Hershey, Pennsylvania is said to be the sweetest place on earth. Considering that it is where Hershey chocolates are manufactured, it’s a pretty accurate assessment. Last summer, my family decided to visit Hershey for our summer vacation and we found plenty to do in Hershey to keep us busy for several days.
A brief history of Hershey
The man behind the Hershey Chocolate Company and actually the entire town of Hershey was Milton Hershey, who was born in 1857 just a few miles from the town that now bears his name. Milton first learned about making candy as a 14 year old apprentice. At age 18, Milton started his first candy making business in Philadelphia in 1876, hoping to find success by selling his confections at the centennial Exposition. Unfortunately, after a few years, his business failed. A few years later, he again started a candy business in New York City and again he failed.
Undaunted, Hershey moved back to Lancaster County Pennsylvania to be near family and he began yet another candy business. Fortunately for him, the third time was a charm. A British candy importer offered to market the caramels he was making in Europe and Hershey was able to greatly expand his business. Four years later, he was a millionaire.
After seeing a display on chocolate manufacturing at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, Hershey bought some equipment and set his sights on producing a quality milk chocolate that was affordable.
The business grew until Hershey saw the need for a new factory. He selected a site near the small village of Derry Church, near his childhood home. He actually was creating more than just a factory (which was the largest chocolate factory in the world); he also created a model community where factory workers could live and enjoy life. Hershey- the sweetest place on earth was born!
We drove down on a Monday and returned on a Friday; allowing about seven hours drive time each way, including a stop for lunch. One of the first things we noticed when we arrived in “downtown” Hershey was that the street lights are shaped like Hershey kisses. Get out of the car and the wonderful aroma of chocolate will hit you like a ton of bricks! If you are downwind from the factory it smells like a really yummy chocolate treat is baking.
Exploring the museums
Our first full day there was our “Museum Day.” We first visited Chocolate World, where you can take a free tour to learn how chocolate is manufactured. This tour takes visitors in little carts that move through the attraction, taking you from where the beans are grown to manufacturing at the Hershey factory. At the end, everyone gets a free candy sample. Years ago, tours went through the actual factory, but they no longer do that.
There are also a number of other activities to do in Chocolate World; some of these activities you’ll have to pay an admission charge for. There is a 3-D animated movie, a Factory Works, where kids can experience what it’s like to make Hershey kisses on a production line and the Hershey Trolley Works, a scenic and educational ride through the town of Hershey, which is unlike any other trolley ride I’ve been on. Let’s just say that history really comes alive on this ride. Chocolate World also has a huge gift shop with all sorts of Hershey related items.
Our next stop was the Hershey Museum, which has exhibits pertaining to the life of Milton Hershey. In addition, the museum also has numerous items that Mr. Hershey collected during his life, including Native American and Pennsylvanian-German artifacts. A unique 13 foot tall apostolic clock features an hourly procession of hand-carved biblical figures.
My kids enjoyed the museum’s discovery room, which had hands on kids exhibits, including period clothing and items that would have been found in an 1830’s general store.
The museum’s current exhibit “Hersheypark: A Century of Family Fun,’ focuses on the centennial anniversary of the amusement park. The exhibit features antique souvenirs, historical photographs and video footage of the parks early days.
After lunch, we visited one of Hershey’s non-chocolate related attractions, the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum. Since we have an antique car of our own and are card-carrying members of the AACA, this was a must-see on our itinerary. However, even if you’re not into antique cars, it is a really nice museum. The cars and other vehicles in the museum, which cover eight decades, are beautifully restored and placed in diorama scenes that relate to the era of the car.
Downstairs, there is a collection of historic buses, the largest collection of its type in the United States. There are also a number of vintage vehicles in the museum’s “sit-in” fleet, which means you are permitted to climb inside and see what it’s like behind the wheel. Our youngest, who was four at the time, loved the museum’s activity room, which had a number of pedal cars to ride in, as well as hands-on craft activities.
Hersheypark: A Century of Fun
We spent the entire next day at Hershey Park, an amusement park which was originally opened by Milton Hershey in 1907 as a picnic and pleasure grounds. Back then it included an athletic field and grandstand, a boating lake, picnic grounds and swings and slides. Each year a new amusement ride or attraction was added to the park, including carousels, miniature railroad, a zoo, a ferris wheel and more. Today the park features ten roller coasters, six water attractions and close to fifty other rides for both adults and kids.
The park is really big; we spent the entire day here and didn’t see everything we could have. You may want to set a designated meeting spot and time to meet for your family if some members want to go off on their own for awhile; it’s hard to find one another once you get separated. The adjacent 11 acre ZooAmerica is included in the admission price; however, we didn’t have time to tour it.
