Six Flags Great Adventure Roller Coasters

We had waited for years to ride some of the coasters at Great Adventure.  They delivered.

El Toro – Spectacular wooden coaster (ranked #1 in the world).  It’s a smooth coaster, but it does feel like you’re riding a wild bull.  We loved it.

Kingda Ka – The tallest coaster in the world (456 feet) and second fastest (128 mph).  A thrill, to be sure, but very similar to Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point.  As we exited, Joel coolly said, “I’m unfazed,” although he later referred to it as “legendary”.

Bizarro –  Joel and I declared this to be “awesome” – it has fire, steam, inversions, and Superman’s nemesis.  What more could you ask for?

Nitro – A steel coaster with impressive specs: 4.3 Gs, 80mph, over 200 ft high.  It’s rather intense – probably too much so for many people, even though it has no inversions.  Every year from 2007-2012, Nitro has ranked as the #3 steel coaster in the world in the Golden Ticket Awards.  We didn’t love it quite that much, but overall, it’s a great ride – somewhat similar in size and scope to Phantom’s Revenge and Steel Force.

Superman – A fun “flying coaster” (where you are tilted so you’re in the Superman flying position on your stomach).  There are only 10 flying coasters in the U.S., and three of them are this coaster replicated in different locations.  Not as good as Manta in Orlando or Tatsu at Magic Mountain (two of my all-time favorites), but certainly worth riding.

Batman: The Ride – Nearly identical versions of this inverted coaster appear at various Six Flags parks (including Magic Mountain in Southern California).  It’s a good ride with multiple inversions.

Great Mine Train – A typical mine train coaster, similar to Gold Rusher at Magic Mountain or Mine Train at Cedar Point.  A great coaster for those starting out on a coaster obsession.

Skull Mountain – We were warned about this indoor dark coaster, but we tried it anyway, and we liked it.  It doesn’t provide the theming of a Space Mountain or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but it was a good ride.

Rolling Thunder – A racing coaster on parallel tracks.  Our car didn’t start at the same time as the other one, so the racing effect was tainted.  Not a bad ride, but it doesn’t deliver the thrill of Racer at Kennywood or Lightning Racer at HersheyPark.

Blackbeard & Road Runner Express – As we have generally found junior coasters like these two to be both boring and rough, we don’t do these anymore.  Skipped.

Dark Knight – SPOILER ALERT – There’s a pre-ride video with Aaron Eckhart (from the Batman films) at the beginning that is then interrupted with sounds of gunshots (that made everyone jump) followed by scary images.  The coaster is a mediocre indoor wild mouse with some frightening imagery, making it our second least favorite coaster at the park.

Green Lantern – We hated this stand up coaster almost as much as we hated Mantis at Cedar Point (similar ride by the same manufacturer).  Those two were the only rides on our entire trip that made me feel ill (headache and motion sickness).  When we got off, Joel said “That was H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E!”  He was upset, and I wish in retrospect that we had skipped it.

Great Adventure Roller Coasters ridden: 11
Total for the tour after nine parks: 58

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Six Flags Great Adventure – Jackson, NJ

Six Flags Great Adventure was the first place I ever rode a roller coaster.  It was in 1977, and my father took me on the Great Mine Train.  At the time, there was one lap bar for both passengers, and when we got to the top of a hill, I slid under the bar, and since the side of the car was open, I have a distinct memory of fearing that I was going to fall out (as unlikely as that was).  My father grabbed me and pulled me back up into my seat.  I didn’t ride another roller coaster for years, but when I tried them again in my early teens, I loved them.

Joel, meanwhile, is now 10 and will take on any ride.  It’s amazing and gratifying to experience his joy, and we have tremendous fun together in the parks.  These are memories we will both carry forever.

We had a fantastic day at Great Adventure.  It rained on and off throughout the day, but we did indoor attractions when it rained and ran to the outdoor attractions when it stopped.  We rode 11 coasters, including some of the best in the world.  I had wanted to return to Great Adventure for many years, and as the main park in New Jersey, I felt a strong connection to my childhood.

Rides/Attractions
Houdini’s Great Escape
– An entertaining ride/attraction that tells you a bit about Houdini and has an amusing spooky intro, followed by a ride/illusion, known as a haunted swing.  Not a great ride, but certainly worth trying, especially if it’s either hot or raining outside.  Could give some people a bit of vertigo.

