The town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, smack dab in the center of the state has been dubbed the Sweetest Place on Earth thanks to the region's namesake chocolate factory and iconic candy bar. It took me and my 9-year old son a while to make it to Hershey because I was concerned he would be too young for the rides. But this year I decided to see for myself and traveled to the town that chocolate built. It turns out my son is the perfect age to participate in nearly all the rides and activities and we both had a great time. Plus, we learned there is so much more to do in Hershey than just ride roller coasters. Read on to find out how to plan a great weekend getaway to Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Hersheypark, the 110 acre amusement park is the biggest and most popular of all the Hershey attractions and after spending a day enjoying all it had to offer with my family, I can see why. Built in 1907 by Milton Hershey as a perk for his chocolate factory employees and opening to the public in the 1970s. Hersheypark is well known for its 12 innovative and thrilling roller coasters, from the classic double looped, Sooperdooperlooper to the insane Fahrenheit, where cars of riders are pulled back and up simultaneously before they are shot off into a a series of twists and turns first forward and then backward. Don't let that scare you, this year they introduced the new Cocoa Coaster, a perfect coaster for first time riders, plus they offer several more kid-friendly rides, including favorites like teacups and swings. Hersheypark is much more than just coasters, the park boasts 70 rides and attractions including The Boardwalk, a 5-acre seasonal water park that is a destination unto itself, 2 log flumes, a Ferris wheel, ZooAmerica and 6 stages packed with entertainment. While I spent just one day at the park, I could have spent two and know plenty of people who spend a full day at the water park and another hitting the rides. Admission is $61.95 for adults and $39.95 for kids 3-8 years old, there are various ticket options and packages available.
Admission to ZooAmerica, the 11 acre preserve in the park, is included in your Hersheypark ticket and definitely worth the detour (you can also purchase a zoo only admission ticket for $11 an adult and $9 for kids 3-8 years, if you don't want to visit the amusement park.) The zoo is home to over 200 North American animals including a bald eagle. Even if your kids aren't animal-obsessed like mine, visiting the zoo takes just about an hour and it is a nice way to take a break from the over stimulating amusement park for a while.
A visit to Hershey isn't complete without learning about it's famous chocolate, so a visit to Chocolate World is a must! This kicked up visitor center, food court and gift shop all in one offers some extra-special experiences for chocolate fans. Admission is free and includes a trip on the Hershey's Great American Chocolate Tour Ride through an imaginary Hershey's factory that illustrates how chocolate is made and explains why Milton Hershey chose this particular part of Pennsylvania for his enterprise --and you get a candy bar sample at the end. For a fee you can take part in one of their four interactive programs where visitors can create a custom Hershey bar, help the Hershey characters solve a mystery in the 4D theater, enjoy a guided chocolate tasting adventure, or make fondue, s'mores or another chocolate indulgence of your choice. Chocolate World also has a food court for quick meal, ice cream or a snack made with their signature products along with tons of shopping. My son enjoyed the new interactive Hershey Kiss kiosk XOXO, where he sent a virtual chocolate kiss to his cousin. Experiences range in price from $6.95-$14.95 depending on what you choose, multi-experience packages available.
The Hershey Story
To learn Hershey's history take the shuttle bus from Chocolate World to downtown Hershey for a visit to the The Hershey Story museum. The 10,000 square feet interactive exhibit hall is dedicated to the life and legacy of Milton Hershey and his famous chocolate. The museum features lots of hands on exhibits along with daily candy making classes in the Chocolate Lab and a cafe where you can sample chocolate from various cocoa producing countries. Admission is $10 for adults and $7.50 for kids 3-12 years. Chocolate Lab classes are $10 for adults and $7.50 for children 4-12 years and various admission packages are available.
For a sugar-free adventure check out the beautiful green spot created by Milton Hershey in 1937. Hershey Gardens are famous for their original plot of over 5,000 roses in 275 varieties. Families will enjoy the many themed gardens, butterfly house, rotating art exhibits and the children's garden where the plants are chocolate-scented. The garden is open seasonally but if you are a fan of roses, June is the best time to visit as they all should be in full bloom. Admission is $10.50 for adults and $7.50 for kids 3-12 years. Various ticket packages are available.
Extend your trip by staying overnight. Hershey has three lodging options, the historic and amenity packed resort-style Hotel Hershey with its fabulous chocolate spa, the full service Hershey Lodge and Hersheypark Camping Resort, formerly, Hershey HighMeadow Campground, where you can bring your own tent or RV, or rent a cabin. With each of these lodging choices you get a slew of perks, including discounted admission tickets, early and late hours at Hersheypark, discounted or free admission to both The Hershey Story and Hershey Gardens and a shuttle service to get your where you want to go. Rates for The Hershey Hotel start at $399, rates for the Hershey Lodge start at $299 and rates for the Hersheypark Camping resort start at $35 per night.
Things to know before you go
- Hersheypark has complimentary WiFi and a helpful app that lets you customize your day at the park and, most importantly, see how long the wait times are for the rides.
- While commonly thought of as a summer time destination, many of the activities above are open year round, and both Hersheypark and Chocolate World offer cool special activities in the Fall and Winter, especially for Halloween and Christmas.
- If you don't want to waste your time in line, splurge for a Fast Pass that will allow you to skip the lines on 9 of the park's popular coasters. Available on-site only and on a first come first served basis.
- Hersheypark offers tons of dining options for every meal: character breakfasts, full fledged restaurant meals, lots of kiosks in the park and you can even bring you lunch and dine in the designated picnic area.
- Plan accordingly. When you buy your tickets a day in advance, you can visit the park the evening before with the preview plan.
- Summer weekdays are the least busy, with crowds ramping up Fridays and continuing through Saturday. For the least crowded experience, visit during a weekday or on a Sunday (with the exception of a 3 day weekend) or come in the early evening when the crowds thin a bit.