Chocolate put Hershey on the map, but the town’s genuine hospitality is what makes a visit worth the trip even today. Nearly everyone we encountered in Hershey over a recent long weekend was pleasant and helpful, and we enjoyed a full family getaway and a memorable start to the holidays.
Hersheypark Christmas Candylane
Get into the holiday spirit and enjoy amusement rides, holiday shows plus over 4-million dazzling lights at Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane. With a bunch of small rides available as well as 4 bonafide roller coasters, there is plenty to keep all ages and stages occupied for a day at the park. Even though the park is compact, there is so much to do, so plan accordingly. Go online and look at the map and you should also download the Hersheypark app. It’s a convenient tool that we used for ride wait times as well as locating attractions that we were interested in.
At the park entrance, there are posts that kids (and adults) can measure themselves to see what rides they can go on. They determine whether they are a “Hershey’s Miniature,” “Jolly Rancher,” “Twizzler,” “Hershey’s Milk Chocolate,” “Reese’s,” or “Hershey’s Kiss”. Each candy brand marks a height so that everyone will know what rides they are eligible for. We enjoy this sweet touch each time we’re at Hershey and it makes for a nice photo-op.
A good place to start your visit to the park is the Monorail. This five-minute ride takes you above Hersheypark, over part of ZooAmerica and even into downtown Hershey. You can get a nice sense of the park’s layout and then plan where you want to go. The Kissing Tower, an enclosed ride that takes you 250 feet up in the air and gently rotates you around, will also give you a nice view of Hershey.
We enjoyed many of the rides including Starship America (a circular ride that you can move up and down) and Skyview, an old school ski-lift that gives an excellent view of the park center. Take a ride on Skyview at dusk to see the light show from above. Hersheypark doesn’t skimp on the classics: in addition to a Ferris Wheel and bumper cars (aka Fender Bender), the park offers the Scrambler, that famous ground based stomach testing machine that is always worth a visit. Fun Fact: one of the Our Kids interns almost lost her smartphone, but ran back in time to get it. The operator cheered for her to pick it up and said that he had found 38 that day!
For the thril-seekers in your group, the park has 4 roller coasters (plus other high adventure rides) open during Christmas Candylane. The Wildcat, is Hershey’s signature wooden coaster; the Sooperdooperlooper was the first looping coaster on the East Coast; the first indoor coaster, Laff Trakk is family-friendly and for kids 36” and up, the more tame Cocoa Cruiser. The aptly-named Farhenheit was not open, because it turns out that colder temperatures aren’t good for some coasters.
You’ll definitely want to make time to “Jingle All the Way” over to the bridge near the AquaTheatre or any of the other bridges to take in the light show N.O.E.L. – Nights of Extraordinary Lights. This show features over 200,000 lights synchronized to classic holiday tunes. Apparently there are several different versions of the show, and the one we stopped for did great justice to “The Grinch Song” and some other standards. The show runs nightly every half-hour starting at 5 p.m.
Consider visiting the park during one of these upcoming special events planned this season:
- A Music Box Christmas: The Littlest Tree, a holiday show that is at the Music Box Theatre throughout the season.
- Visit with Santa in Santa’s Candy Cottage or visit Santa’s Reindeer Stables to see nine live reindeer and enjoy various choral groups perform.
One final word – we recommend arriving at the park when it opens so that you can take an hour to two to visit ZooAmerica. Your admission to Hersheypark includes admission to ZooAmerica and it’s worth it! We weren’t able to visit this go around, but have in years past. It’s an 11-acre walk-through facility and highlights animals from five different regions of North America. You’ll find owls, a Black Bear, Bald Eagle, Mountain Lion Cub, Gray Wolf and many more.
Hersheypark Christmas Candylane is open through December 31, 2015. Visit the website for a complete schedule. Admission is $18 for a 1-day admission and then discounted for 2 or 3-day admission. Children 2 and under are free.
- Timing: You can easily spend a full day in the park, so do a little planning based on your groups’ ages, interests, and stamina. We saw plenty of families during the day, but they had thinned out considerably around 8 p.m. By the time the sun was down and the underdressed Dad in our family was starting to shiver in his windbreaker, most of the strollers were heading out, leaving the park for older groups and shorter lines.