VIP Options
Parking: Standard parking is $22, preferred parking is $32.  Our season pass included standard parking, and we were not permitted to upgrade to preferred.  As we arrived early, the difference in the walking time was only a minute or two.

Flash Pass: All Six Flags theme parks and some of their water parks now have a virtual queuing system called The Flash Pass, where you get a device that allows you to reserve your next coaster and skip the majority of the line.  The key is to immediately reserve the next ride as soon they scan your device at any given ride.  There are three different tiers of this service: Platinum, Gold, and Regular.  The higher the tier, the less time you wait for your next ride.  With Platinum, you can also ride twice in a row without getting off the ride (much to the annoyance of the next person waiting).  When we buy this, we always get Gold (and feel like it’s worth its weight in gold).  We have never had to wait for our next ride to be ready, and it saves hours of waiting.  Prices vary based on time of year and how many people are in your party.

Safari Off Road Adventure
For nearly 40 years, Great Adventure’s Safari experience was a separate admission and was a drive-through – you would drive your own car, and animals would walk around you (and occasionally attack your car).  In 2012, the park decided to convert the Safari into in experience more along the lines of the Kilimnajro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and they opened the new experience in 2013.  It is now included in park admission, and you take a guided tour in a truck.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough trucks to meet the demand, so at opening, people were waiting 5+ hours to ride.  On the day we went, the standard wait was about an hour, but with the Flash Pass, that wait was reduced to about 15 minutes.

We truly enjoyed this ride.  We saw hundreds of animals, including some species we had never seen before.  We saw several baby animals, including a calf that had been born within the past hour.  You do have to get off halfway through the ride, explore an area in the middle of the savannah where you get some up-close encounters with animals, then get back on another truck, which worked out fine for us, but could be annoying on a hot, crowded day.  They were in the midst of installing a zipline in this area when we visited.  The guides were very good, and since it was an hour long, we really felt like we had a safari-like experience.

On the downside, the Off-Road Safari doesn’t have the magic of Kilimanjaro Safaris in Orlando.  Part of the brilliance of Disney’s version is that you do not see any fences in between the animals (they’re cleverly hidden), so it truly feels like you’re out on the open savannah.  The Off Road Safari has a lot of pavement, large enclosures, and numerous security gates, so it occasionally feels like an animal military installation rather than a preserve.  Even with these issues, it was one of our favorite non-coaster activities on the entire trip.

Hotel
For reasons no one could explain, there are no hotels near Great Adventure (perhaps zoning laws?).  We stayed in East Windsor, about 15-20 minutes to the north.  This was a mediocre Hampton Inn, with dated carpet and furnishings, freezing air conditioning, poor views, and an indifferent staff.  The accommodations were fine overall, but not up to Hampton’s normal superior standards.

Food
We ate the day before our park visit and for dinner after the park at the Americana Diner, a high-end diner in East Windsor.  These were two of the best meals on our trip, and the diner was a real find.

At the park, we ate at Best of the West by the Off-Road Safari.  Their big selling point is that it is indoors and air conditioned.  The food is typical theme-park fare: burgers, chicken, BBQ pork, and questionable salads.  They do serve beer, which makes it more appealing for some.

Knoebels Amusement Resort – Elysburg, PA

Knoebels was a truly unusual place.  It bills itself as an amusement park and resort – they have campgrounds on property, a large pool, and waterslides in addition to the many rides, attractions, stores, and food stands.  There is no admission charge (or parking fee) – you pay by the ride, and each costs between 50 cents and $2.50 per person.  They do offer an unlimited ride wristband at certain times.  The park does not offer any front of line passes or other VIP-type experience, so make sure you go to the most popular rides at the very beginning or end of the day.

Roller Coasters
Phoenix – Joel has been talking about Phoenix since he was about six.  He loves the mythological creature, and he had read a lot about this coaster. It was spectacular – the best wooden coaster I have ever ridden (so far).  Smooth, fun, and for the first time, I really understood why coaster enthusiasts talk so much about “airtime”.  On other coasters, it doesn’t excite me, but here I felt like I was floating for half of the ride.  It was thrilling, beginning to end.

