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What's new at Sesame Place?

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May 03, 2007

Get ready for another round of Cookie Monster, Elmo, gleeful toddlers on water rides and even more traffic near the Oxford Valley Mall.

Sesame Place, the children's amusement park in Middletown, opens at 10 a.m. Saturday for its 27th season.

“We anticipate another good year,” said the park's executive vice president-general manager Bob Caruso. “We have two new shows going in and a new character. If there is one thing we have a concern about, it's that gas prices are approaching $3 a gallon again and some people might be reluctant to spend money on travel.”

However, since most of the park's customers come from an area no further away than New York, gas prices shouldn't have too great an impact, he said.

The park has averaged about 900,000 visitors a year for five years, Caruso added.

Sesame Place's new character is Abby Cadabby. Described as a “sweet inquisitive enthusiastic 3-year-old fairy in training,” she will star in a musical show called “Abby Cadabby's Treasure Hunt.” There is also a revamped Elmo's World Live show with a new focus on fishes.

This year features the park's first-ever fireworks shows, on May 26 and 27 and July 4, but smoke of another kind has been banned, said Caruso.

While smoking is still allowed in the parking lots, the park itself will be completely smoke free for the first time, he said.

“We used to have one or two designated smoking areas but not anymore,” Caruso said. “We're completely smoke free and as far as I know, we're the first theme park in Pennsylvania to do that.”

Geared for children ages 2 to 7, the park will be open only on weekends until May 25, then every day until Labor Day (Sept. 3,) and then on weekends only until it closes on Oct. 27.

Counting an amusement tax that goes to Middletown and the Neshaminy School District, the daily admission this year is up 6 percent to $47.97, an increase of $2.71 from last year. There are various other pricing options, including those for seniors, twilight admissions and season passes, and children under 2 are free.

Because of a 10 percent tax on parking revenue at the park approved by the Middletown supervisors after last season, the parking fees have also been increased at Sesame Place this year. Preferred parking will be $16, up $2 from last year, and general parking will be $13, a $3 increase.

Sesame Place is worth a visit for families with young children, said Rhonda Clements, professor of Education at Manhattanville College and author of nine textbooks on children's play activities.

“Young children today benefit greatly from escaping the confinements of the home and spending time with family members outdoors,” she said. “Sesame Place is the ideal environment to do this as it awakens children's senses.”

The 60-acre park, which employs 75 full-time and 1,500 seasonal workers, pays about $2.5 million in taxes a year, an amount divided between the township and school district. Sesame Place also pays Middletown $74,000 a year to have a township cop stationed at the park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, said Caruso.

While sometimes feeling Sesame Place is too easy a target whenever Middletown needs more tax revenue — he cites the new parking tax as an example — Caruso said this area has been good to the park and vice-versa, and there are no plans to leave.

“Someone would have to make an unbelievable offer, and I don't see that happening,” said Caruso. “We're in a good spot, strategically located in the Northeast corridor, and we've invested a lot here.”

While declining to be too specific, Caruso said the park should continue to grow.

“We certainly have five-year plans and have identified specific new attractions we want to put into the park,” he said. “As long as the park continues to perform well financially, we'll get the funding to do that [from parent company Anheuser Busch]. We'll expand the park's footprint [total area] when we can and when we can't, we'll take out old attractions and put in new ones in their place and increase capacity that way. We've been here 27 years and I think we'll be here for a long time to come.”

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