Some of the attractions we enjoyed included the monorail, which gives you an overview of most of the park, as well as part of the town. My kids rode all the roller coasters and said they were awesome. It was a warm day, so we were able to enjoy the waterpark attractions.
Despite the fact I don’t really care too much for wild rides anymore, I joined my daughter on the Roller Soaker; a rollercoaster where you get squirted and sprayed as you ride. I have to admit that it was a lot of fun and not too wild; however, we only went on it once because the wait for the ride was over an hour.
New this summer is “The Boardwalk at Hersheypark,” an 8.5 acre area, a tribute to the boardwalks of the East Coast beaches, that features five water play attractions, including East Coast Waterworks, the largest water play structure in the world. The area also has nine new food concessions along with retail stores and games.
Gardens and more
Since we knew we were going to be tired from our day at Hersheypark, we planned some less strenuous activities for the following day. We started out at Hershey Gardens, a 23 acre botanical garden set on a hill overlooking the town of Hershey. It all began with a 3 ½ acre rose garden planted by Milton Hershey’s gardeners in 1937. Today the rose garden has 7,000 roses of 275 varieties, which bloom in late May and early June.
My family enjoyed the children’s garden, which has a butterfly house, which is open May to September. Inside, there are over 400 butterflies, representing more than 25 North American species.
Hershey Gardens also has a Japanese garden, perennial garden, seasonal flowers, a herb garden and more. Walking through the gardens was relaxing change of pace after being in the amusement park the day before.
Afterwards, we went to see Founders Hall at the Milton Hershey School, which is open to the public daily 10-3. Of special note is the rotunda of the hall; at 74 feet high, it is the second largest rotunda in the world. There are also exhibits on the lives of Milton and his wife, Catherine.
Unable to have children of their own, the Hershey’s started this school for students from low income families. Today it is the largest school of its type in the country. About 1,300 students from pre-k to 12th grade live and go to school here. Students receive housing, education, medical care, clothing and other services free of charge. Milton Hershey gave all of his personal fortune to the school to insure that the institution continues throughout time.
Our next stop was at Adventure Sports Family Fun Center, which had mini golf, arcade games and go-karts. The kids had a really good time here.
Another nearby attraction we didn’t have time to visit was Echo Indian Caverns, where you can go on a 45 minute tour of a natural underground cavern. At the end of May, my son, Peter, went on a class trip to Gettysburg and Hershey. His group toured the caverns and he said that the formations were pretty neat. He said that there were underground lakes and formations that looked like New York City upside down. He said that at one point on the tour, the guides turned off the lights so that visitors could see just how dark the caverns really are.
Where to stay
For accommodations, we chose the Simmons Motel, which in addition to standard hotel rooms, has apartments located in renovated older homes along West Chocolate Avenue. We stayed in a two-room apartment, which was nice for a larger family like ours. There are also a number of national chain hotels located in and near Hershey.
There are also a few properties operated by Hershey Resorts. If your budget allows, the Hotel Hershey, built in the 1930’s, offers elegant (and pricey) accommodations. It is a AAA and Mobile Four-star property. They even have a chocolate-themed spa with treatments like whipped cocoa bath, chocolate fondue wrap and peppermint pattie scrub, as well as a cocoa facial experience.
The Hershey Lodge, a bit less pricey, also offers upscale lodging. Hershey resorts also operates the 55 acre Hershey Highmeadow campground.
Hershey (1-800-HERSHEY; www.hersheypa.com) 100 West Hersheypark Drive, Hershey.
Hershey-Harrisburg Regional Visitors Guide (1-877-PA-PULSE; www.pacapitalregions.com)
Hershey Partnership (1-717-534-3121; www.hersheypartnership.com) Maps and other tourism information are provided by this independent, non-profit group that promotes the Hershey area as a year-round destination.
Hershey Chocolate World (717-534-4900; www.hersheychocolateworld.com) 800 Park Blvd., Hershey.
Hershey Museum (717-534-3439; www.hersheymuseum.org) 170 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey.
Antique Automobile Club of America Museum (717-566-7100; www.aacamuseum.org) 161 Museum Drive, Hershey.
Founders Hall at Milton Hershey School (717-520-2000; www.mhs-pa.org) US Rt. 322/Governor Rd., Hershey.
Hershey Gardens (717-534-3492; www.hersheygardens.org) 170 Hotel Road, Hershey.
Adventure Sports in Hershey (717-533-7479) Route 743 S. (about 4 miles SE of downtown Hershey) Hershey.
Indian Echo Caverns (717-566-8131; www.indianechocaverns.com) 368 Middletown Road (off Routes322 & 283 at Middletown/Hummelstown exit).
Information about Hershey Resort properties.