- Dress to be warm. Hats, gloves are a must for cool nights. On our visit, we saw some brave dudes in shorts, but they didn’t look like they were having as much fun as their friends who were in appropriate clothing. The bottom line: layer!
- Food and beverage are available throughout the park and you’ll have plenty of options. We had dinner at Overlook Food Court and had standard amusement park fair. Pricing started around $6+ for entrees. We also had coffee, hot chocolate and a variety of desserts throughout the park, all reasonably priced.
- Stroller and lockers are available for rent.
- There are loads of games throughout the park that range from a quarter on up. Skeeball, the official Our-Kids arcade game, was available throughout the park, and we were excited to stumble on two champions in training hard at practice; one was collecting a pile of Minions, and looked like he needed several more before he would call it a night.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Callin’ all you Chocolate Lovers! Located near the Hersheypark entrance, Hershey’s Chocolate World offers an excellent primer into all things chocolate. Part entertainment, part educational and part gift shop, you can easily spend several hours in this facility. Admission is free into the facility, but there are other ticketed options. Make your first stop the ticket desk so that you can decide on any ticketed activities that you might want to try out. Better yet, you can purchase online and save or do a combination adventure ticket to bundle and save. Options include: a Hershey Trolley Works tour, 4-D Chocolate Mystery movie, Chocolate Tasting Experience and a Create Your Own Chocolate Bar experience.
Any of the above experiences require a paid ticket and we were excited to try out several of them on our visit. We took the Seasonal Trolley Tour, a nice 30-minute ramble that takes you on a loop around the town of Hershey. We sung holiday songs, had some special visitors on board and were privy to seeing Milton and Catherine Hershey’s mansion plus the grounds of the Hershey School they established and funded in 1907, still in operation and still offering needy children a first rate education at no expense. Admission is $12.95/adult and $10.95/child.
The new Chocolate Tasting Experience is a place where you can indulge your senses in the finer tones of chocolate. Partake in this activity as it’s a great way for hands-on learners to experience chocolate. The experience is about 30 minutes and takes you through the ‘correct’ way to eat and enjoy chocolate. We tried four different types of chocolate and learned to appreciate their various characteristics through our four senses (Look, Listen, Smell, Taste). Admission is $9.95/adult and $6.95/child.
We suggest following up the Chocolate Tasting Experience with the Create Your Own Candy Bar activity, so you can put what you learned into practice. Allot 45 minutes for this activity from start to finish. Perfect for all ages, you get to pick your type of chocolate and ingredients, then watch your bar go through various stages of creation. After selecting ingredients and watching your bar get built station by station, you can pick up the bar you watched get made – your personal bar! – in a special tin featuring your own personally designed wrapper. Tickets are $15.95 per person.
Plan around the timing of any of the add-ons you select and visit the FREE Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour. You’ll learn a brief bit about the amazing entrepreneur Milton S. Hershey and then hop aboard a small ride to enjoy a tour that gives you the low-down on how Hershey’s Chocolate is made. Bonus: there’s a special surprise at the end for you!
Finally, you can purchase souvenirs at the gift shop – finding anything and everything you could ever want that is chocolate-related. Lots of stocking stuffer choices! There is also a food court here, which options such as sandwiches, hot entrees, soup and of course desserts.
Hershey Sweet Lights
We love the Hershey Sweet Lights drive-thru light display and it will surely elicit many ‘oohs and ahhs’ from your group. It’s a two-mile trail of animated displays – everything from hiding reindeer and other animals, Rapunzel and the Twelve Days of Christmas to Santa blowing out snowflakes. Tune your radio to 106.3 and listen to the holiday carols or bring your own holiday music (we opted for the Pentatonix holiday mix on Spotify).
Admission is $25/car Friday and Saturday and $20/car Sunday to Thursday. and we feel that it’s a fair price for this display. Hershey Sweet Lights is open daily through January 1, 2016. For a detailed schedule with hours of operation, go online.
