THE GREAT CHOCOLATE ESCAPE
Theme park, zoo, spa, golf course and plenty of candy sweeten the deal in Hershey, Pa.
HERSHEY, Pa. – Smelling like a Hershey’s Kiss, I emerged into the sun on the gorgeous terrace of the Hershey Hotel. Plopping down on a cushy chair and putting perfectly pedicured “Sweet Feet” up, I let the warmth bake me like a cocoa bean. Hours before, spa specialist Pam (donning her smock like a chocolatier) had performed one of the spa’s signature treatments on me – the Chocolate Immersion. Between the sun and my chocolate-fondued, cocoa-moisturized body, I felt like a melted truffle.
A trip to Hershey really is all about the chocolate – the taste, smell, sight and feel of the world-famous confection created by Milton Hershey.
Hershey’s story is as American as you can get. After numerous failures at candy making, he finally got it right with chocolate. Known as the Henry Ford of the chocolate world, he figured out how to mass-produce affordable chocolate. It’s a fascinating story, including how he met his wife Kitty (a Jamestown native) and started up a town in Cuba just to secure a sugar supply.
Today, a vacation in his chocolate-built town is not only fabulous for families, but the perfect getaway for “big kids,” too.
Two full days is barely enough time to experience Hershey’s main attractions – Chocolate World, Hersheypark, the Hershey Gardens and Hershey Museum. For a super sweet experience, extend your stay to include a visit to the Hershey Spa or to play one of three Hershey golf courses.
Where else to start a “tour de chocolat” but Chocolate World? Like Willy Wonka’s factory, a giant Kiss, Reese’s and Hershey bar ushered us into the creamy, dreamy land of sweet rewards. Opened in 1973, Chocolate World is the official visitors center built in response to the high demand for chocolate factory tours.
Giggling like 10-year-olds, we couldn’t decide what to do first – the Really Big 3D Show, Great American Chocolate Tour or Hershey Trolley Works. Because the movie and trolley are timed attractions (and cost extra), we set those first, then started with the 3D show.
Like a fabulous Hollywood musical, the 3D show begins with a Hershey’s candy extravaganza. “Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate! Bring on the cocoa, bring on the cream, whip them together and whip up a dream!” the song begins. Then Hershey’s candy characters pop off the screen – Hershey bars, York Peppermint Patties, Reese’s Cups and Kit Kats – all singing their fillings out. During the show, there are several in-theater special effects and upon exiting, there’s candy! Cost for the 3D movie is $5.95 for adults, $3.95 for children ages 3-12 and $4.95 for seniors 62 and over.
The free Great American Chocolate Tour was next. The ride illustrates chocolate’s journey from the bean to bar, whisking guests past serenading cows (stars of the chocolate-making process), through the tropical rain forest and cocoa bean roaster, finally ending in a simulated chocolate factory with real chocolate at the end to devour.
But Chocolate World isn’t all play. Kids are put to the test on the Kiss Works production line. Issued a hat and ID, they learn from a foreman about how to package Kisses in a gear-shaped box they can take home. Cost is $9.95.
The 3D movie and Chocolate World Tour funnel guests into the same wonderful place (Kiss Works is practically in it) – the Hershey Market Place Shops. Forget the kids, we could barely contain ourselves as we were overcome by walls of candy – big boxes of candy – new varieties of candy – all along with apparel, toys, games, baked goods and specialty chocolate packed into every possible space.
The trolley ride was the last stop on our Chocolate World tour. Cornball humor, silly songs and some quick changes by a tour guide make the ride a must-do. The trolley takes guests through town, passing sights like the real factory with its signature twin stacks, Hershey’s High Point mansion, the Milton Hershey School, the Hershey Gardens and the family homestead.
While driving the famous Chocolate Avenue and Cocoa Streets lined with the famous Kiss street lights, visitors learn about the incredible man who built several community buildings in town and a school for orphans. The trip includes “visitors” from Hershey’s past who hop onboard to tell his tale. Meeting Mamma Hershey is worth the price of admission, which is $10.95 for adults, $9.95 seniors, $5.95 children 3-12 and under 2 free (plus free Kisses for everyone). Visit online at www.hersheys.com/chocolateworld.
Another of Hershey’s legacies is the park he built in 1907 as a retreat for his workers and their families. It’s grown into an amusement park with more than 60 rides and attractions, 10 roller coasters, live shows, water rides, 24 kiddie rides and even a zoo that can be reached from inside the park (or out).
Upon entering, kids can measure their height against giant Hershey brand candies. Just a Hershey’s Miniature? Then a Reese’s ride is too big. It’s a clever and quick way to rule out certain rides for the very little ones.
Hersheypark has maintained its old-fashioned family atmosphere. Large shade trees fill the different themed areas (Pioneer Frontier, Minetown, Midway America, etc.). Many kiddie rides are mixed in throughout the park.
Be sure to take a turn on the giant carousel near the entrance to the park. Built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1919 for Liberty Heights Park in Baltimore, it eventually made its way to Hersheypark by 1944. It features a Wurlitzer Military Band Organ.