Twister – A wooden monster.  Joel and I found it a little rough and rocky, frequently pushing us into each other.  We got an amusing photo (below), but the ride wasn’t one of our favorites.

Black Diamond – This indoor ride was added in 2012 and is a very odd addition.  As the area has a mining history, they built this as a haunted mine ride (picture skeleton and zombie miners on a wild mouse coaster).  It was very odd – even stranger than Exterminator at Kennywood (although fortunately not as rough).

Kosmo’s Curves – This kid coaster is not particularly fun.  For some reason, the kid coasters are rougher than the adult ones – maybe they’re not as hard on the kids.  Joel hated it, and I can’t blame him.

Flying Turns – Knoebels has been working on this wooden roller coaster for years, and it has been fraught with problems.  They hope to open it in 2014.

Rides
Knoebels has many rides, but we only tried a few that looked unique.

Carousel – Knoebels has one of the most beautiful carousels (it won the Golden Ticket award for Best Carousel), and it’s one of the few left in the country where you grab a ring each time you go around, in hopes of grabbing the “brass ring”, which gives you a free ride.  It’s one of those rides that transports you 100 years back in time.

Haunted Mansion – Since Knoebels is a family-oriented park, I thought this dark ride would be campy fun, along the lines of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland.  It’s more like a haunted house you would encounter during a “Fright Night” at a Six Flags or Cedar Fair park – filled with bloody, gory figures and monsters jumping out at you.  Joel closed his eyes five seconds into the ride and didn’t open them again until we were out, after which he declared that he hated the park.  Teens will likely enjoy this ride, adults will find it amusing, but be careful with younger kids.

Kosmotron – While Haunted Mansion was Joel’s idea of a nightmare, the Kosmotron was mine.  A classic “Himalaya” ride (often called “Music Express” at carnivals and parks), Kosmotron is indoors, playing music at 100+ decibels, with flashing disco lights.  Imagine the worst nightclub you have ever been to, but you’re speeding backwards, going up and down hills at 30 mph, then doing the same in the opposite direction.  I can’t remember ever being so happy to get off a ride.

Attractions
Shooting Galleries – Knoebels has two shooting galleries: an electronic one where each target triggers some kind of movement or sound, and an antique one where you fire BBs at targets (you have to wear protective goggles).  We are not gun people, but in this setting, it was great.

Carousel Museum – This small museum (and gift shop) has some beautiful antique animals from various carousels as well as artwork, photos, and other memorabilia.  Well worth a visit.

Mining Museum – Explores Knoebels’ history as a mining town and details the history of the park with some remnants of discontinued attractions.  It’s quite interesting and is an excellent way to escape the heat in the summer.

Fascination – Joel loved the Fascination parlor, where each player rolls balls down a ramp into holes, and the first person who gets five in a row wins tickets.  It’s like Bingo where you theoretically have more control over the outcome.  The games are fats, it’s highly addictive, and Joel would have spent hours there if we didn’t have to go.  Some of the women we played against obviously spend a lot of time and money on Fascination, and even though there is supposedly no good strategy, they frequently won.

Food at Knoebels
Knoebels is famous for its food and won the Golden Ticket Award for Best Food at any park in the world for 14 straight years (then narrowly lost to Dollywood in 2012).  Since I can’t eat dairy, I didn’t get to try the Bacon Cheeseburger Chowder, Chicken Pot Pie Soup, Perogies, or homemade desserts like fudge.  Of course, they were “famous” for two potato-based products: the Tri-Taters and their fries.  The Tri-Taters were like hash browns at Burger King (and not really any better), and the fries were very good (but not quite Potato Patch).  The park does have a wide variety of food available, from chicken sandwiches to gyros, and since the park doesn’t charge admission, local residents often come there for dinner.

Hotel
We opted for the Sleepy Hollow Bed & Breakfast, as it was one of the closest hotels to the park, and we thought this was the right environment for a B&B.  The hotel is in a lovely setting, run by a charming young couple.  Breakfast was delicious and made to order.  The rooms are heavily decorated by theme to the point of being kitschy.  The bed was comfortable, but the sofabed could benefit from better padding.  The B&B is adjacent to the farm, so we heard animal sounds throughout the night.  We found it fun and hilarious, but light sleepers might have trouble with it.  I do recommend re-confirming your reservation and/or getting an e-mail confirmation when you make it.