The Hershey Story
By far, one of our favorite parts of Hershey is visiting The Hershey Story. It’s a museum dedicated to teaching visitors about the history of Hershey – the man, the company, and the town – through hands-on, interactive and educational displays. Consider visiting The Hershey Story first, before visiting the park. It would make a good morning activity.
The Hershey Story has a special exhibit, Chocolate Workers Wanted, that allows families to experience what it would be like to work in a Hershey Factory. Open through Spring 2016, the exhibit focuses on seven different parts of the chocolate-making process with interactive features. Upon entering, kids receive stamp cards for “New Worker Training”. Activities includes dressing up in aprons similar to those worn in the factory, knocking out “chocolate” from molds, and measuring precise amounts of candy into boxes for shipping. Text along the walls helps guide families through the exhibit. At the end, you’ll receive your final job assignment.
Hershey (the man) was a 19th Century Titan of Industry, who, after a series of business failures achieved success by virtually inventing milk chocolate as an affordable candy for the masses. Unlike the contemporary “Robber Barons,” Hershey was generous to his employees. Hersheypark itself has its origins in Hershey’s desire to give employees and their families a healthful park to enjoy. Hershey (the town) was built for the workers, but unlike other company towns, here the employees could own their houses and even start businesses. Harry Reese, for example, was a one-time Hershey employee who started his own candy company, and had a bit of success with a “peanut butter cup.” After accumulating enormous wealth, Hershey and his wife Catherine gave generously of their enormous wealth, and after her death at a relatively young age, Hershey left nearly his entire estate to fund a school for orphans that continues 100 years later as the Milton Hershey School.
The Hershey Story also has a Chocolate Lab, a separate room where various hands-on cooking workshops take place. We took the “Candy Cane Bark” workshop, which was a 45-minute foray into creating peppermint candy as well as learning some interesting information about the different types of chocolate. Tickets for any of the workshops can only be purchased at The Hershey Story the day of the workshop. They recommend you arrive at least 60 minutes prior to your class (to purchase your ticket as they are first-come, first-served). Tickets for a workshop are a steal at just $10/person. Children must be ages 4 and up to participate. We recommend that your child be able to sit for 45 minutes and follow directions.
Cafe Zooka is the perfect place to head for a snack or for a yummy lunch. The name Zooka it turns, out came from one of the first candies that Milton S. Hershey created. The cafe menu features healthy lunch options – from salads and sandwiches to pizza and wraps. A must-visit!
Admission to The Hershey Story is: $10/adults; $7.50/ages 3 to 12. Admission is free for members and for Active Duty Military.
We stayed at the Hershey Lodge, one of several properties owned by the Hershey Company. The room we stayed in was comfortable and kept the chocolate theme going without going overboard. There were holiday decorations throughout the lobby area. The weekend we visited the place was nearly full to judge from the parking lot, but it didn’t seem crowded at all. At check-in, you’ll receive the “Lodge Ledger,” which outlines events, restaurants and other fun facts that you’ll want to know to be able to plan your stay. The pool is currently not open as it is being renovated to become Hershey’s Water Works, we can’t wait! The planned opening is Summer 2016.
We would have loved to have stayed one more night at Hershey Lodge to enjoy relaxing in the cozy lounge or eating at one of the many restaurants offered. If you’re searching for a room, there are plenty of package options to choose from at The Hershey Lodge. Other properties The Hotel Hershey or the Hersheypark Camping Resort.
Travelers from Washington should plan for a trip of 2-3 hours through some mostly nice scenery. From DC you can approach from the West (from the Beltway to 270 to US 15 to Harrisburg) or the East (from the Baltimore Beltway to I-83 north to York PA) and then following the signs to Hershey. Look at the map before you go, because the highway numbers seem to change arbitrarily.
Hershey is worth the trip! Our Kids recommends you include this special event in your holiday plans this season.
Photo Credit: Our Kids LLC
Disclaimer: Our Kids was provided with a one-night stay at Hershey Lodge along with tickets to Hersheypark, Sweet Lights and three add-ons at Chocolate World. All other nights and activities we paid for on our own. All opinions expressed here are our own.