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.
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.
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.