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Hershey, Pennsylvania

Author: Kimberly
Date of Trip: September 2006

To celebrate the kick-off of our daughter’s new school year, we spent the second weekend in September in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was our first time going as a family and we had gotten so many great recommendations that we just couldn’t pass it up. It was a convenient 2 1/2 hour drive west on the PA Turnpike from our home in New Jersey.

We set up camp at the Wyndham Harrisburg-Hershey, a 15-minute drive from the park itself. We booked this specific hotel because it offered all of the amenities we were looking for — a relaxing modern site, pool and onsite dining. They sweetened the deal by throwing in a buffet breakfast for the entire family each morning, 2 adult weekend passes to Hersheypark and parking vouchers.

While we were there, an announcement was made that Sheraton had purchased this particular site and that $11 million worth of renovations were to begin. In fact, they began that Friday night and by Saturday morning the entire lobby had been destroyed. Well, so much for the relaxing vibe.

We headed toward Chocolatetown mid-morning on Saturday. First stop: Hershey’s Chocolate World! We did the must-see Chocolate Tour, which is a very family-friendly ride through the chocolate-making process. The animated characters really tickled my daughter’s fancy (she’s 5) and the free chocolate sample at the end made everyone smile. Next stop: The PARK!

Hersheypark truly has something for everybody. There are over 60 rides and attractions from the mild to the wild. We took in all of the rides within our daughter’s height range (she was branded a Reese’s) and most enjoyed the Trailblazer (a medium-paced mine-car coaster), the antique cars (always a favorite) and the Dry Gulch Railroad (a miniature reproduction 19th-century steam-powered train loaded with surprises at every twist and turn).

The food at the park is what you’d expect — so/so and overpriced — and the lines are always long. Still, there were plenty of options even for us vegetarians. And if worse comes to worse, there’s always chocolate!

The shows were enjoyable and catered to all ages. We caught Karl Hausman, the Piano Man, at the Frontier Gazebo, and also The Great Candy Caper at the Aquatheater. The latter had all the kids in a tizzy with laughter.

One major perk about this park is its cleanliness. Everywhere you look there’s a smiling uniformed worker either picking up trash, emptying trash or hauling trash away. I’m sure old Milton S. Hershey himself would have been proud.

We paid a visit to ZooAmerica (included with our admission to the park) on Sunday morning and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. The exhibits focus on animals native to North America, with naturalized animal habitats, and it’s evident their mission is to educate. Besides having a clean and inviting facility, I applaud the zoo for taking so seriously their obligation to conservation projects and raising awareness about endangered species.

After the zoo, we headed straight back to Chocolate World to take in their other activities. First, we let our daughter try the Factory Works Experience. For a small fee, a paper hat is placed atop your head, your employee photo is taken and the secure id and lanyard are swiftly placed around your neck. After a brief new employee orientation, you are sent straight to the production line. It’s your job to count and package the Kisses for Hershey. Our daughter loved this and was proud to take home the fruits, er, chocolate, of her labor.

Next, we paid the small admission fee for Hershey’s Really Big 3D Show. This turned out to be the highlight of our weekend! The show begins with a brief introduction in the flashy lobby and then guests are moved into a richly decorated boardroom. A video explaining Hershey’s history is shown (featuring Seinfeld’s John O’Hurley) and we are all warned to expect a very dull and scholarly presentation by one Professor Quigly. When the video ends, we are guided into the corporate theatre which is just gorgeous — theatre-style seating and dark burgundy curtains — where we meet said professor. As she begins her lecture, her slide show is taken over by an animated Hollywood producer – replete with Hershey-inspired characters and animals. And so the 3D adventure begins. Be prepared for some real “gotcha” moments and showbiz pizazz!

We rounded out our weekend by revisiting some of our favorite rides, snapping some photos and getting soaked by the Roller Soaker — a coaster loaded with squirt guns while the spectators on the ground are armed with huge water sprayers. Everyone leaves drenched!

All in all, we had a fantastic time and would highly recommend Hershey for a family-friendly getaway. Sure, we probably got a few cavities that weekend, but the sweet memories we made were worth it.

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