Category Archives: Hotels

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.

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DelGrosso’s Amusement Park – Tipton, PA

Wanting to redeem the day for Joel, Vivian stayed behind at the Altoona Hampton Inn while I drove Joel to Tipton, Pennsylvania (about 20 minutes away) to our third park of the day: DelGrosso’s Amusement Park.  The DelGrosso family, purveyors of spaghetti sauce and other Italian food items, have owned the park since 1946.  It’s a small park where you can pay by the ride or for the day, and has about 25 rides, mostly for young kids.  Across the road (connected by a bridge), they also have a small water park, a lush miniature golf course, and go-carts.  We rode the Wacky Worm and Crazy Mouse coasters, the Pharoah’s Fury (swinging pirate-ship type ride), and the carousel.

DelGrosso’s is famous for Mafalda “Murf” DelGrosso’s potato salad, an item so popular that it often sells out during the day.  We bought a quart (I brought half back for Vivian), and it was certainly one of the best things we ate on the trip.  It was at this point that we figured that every theme park is required by law to be famous for some potato-based product.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel, in need of their hot tub. The manager apologized, informing me that it was not working this week.  I told her about my day and all the rides that were out of service.  She said, “Well, we have one suite that has a Jacuzzi in it – it sounds like you could use a break, so I’ll upgrade your room.”  It was very classy of her (and appreciated by us) – and is yet another example of why I love Hampton Inns.  The room was beautiful and the Jacuzzi was enormous. We got in and watched the Tony Awards from the tub.  It was the perfect end to a crazy day.

DelGrosso’s Roller Coasters ridden: 2
Total for the tour after five parks: 26

One night in Latrobe

Arnold Palmer Ball

We headed out from Kennywood to Latrobe, Pennsylvania (the nearest town to Idlewild Park). We’re staying at the Marriott Springhill Suites on Arnold Palmer Way in Latrobe. Not only was Palmer born here, but he still lives in town.

Arnold Palmer shrineHis holding company owns part of this hotel, and it is a shrine to Palmer. The main “Presidential” meeting room is adorned with pictures of Palmer with US Presidents alongside letters written by these Presidents to Palmer. He comes here several times a month for meetings. The hotel is fantastic – brand new, beautiful rooms, with a restaurant & bar, gym, and indoor pool. The attentive staff told me that they were rated as the #1 Springhill Suites in the US for this past year.

Mister Rogers PhotoLatrobe is also the birthplace of “Mister” Fred Rogers, who was a classmate of Palmer’s. In addition, the banana split was invented in 1904 at a soda fountain in Latrobe. For a small town, they have three great additions to American culture of which they are all very, very proud. As well they should be.

Who’s Afraid of the Great Wolf Lodge?

For our first night of our trip, I wanted to stay someplace special, and I opted for the Great Wolf Lodge in Sandusky, Ohio.

The Great Wolf Lodge is a chain of resorts (all with indoor water parks) scattered across North America. True to its name, they are themed as lodges you would find at a national park or in the Pacific Northwest, although it loses a bit of authenticity when located right next to the highway with a Steak ‘n Shake fast food restaurant adjacent to the parking lot. They are planning to open their first California resort near Disneyland in 2015, which will be the first water park in the immediate area (Soak City in Buena Park is currently the closest).

Great Wolf Lodge Water ParkThe indoor water park with two fast, exhilarating tube rides, four very good waterslides, and several other water attractions. Considering this was a water park in a hotel, we were impressed. A surprising number of hotels near Cedar Point have indoor water parks, including Kalahari and the Maui Sands.

Our spacious and well-appointed room had a large “log cabin” in it with its own TV where the kids sleep. I’m sure most kids find it fun – Joel found it a little creepy (mainly because he was alone in it).

The resort had an interactive adventure called MagiQuest, which is available at all Great Wolf Lodges (and a few other locations). It’s an interactive role-playing game where a player with a wand goes to different locations within the resort to solve puzzles. It is similar in concept and execution to Dino Quest at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, CA. We unfortunately didn’t have time to play – it takes about eight hours to complete the game, although it can be played in stages.

We had a very good (and surprisingly healthy) dinner at the Gitchigoomie Grill in the hotel, followed by some ice cream at the hotel’s dessert stand.

The hotel has many other activities and events for kids, from an animatronic storytelling show in the lobby to a spa made just for kids. I could see how a family could spend a few days here. It was the perfect way to start our trip.