Road tripping in America, part two

The Crime Traveller takes his kids to Sesame Street and even meets Elmo
The Crime Traveller takes his kids to Sesame Street and even meets Elmo

Most family trips can be divided into two camps: activities that excite the children but leave parents with a headache larger than Dora the Explorer’s oversized cranium, or activities that fascinate mom and dad despite repeatedly being punctuated by pant-leg tugging accompanied by the familiar “I’m borrrrrred” refrain. The mark of a truly great family destination is the ability to fulfil both ends of the generational spectrum.

This was the goal of a recent family road trip we took to sites in the eastern U.S. We began with stops at Hersheypark and the Hershey Chocolate Factory, the Crayola Factory and the National Canal Museum (which you can read all about in part one of this series).

Next, we stopped in Langhorne, Pennsylvania — home to what is quite possibly the world’s most famous street: Sesame Street. Sesame Place is an aquatic homage to the puppets and monsters of childhood. An enormous splash pad complete with 1,000-gallon tipping bucket forms the park’s centrepiece, ringed by a series of tube rides, waterslides and a meandering lazy river. Dry attractions include some genuinely creative fare such as the standout Big Bird’s Nest, where kids clamber through a massive web of interconnected ropes and tunnels. At 2pm we jammed the main thoroughfare along with thousands of other guests to watch the spectacle of the Sesame Place parade.

Wandering the park gave us plenty of opportunity for nostalgic photographs by Oscar’s trashcan and the Sesame Street stoop, but the real squeals of glee were reserved for encounters with the characters themselves. Cookie Monster, Tully and Ernie got their fare share of attention but when Elmo made an appearance the high-pitched wails of adulation from my children left me wondering if Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez had simultaneously rappelled down to earth from a marshmallow-encrusted helicopter. Now that’s star power!

We closed out this leg of our road trip by making the short drive through Philadelphia across the Delaware to Camden, New Jersey for a visit to the Adventure Aquarium. The kids were excited to get up close with penguins and hippos but really thrilled by the opportunity to actually reach out and touch small sharks and stingrays in specially designed child-friendly pools. For the “big kids,” the thrills were of a decidedly larger variety. After a donning a wetsuit and snorkel, my aquarium guide gave me a short briefing as we stood staring down into the 550,000-gallon tank. The tank was filled with a broad variety of ocean creatures but their presence went completely unnoticed by me as I fixated on the 27 massive sharks trolling lazily through the waters. I set my feet gingerly onto the narrow walkway that ringed the tank and settled cautiously into a nervous hover in three feet of water staring over the edge of the ledge through my mask.

The commotion of my entry had attracted some attention as the first of several large sand sharks rose up to take a closer look at the interloper. It occurred to me that in the embarrassingly form-fitting wetsuit and ambient lighting of the tank my corpulent form could easily be mistaken for a particularly tasty seal morsel. “How often do these guys get fed?” I asked the staffer, who was equipped with a long white PVC pipe he was using to gently keep the encroaching sharks at bay.  “Every three days so they don’t get hungry when we let visitors into the tank,” he replied, emotionless. “And the last time you fed these guys was…?”  “Actually, two days ago. They’re due for their feeding this afternoon.” I sincerely hoped none of them had booked an early seating at the dinner buffet.

After 30 minutes staring eyeball-to-unblinking-eyeball just three feet away from these prehistoric predators I was ushered from the shark tank into a shallow pool overflowing with stingrays. My guide produced a bucket of chopped sardines and instructed me on how to hold the slimy snacks between my fingers. This sent the rays into a frenzy as their powerful suction mouths probed along my arm until they finally happened upon the tasty treats and hoovered them into their maws.

This tiny triangle of Pennsylvania and New Jersey packs a huge assortment of child-friendly activities, making it a prime destination. Despite having hit other prime attractions (such as the Battleship New Jersey and the Garden State Discovery Museum) on previous trips to the region, I still left feeling like there was more to do — a sure sign of a Crime Traveller–approved destination.

Flush with the success of this trip, we all too soon found ourselves packing up the van once again to cruise on our next destination. Keep your eyes peeled for Mr. Crime Traveller Goes to Washington in a future episode of this column.

When not jetting around the world as his alter ego, The Crime Traveller, Edward Prutschi is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or email ed@thecrimetraveller.com.