Spotting the tiers of cargo nets strung high up like giant spider webs and crawling with scrambling children, my four-year-old announced, "I want to go on that ride!" Wide-eyed, she bounded over to the nets and began an attack worthy of a Marine recruit in boot camp.
It wasn't a ride at all, like those in a conventional amusement park. "Safe Cargo" is instead a cleverly and safely designed challenge to coordination and daring. It's one of several such kid-powered attractions at Sesame Place, a new Bucks County, Pennsylvania, theme park.
With its windmills, pumps, pulleys, punching bags and water towers, Sesame Place is like a giant teaching toy with emphasis on active participation, rather than passive entertainment -- a radical departure from most American amusement parks. It invites kids to extend themselves at their own pace in their own way.
Even the self-serve family restaurant, The Food Factory, lets children watch and smell every step of food preparation through its theater-in-the-round, transparent kitchen, while demonstrating pizza-making.
Sesame Place has some snags; too few sitting areas in view of the outdoor play areas, and the asphalt treeless site behind the ugly sprawl of a suburban shopping mall leaves much to be desired.
But in the eyes of a child, designer Milton Glazer's brightly colored, high-tech buildings and the ingenious play equipment add up to excitement and fun.
Imagine, for example, crawling into a jar of pickled onions. That was the inspiration for The Count's Ballroom, a two-foot-deep pool of 80,000 lightweight green plastic bails in which children can wallow, dive or swim. Some of the other attractions are: COOKIE MOUNTAIN -- A slippery, eight-foot climb to the top, and then a fast slide down the vinyl side. RUBBER DUCKIE POND -- Bounce, hop and walk on a plastic-surface pond that gurgles and sloshes with every step. SUPER GROVER'S CABLE GLIDES -- Hang onto a rope and rip through the air a few feet above a carpeted platform. THE COMPUTER GALLERY -- The largest collection of educational computers and electronic games in the country. SESAME STUDIO -- Two dozen hands-on science exhibits, including the Magic Wand that you wave in the beam of a projected image and see the image virtually appear in the air, and the Pitch Switch, which changes the pitch of a voice from high and squeaky to a low growl at the flick of a switch. SESAME PLACE WATER TOWER -- Youngsters pump water to the top of a 20-foot tower and then let it tumble down to turn a water wheel.
Sesame Place is open daily from 9:30 to 8 year round. The $3.95 general admission covers everything but the computer gallery, where three-for-a-dollar tokens are sold.