ORLANDO, Fla. – After 50 years of asking, you can finally tell anyone how to get to Sesame Street: Turn left between Shamu Stadium and Wild Arctic.
I had the pleasure this week of touring SeaWorld Orlando's new Sesame Street land, and I think the park has a big winner on its hands.
It's a vast improvement over the "Shamu's Happy Harbor" playland it replaced, and is much more for families, not just young kids. So cue up the pinball countdown song, and I'll run down 10 possible surprises for your first visit to Sesame Street:
10. Bigger Than You Might Expect
At 6 acres, Sesame Street takes up a larger area than you might expect, allowing for a variety of places to meet the Muppets with places to roam outdoors, with plenty of shade, and indoor air conditioning for when you need it.
One big difference from what you see on TV? There's an actual street here, not just a block of brownstones.
9. Like Stepping Into the Show
But those brownstones are all there, the famous 123 Sesame St. Stoop, Oscar's Trash Can, Mr. Hooper's Store, Abby's Fairy Garden. and it all looks and feels incredibly authentic, as if the show's legendary sets were always here in three dimensions.
There are two entrances to the land. For the best effect of stepping into the show, take the one closer to Wild Arctic. instead of the path by the park's carousel.
8. New Places to Splash and Play (and eat)
But across from Hooper's Store and the street is a park full of new places to splash and play. I didn't take the time to count how many different places, but I'm sure I know who has: The Count-Around Playground is here, next to the Rubber Ducky Water Works splash pad. Also in that area, just like in a real city, is a food truck park. No burgers here. While it may not be gourmet, the sandwiches, smoothies and chicken tenders (grilled and fried) are all kid-friendly, but with attention for vegetarians and those with allergies.
7. A Wealth of Details: Bilingual, Educational & Muppetational
From the start in 1969, Sesame Street the show has always focused on teaching English and Spanish. In the new land, you'll also find nods to other languages as well (especially at the Laundromat). The inside of Mr. Hooper's Store looks exactly as you'd expect, complete with Big Bird's Birdseed Smoothie on the specials board. If you look closely, many of the products on the "store shelves" and in the windows are featured in the television show as well.
Even while waiting in line, you can spot displays encouraging kids to think creatively, and some gloriously funny parodies of Broadway show posters. I won't spoil my favorite, but imagine if Bert and Ernie took on "Wicked."
6. Elmo & Cookie Monster Photo Ops
The theater displays are in the queue while you wait to meet Elmo and Cookie Monster. Both are eager to give you a handshake, a hug or take a photo. You might find the prices reflect SeaWorld's stated goal of being a good value.
5. Big Bird's Nest
Not far from the meet and greet theater, Big Bird's Nest is another popular place to take those selfies. Big Bird himself will show up for story time.
4. Grown-Up Fans & History aren't forgotten
On this 50th year of sunny days sweeping the clouds away, you'll find shirts and souvenirs marking the milestone. For those of you who grew up watching, who now have kids or grandkids of your own, the designers have included plenty of touches for you, even if you don't know Abby from Rosita.
Above Big Bird's nest, for example, is one of two reminders of Mr. Hooper (and actor Will Lee), who died in 1983.
On the show, Big Bird drew that sketch to remember his good friend. In real life, that's true too. It's the work of Muppeteer Carroll Spinney.
My favorite touch pays tribute to Slimey the Worm's trip to the moon. On the show, the WASA Womonaut launched from Cape Canaveral Mud Flats back in 1998. Slimey really did fly in space in 2014, from Cape Canaveral, aboard NASA's first Orion test flight.
3. Kid-Friendly Rides
While your little ones won't get to fly to the moon, they can ride Slimey's Slider in the park across the street, along with Elmo's Choo Choo Train, Super Grover's Boxcar Derby and three other rides.
2. New ways to interact With the Characters
In keeping with the show's emphasis on play as learning, you'll find lots of ways to meet them. That includes more traditional theme park meet-and-greets, plus more high-tech surprises like Elmo's Window, or the Elmo Bubble Wands that make things happen wherever you see a smiling yellow star (thanks, Harry Potter!). While Cookie Monster's Food Truck won't sell you anything, Cookie will play games. Oh, but you definitely DON'T want to knock on Oscar's trash can.
1. First ever daily parade at SeaWorld Orlando
One of the best places to see all of your Sesame Street friends is SeaWorld's first-ever daily parade. The parade itself is not nearly as long as the day parades at Universal or Disney's Magic Kingdom, but the song is catchy, the floats are colorful, and you won't believe how well some of those Muppets can move during the long show stop.
Confession: I generally hate parades, with very few exceptions. This is one of them.
Sesame Street is now open daily, and is included with park admission.