We had mixed feelings about Knoebels.  We loved the setting amongst the campgrounds, and with no admission charge, anyone can come enjoy the park.  Seeing people walking their dogs in the park gave it more of a community feel.  We loved the Phoenix Coaster, the carousel, the museums, and the shooting galleries, but didn’t like the other rides.  The many food stands reminded us of a county fair (in a good way), and we enjoyed perusing the many unusual stores.  As this trip was primarily about roller coasters, it was worth going just for the Phoenix, but the rest left us wanting.  Perhaps we will go back again someday and we have more time to wander and soak in Knoebels’ charms.

Knoebels Roller Coasters ridden: 4
Total for the tour after seven parks: 40

Dorney Park – Allentown, PA

We arrived in Allentown, PA this afternoon, where it’s hard to keep a good man down (according to Billy Joel).  With severe thunderstorms forecast for tomorrow, Joel and I decided to visit Dorney Park this evening.  In three hours, we rode seven coasters (and one kiddie ride), explored the park, and had dinner, with time to spare before closing.  Dorney didn’t have the charm of other Cedar Fair parks like Knott’s Berry Farm or Cedar Point, but it was an enjoyable way to spend our final afternoon and evening in Pennsylvania.

Roller Coasters
Steel Force – Joel felt it was “trying to be Millennium Force, but not”.  He said it was “okay in speed” (for him, 75mph is “okay”), had good height (over 200 feet), and he liked it overall.  I agree.

Hydra – This was a great floorless coaster.  According to Joel, Hydra was awesome, especially the crackerjack roll (a slow corkscrew at the beginning). He was truly excited to ride it, since it won its episode on the show “Insane Coaster Wars”.

Talon – This was a thoroughly enjoyable inverted coaster.  Joel was amused by the signs below the track leading up to the first drop, and he liked that it had a slower, twisty descent after the initial climb, rather than the huge drop at the beginning.   We always love the inversions on these coasters.  It reminded him of Great Bear at Hersheypark.

Possessed – This shuttle coaster akin to Wicked Twister at Cedar Point added a brake on the final run, so the coaster completely stops, making you feel like you’re about to fall (as Joel said, you think the coaster is “possessed”).  It was a surprising twist that will excite some and terrify others.

Stinger – This coaster was relocated to Dorney in 2012 and is a variation of the standard Vekoma Boomerang Coaster found at Knott’s Berry Farm, HersheyPark, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, etc.  In this version (“Invertigo” is the most famous of these), the coaster is inverted and rides sit face to face, so half the riders go backward for the first run, then forward for the return, and the others do the opposite.  These are rather intense coasters, but Joel enjoyed it (more than I did – I’m not a fan of going backward).

Wild Mouse – Just an average Wild Mouse coaster.  No spinning.  Normal track.  Incredibly slow loading, as they only allow two people over 48” in a car at a time.  Nothing special.

Woodstock Express – Joel and I “officially hated” this kids coaster (his term, not mine).  It was really rough, threw us side to side, and not fun in any way.  To add insult to injury, they made us go around three times.  Ick.

Thunderhawk – Built in 1923, it’s one of the oldest coasters in the world.  Too many people told me they were in pain after the ride, and after 47 roller coasters in six days, I didn’t want to push it, and Joel didn’t care.   After the three Kennywood classic wooden roller coasters, I feel like I have done the best old woodies in America, and I didn’t feel a driving need to ride this one, at least not today.

VIP Options
Parking: In 2013, it was $15 for standard parking or $20 for preferred.  For Platinum Season Pass holders, standard parking is free, and you can upgrade to preferred for $5.

Fast Lane: Like other Cedar Fair parks, they have a Fast Lane pass which dramatically cuts wait time, and on this day it cost $50 for the first person, and $40 or less for each additional person.  Since we arrived late in the day, the crowds had already thinned, so it wasn’t necessary.

Attractions
Lazer Maze – Joel really enjoyed this attraction ($5 per person), where you have to work your way around laser beams (imagine a museum security system from a movie) and press targets in record time.  Joel suggests trying easy or medium, but said that expert is super tough.  Perhaps a jewel thief would use this for practice.  Many other parks across the country have this attraction.

