How the “Sweetest Place on Earth” tempts families with a mix of chocolate & theme park fun
Hersheypark and the town of Hershey bring you back to an era where life was simple and fun was a family thing. The park itself is a nice blend of thrill rides, water slides, kiddie rides, and of course, an overabundance of chocolate indulgence. It’s impressively clean, and the staff is friendly and helpful. The park layout is strategically enjoyable, since the kiddie rides are scattered throughout the park versus isolated in a single area, meaning my wife and I didn’t have to split for half the day to stay with our youngest child in the kiddie area while the older kids hit the roller coasters.
What to do?
Hersheypark features 13 roller coasters, four of which I’d consider to be of the high-intensity thrill variety: Fahrenheit, Great Bear, Sky Rush, and Storm Runner. They'll all get your heart pounding and your stomach falling. My older sons, ages 10 and 12, gave these rides a big thumbs up! The park also has three old-school, wooden coasters: Wildcat, Comet, and Lightning Racers, where you race simultaneously with other cars. I’m a fan of the wooden coasters, and these rides didn't disappoint. The park features three kid-friendly coasters: Cocoa Cruiser for the real little ones, Trailblazer for kids 6 and up (think Thunder Mountain at Disney), and the SooperDooperLooper, which is a great introductory loop coaster for kids not quite ready for intense thrill rides. If you’re looking to cool off but don’t want to hit the waterpark, try Coal Cracker or Tidal Force, which are flume-style rides where you'll get wet.
Hersheypark is big enough that we didn’t repeat areas of the park in our day and half there yet small enough that we allowed our older kids to venture off on their own for short periods of time. Plus, the Hersheypark mobile app provided accurate ride wait times and included a navigation feature, which we found extremely helpful as first-time visitors.
KidTripster Tip: If you stay at one of the Hershey resorts, you may enter the park an hour earlier than the general public, giving you the opportunity to quickly ride the most popular rides multiple times. Plus, the resorts offer shuttle service, so you can avoid parking in the large lots.
The Boardwalk is Hersheypark’s own water park, complete with waterslides, wave pools, and lazy rivers. There’s no separate entrance and no separate admission, which is somewhat unheard at amusement parks today. There are a couple of ways to handle navigating the water park. First, if you’re staying at a Hershey property, the shuttle is relatively convenient for going back and forth for towels and swimsuits,. But my kids wanted to squeeze every minute that they could out of the park, so we carried our swim gear inside backpacks that we then stowed inside a park locker until it was time to hit the water park.
KidTripster Tip: We visited Hersheypark in mid-June and found it to be an ideal time with many schools not yet out for the summer. The weather was warm enough to enjoy the waterpark. The longest ride line was approximately 30 minutes, and most lines were ten minutes or less. Like any amusement park, you learn to “zig” when the crowd “zags.” I’d recommend going early and/or staying late to allow for maximum enjoyment.
Although Hersheypark is clearly the biggest draw in the area, there are a number of other activities to enjoy. Take in a show or sporting event at the Giant Center, a 10,500-seat, multi-purpose indoor arena, or at Hersheypark Stadium, which is an outdoor venue that seats 30,000 people. Unfortunately, we just missed Paul McCartney in concert.
Finally, Hershey’s Chocolate World is a massive chocolate emporium, where you can learn about the Hershey chocolate business from its grassroots beginning to the empire it is today. The store offers every Hershey product imaginable in every size imaginable for your candy enthusiasts. My kids loved the giant-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Where to stay?
Hershey and surrounding towns have a number of lodging options, however I’d highly recommend staying at a Hershey property. We stayed at the Hershey Lodge. The kids (and parents) absolutely loved it! Upon checking in, kids are treated as special guests. The Lodge has plenty of activities, including s’mores campfires at night, seasonal craft activities, scavenger hunts, miniature golf, and tennis courts. The Lodge also features two outdoor pools and a small indoor water park, complete with two water slides, basketball hoops, and lily pads/cargo nets that kids and parents can attempt to cross; there’s also a shallow splash pad for little tykes. For the parents, the indoor water park includes a hot tub and a bar with adult beverages.
The Lodge has over 665 rooms, five restaurants, a fitness center, and two arcades. The décor resembles an old wilderness lodge. Each room is chocolate-themed and includes samples. Our room was Hershey Kisses-inspired. Although the Lodge offers suites, we stayed in a standard, two queen-bedroom; the room was large enough to fit a cot for our third child. Again, the Lodge was very inviting, and we felt very comfortable allowing the older kids to take a key and go off on their own without worrying that they would get lost or would be unsafe. Rooms start at $249/night with rates higher during the summer and holidays.
Other Hershey properties include The Hotel Hershey, known for its refined elegance and amenities including a full-service spa. Room rates start at $369/night. The Hersheypark Camping Resort offers tent sites, full hook-up RV sites, and cabins that accommodate large families. Rates range from $49/night for a campsite to $149/night for a cabin.
While guests at The Hershey Hotel, Hershey Lodge, and Hersheypark Camping Resort, you have access to the award-winning East and West Golf Courses at Hershey Country Club, plus the family friendly 9-hole Spring Creek course and the new FootGolf Course (think soccer + golf).
Where to eat?
We had breakfast at the Hershey Grill at Hershey Lodge, and the food was fantastic. The kids ordered the s’mores French toast, which was delightfully sweet. I had the pulled pork hash and eggs, which was one of the better breakfasts that I’ve eaten. Kudos to the cook!
At the park, there’s a variety of cafeteria-style food courts, where you can pick up a quick bite. I’d recommend the Overlook Food Court which has a very tasty southwest chicken wrap for $10. There’s an extensive selection of corn dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, and of course, chocolate delights. However, it's an amusement park, so keep your expectations somewhat in check.
After a full and exhausting day at the park, we headed to The Bear’s Den at Hershey Lodge for a sit-down dinner. The Bear’s Den is a true sports bar with televisions everywhere including at your booth! It can get crowded, but there’s a small arcade next door which allows the kids to play and the parents to grab drinks while waiting for a table. The fare is typical pub grub. I had the fish tacos and was very happy with my choice. We ordered nachos, which I thought were relatively pedestrian; however, my kids said they were the "best" that they’ve ever had.
Located in central Pennsylvania, Hersheypark is near several U.S. cities: a 1-1/2-hour drive from Philadelphia and Baltimore, a 2-hour drive from Washington, D.C., and a 3-hour drive from New York City. If you are flying, the park is a 15-minute drive from the Harrisburg International Airport.
The father of three boys, Bill Claffey lives in Colchester, Connecticut. He loves taking his family on spontaneous outdoor adventures. He also loves a good roller coaster and old-fashioned family fun!
This writer received a complimentary stay and some activities for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely his own.