Before my wife returned to work after a wonderful and lengthy maternity leave, our family decided to venture out to Hershey, Pennsylvania for one last hurrah — an action-packed, summer vacation getaway. This was our second voyage to the Hershey theme park in as many years and we enjoyed it even better this time. Families want to maximize their overall experience at the “Sweetest Place on Earth” so here’s a few helpful tips to get you there …
Hersheypark tips No. 1. Let your children plan theme park activities
Before our adventure, we went onto the Hersheypark website to download a copy of the latest park map and viewed several YouTube videos of their major roller-coasters. This gave my 6-year-old son several ideas for plotting out our daily agenda. He whipped out his magic marker and developed an action plan to go on all of the rides that excited him the most. Since our daughter is only three months old, he didn’t have to negotiate with his baby sister for approval. However, he was excited to take his sister on her first ever amusement park rides, the Kissing Tower and Ferris Wheel!
Once we arrived at the park entrance, we measured up against the different Hershey candy brands (Jolly Ranchers, Twizzlers, Hershey Bar, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Hershey’s Kiss, and Hershey Minis) to solidify what rides my little 50-incher would have access to. He was a Hershey’s Bar (48 – 54 inches). This meant we would be able to go on most of the rides and attractions together. Our daughter was a Hershey Miniature which meant that most of her day would be enjoyed napping in the stroller or baby carrier.
As we entered the amusement park, we went directly to the ride height measuring station. They will issue your child a bracelet with their candy bar on it so there’s no confusion and don’t have to be measured for any ride the rest of the day. My son masterfully navigated our flow of rides for the entire day including which ones deserved a second or third time. For the record, Comet, SuperdooperLooper, Kissing Tower, Laff Trakk, and the unbelievable Tidal Force were all worthy of at least repeats from us. Based on the balmy weather, we spent the majority of our time at the “Boardwalk” which is the official water park in Hershey. We spent hours within the East Coast Water Works confines – a massive sprayground filled with water slides, tunnels, and interactive water toys.
Hersheypark tips No. 2. Download the free Hersheypark Mobile App on your Smartphone
We live in a world surrounded by technology, so arm yourself with the new Hersheypark mobile app during your visit to make navigating the park and your life a little easier. The free App is a wealth of useful information including an online park map, complete list and description of rides, start times of shows, and the secret weapon — Ride Wait Times. We were obsessed with using the App during our visit to keep a watchful eye on wait times that fell under 15 minutes for our favorite attractions like Comet, Tidal Force, and Laff Trakk.
Hersheypark tips No. 3. Stay the night at a resort on property
After an exhilarating day of thrills, I knew we wouldn’t have the energy to drive three hours back home to New York City. Consequently, we made plans to stay overnight at The Hotel Hershey located less than a mile from Hersheypark. The Hotel Hershey was just as much a highlight of our vacation experience as Hersheypark! The accommodations were spacious, luxurious, and comfortable. It enabled our newly expanded family of four to recharge for our next day at the theme park. Plus, there must have been something special in the air in Hershey, Penn., because our three-month old daughter had “sweet dreams” and slept through the night.
It’s easy to unwind and feel like you’re on vacation when you: receive Hershey Kisses on your pillow at turn-down before bed, splash around in an oversized, outdoor pool complex (the indoor pool looked inviting too) that was open late, have top-notch service so you can sip a frozen cocktail while watching one kid snake through a water slide in the pool while the other naps under a shady umbrella, roast s’mores at a family friendly fire pit in the evening, enjoy an awesome breakfast buffet at The Circular Restaurant to fuel up for the day, and watch your little ones enjoy a host of engaging activities throughout the day like making tie-dye shirts, playing mini-golf, and bingo where the prizes are Hershey Bars and Kit-Kats!
Hersheypark tips No. 4. Maximize your time with ‘SweetStart’ and night before admission
Aside from the lovely amenities at The Hotel Hershey, there were several perks that we took advantage of because we stayed at one of the Hershey Entertainment Resorts. One benefit was the frequent (and FREE) air-conditioned shuttle bus that brought us back and forth from The Hotel Hershey to Hersheypark which meant that we didn’t have to pay for parking ($12) or park our car a half-mile from the park entrance. The shuttle bus dropped us right near the front gate and had plenty of storage for our baggage and folded stroller.
Another incredible bonus offered exclusively to Hershey Entertainment Resort guests is the “Sweet Start” option. Basically, we were able to enter Hersheypark minus the crowds, one hour earlier than the general public. This enabled our family to go on repeated roller coaster rides that usually have lengthy wait-times. 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.
The newest ride at Hersheypark this summer is Laff Trakk. It’s a unique, whimsy, spinning indoor, glow-in-the dark rollercoaster that transports you inside a 21st Century fun-house. With average wait-times hovering between 45 – 90 minutes, Laff Trakk is the most popular ride in the entire park. Even though it’s located on the opposite end of the park entrance, make Laff Trakk your FIRST stop when the gates of Hersheypark open in the morning. You’ll walk right onto the ride!
One final note about Laff Trakk. My wife and I both wanted to go on Laff Trakk with our six-year-old, but we were saddled with our small baby and unable to wait in line together with the bulky stroller. Fortunately, families travelling with a small baby can take advantage of the “Kiddie Swap Program.” Basically, one parent may ride with the older child while the other stays with the baby. At the conclusion of the initial ride, the parents may “swap” places so the other parent has the opportunity to enjoy the ride as well without the hassle of waiting in line.
Hersheypark tips No. 5. Feel like Willy Wonka in Hershey Chocolate World
Beyond the amusement park, there’s so much more to a complete Hershey experience. 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 of them have free admission if you stay at an official resort of Hersheypark.
Our family escaped the heat of Hersheypark one afternoon and were captivated by all of the chocolate goodness happening in Hershey’s Chocolate World. Hershey’s Chocolate World is the official visitor’s center of The Hershey Company and is conveniently located next to the entry gate of Hersheypark. Definitely hop on the free Chocolate Tour ride as you follow the journey of how cocoa beans are transformed into delicious tasting chocolate.
Next, you’re family is faced with some interesting and tasty options: get sucked into the Hershey 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, or immerse yourself in a chocolate mystery at the 4D Theater. We dabbled in a few of the chocolaty experiences (all of them have associated fees), but fell in love with the Create Your Own Candy Bar. All of these popular experiences have timed entry so plan ahead and check in at the front desk in the morning to purchase tickets before they sell out.
For a few minutes, our family felt like Charlie Bucket finding the coveted “golden ticket” in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Visualize gaining VIP access behind the curtain of Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. That’s how we felt as were mesmerized with the Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction. You push a few buttons in a high-tech computer lab and decide the items to include in your perfect chocolate bar – pretzels, crispy rice, sprinkles? Then, you put on a pair of scrubs and get a front row seat to the unbelievable smells as your chocolate bar goes down an assembly line and is created before your eyes. Next, you tap a few more buttons in the computer lab and presto – you’ve designed the packaging with your name on it (see photo below). Of course, the best part is devouring the scrumptious chocolate bar!
We’re still reflecting on our incredible Hershey experience and plan to make visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania an annual family tradition. The Hotel Hershey and Hersheypark have us hooked!
**Disclosure: The kind and generous folks at Hershey Entertainment Resorts provided complimentary park passes and hotel accommodations for our family so we could come up with these Hersheypark tips.