Rides
Linus Launcher – This was the only non-coaster ride we tried.  It’s in the Planet Snoopy kids area, and you lie flat on your stomach and revolve around the center pole.  It’s sort of a flying coaster for young kids.

Food
Chickie’s and Pete’s – This Pennsylvania-based chain opened a full-service Sports Bar in the park in addition to its fast food location, where we had some decent chicken tenders.  Not surprisingly, they’re “famous” for their French fries, which they call “crab fries”, even though they have no crab in them.  It has something to do with the seasoning.  They were good, but nowhere near Kennywood’s Potato Patch.

Hotel
Although we generally prefer chains in the Hilton family, we couldn’t resist staying at the Holiday Inn Express directly across the street from Dorney Park.  Not only did we have a view of the park from our window, but the bedroom has a Jacuzzi in it, which we needed and used.  Like the other hotels on this trip, it had a sumptuous buffet breakfast included in the room rate, with one item I had never seen before: a push button pancake maker.  You push a button and a pancake comes out less than a minute later, almost like a piece of paper from a laser printer.  We had a great stay, and you can’t beat the location.

Dorney Roller Coasters ridden: 7
Total for the tour after eight parks: 47

Hersheypark Roller Coasters

Hersheypark has a good collection of 11 coasters, including one classic woodie, one of the most talked-about new coasters, and several other genres well-represented.

SkyRush – We are so glad we rode SkyRush.  There has been a lot of controversy about this coaster since it opened in 2012.  Most people think it’s a great coaster (and it’s currently ranked among the top 50 steel coasters in the world), but when it originally  opened, the leg restraints were so tight that it was bruising people’s quadriceps and thighs, earning the coaster the nickname “Thigh Crush”.  The manufacturers added more padding to the restraints, but people still complained.  Joel and I took a chance and rode it.  It’s a thrilling winged coaster with impressive dives and fun inversions.   Most importantly, by following the following five tips, we had a pain-free ride:

  1. Sit in the middle two seats.  The outer “wing seats” are supposedly more intense.
  2. Don’t pull the lap bar down too tightly when you first get on.
  3. Pull up on the side metal bars throughout the ride, pushing your butt down into the seat, preventing the lap bar from digging into your thighs.
  4. Keep your head back, since there are no shoulder restraints.
  5. Take everything out of your pockets, so the lap bar won’t press anything into your legs.

We experienced more vibration than we expected (Joel said it should be called “Massage Rush”), but overall, we loved it.

Fahrenheit – A blood-pumping coaster with a huge vertical climb, followed by a 97 degree drop.  The rest of the ride was gravy.  A highlight of the day.

Comet – A classic wooden coaster, built in 1946.  Not very rough, and loads of fun.  This was the only coaster on our entire trip that we rode three times.

Great Bear – An inverted roller coaster with multiple loops and corkscrews.  I found it to be a similar experience to Dragon Challenge at Islands of Adventure in Florida.  It started raining fairly hard right as we got on the ride, so it was not the ideal experience, but some say it their favorite coaster in the park.

Storm Runner – A medium-sized launch coaster, we liked both the launch and the inversions.  Reminded me a little of the new Sky Coaster at Kennywood, although Sky Coaster is more exciting and smoother.  We generally try to sit in the front row for launch coasters, finding that it adds significantly to the thrill.

Lightning Racer (Thunder Track & Lightning Track) – Joel and I became fans of racing coasters on this trip.  The two tracks on this wooden coaster are different and repeatedly diverge and converge, so each track is really like a different coaster.  We won both times we rode it, which doubled our enjoyment of the ride.

Superdooperlooper – This coaster had the first full loop of any coaster on the east coast.  It reminded me of The Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which opened around the same time.  It still packs a punch, but is tamer than the newer “extreme” coasters in the park.

TrailBlazer – a family steel coaster, similar to mine train coasters you would find elsewhere.  Good for those who don’t want inversions or high speeds.

Wild Mouse – A typical wild mouse roller coaster, but rougher than most of the others of this style that we rode on this trip.  We would skip this one on a return trip.

