Monday, May 13, 2013

Sesame Place, Central Pennsylvania, and the Terrible Twos (A Cautionary Tale)

I‘d heard it before, from friends and strangers, but truly thought my family, and my son would be different.  While the terrible twos settled upon my son before his actual second birthday, a family vacation, away from the repetitive daily grind, was exactly what everyone needed. 
My husband, Ethan, and I planned this trip weeks in advance, knowing he could only take a few days off of work, so we wanted to make the best of our time away.  We found a very reasonably priced hotel that was included in the Sesame Place “Stay and Play” promotional package.  This package is detailed on their website (  We were thrilled at the price and all that it included, figuring we would simply just have to worry about dinners out.  So we booked the trip, got a confirmation email with our Sesame Place tickets attached, and anxiously awaited the day when we would leave.
We planned to leave on May 9th, my son’s second birthday.  Now there’s another unrelated reason why we chose this crazy weekend to take our trip (Sunday May, 12th was also Mother’s Day).   My husband’s cousin, as well as my cousin, were both graduating from Philadelphia University on Saturday May 11th, and we thought it would be great to see both of them graduate, spend the rest of the day in the city, then Sesame overload the rest of the trip.
On May 8th, we kicked off Henry’s second year of life with a big family dinner with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and lots of presents.  Bedtimes were late for all of us, but we figured we would soon be on vacation, naturally a time to catch up on R&R.  Then being the overindulgent mother that I am, I planned for three of Henry’s playgroup pals to come over on the morning of the 9th for cupcakes and play before we left for PA.  My husband had some loose ends to tie up at work in the morning, so I thought the play date would exhaust my toddler and make him sleep for most of our car ride, which our GPS estimated would take about 3 ½ hours.  Henry was exhausted, but kept it together (mostly) while his friends were over and finally at 12:30 after gassing up and getting coffee our family headed west to the Keystone State.
Flooding/detours on the belt parkway, traffic entering Staten Island, and some more traffic on the NJ Turnpike resulting in an interrupted nap for Henry, and Ethan and I wondering why we ever leave the east end.  Around 5:30 we finally pulled into the Ramada Inn Levittown ( completely haggared and cranky.  After quickly dropping our luggage off in the room that was exactly what we expected (decent sized king bed suite), we got back into the car and headed to the Newportville Inn (, a German restaurant that my husband was eager to try.  The food was decent, the service was great, and the price, especially since we’re used to “Hamptons rates” was the best!  Since it was Henry’s birthday, we ordered a berry strudel and a waiter and waitress sang “Happy Birthday” to a slightly startled two year old. 
When we finally got back to the hotel it was nearly 8 o’clock, an hour past Henry’s usual bedtime.  My husband and I pride ourselves on a seamless bedtime routine, and we even anticipated the change of scenery throwing the routine off, so we brought plenty of familiar items from home (favorite lovies and bedtime stories).  After washing up, brushing teeth, and pjs, we all settled into the big bed with two stories to read.  Finally the time came to shut the lights off and Henry gave one last plea at normalcy by uttering the words that would soon become his mantra on the trip “Heddy’s house?”  We translated this to mean that Henry was missing his room, his crib, and other home familiarities.  We continued to rub his back and shush him to sleep, and eventually begged him to go to sleep.  Around 9:30, he finally drifted off, and the two of us watched TV with the volume nearing mute in the dark for the rest of the night. 
6:45 Friday morning came pretty early, with a teary and confused Henry wondering what he was doing in a strange room sharing a big bed with Momma and Dadda.  We quickly got dressed and left the room in hopes of avoiding a full blown meltdown.  Now Ethan and I have both stayed at many hotels that include a continental breakfast, and more often than not the breakfasts are so great and filling, a light lunch is all that’s needed before dinners out.  Not the case here.  This was one of the most disappointing continentals we’ve ever encountered, which included instant tasteless eggs, sausage patties, cold cereal, mealy apples, and a Belgium waffle maker (which was the most edible of the options).  What were we going to do though?  Knowing that Henry would need a nap before going to Sesame (which didn’t open until 10am) we headed to a grocery store to stock up on fruit, yogurts, deli meats and other snacks to at least help out the breakfast situation.  We also figured we would eat lunches back at the hotel during Henry’s naps since he is not the toddler that can skip the all-important mid-day nap, even when on vacation.  After shopping we returned to the hotel and headed to the playground in hopes of really tiring out our boy before naptime.  The playground was a bit intimidating and probably meant for older children, so after a few runs down one particular slide, we headed back to sleep and eat.
We headed to Sesame Place around 1 o’clock and after a half hour ride of more pleads for “Heddy’s house” we finally arrived and paid the $15 parking fee.  Since it was 87 degrees, I lotioned us all up to avoid sunburns, but the already agitated Henry took that opportunity to rub sunscreen in his eyes.  When we finally passed through the gates, the three of us were already a mess of tears and sweat, simply looking for anything to turn the day around.  We headed to the carrousel, and were able to get right on.  Henry started to perk up and chose to ride a cheerful purple horse when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  The man operating the ride asked me if I was pregnant, which I indeed confirmed that I was (at nearly 28 weeks I am very obviously expecting).  He then told me that I was not able ride the carousel for safety reasons, so as to avoid a scene I started to get off the ride.  Henry began crying for me again and both he and Ethan got off the ride to join me.  I was hot, hormonal, and angry, so I marched us to customer service ready to demand a full refund and already drafting a scathing review in my head.  However, the men at the customer service couldn’t have been nicer, and explained that the attendant had been mistaken and while a few of the other rides recommend that pregnant women (as well as others with health concerns) refrain from riding, I could use my discretion.  They felt so bad that they circled all the rides that would be perfect for my son (who wasn’t able to ride all of the rides anyway) and I as well as all of the shows we should check out on the map, but they also gave us complimentary tickets to meet the characters before the 4 o’clock parade.  By the time we left, it was nearly time for the Elmo Rocks concert to start.  We picked seats and settled in for the half hour show that featured Elmo, Bert, Ernie, Abby, Zoe, and the Count.  Henry finally perked up during the show and the rides we went on after it.  We spent the next block of time in Elmo’s World and the surrounding area.  At 3:30 we headed to the special area to meet the characters, who up until this point Henry seemed to be enjoying from afar.  As soon as we walked in we were greeted by Abby, resulting in Henry clinging in terror to us crying loudly and embarrassingly “I don’t ike Abby. “ All the characters filing in slowly received the same treatment, but Henry was not alone.  We saw a few kids thrilled to meet their TV heroes, but many other tots terrified of the real deal monsters.  Finally an aloof Grover sat next to us on a bench and got Henry to give him “five.”  

