repeatedly asked for an accommodation. It’s $45 a person, plus tax and a 5% “service charge.”

5% Service Charge at Sesame Place

Yesterday was the first time I saw this. Every food place now has a “5% Service Charge” on everything.

My MIL grabbed a quick ready-made sandwich at Hooper’s. It was already stale, dry and overpriced. But there were long lines everywhere, so she grabbed it. In addition to the 6% sales tax (I know, they have no control over that), there was a 5% service charge.

WHY?

Money grab.

Sesame Place, Everything is an Upsell

First of all, if you go in the summer, it’s $100 per person. Not including taxes and fees.

Want to eat with the characters? $45 plus taxes and fees.

Want to park? $25. Oh, you want to park closer? $45.

Don’t want to wait in the lines? $30 each.

Want your kids to actually see the parade? $24 each.

A bottle of Dasani water was $5. Plus the 5% service charge. Seriously.

I saw a kid run over the cooler and yell “mom I want lemonade!” as he picked up a 20 oz bottle of Minute Maid Lemonade. $6. Plus tax and 5% service charge.

Renting lockers. Renting strollers and wheelchairs. The photos! Holy crap you should see how expensive the photos are.

When we go, it’s usually just the two of us and as mentioned, Kevin doesn’t eat. I can’t imagine what it costs a family of 4 or 5 or more.

Sesame Place Moneygrabs

Moneygrabs are everywhere. The 5% on all food is just insulting. Their prices are too high to begin with.

But now, with the new store, you’re forced to walk through the store to exit the park.

The new store, where, yesterday I saw this felt banner.

felt banner in sesame place store

This felt banner was $84.99.

Sesame Place Perks are Hard to Redeem

We’re passholders and have been forever. We get some perks with that.

One of those perks is the Sesame Place cash. $10 here and there. Doesn’t buy much, but it’s something. But it’s also too hard to redeem.

Same goes for all the accessibility stuff for disabled people. It’s a nuisance to get it. There has to be a simpler way to do this.

Never Enough Sesame Place Staff

I’m tired of hearing the “we can’t find people to hire!” excuse. According to a press release put out by Sea World, they stated:

In fiscal 2022, the Company hosted approximately 21.9 million guests and generated record total revenues of $1,731.2 million, recordĀ net income of $291.2 millionĀ and record Adjusted EBITDA of $728.2 million.

Sea World Press Release 02/28/2023

If you’re reporting record income, pay people more. Put customers and employees ahead of profits.

Sesame Place had one customer service window open yesterday and the line was at least 50 families deep.

Sesame Place had one person at each Trick-or-Treat station, and the lines were hundreds of people long.

I’ve gone in the summer when rides were closed, water rides were closed and some show times were eliminated.

“Well, all the kids are back in school….” is always the excuse. Hire more people. You have the money.

Sesame Place Not What it Used to Be

We’ve been going several times a year, every year, since about 2008.

It hasn’t gotten better. They talk about and promote the park improvements, but it’s not that great anymore.

Sure, they got rid of all that stuff in the middle. But the rides that are in that area now are usually closed. The Cookie Cafe little store thing is usually closed.

The lines for the food are always too long. I get it, it’s a popular theme park. It’s going to get crowded. But this is just unmanageable for the amount of money you spend. You could easily spend a half-hour waiting in line for your special needs pass. Then another 60 minutes waiting in line for food.

You’ll waste another hour sitting on the parade route saving your spot, unless you pay $24 a person.

For a park that was only open 8 hours yesterday, is it really worth it?

Many families outgrow Sesame Place. Hey, “Go Before They Grow” used to be their marketing slogan.

But for us special needs families, and there are a lot of us–I see you at the park!, we won’t outgrow it.

Maybe you can put up with it for a visit or two over 5 years. But us? We’ll go 2-5 times every year, for the foreseeable future.

A Visit to Sesame Place

Look, just a few years ago, any time that anyone would ask me about Sesame Place, I’d get all animated and say, “We love it! You MUST go!”

I don’t feel that same passion any more. I feel, as a public figure online, and one who has promoted Sesame Place for many years, that I should tell you the downsides too.

And in my opinion, as someone who has been there dozens of times, the prices have gone up and the quality has decreased.

I wrote another article on How to Make the Most of Your Day at Sesame Place. In it, I do share a couple of insider tips on how to get the most out of your day.

I still believe in that article. But, I believe in this one too.

I’d feel terrible if someone made a long trip, and spent a ton of money, only to be disappointed. You can have a great day at Sesame Place.

Like I opened this post–last night I was feeling “well, when you go to Sesame Place as often as we do, you’re bound to hit a bummer of a day.”

But that’s not right–not when I spent that much money.

And it’s not right for your family either. Go before they grow? How about–know before you go.