My travels recently took me from the “Happiest Place on Earth” in Orlando, Florida to another family-friendly destination often referred to as the “Sweetest Place on Earth.”
Tucked away among the farm roads of southeast Pennsylvania sits the town of Hershey. Yes, that Hershey. Founded by Milton Hershey himself in 1906 as a place to make his popular chocolates. Decades later, it’s now home to two comfortable and luxurious hotels, an amusement park featuring attractions for all ages, and, of course, plenty of sweets.
The drive to Hershey from nearby Harrisburg airport is just 15 minutes. You know you’ve entered the company town when you spot the main road of Chocolate Ave, lined with Hershey’s Kiss-shaped lamps overhead. Like a trip into Fantasyland at one of Disney’s famous theme parks, entering Hershey is like stepping into another world – one that infuses reality with fantasy that’s just short of Willy Wonka’s own fictitious chocolate factory.
Even having extensively researched and planned for the trip, I was not fully prepared with just how much Hershey has to offer as a fun getaway. Three full days spent in the area afforded me enough time to sample everything, but not fully experience it all. There’s no shortage of beautiful sights and exciting entertainment to be found in Hershey, PA.
The most famous of the attractions located in Hershey, PA is Hershey Park, an amusement park that first opened in 1907 as a place for Hershey employees to enjoy some downtime. Today, it’s where you can find 13 thrilling roller coasters of all styles and more than 50 other rides and attractions.
As a big roller coaster fan, I made it a point to ride as many as possible in the single day I spent at Hershey Park. The park is home to plenty of coaster history, including the first coaster with an inversion on the United States east coast, the SooperDooperLooper, and the first wooden racing/dueling roller coaster, Lightning Racer. While Racer was my favorite ride of the park, coaster enthusiasts will enjoy the 95-degree downward drop of Fahrenheit and the historic value of Wild Cat, originally built in 1923.
Beyond the coasters, Hershey Park has a wide array of smaller amusement park standards including plenty of rides that spin you around high and low. The Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge takes riders through an interactive indoor dark ride, armed with laser guns used to rack up points along the way. Other classic attractions include the Sky View gondola/bucket ride and even an open-air monorail that takes passengers through the park and out into downtown Hershey, across from the actual Hershey factory.
Connected to Hershey Park is Zoo America, which is free to enter for park guests (separate, paid zoo admission is also available). The small zoo offers some unique features, including a nearly pitch-black tunnel showcasing animals that are more active at night (foxes, bats, etc.).
Aside from the cleverly-themed ride height restrictions (are you a “Jolly Rancher” or a “Twizzler”?), there is surprisingly little “Hershey” about Hershey Park. It’s a fantastic amusement park with a friendly staff and fun, safe rides, but don’t expect to find chocolate-themed attractions around every corner – or at all. Aside from the Reese’s dark ride, a statue of Milton Hershey at the entrance, and plenty of merchandise, Hershey Park might as well have nothing to do with the famous candy company at all. But I was personally excited to see Dippin’ Dots stands on nearly every street throughout the park with a wide variety of flavors to choose from (not just the usual 3 or 4 you see in most locations).
In the end, a day at Hershey Park is a day well spent. Lines can get long for the most popular roller coasters, but there are plenty of family-friendly activities to choose from that will result in a good time for all.
But make sure you check the park schedule before you plan a trip. Hershey Park is a seasonal park and is not open every day of the year. But even in the off-season, some special events like the upcoming Hershey Park in the Dark for Halloween are offered.
Hershey Park overview video:
More photos from Hershey Park:
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Theme park fans will be thoroughly entertained by Hershey’s Chocolate World, located just opposite the entrance of Hershey Park. Chocolate World is completely free to enter and inside visitors will find two top-notch attractions that are actually what I expected to find inside Hershey Park.
Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour takes guests on a 10-minute ride through a simulated chocolate factory tour. Hershey’s actual chocolate factory is not open to the public, but this ride provides a Disney-style look at how Hershey’s famous chocolate and candies are made. Filled with animated scenes, enticing chocolate aromas, and a catchy song (“It’s the milk chocolate!”), this ride will leave all guests smiling. Surprisingly, this ride is free as well, so you can enjoy it as many times you’d like.
In fact, I enjoyed the Great American Chocolate Tour so much, I rode it twice, the second time with video camera in-hand. While it’s no replacement for seeing it in person, here’s a complete video of the ride featuring binaural sound (so wear your headphones for the best experience):
Beyond the Chocolate Tour ride, Chocolate World also features “Hershey’s Really Big 3D Show.” This movie does cost a few dollars to watch, and I was hesitant to pay for the 15-minute or so show after having so much free fun next door, but it was ended up being worth every penny. The show features a live actor convincingly talking with computer generated (and 3D) characters on the screen and plenty of in-theater effects to go with the film. It’s full of laughs and with a recent upgrade to high-definition, it all looks and sounds great.
Beyond these two attractions, Chocolate World is home to more Hershey’s products than you can imagine. My favorites are the t-shirts, chocolate-scented candles, and character plush toys – but there’s so much more. Rows and rows of Hershey’s candy is on display and available as well as custom creations, including the ability to add your own face to a Hershey’s wrapper or even design your own candy bar.
At no cost to enter, browse, and ride the Chocolate Tour, a trip to Hershey’s Chocolate World is a must-do for any visit to Hershey, PA.