Wildcat – A newer wooden coaster that is considered to be the roughest ride in the park (although new cars have supposedly made it better).  It’s directly across from the Wild Mouse, hence the name.  It was starting to drizzle as we were going to ride this, so we skipped it and ran over to SkyRush, which is the first coaster they close when it rains.

Boomerang Coaster – This Vekoma Boomerang coaster is virtually identical to others that we have ridden at Knott’s Berry Farm and elsewhere, so in the interest of riding everything else before the rain started, we skipped it.  I’m also not really a fan of the Boomerang layout (three inversions, then running the entire coaster in reverse).  I prefer going forward on my coasters.

Hersheypark Roller Coasters ridden: 10
Total for the tour after six parks: 36

Hersheypark – Hershey, PA

Hersheypark
Hershey has a clever and unique admission policy – you can “preview” the park 2½ hours before closing on the night before you go (and if you pay for parking during this preview, parking the next day is free).  This apparently works with any ticket you buy, including discounted ones.  We left Vivian to unpack and unwind at the hotel, and Joel and I headed to the park in the rain at about 8pm.  The parking attendants were all gone, so we parked right next to the entrance.

We started with the Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge (like the Buzz Lightyear rides at Disney parks or Legoland’s Lost Kingdom Adventure ride), which Joel correctly remarked was the least violent of any of these rides we have ever been on: you’re not try to kill or defeat anything, just earn points.  Even though it was raining, we decided to try a few coasters, especially since the park was deserted.  The ride attendant at our first coaster said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”  We were, and we were glad we did.  We stopped at the arcade, which had some classic pinball machines (including the giant Hercules game, which I had always wanted to play).  They have many great games from the 1980s and 1990s, although a significant number were out of service.  As we were getting ready to leave, the rain suddenly stopped, so we rode the classic Comet coaster twice in a row.  Going in the evening helped us get a lay of the land and knock out some key rides, taking off the pressure for the next day.

The next morning, we arrived right at the 10am opening and purchased the front-of-line Fast Track pass for use later in the morning.  We headed to the back of the park and rode Fahrenheit, both sides of Lightning Racer (and won both times!), and Wild Mouse (all walk-ons).  We then rode Storm Runner, waiting about 10 minutes so we could get the front seat.  We used our Fast Track pass to ride SkyRush, SuperDooperLooper, and Comet.

We had lunch and then headed over to ZooAmerica, an adjacent zoo included with Hersheypark admission.  We saw some beautiful animals and some unusual exhibits (e.g., “the desert at night”).  Joel’s favorite part was feeding the geese and ducks.  While we liked the range of animals, some of the habitats seemed small, and we felt bad for them.  Overall, this was a great way to spend an hour after lunch.  We were ready to leave by 3pm.

As the park has expanded several times over the years, it’s kind of a labyrinth – even with a map, we had a lot of trouble finding our way around, and most of the signs in the park are of little help.  We frequently asked people working there how to get to the next ride, and they usually knew.

Hersheypark Food
Online research revealed that the Minetown Restaurant was one of the better places to eat in the park, and we were not disappointed.   The salad stations had a wide variety: Cobb, Mandarin Chicken, Caesar, Buffalo Chicken, etc., all freshly made.  Elmer, the salad technician, gave us a warm smile and said he would make whatever we wanted, however we wanted it.  That’s what I like to hear.  It was perhaps our best theme park meal so far.  Kosher Mart also looked good, serving falafel, hummus, etc.  If you’ve never had a Nathan’s Hot Dog, here’s a good place to try one.  Vivian and Joel enjoyed their sundaes at Simply Chocolate on the way out.

VIP Options
Parking: In 2013, regular parking is $12, and VIP parking is $20.  We opted for VIP, which cut off a few minutes from our walk to the gate (getting us in earlier), and more importantly, reduced the walk back at the end of the day, when our feet were tired.  It’s also convenient to have the car near the entrance in the event you need to go back to it at any point during the day.

