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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Update: Busch's Sesame Street Safari of Fun to open March 27 with splash areas, a new ride and character breakfasts



Wondering when you can take your kids to visit with Big Bird, Ernie and Elmo at the new exhibit at Mom_airgrover Busch Gardens?

Well, mark your calendars for March 27. That's when the new Sesame Street Safari of Fun debuts in the old Land of the Dragons play area which opened back in 1996. The date was revealed during a press tour Thursday at the theme park.

And if the idea of seeing the Sesame Street gang -- all done up in  safari gear or wearing tribal necklaces and face paint to keep with the Busch Gardens theme  --  isn't enough to send your kids over the edge, this will: They will get to dine with the characters, get up close and personal during photo ops and see the monsters scurrying about during a parade that happens five times a day in the play area. 

All of this will be in a 2 1/2-acre area (double the size of the Land of the Dragons play area)  that has one entrance so that they can't get out the back. Safari of Fun is specifically targeted at families with tots ages 3-5 years. Donnie Mills, executive vice president and general manager of Busch Gardens, says that the team has been working for about two years to bring this new concept to fruition. Mills said the area was a way for Busch Gardens to improve its offerings for the very youngest visitors to the theme parks. He says that they are constantly looking for ways to keep the park product and guest experience fresh.

Sesame Street and the Sea World/Busch Gardens theme parks have a long history. There are 10 parks in the family and currently one of them, Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pa., is devoted to the Sesame experience. Parks in California and Williamsburg, Va., already have a Sesame component. After Busch Gardens Tampa opens its area, Sea World in Texas will be next. Orlando's Sea World will add a Sesame Street show in the spring.

Here's some more of what kids and parents can expect to see at Busch Gardens Tampa when Elmo and the rest of the monsters roll into town:

Ride On: The kids will be able to jump on board Air Grover, the only new ride in the area. The junior coaster features Grover in goggles and scarf on the front of the coaster, which seats 16 people and  travels 23 mph. Children must be at least 38 inches tall to ride with an adult or can ride alone at 41 inches. Photos shot of families on the coaster also will be for sale. Because the area is being repurposed from Land of the Dragons, the other rides are getting a fresh set of primary colors paint and Sesame rebranding. Expect to see lots of big googly eyes throughout the area. The repurposed rides will include Elmo's Safari Go-Round, a tribal-inspired carousel; the Count's Zambezi Rally, a kid-size car ride; Snuffy's Elephant Romp, an elephant ride with cars going up and down; Zoe-Patra & the Hippos of the Nile, a not-to-scary flume ride; Rosita's Djembe Fly-Away, a swing ride; and Big Bird's Whirly Birdie, a ferris wheel.

Cool Down: Kids can cool down in Oscar's Swamp Stomp, which lets kids splash and play in the water; and in Bert & Ernie's Water Hole, which features bubblers, geysers, jets, dumping buckets and more. Bring your swimsuits for that area. Parents can sit around the perimeter and not get too wet. Bathrooms located at the front and back of the area should provide ample space to change tots.

In the Treetops: Once the kids get tired of riding, they may want to climb about the three-story tree house, Elmo's Treehouse Trek, featuring areas for hide and seek and a bird's eye view of the play land. The repurposed canopy area is now called Cookie Monster's Canopy Crawl, in which kids can explore the three-story net climb.. 

Say Cheese: In Big Bird's 123-Smile With Me photography studio, kids and parents can get their photos taken with the giant yellow one and other characters on a blue background that can then be changed to look as though they are in the jungle or in other African spots.

What Food: Yes, there will be food in this part of the park (you are not supposed to bring food in so it's good to know it will be there). But your kids won't care because they will just be delighted to Dine With Elmo and Friends at character breakfasts and lunches. Just like a certain other theme park, Busch will charge for the chance to dine with 10 costumed versions of Big Bird, Elmo and pals in an adjacent picnic facility. And each month, a different character will be featured. For example, Elmo's birthday is in February so he would be featured at the character meals during that month, said Mark Rose, vice president of design and engineering.

The Happening: Five times a day, there will be a parade through the Safari of Fun area, with the characters urging kids to join in. Then the whole lines goes to a stage area where the characters will put on a live show, The Happening.

No Talking Please: It's important to get over to The Happening because if your kids love to hear Elmo and the others talk, it is the only place it will occur. Like most theme park characters, the Sesame Street gang will be mute throughout the park. They will only speak during the stage show.

Mr. Bird Does Not Do Shows: Speaking of the show, you'll see Big Bird throughout the area but don't expect to see him on the stage. But it's not because he's persnickety about where he performs. According to Mark Rose, vice president of design and engineering, Big Bird is simply too tall. Special extra tall doors have been designed for Big Bird to make entrances and exits from the photo area and character dressing rooms.

Movie Magic: A 4D film, Sesame Street Presents Lights, Camera, Imagination, will now be show in the park's special effects theater in Timbuktu. It will have timed water squirts, vibrating seat backs and a whirling plastic string that startles theatergoers when it spins briefly against their legs. It sort of reminds us of the Disney Magic Kingdom show, Mickey's PhilharMagic.

I Want One: Finally, Abby Cadabby's Treasure Hut will feature all kinds of Sesame Street souvenirs, including plush characters that are specifically branded for Busch Gardens. So, this will be the only place to get Elmo in his native dress or Bert & Ernie in their safari dress. You can also buy food and drinks in this market. A smaller market, Cookie Monster's Trading Post, will also feature snacks -- not just cookies, though -- and other souvenirs.

-- Sherry Robinson

[Artist's rendering of Air Grover junior coaster]

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:04am]


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