Category Archives: Family Travel

Hersheypark – Hershey, PA

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.