Calling the Mid-Atlantic home has a lot of advantages, including how convenient it is to visit a variety of different places. From Virginia to New York and everything in between, years could be spent exploring this, one of America’s greatest regions, but a personal favorite has always been Pennsylvania. Recently, on a quest for a quick weekend getaway, I made the easy drive up to Hershey, a town I’d already come to know and love, but this time I traveled with a specific mission in mind. I hadn’t visited Hersheypark in more than 30 years and I decided that it was time for another visit. What I couldn’t have predicted was how much fun the weekend would be and specifically how impressive Hersheypark is today in 2017. Over the years they’ve done a great job of keeping Hersheypark modern and current, creating one of the country’s best theme parks in the process. I thought I’d share a few of my takeaways from that weekend so that you can better plan your own visit to the Sweetest Place on Earth.
Easy to Reach
This is naturally a subjective point, but for the millions of folks who live in the Mid-Atlantic or even the East Coast of the US for that matter, Hershey is very easy to reach. Two hours from the Washington, DC metro region, less than three from New York City and a veritable stone’s throw from Philadelphia, the Lancaster and Hershey regions of Pennsylvania are amongst the most convenient in this part of the country. While Hershey could easily complete your short break or even a longer stay, there’s a lot more to see and do in the surrounding areas including a personal favorite, Amish country and the Strasbourg Railroad. Strasbourg is one of the few operating steam locomotives in the country, and visitors get a taste of the grand era of railroading when they visit. At the heart of the attraction is taking a ride on the train itself. The tour into the farmlands of Pennsylvania takes about an hour round-trip and is a fun way to get out and see more of the surrounding countryside. Plus there’s the thrill of being in a steam train, which is really what drew us there in the first place. In addition to the train there’s also a train museum, with many examples of classic trains on display. You’ll see a lot of families at Strasbourg, but from our experience it’s also great for adults without kids.
Wide Variety of Rides
Most of us go to theme parks for the rides, and at Hersheypark there’s no shortage of ways to spend the day. This massive, 121-acre park has 70 rides and attractions including the 13 roller coasters that I think are at the heart of the experience. I remember growing up in Pennsylvania as a kid and watching the commercials for Hershey’s still-famous SooperDooperLooper – the first coaster of its kind on the East Coast. They’ve kept up that spirit of innovation throughout the years, including their latest thrill-ride, the Hershey Triple Tower. Comprised of three drop towers at different heights, I was thrilled to see the park maintaining their reputation for offering these scary-but-fun rides, entertaining yet another generation of visitors in the process. One thing I’d recommend when you visit is to download their free app. I used it throughout the day to monitor wait times at the various rides and to better manage my time as I tried to experience as much as I could in just one short day.
Not A Typical Park Feeling
One aspect of visiting any theme park that is important to me personally is that it doesn’t feel like a concrete jungle. I’m no fan of hot, treeless parks and instead have always preferred larger, more bucolic theme parks. Hersheypark certainly falls into this category and thanks in large part to its size, offers those quiet moments and relaxing views I always look for in a park. One of the best ways to enjoy the scenery and see all of Hershey in one shot is to take the Kissing Tower. A large fully-enclosed cabin climbs 250-feet and really does provide the best views in town. It’s not a long ride, but a fun one and the ideal way to better understand the layout and geography not only of the park but of Hershey itself.
More Than Rides
As you either enter or leave the park there’s another activity no one should miss, the mammoth Chocolate World facility. This is the official victor’s center, but it’s also a destination in its own right. A newly revamped simulated factory tour, chocolate tastings and a massive store are all fun aspects of the experience, but my personal favorite was the opportunity to design my own candy bar. Visitors go through the process of designing their own chocolate bars, from conception to packaging. Guests select the type of chocolate to be used as well as the add-on ingredients, everything from pretzel bits to toffee chips. The best part though is following your personal chocolate bar as it’s made, watching it at every step of the way. The activity takes about 45 minutes depending on the crowds, but it is a really fun experience and you walk away with a massive chocolate bar in its own special tin.
Hotels Make Visiting Easy
Hospitality is at the core of the Hershey experience, which is why I’ve always stayed at one of the two Hershey-affiliated hotels when visiting: The Hotel Hershey and the Hershey Lodge. One of the Historic Hotels of America, the Hotel Hershey epitomizes everything I love about the grand era of travel, but with all of the modern updates and amenities I expect. The Hershey Lodge is more casual, but no less comfortable and both enjoy certain perks and privileges afforded only to guests who want to visit the Park. Discounts, early access times and even free shuttle service make these two properties the best choice when you want to stay and spend a couple of days having fun at Hersheypark.
All of Hershey Worth Your Time
While the park is a lot of fun, the entire town has a lot to offer whether at the official visitor’s center or just around town. In downtown Hershey is an experience that I think should be near the top of every visitor’s to-do list, the chocolate flight at the Hershey Story Museum. Located in downtown Hershey, the Hershey Story is a museum dedicated to sharing the history of Milton Hershey and his legacy over time. The Museum’s cafe, Café Zooka, offers something a little unusual – a chocolate flight. For $10 per person (or free with certain hotel packages) guests are presented with a variety of chocolate drinks made from cocoa in places as diverse as Sao Tome and Tanzania. The drinks are meant to show guests the differences that regions provide in taste, as well as the taste differences between varying cocoa percentages. Some were bitter while a few were downright delicious. My partner and I had a great time experimenting with the chocolates and learning more about them in the process. My only complaint is that the flight is currently set up as a do-it-yourself activity. I’d love to see them set up a wine tasting style room where an expert could lead visitors through the process of tasting the chocolates. It’d be a much more fun and engaging experience.
Just across the street from the museum is one of my favorite foodie experiences in town, the heritage Italian restaurant Fenicci’s. Serving up great food since the 1930s, the menu is expansive and offers something for every budget, from simple hoagies to steaks. The true hallmark of a great Italian restaurant is how they prepare their meatballs and after I tasted the one placed delicately in my baked penne dish I knew we had picked the right restaurant. More than the food, the ambiance of sitting out on the restaurant’s veranda, enjoying a beautiful evening was pure perfection, the kind that can’t be planned or crafted.
Hershey is one of my favorite weekend-getaway destinations and whether you decide to go for a day or two or a full week, I know you’ll have as much fun as I did letting your inner child run free.