Review of Hersheypark in Hershey, PA
by Katie Beltramo
Our family recently spent the day at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was our first visit, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was. In fact, we'd all love to come back, and if we do, I think that we'll devote a full weekend. We didn't have nearly enough time to sample all the rides and activities.
Hersheypark is open from 10 am until 10 pm most days during the summer (click here for specifics), and one-day admission is $56.95 for ages 9-54, $35.95 for ages 3-8, and free for ages 2 and under. They also have combination tickets and special discounts, which can shave off $10 or $11 per ticket.
Hershey's Chocolate World
Guests at the official Hersheypark resorts (including their campground) are permitted to enter the park one hour early for a "Sweet Start" to their day. We didn't qualify for a "Sweet Start," but we arrived early to visit Hershey's Chocolate World, a huge emporium of Hershey products located just outside the park gates, which opens at 9 am. Worth entering for the divine aroma alone, Chocolate World includes tons of familiar and never-tasted-before Hershey's foods, souvenirs, and experiences to purchase, as well as a free ride, Hershey's Great American Chocolate World, which offers an introduction to how chocolate is made.
Obviously, you don't want to purchase chocolate bars early and either schlep them around or leave them to melt in your hot car, but it's still a good idea to scope out the store early if you can. When we went, there was no line for the ride and the store was relatively serene, especially compared to the mob scene that it became late in the day. Go for the ride and scope out what you might like to purchase ahead of time, and then you can divide and conquer at the end of the day, with one grown-up scooping up some delicious purchases while the other wrangles exhausted children toward the car.
What to Bring
Hersheypark is really two parks in one: an amusement park and a water park called The Boardwalk. Around The Boardwalk, swimsuits are required, but t-shirts or gym shorts are generally permitted. In the amusement park, everyone is in street clothes.
You can plan to bring a backpack with a change of clothes, rent a small or large locker for $15 or $20, or rent a cabana if you feel like splurging. Only bring towels if you're planning to spend most of your day around The Boardwalk or if it's cool and breezy. Even outside of the water park, you can get wet on some rides, so quick-drying workout clothes are a great option for keeping cool and comfortable, and they're likely to pass in both parks, making them a good low-maintenance option for the grown-ups.
If there is a line to get into the park and you're already holding tickets, bear right to bypass those who still need to buy them. Kids' access to rides and attractions is based on height; those under 36" are called Miniatures, and they move up the ranks of Kisses, Reese's, Hershey's, and Twizzlers to Jolly Ranchers. In our family, this was a source of considerable anxiety, because my roller-coaster-loving daughter was just on the border between Reese's and Hershey's. Luckily, you can stop at Hospitality Services, which is on the right as you walk up the hill after entering the park, to receive an official measurement and a wrist band to indicate your status. This eliminates the stress of measuring at each ride.
You can also request a free wrist band with your cell phone number for your child in case you lose track of each other. There are also designated meeting places in the park for lost children. And you can purchase a $50 Fast Track pass to bypass the lines at nine of the park's coasters.
The rides, and the wait-times for them, vary quite a bit.
Hersheypark has plenty of kiddie rides available as well as moderate family rides that everyone can enjoy. Many of the wilder attractions are not available to young kids, and the lines can be long for popular attractions. For example, our entire group wanted to try the Roller Soaker, but any time we checked, wait times ranged from 45 minutes to an hour. On the other hand, many of the tamer rides, just right for my daughters' ages (they are 7 and 10) had no line at all. The girls rode Trailblazer and Wave Swinger repeatedly. Along The Boardwalk, many of the activities can be entered and enjoyed immediately. In the large East Coast Waterworks attraction, some of the water slides have considerable wait times, but there's splashy fun while you're waiting.
Bottom line, if you are visiting with kids 12 and under, you'll definitely spend some time waiting for rides, but can have plenty of fun and avoid the worst lines if you so choose.
The Night-Before Preview
If you are a coaster fanatic and you don't want to invest in a Fast Track pass, there is another option if you're visiting overnight with friends or family: "preview" the park 2 1/2 hours before closing the night before your tickets are valid. So if you drive to Hershey, PA on a Friday with plans to visit the park on Saturday, the coaster-loving older kids and grown-ups can head to the park with their Saturday tickets for admission to take advantage of the less-crowded evening hours while the mild-mannered, nausea-prone grown-ups can take one for the team and hang out at the hotel pool with the little ones. This plan also offers a chance to get your bearings, a welcome opportunity because the park itself is disorienting. Signage is not great, and the map provided offers limited guidance. For example, roller coasters appear on the map without any indication of where to enter to ride them, which renders them useless since many meander over a considerable area of the park.
Food at Hershey Park
Picnic tables are available just outside the park gates, but beyond a water bottle, visitors aren't permitted to bring their own food inside the park. Still, there are a variety of food options available, including well-marked gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and kosher offerings.
My family and friends met in Pioneer Frontier for lunch. We ordered mostly barbecue at the Spring Creek Smokehouse for the grown-ups and a nearby basic fast food joint for the kids (I couldn't locate the restaurant references online, but the Smokehouse appears on the 2012 Map & Guide). The kid's meal, at $6.39, includes a hot dog or two chicken strips, chips, a choice of carrots or applesauce, and juice, milk or soda. Numerous children surveyed found the meal to be about typical quality, not a standout, not bad.
At the same place, you can order a large garden salad for $15.79 or a family meal for $32.59, which includes 12 chicken strips, fries, and 4 medium fountain drinks. Meals at the Smokehouse, which included a main dish and two sides, were about $11 to $12. We ordered for maximum variety for sampling purposes, and here the quality varied quite a bit. The photo to the right shows two lunches:
The turkey, pulled pork, and macaroni and cheese were good, the beans and cole slaw were delicious (as in, looking-at-the-picture-makes-me-wish-that-I-had-some-more-right-now delicious), and the fries were fair. A friend's corn on the cob was so overcooked it was almost inedible.
Hersheypark also sells Meal Tickets for $13.50, which can offer savings depending on what you choose to eat. Even if you don't want to use that option, checking the link will give you a better idea of what's available at the various locations. We all appreciated the family-friendly options and touches like hand-sanitizing wipes along the napkins and condiments at the food counters.
Beyond the rides and food
Hersheypark has plenty to offer to make it feel like a higher quality experience than your average amusement park. Again and again, we noticed the gorgeous landscaping throughout the park. The theme of Hershey's chocolates and sweets, including the occasional performing chocolate, gives the whole place character and makes the visit special. There's a variety of entertainment including music, sea lion shows, and more. We stumbled on a performance of Pattie & the Peppermints, and we loved the vivacious lead singer and our daughters were crazy about the whole concept of a girl rock band. With friendly staff and clean facilities, we felt well-cared-for all around the park. We could have easily devoted two full days to Hersheypark. It's a terrific place for a family mini-vacation.
© 2012, Katie Beltramo.
Katie Beltramo, a mother of two, is an editor at Kids Out and About. She also blogs at Capital District Fun and contributes to All Over Albany and a variety of regional parenting publications.