Vacation report: Hershey, Pennsylvania

In 1986, I went on a school trip of sorts to Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania to compete in a computer programming contest, the details of which I’ve already written about. During that trip, we went to the town of Hershey and spent a day at Hersheypark, though I don’t remember any of it. In the summer of 2015, 29 years later, I returned to Hershey with my family (plus one). As I always do, I’ve written up a summary of our trip.

The “plus one” I mentioned is my niece Alison (technically “step-niece” I suppose). She and her mom Sandy drove down from their home in Sudbury the same day as we did, and stayed in a hotel nearby. Sandy had to work the whole trip but Alison came with us to the park on the days we went.

Tuesday, August 25

The trailer was packed from a previous trip and had been sitting in the garage for a couple of weeks. There wasn’t anything we needed to put in the trailer that wasn’t already there, and we couldn’t put anything in the fridge since we can’t bring meats, fruits, or vegetables across the border, so we didn’t even pull it out of the garage beforehand. We packed the van the night before and around 7:30am, we hooked up the trailer and left, stopping at Tim Horton’s for breakfast. An hour later we hit Fort Erie and crossed into Buffalo with no delay at the border. We got onto highway 219 heading south, and stopped near Bradford, Pennsylvania for lunch and gas (insert obvious joke about eating and getting gas here). We continued down 219 to I80 East and at some point, we got onto 322 East which took us right to Hershey. We arrived at the Hershey Camping Resort around 4:00, got checked in, found our site, and started to get set up. This stopped pretty quickly though when the trailer wouldn’t go up.

The battery was completely dead. Because we didn’t have to get into the trailer, we didn’t have it plugged in and the battery must have fully discharged. We did have an electrical site so we plugged the trailer in, put up the dining tent, and then went to find dinner. We figured if we left it plugged in for a couple of hours, it would recharge the battery enough that we could put the trailer up. It didn’t. When we got back from the Pizza Hut just around the corner, the battery still had no power. There’s probably a way to put it up without power but according to the manual it requires a particular sized wrench that we didn’t have.

Nicky and I went to the front desk and asked if they had booster cables or if they knew of a place where we could buy a battery (and any tools we might need to install it). The guy at the desk called their maintenance guy and he came out with a battery pack with booster cables. This was powerful enough for us to get the trailer up, so we were good to go from there. The trailer was going to be plugged in until Friday so we figured 2½ full days of power should be enough to recharge the battery.

After getting set up, we bought our Hersheypark tickets, and since were staying onsite at a Hersheypark resort, our tickets allowed us 3½ hours in the park the day before our first ticket as well as early entry on the other days. We took the shuttle bus from the campground to the park. This was a kind of a recon visit – just getting our bearings in the park and checking out where we wanted to go the next two days. We did do one ride: Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge, which is a shooting ride in the same vein as the Buzz Lightyear / Toy Story rides at Disney World. This was a lot of fun and we would end up riding this one numerous times over the next couple of days.

After a couple of hours in the park, we took the shuttle back to the campground and bed.

Wednesday, August 26

We woke up early, had a quick breakfast, and were on the shuttle bus by 8:30 to take full advantage of our early entry. We got in at 9am instead of 10, though only part of the park was open, the rest was blocked. We figured we’d do an hour of rides before meeting Alison (who did not have early entry) at 10. We rode the Comet, a wooden coaster that Nicky loved, Gail and I liked, and Ryan didn’t like at all. Ryan’s just not a roller coaster kid, and neither Gail nor I can handle the big coasters like we used to. Nicky loves them though – the bigger the better. Just as we finished that, we got a text from Alison saying that she had managed to get into the park before opening. We never did figure out how, but that was good.

We did the Reese Xtreme Cup Challenge again, then lined up to get to the rest of the park at 10am. We didn’t even know what to head for once the rope dropped, but someone else said that Laff Trak is the newest coaster and that’s where everyone will be headed. We headed there too and waited about a half hour, which turned out to be a good idea since the line for that ride never dropped under an hour for the next two days. This was an awesome ride. It’s an indoor roller coaster but the trick is that each car has four seats – two facing forwards and two facing backwards. The car occasionally spins around so you end up going down some hills forwards and others backwards. Very fast, very exciting, and we all loved it – even Ryan. Alison, it turns out, is even less of a roller coaster kid (I’m misusing the word “kid” here – Alison is 19) than Ryan and she didn’t like it at all. That said, she did ride it again the next morning and didn’t mind it so much.

Road runner!We did various rides the rest of the day which I won’t try to list. Nicky did a couple of coasters by himself since nobody else wanted to do them. Ryan and Alison may not like coasters much, but if it spins, they were riding it. Gail and I mostly watched, though we each rode a couple of things. Lunch was at a sandwich place near Kissing Tower Hill. After lunch we went over to Zoo America, which is included in the ticket price. It’s not a big zoo, but they had some cool exhibits including a desert area complete with burrowing owls, road runners, and big tortoises; a dark area with bats, spiders, a “swift fox” and an ocelot; prairie dogs; elk; bears; huge bald eagles; and a beautiful bobcat. I love zoos, as do my kids, and we all enjoyed this one.

After the zoo we returned to the park for more rides until dinner time. We returned to the camping resort where Sandy met us with a couple of pizzas from a local place. After dinner, we went back to the park for some more rides, and returned back to the campsite, thoroughly exhausted, by 10:00.

