Before our 10-year-old son heads off to sleepaway camp for the summer, our family escaped New York City for one last hurrah. We had an unforgettable vacation experience less than three hours away from NYC at the “Sweetest Place on Earth” — Hershey, Pa.
Our fourth quest to the Hershey theme park rocked and we never wanted to leave, the best compliment you can ever give to a vacation destination. Here’s some suggestions for finding your inner child along with a road map for returning families on what’s new, intriguing and happening at Hersheypark.
New rides at Hershey theme and water parks
We still love the whimsical, indoor glow-in-the-dark Laff Trakk roller coaster. The most anticipated ride of our latest adventure, however, was the new Reese’s Cupfusion.
This sleek, interactive gaming ride captivated us and revved up the family competition level, even of our 4-year-old daughter. Our mission: become agents under the guidance of new theme park character, Commander Cup, and protect the chocolate factory to ensure the world is never deprived of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We blasted away at targets, stunned intruders and scored loads of points.
With new rides like Reese’s Cupfusion comes excitement, curiosity and extremely long wait times — sometimes up to 90 minutes. Pro tip: Hit this ride first thing in the morning. The wait times never decrease as the day goes on. Hersheypark Resort guests, like we were, should take advantage of “Sweet Start”– the benefit of entering the park one hour before the general public — to ride early and maybe even often.
One amazing aspect of Hersheypark is you have the opportunity to enjoy two parks in one location: the amusement theme park and the Boardwalk water park. No added travel, no additional admission fee.
During the midday heat, we ventured over to the Boardwalk to kick the tires on two recent additions:
- Whitecap Racer is a fast-paced set of six tunnel slides. You race each other, cascading through darkness. We barreled down on our water mats numerous times. Pure, edge of your seat awesomeness!
- The highlight for our family was Breakers Edge Water Coaster. It’s a spectacular of water slide/roller coaster combination. You rocket through high-speed tunnels in a raft, splashing around intense curves. The ride provided sheer joy that kept us going back again and again for more.
Hersheypark mobile app: free and awesome
Before you visit, definitely download the robust Hersheypark mobile app. It makes navigating the parks, plotting your agenda and having fun so much easier. The free app contains a wealth of useful information including:
- an online park map
- complete list, description, and height requirements of rides
- start times of shows and character appearances
- the ultimate weapon — Real-Time Wait Times and Ride Closures- which you can track from the car, hotel, or inside the gates of the park
Our family became obsessed with using the app to search for wait times under 15 minutes for our favorite attractions like SooperdooperLooper, Trailblazer and Hershey’s Triple Drop Tower.
Additionally, Hersheypark just launched a new, personalized digital platform, HP-GO. The HP-GO program lets guests track ride statistics, add photos and connect your Fast Track purchases all through a wristband. We loved being able to track our Reese’s CupFusion scores and race times on the Whitecap Racer water slide.
Sweet treats at Hershey’s Chocolate World
A complete Hershey experience is more than just the theme and water parks. The Hershey (Botanical) Gardens, The Hershey Story Museum on Chocolate Avenue and Hershey’s Chocolate World all offer unique attractions for your family. Even better, all have free admission if you stay at an official Hersheypark resort.
Hershey’s Chocolate World is the official Hershey Company visitor’s center, conveniently located next to the entry gate of Hersheypark. While here, hop on the free Chocolate Tour ride where you follow the journey of how cocoa beans into delicious tasting chocolate. This is always our favorite attraction at Hershey’s Chocolate World along with receiving a free candy sample when you leave.
Your family faces many other interesting and tasty options here:
- get sucked into the Hershey’s Chocolate World retail labyrinth offering every type of Hershey candy in all shapes and sizes
- make your own sundae, cupcake or cookie with toppings galore in the Dessert Creation Studio
- create your own Hershey’s Chocolate Bar
- indulge in a Chocolate Tasting experience
- immerse yourself in a chocolate 4D movie theater
We dabbled in a few of the chocolaty experiences (all of them have associated fees), but fell hard for the brand new, Hershey’s Unwrapped: A Chocolate Tasting Journey. Hershey’s Unwrapped is perfect for kids and parents alike. The immersive theatrical experience makes you use your five senses, laugh out loud and finally dazzles your taste buds.
Make your Hershey day trip a vacation
After an action-packed day of thrills and entertainment, we wouldn’t have had the energy to drive back to New York City. We planned to stay a few nights at The Hotel Hershey just up the hill from Hersheypark. The Hotel Hershey is just as much a highlight as the amusements. My daughter kept referring to it as our “princess castle on the hill.”
The accommodations were generous, luxurious and comfortable, leaving us refreshed and recharged for another day at the Hershey theme park. The rooms feature new carpeting, Keurig machines and new flatscreen televisions. In addition, you’ll love the chocolate soap, shampoo and body wash. If all of the chocolate treats we ate weren’t already oozing out from our pores, the soap and shampoo kept us feeling fresh and sweet all day long.
It’s easy to feel like you’re in paradise there because you:
- receive Hershey Kisses on your pillow at turn-down before bed
- can frolic in a beautiful outdoor pool (the newly renovated indoor pool with splash pads looked inviting, too)
- receive top-notch service so you can sip a frozen Pina Colada while watching your children meander through a water slide
- roast s’mores at a fire pit every evening
- enjoy the most delicious breakfast buffet to fuel up for the day while taking in the lovely views from The Circular Restaurant
- can watch your little ones enjoy a host of engaging activities throughout the day. These include going on a scavenger hunt, playing ping pong and corn-hole, photo ops with the Hershey characters, and bingo where the prizes are full-size Kit-Kats.
Aside from the countless amenities, several other perks come with staying at one of the three official Hershey resorts:
- The frequent (and FREE) air-conditioned shuttle bus that brought us back and forth from The Hotel Hershey to Hersheypark.
- The previously mentioned “Sweet Start” option that enables you to enter Hersheypark, minus the crowds, one hour earlier than the general public.
- Additionally, you may arrive with your family at Hersheypark 3 1/2 hours before closing the night BEFORE your scheduled visit to get a jump start on enjoying all of the rides and attractions.
Drooling in anticipation: Hershey’s Chocolatetown
A construction boom like the one we’re used to in New York City is hitting Hersheypark. Tractors, drills, cranes and loads of construction workers are in motion crafting something innovative that sounds truly magical.
Hershey’s Chocolatetown is billed as the “most transformative expansion in Hersheypark history.” This all new section within the theme park will provide an opportunity for guests to play, eat, gather and shop. Also, we’re giddy in anticipation for the new coaster that will be Hershey’s fastest, tallest, longest and sweetest! That’s reason enough for our family to revisit in 2020.
Disclosure: The kind and generous folks at Hershey Entertainment Resorts provided complimentary park passes and hotel accommodations for our family. Our thoughts and opinions are genuine and have not been influenced from the brand.
All photos: Somerfeld family