Hershey’s Chocolate World overview video:
More photos from Hershey’s Chocolate World:
The Hershey Story museum
An appropriate place to start any trip to Hershey, PA, The Hershey Story museum offers a complete history of how Milton Hershey came to create the worldwide enterprise that Hershey is today. It’s located on Chocolate Avenue, just down the street from Hershey Park and Chocolate World, but no shuttles are available so you’ll need a car to get there (or a strong passion for walking).
Inside, exhibits range from Milton Hershey’s childhood crib to some of the original Hershey candy bar molds. Each scene takes visitors through a piece of Hershey history, showcasing how Hershey came to select southeast Pennsylvania for the starting point of his chocolate empire and how the company has expanded since.
The museum not only features original pieces of Hershey history but also a few interactive exhibits to play with and explore.
And don’t pass up the incredibly tasty grilled cheese sandwich at the attached Cafe Zooka:
The Hershey Story museum overview video:
More photos from The Hershey Story museum:
Hershey boasts two impressive Hershey hotels, each with its own flair. Hershey Lodge combines a rustic look with comfortable accommodations whereas Hotel Hershey offers nothing but the finest in luxurious spaces and breathtaking sights.
Upon stepping foot inside the lobby at Hershey Lodge, the overwhelming scent of chocolate fills the air. Check-in gives guests their first taste of Hershey with complimentary chocolate bars handed out to guests. The lobby is also home to cozy seating, especially enjoyable around a 4-sided fireplace. This area becomes a late-night hot spot as a nearby bar caters to the social crowd.
Hershey Lodge rooms are spacious and offer all the amenities to make a stay enjoyable. Free high-speed internet is available both wirelessly and via wires, so business travelers on the go can stay in touch with the rest of the world while indulging in a chocolate-filled vacation.
Chocolate also finds its way into showers at Hershey Lodge, by way of cocoa-infused shampoo and conditioner:
Outside of the rooms, Hershey Lodge features indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a game room, and even a small miniature golf course.
The on-site restaurants provide a convenient meal. Don’t miss the special Hershey honey that accompanies the cheese plate at the Hershey Grill.
If you’re willing to trade in some comfort for over-the-top luxury, Hotel Hershey is the ultimate in pampering. Hotel Hershey is filled with history and has an overall upscale feel throughout its enormous grounds. While there were hundreds of other guests staying there, I rarely ran into more than a couple while wandering the hotel due to its incredibly spacious layout.
While the lobby, rooms, and halls of Hotel Hershey are pleasing to the eye, it’s the backyard gardens that will leave your jaw hanging open.
Straight out of a period film, the grounds of Hotel Hershey feature perfectly maintained flowers, fountains, shrubbery, and hills. Even if you don’t stay at Hotel Hershey, its grounds are an attraction unto themselves that must be seen to be believed.
Fans of Hershey Park (which I now am) will love the view offered by some of the rooms at Hotel Hershey. If I didn’t have so much else to see and do, I could have sat at the window and watched Lightning Racer zip around the track endlessly from the comfort of my room.
Trevi 5, a relatively new Italian restaurant to be added at Hotel Hershey, offers authentic flavors of Italy that even the pickiest eater (like me) will enjoy. It features nothing but the freshest ingredients including a fantastic sampling of Italian meats and pastas.
For the ultimate in pampering, a chocolate-scented massage at the Hotel Hershey Spa is pricey, but worth every penny. Beginning with a refreshing,powerful shower and time in the conversation-free “quiet room,” time in the Hotel Hershey Spa makes the rest of the world melt away. If Hershey, PA is the “Sweetest Place on Earth,” then the Hotel Hershey Spa is the “Most Relaxing Place on Earth.” I didn’t want to leave. Ever.
Across the street from Hotel Hershey sits the equally beautiful (and enormous) Hershey Gardens. Endless rows of roses and other beautifully manicured plants provide a photographer’s paradise.
I incorrectly estimated that I’d only need half an hour to visit Hershey Gardens. It turned out I could have spent hours there, wandering its many gorgeous paths.
Hershey Lodge overview video:
Hotel Hershey overview video:
More photos from Hershey Lodge and Hotel Hershey:
Hershey Food and Wine Festival
By sheer coincidence, I happened to plan my first-ever trip to Hershey, PA during the weekend of its first-ever Hershey Food and Wine Festival. For $40, guests could roam the grounds of Hotel Hershey and sample food and drinks from Hershey’s best restaurants, some within the hotels, some nearby. For $20, guests can skip the drinks and stick to just the food – which I did.
As a first-ever event, the Hershey Food and Wine Festival was a huge success, offering delightful bite-size (and sometimes larger) treats. My favorites included a pulled pork sandwich, skewers of mozzarella, tomatoes, and vegetables, and an the world’s most flavorful grape, hand-rolled in cream cheese and covered in pistachio dust – a taste I had never experienced before, but gladly went back for seconds… and thirds… and fourths.
Photos from the Hershey Food and Wine Festival:
Wrapping It Up
You’ll notice I didn’t write anything negative about my trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Honestly, it’s because I can’t think of anything bad to write about. I was expecting to eat more chocolate than I did while at Hershey, only nibbling here and there. And perhaps the bed at Hotel Hershey wasn’t the most comfortable I had ever slept in. But nitpicking aside, a vacation to Hershey is not likely to disappoint anyone. It’s a small, quaint town that is filled with attractions big and small, new and old, and it’s not overwhelmingly filled with tourists as I’ve grown accustomed to in Orlando. The combination of decades of history, comfort, luxury, and modern attractions results in a travel experience enjoyable by all.