These guys are great at what they do, knowing when to stay away and when to tentatively approach.  The parade started promptly at 4, and while we were in a super-hot and sunny spot, then singing and dancing made Henry’s night.  We finished up our visit with a few more rides and walk down the infamous Sesame Street, then left to get some dinner nearby. 
My husband had researched Bonefish Grill ( and because of its proximity to the park, it seemed like a great pick.  Bonefish is a chain, but it’s a great one, with a really nice healthy kids menu, deliciously fresh seafood, and fast service.  While there was a time when Ethan and I hated to be rushed and enjoyed a slow progressive dinner,  those days are over, at least with a “terrible two” year-old.  Our waitress seemed to have had experience with the likes of Henry, because she gave him crayons and a coloring book as soon as we sat down and had us fed and out the door in nearly half an hour.  We got back to the hotel at about 7 o’clock, ready for bath and bedtimes.  Of course exhaustion wasn’t enough to ease Henry into bed, so again it was after 9 when he finally fell asleep. 
The next morning was much of the same, early wake up call, tears, bad continental breakfast all complimented by the thunder storms that seemed to be plaguing most of the north east.  Finally at around 1, after a nap and lunch, we headed into the city with the skies starting to clear up.  Philadelphia University had a lovely commencement ceremony, and the best part- at least according to Henry- was riding the “shuttle bus” which was a yellow school bus, from the parking area about a mile and a half to the field where the graduation took place.  Had we known that this would be Henry’s favorite ride all weekend, we could have saved quite a bit of money and just rode the bus a few more times.  We concluded our day in Philly (one of Ethan and my favorite cities) with a driving tour of downtown then headed south for quick dinner at Tony Lukes.  We’ve tried cheesesteaks at four of the locations mentioned in this article ( and Tony Lukes did not disappoint, except maybe to Henry who preferred a pureed fruit pouch and Goldfish crackers instead.
The next morning was Sunday, Mother’s Day, and unfortunately this was the hardest morning for our newly two year old, who really just wanted to be in his own house, eating yogurt from his own chair and torturing his own beloved dog.  So we quickly ate our last disappointing breakfast, packed and checked out.  We headed back for a quick visit to Sesame Place to exhaust Henry for what could be a long ride home. 
The Henry we both know and love being around,  returned and thoroughly enjoyed the two hour play session at Sesame…finally!  In fact he didn’t want to leave, but fell asleep in the car even before we left the gas station, canceling our plans to stop and have a lunch out.  Instead we ended our trip eating Wawa sandwiches in the car, while Henry slept for two hours all the way to NJ, where we took a break to surprise my mother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day.
All in all Sesame Place is a great place to take a young family, BUT since toddlers are so unpredictable and yet creatures of habit, a day trip would have been just as effective and enjoyable.  Unless you too are stranded out east on Long Island, then the only advice I can offer is to not go while pregnant, as drinks with dinner followed by drinks back at the hotel could make all the difference.

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