Wood roller coaster enthusiasts will find several to try out including the Comet or Lightening Racer with two side-by-side cars that roll at the same time. Between the Midway America and Pioneer areas, guests can cool off on the Canyon River Rapids and Tidal Force water rides or the Roller Soaker roller coaster.
The newest attraction is the Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge, the ultimate chocolate vs. peanut butter laser competition. Chocolate and peanut butter teams take aim at moving targets with lasers. Scores are tabulated at the end. (We had a blast beating the 10-year-olds on the peanut butter team.) Nobody really loses since everyone gets a Reese’s to scarf down upon exiting.
The perfect place to escape the hectic park action is the charming ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park. Opened by Hershey in 1916, it was one of the largest private collections in the country. Today it houses more than 200 animals native to North America including prairie dogs, buffalos, elk, deer, wolves and bears. Cost is included with admission to Hersheypark; otherwise it is $8 for ages 9 to adult; $7 for ages 3-8 and seniors ages 54 and over; ages under 2 free.
Speaking of wolves and bears, for guests as hungry as one, Hersheypark doesn’t disappoint in the amusement food categories. All the usual suspects hot dogs, fries, popcorn, cotton candy, funnel cakes, lemonade – can consumed throughout the park, along with several areas that offer indoor, air-conditioned dining.
But when in the chocolate capital of the world, why not have dinner with a life-sized Hershey’s bar? Offered Monday through Friday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., families can enjoy an all-you-can-eat picnic with the big brown fella. Seating is limited and is only available to Hersheypark guests. Cost for ages 9 and older is $17.95; ages 3-8 $9.95; 2 and under free. Call (717) 534-3900.
Shoppers will find plenty of souvenir and gift shops scattered throughout Hersheypark. Don’t be afraid to load up. Hersheypark offers a package pick-up service so you don’t have to lug stuff around. Purchases will be waiting for you at the Chocolate House on the way out. Kids can have fun shopping with “Chocolate Currency” which can be purchased in $1, $5 and $10 denominations and used in the park.
Other thoughtful amenities include a special area for nursing mothers and a selection of baby food at several of the parks food stands. At the “Barking Lot,” guests can store oversized stuffed animals they’ve won for a small fee. It’s also the place where guests can leave their real dogs while they enjoy the park, where pets are not permitted. Space is limited.
Admission to Hersheypark is $41.95 (ages 9-54); $24.95 (ages 3-8 and seniors 54 and older); seniors ages 70 and older are $17.95; ages 2 and under are free. Two and three-day discount flex tickets and discounted Sunset admission prices are also available. A Preview Plan allows you enter to the park 21/2 hours to closing, using your next day ticket to get in free that night. What’s great about Hersheypark is that if you have to leave during your visit, you can get your hand stamped and come back later in the same day. The park is open every day in July and August, weekends in September.
In October, Halloween in Hershey (Hersheypark in the Dark) takes place weekends starting Oct. 12 when the park is open from 4 to 11 p.m. with a Trick-or-Treat Adventure. For the holidays, Hersheypark hosts attractions and events in the Christmas Candylane, plus a Hershey Sweet Lights holiday lights drive-through.
Museum and Gardens
A few steps from Hersheypark is the Hershey Museum, housed in what was once a hockey rink built by Hershey (who also helped bring the AHL Hershey Bears – once B’ars – to town). An eclectic collection of items fill the space and offer a unique look into Hershey’s life, including the trip he booked (but didn’t take) on the Titanic, the old-time candy kitchen of Hershey’s failed, pre-chocolate confections plus pictures of Hershey, Cuba, then and now.
The strangest exhibit is the wondrous Apostolic Clock, completed in 1878 by Lancaster, Pa. resident John Fiester. Hershey acquired the clock in 1935. Every hour at 20 minutes to the hour, the giant ticker goes through a series of complex movements of Jesus and the 12 Apostles.
Along with factory workers recollections, visitors can see a working chocolate “conche” from Hershey’s “longitude department,” where the chocolate was mixed non-stop for 96 hours and the “Kisstory,” a look at that famous chocolate treat.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $7 adults; $6 seniors and $3.50 for children ages 3-15; under 3 are free. For information: www.hersheymuseum.org.
The Hershey Gardens are outstanding. We were fortunate to see the full effect of the June rose explosion. The layout provides a lovely stroll through a variety of areas from the rose and Japanese gardens through a perennial area, ornamental grasses, herbs, arboretum and the fabulous Mrs. Hershey’s special rose garden with plantings brought down from High Point mansion.
The new Children’s Garden (a joy for both adults and kids) is beautifully designed for smell, sight, sound, touch and interaction. Becoming a human sundial, kids can learn the time by standing in certain spot. The ABC border matches plants with letters for a fun spelling and botany lesson. There were even “chocolate” plants to whiff.
