While the details of my first kiss are fuzzy, I remember my first chocolate kiss like it was yesterday. I was 5, and visiting Hershey, Pa with my family. At the end of the Great American Chocolate Tour ride, I was presented with a shiny, foil-wrapped Hershey’s Kiss. I remember the smell, the taste and the determination I felt to return to this magical world of chocolate.
Fast forward 35-plus years, and Hershey is one of my family’s favorite weekend getaways. “The Sweetest Place on Earth” is a full-fledged tourism destination, with the Hersheypark theme park at the center of it all. There’s also the indoor attraction Chocolate World, ZooAmerica, Hershey Gardens, The Hershey Story Museum, and nearby attractions such as the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum and the Tanger Outlets.
While there are plenty of local lodging choices, the Hotel Hershey and the Hershey Lodge offer transportation, extended park visitation hours and special promotions tied to the Hershey attractions.
Although Chocolate World has completely changed since I was a kid, the chocolate tour is still a free ride with a free sample at the end. The story starts with the harvesting of cocoa beans from a tropical rainforest, and continues through the entire production process. You can purchase anything and everything Hershey in the retail section, including a new XOXO section devoted to Hershey’s Kisses.
‘For a small fee, there are really entertaining activities to enjoy within Chocolate World. One of our favorites was the “Hershey’s Create Your Own Candy Bar” area, where you get to customize your own milk, dark or white chocolate bar, pick mix-in ingredients and design the package. There’s also a 4D theater showing “Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery” starring Hershey’s products as the main characters. The special effects include 3D digital animation, bursts of air and scent, bubbles and streamers.
Hersheypark is designed with a historic, Americana vibe. You enter through Tudor Square, a village of Tudor-style shops and eateries, then branch out into the park’s other sections: Midway America, Pioneer Frontier, Minetown, Founder’s Circle, Rhineland and the Hollow. What I love about Hersheypark is that there are more than 20 rides geared for young children, located in every section of the park. My daughter loved the Carousel, or course, but also the Balloon Flite, Traffic Jam, Helicopters, Bizzy Bees and the Mini Scrambler. The two rides all four of us love – the Kissing Tower and the Monorail – have become family traditions.
My teen was satisfied with the thrill rides, including 12 coasters, which range in intensity from “mild” to “aggressive.” The chart at the entrance of each ride associates your height with a popular Hershey’s candy. Riders under 42 inches are Kisses, and the 60 inches and taller crowd are Jolly Ranchers. New rides for 2014 include the Cocoa Cruiser, a gravity coaster; Tea Cups, an iconic family ride; and Sweet Swing, a large bench swing.
In addition to rides and games, there’s live entertainment on six stages and strolling performers, including a Wild West revue, dueling pianists, California Sea Lions and the Music Box Theatre concert series. You’ll also encounter larger-than-life Hershey’s characters walking around the park.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, the Boardwalk At Hersheypark water park is open with nine unique water attractions. You can also visit ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park from its entrance within Hersheypark. This 11-acre, walk-through zoo cares for more than 200 animals representing more than 60 species.
So, when’s the best time to go to Hershey? During the summer you get to experience the Boardwalk water park. But I also like to visit in October for Hersheypark in the Dark, and go trick-or-treating through Treatville village. If you’re OK with bundling up in the chilly weather, December is another fun time to go, when Hersheypark opens Christmas Candylane with limited rides, and you can drive through the Hershey Sweet Lights animated holiday light displays.
Hershey provides grown-up entertainment as well. If you’re able to manage a morning alone, indulge in a Whipped Cocoa Bath or Chocolate Sugar Scrub at the Spa At The Hotel Hershey. There are also three daily-fee golf courses: the West and East courses at the Hershey Country Club and the Spring Creek Golf Course.
Traci L. Suppa is a frequent contributor to Westchester Family, and blogs about her family’s travels at GoBIGorGoHomeBlog.com.
When You Go…
Hershey Entertainment and Resorts
100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, Pa.
Online ticket fees are $58.95 for adults, $36.95 for children ages 3-8 (add $1 if visiting after May 23). Prices include the Boardwalk At Hersheypark water park and ZooAmerica.
The Hersheypark Map App for iPhone and Android devices provides an interactive map, a ride search based on rider height and other directional information.