ORLANDO — For people of a certain age, the new life-size recreation of Sesame Street opening at SeaWorld Wednesday is a step back into their childhood.
The new six-acre land joins the industry trend of immersive versions of movies, books and video games. By creating lands based on the likes of Harry Potter, Star Wars and Toy Story, parks are making it possible for fans to walk in the world of the characters they love.
Now, in time for the show's 50th anniversary, they can sit on the famous stoop at 123 Sesame St. and have story time at Big Bird's nest after shopping in Mr. Hooper's corner store.
Aiden Edmonds, 7, from Orlando wore an Elmo cape ($14 in Mr. Hooper's store), and his jaw dropped as he caught sight of Sesame Street at a preview event Tuesday. His mother, Susan Storey said she felt instantly nostalgic seeing Hooper's Store and the iconic 123 stoop.
"I'm a Big Bird fan," Storey said. "He loves Elmo but we didn't have Elmo back in the day."
Like Universal's wizardly theme park, kids can point magical bubble wands ($30) at various locations through the park, sending bubbles churning from a laundry machine or making Ernie sing Rubber Ducky.
SeaWorld has been troubled by falling attendance and controversy for the past decade. In 2013, the documentary Blackfish questioned the park's handling of killer whales, making matters worse. The blow came at the same time that deep-pocketed rivals at Disney and Universal started opening blockbuster attractions every year.
But hope floats these days. Attendance on the rise with attractions like Mako, Florida's tallest hypercoaster. The park has ramped up its festivals appealing to foodies and music buffs.
And now, it has Sesame Street, a faithful recreation of the familiar TV set, along with six attractions, two play areas and a retail shop.
SeaWorld has Sesame Street-themed lands at its parks in San Diego and San Antonio as well as its sister park in Tampa at Busch Gardens. But in those places, Sesame Street characters show up in safari or ocean-themed areas. With 22 building facades, this is a replica of the New York neighborhood where generations of preschoolers learned the alphabet from friendly monsters.
The new land also brings SeaWorld's first daily parade. The 30-minute Sesame Street parade is more interactive than most, with dancers performing between eight floats with 13 full-size Sesame Street characters, including Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch and Abby. Characters hop off the parade floats to dance and play with kids watching the procession.
Authentic touches include the antique green and white striped awnings over the windows at Mr. Hooper's corner store, flower planters beneath the second-story windows on the 123 Sesame Street building. Rows of brownstones with wrought iron fire escapes line a paved street, hopscotch squares and chalk art adorn the sidewalks. A subway station, newsstand, a laundromat and theater fill out the block.
Big Bird hosts a daily story time in his super-sized nest (also a popular spot for selfies). A host reads a book while the 9-foot yellow anthropomorphic bird reacts to the story with the help of a pre-recorded audio track.
The rides in the area that was once home to Shamu's Happy Harbor have been re-themed for Sesame Street:
• Super Grover's Box Car Derby, a family coaster.
• Abby's Flower Tower, a spinning tower ride where riders sit in flower pots.
• Slimey's Slider, a gliding tug boat ride themed for Oscar the Grouch's worm friend.
• Cookie Drop, a bouncing drop tower of 20 feet.
• Big Bird's Twirl 'n' Whirl, a spin ride in birds nests.
• Elmo's Choo Choo Train, a kiddie train ride.
• Rubber Ducky Water Works, a new water play area.
• Count Around Playground, a new play structure themed for the counting vampire from the show, Count von Count.
SeaWorld admission starts at $84.99 online at seaworld.com/orlando. Like Busch Gardens, SeaWorld has introduced a new four-tier annual pass system that offers perks such as free parking and free tickets at higher levels, for $131 to $287.