In addition to exploring the Butterfly House, kids can take part in education programs or the new Discovery Backpacks event. The packs include activities for self-guided fun for ages 5 to 12. There is a rental fee of $5 per backpack in addition to admission. Call (717) 534-3492, Ext. 102 to reserve at least two hours prior to your visit. The Hershey Gardens are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October. Admission is $10 adults, $9 seniors 62 and over, $6 youths 3-15, under 3 free. Visit online at www.hersheygardens.org.
A ride on the Sooperdoooperlooper, candy apples, a whipped cocoa bath and seared salmon with white truffle oil – talk about having your chocolate and eating it too!
While the amusement park and Chocolate World are fantastic, grown ups who seek more refined diversions will discover Hershey has managed to wrap up the best of both worlds in a sophisticated package.
Located in the swanky Hotel Hershey, the Hershey Spa and Circular Dining Room provide adult entertainment without losing sight of whimsical chocolate theme.
The story of the hotel is fascinating. While the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, Milton Hershey was determined to build a grand hotel. Completed in 1933, the hotel was modeled after a smaller hotel Hershey and his wife enjoyed in the Mediterranean. Understanding that the out-of-work craftsmen in town needed jobs, Hershey built his hotel as a way to provide and help them during the tough times.
Today, the historic hotel represents the best of the past and present day, starting with the stunning Circular Dining Room. Designed according to Hershey’s directions, the dining space provides a good view from every table. To enter, guests walk through the gorgeous Spanish-style Fountain Lobby into the open and airy space that looks out over a garden and reflecting pools.
The menu, while sophisticated, plays with the chocolate theme. A guest could conceivably eat a form of chocolate with every course, starting with seared scallops served with cocoa foam, moving on to a chipotle chocolate glazed grilled salmon and finishing with a wildly decadent Hershey’s Chocolate Napoleon – a chocolate mousse, peanut butter crunch and caramel ice cream concoction. Even chocolate cherry bread and chocolate butter is served with meals. Just when you think you’ve overloaded, rich Joseph Schmidt truffles (a new Hershey acquisition) show up with your check.
Devouring chocolate isn’t the only decadent indulgence Hershey offers. How about a foaming chocolate milk bath at the Hershey Spa? The 30,000 square-foot European-style spa built in 2001 mimics the design of Hershey’s High Point mansion. Spa treatments incorporate themes from the Hersheys’ life together. A Chocolate Fondue Wrap, Rose Petal Soak, Noche Azul Massage all touch on the chocolate, garden and Cuban experiences the couple shared.
Guests can soak up the luxury wearing sumptuous robes and slippers as they paddle to and from treatments to the Quiet and Relaxation rooms. For those spending the day, the spa has a private restaurant, the Oasis. Is there anything more lavish than eating lunch in a robe while you wait for your Coca Massage or Cuban Feet pedicure?
Treating each guest like royalty, the professional staff is so gracious, you may just want to live there. The Hershey Hotel offers overnight spa getaways that include accommodations, credit toward spa services, fitness classes and use of the sauna, steam rooms and swimming pools on the property. The Hershey Spajama Package (Sunday through Thursdays) adds breakfast in the Circular Dining Room and evenings of coffee, teas and chocolate desserts. The Hershey Spa is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Book well in advance at (877) 772-9988.
For guys (or gals) who aren’t into the spa scene, there’s always golf. The Spring Creek Golf course (open to the public) was built by Hershey in 1930 and served as the first course in the United States open to boys and girls under the age of 18. Guests staying at any of the Hershey Resorts have access to the private Hershey Country Club courses (East and West). The older West course was designed in the traditional American-style.
The Hershey courses have played host to Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead. Ben Hogan served as the golf pro for the Hershey Country Club from 1940 to 1951, and since 1999, Golf Digest has recognized Hershey Country Club among the top 50 in the U.S. For reservations, call (717) 533-2360.
If you go
There are several options beside chain hotels for your stay in Hershey. The Hershey Resorts include the historic Hotel Hershey, the Hershey Lodge and the Hershey Highmeadow Campground (both more family geared). The campground offers everything from tent campsites to rustic cabins (no indoor plumbing). Guests staying at the Hershey properties enjoy several perks, like the “Sweet Start” at Hersheypark, where they can enter on hour prior to the park opening and complimentary shuttle service.
We stayed at the very nearby and reasonable Inn at Westwynd Farm Bed & Breakfast. The charming hosts Frank and Carolyn Troxell open their horse farm to guests. Serving sumptuous breakfasts, lively conversation and late night goodies, the Troxells provide a home away from home for guests to Hershey. Info: (877) 937-8996, www.westwyndfarminn.com.
While the Circular Dining Room requires jackets, more casual dining options include the charming Fountain Cafe (upscale casual) at the Hershey Hotel and the Hershey Grill, Bears Den and Lebbie Lebkicher’s (buffet) at the Hershey Lodge. Besides yummy chocolate martinis, the Iberian Lounge in the Hotel Hershey also offers light fare.
For information about accommodations, Hersheypark, dining and general information, call (800) HERSHEY or online at www.hersheypa.com.