Fast Track Pass: This front of line pass was similar to the system at Kennywood, where we could get true front of line access (literally get on the next car) for a specific coaster each hour.  They have two rows of each car reserved for Fast Track Pass holders, so you don’t feel like you’re taking someone else’s place (but you also can’t sit in the front or back of the coaster).  We could choose the area for which we wanted to start at 11:00am, but then the rest of the rides were in a pre-determined schedule.  The good news is that if you miss your slot, you can come back later in the day and ride it.  At $50 per person, this can save you hours of waiting on a busy (and hot) day and forces you to spread out your coasters for a leisurely day.  They tend to sell out quickly, so I suggest going to guest relations when the park opens.  There’s also a $25 “Evening” option for fewer coasters, available for purchase after 4:00pm.  Anyone can buy the passes, so Vivian bought them while Joel and I went to ride Fahrenheit, maximizing the opening minutes of the park.

We chose to start our Fast Track experience at the front of the park (Comet, SkyRush, SuperDooperLooper), so when the park opened, we went to the back of the park and rode everything else (Lightning Racer, Wild Mouse, etc.) before there was any line.  By the time we were done, the lines for SkyRush and Comet were long and it was about to start raining, so having the Fast Track passes allowed us to ride everything else quickly before the rain came.

Overall, we really enjoyed Hersheypark.  The park has a solid collection of roller coasters, good entertainment, the zoo, and a mix of other rides, carnival games, and arcades.  Combined with Chocolate World, the Museum, and the Gardens, you could easily have two fun-filled days in Hershey, PA.

A gooey, chocolatey day in Hershey, PA

We woke up this morning to find rain.  Conveniently, we were planning to spend most of the day indoors.  We drove 2 ½ hours from Altoona to Hershey, PA and went straight to Hershey’s Chocolate World.  We rode the Chocolate Tour dark ride, which was both educational and fun, had lunch, and saw the new 4D movie (which employed some innovative interactive technology, where the characters on screen interact with the audience, and the audience chooses the outcome of the film).  We then bought some gifts and couldn’t resist getting a bag of Hershey’s kisses with macadamia nuts inside, which are only available at Hershey stores and in Hawaii.

We purchased the “Create Your Own Candy Bar” experience, where you select type of chocolate and the add-ins (today they had chocolate chips, toffee, butterscotch, pretzels, and sprinkles), then watch it actually get made on the assembly line.  You then design custom packaging and get a one of a kind candy bar at the end.  We enjoyed it, although the weather resulted in long lines, so it took about an hour to get our candy bar made from beginning to end.  It was the longest wait we had on the trip thus far.  Chocolate World also has chocolate tasting “classes” and a “Dessert Creation Studio” where you buy the ingredients to construct your own delectable dessert.

Next stop was The Hershey Story, a beautiful museum dedicated to the life of company founder Milton Hershey.  Filled with artifacts and interactive exhibits, the museum takes you through his entire life, from his early bankruptcy to how he built an empire, developed a town, and gave all his money away to help others.  Truly inspiring.  They have an “apprentice” program for kids (for only $3) where kids look for answers to questions throughout the museum.  It’s fun, requires critical thinking, and at times is surprisingly hard.  The kids receive small gifts along the way, and it’s  well worth it for kids 6-12.  The Hershey Story also has several classes in their Chocolate Lab each day, from a candy bar making class to a s’mores-making class.  They run about 45 minutes and you get to eat the chocolate fruits of your labor at the end.  Had I understood the difference in advance, I would have chosen this over the Chocolate World experience – you get to actually mix the ingredients rather than making the choices on a computer screen, and you get to sit rather than stand in line for 45 minutes.

The town of Hershey also has beautiful gardens, but since it was pouring rain, we skipped them on this trip.

Food in Hershey
Chocolate World: They have a food court with slow-moving lines and acceptable sandwiches and salads.  The big appeal here is the chocolate desserts, milkshakes, ice cream, etc.

The Hershey Pantry: This quaint restaurant on Chocolate Avenue was next door to the Hampton Inn.  They have won many awards for their breakfasts, but we went for dinner and had one of the best meals on our trip, including Mandarin cashew chicken, portobello mushrooms stuffed with crab, and salmon filet with couscous.  Great place.

Hotel in Hershey
This appeared to be an older Hampton Inn, with an elevator that one guest said reminded her of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  That said, we had a large, fully-equipped room, the staff was very friendly, it was convenient to all Hershey attractions, they had a pool and Jacuzzi, and they even had a Lord of the Rings pinball machine in the lobby.  Another great Hampton Inn experience.