Thursday, August 27

Thursday started off like Wednesday: up early, quick breakfast, on the shuttle around 8:30, in the park at 9, a couple of rides, wait in line for the rope drop, high-tail it over to Laff Trak, wait half an hour, then ride and laugh for a minute and a half. Things diverged from there though, as day 2 was a water park day. Nicky decided to forego the water park for a while in favour of more coasters (since he had to ride them by himself anyway), and Gail stayed in the park with him while Ryan, Alison, and I got changed and headed to the water park. They both tried the Waverider, which is basically a surfing simulation. I took some video of them, though I started watching Ryan rather than watching the camera so I shot 10 seconds of the ground: the first is Ryan and then Alison. Ryan never got the hang of it and got thrown over the top a couple of times. Alison also fell twice and I thought she was done so I stopped filming. They let her try again and the second video is of Alison totally nailing it.

There were six water slides though I only did four of them. I love water slides, and these were very fun though the water was pretty chilly. It wasn’t exactly perfect water park weather, actually, since it was in the mid-20’s (low 80’s F) and overcast. At lunch time, we found Gail and Nick and went to Nathan’s where Gail and I had excellent Philly cheesesteaks and fries, Ryan had a burger, Nicky had a couple of corn dogs, and Alison had chili fries.

A couple of coasters from the gondola. Ryan and Alison are in car #13After lunch, Gail headed back into the park to see a dance show and the rest of us hit the wave pool (frigid!) and lazy river. After that, Ryan and I were done but Nicky and Alison wanted to do more slides so they went back to the slide area while we got dressed. After some sliding, they came back so Nicky could give the Waverider a try, and he also nailed it. If you watch the video, you can hear the operator telling me he could have a career in surfing. He and Alison then got dressed and we did a couple more rides before meeting Sandy in town at Fenicci’s of Hershey where we had an excellent Italian meal.

Thursday ended like Wednesday did: back to the park after dinner, more rides, back to the campsite around 10.

Friday, August 28

Friday morning we slept in a little before packing up. Our assumption from Tuesday turned out to be incorrect – the trailer battery was still completely dead. We got a boost from the maintenance guy again, then parked the trailer in the overflow lot (big thanks to the Hersheypark Camping Resort people for being so accommodating!) and took the shuttle back over to Hershey’s Chocolate World, which is right next to Hersheypark. There’s a huge store where you can buy all kinds of Hershey and Reese stuff like shirts, hoodies, hats, toys, and collectables of every kind as well as TONS of chocolate. A number of flavours of Hershey’s Kisses are for sale there that you can’t find anywhere else (pumpkin spice, candy corn, macadamia nut) as well as five pound Hershey bars and half-pound Reese’s peanut butter cups. There’s also a “make your own candy bar” thing that was expensive (so we skipped it) and a free tour of a reproduction of the factory.

After coming off of the tour, a lady stopped us (me and the boys) and asked if we wanted to participate in a survey about non-chocolate candy. We said sure so she brought us into a room with a bunch of cubicles with iPads. We answered a few questions and ate a soda cracker (to “cleanse our palates”), then she gave us some candy which were similar to Rockets or Sweetarts and we answered some more questions about them. This took no more than a couple of minutes, and we each got a Hershey bar on the way out as a gift!

Our next adventure was a very entertaining and fun trolley tour of the town of Hershey. There were two tour guides – the funny guy and the straight man (or woman in this case). The funny guy kept getting off the bus and then coming back on later dressed as a character from history and tell us about life at whatever time he was supposed to be from. Then he’d get off, we’d continue the tour, and he’d come back dressed as someone else. He was pretty funny and the other guide was smokin’ hot very informative and there was free chocolate so it was a win all around. Except for the people behind us – a group of idiots at the back of the bus were loudly yammering away the entire trip and so nobody in the back half of the bus could hear what the tour guides were saying. At least two people politely asked them to be quiet but it had no effect. The rudeness of some people never ceases to amaze me.

Sandy & Alison had stricter time constraints than we did (not to mention their drive was 4½ hours longer than ours) so they headed home right after the tour. We went back inside to do the 4D movie and some more shopping. The movie was fun; the narrator was an animated talking chocolate bar but there must have been a guy in a motion capture suit behind the scenes, since the chocolate bar responded in real time to the audience. This was very cool.

Several coasters visible, and the Milton Hershey School in the distanceOnce we finished there, we took the shuttle back to the campground where we picked up the van and drove into town to The Hershey Story, which was a museum dedicated to the town and company founder, Milton Hershey. Ol’ Milt was was quite the impressive man. He started four different businesses, each of which failed and left him bankrupt before he finally got successful not with chocolate, but with caramels. Once he realized that his biggest customers were buying his caramels and coating them in chocolate, he sold the caramel business and started a chocolate company. Then once he was hugely rich, he left his entire fortune (about $60 million in 1918) to the private school for underprivileged kids that he and his wife (Catherine, who he called “Kit Kat” and named a chocolate bar after) founded. The school is still running, educating over 2,000 kids from across the US for free, and the trust he created for the school still owns the entire Hershey corporation and is now worth billions.

After sampling some chocolate from around the world (Mexico – yuck, Venezuela – YUM), we went back to the campground to pick up the trailer, then got gas and hit the road. We drove north and east to Shamoken Dam PA, about an hour away. We checked into the Hampton Inn, and walked across the street to a place called Red Robin for dinner. We’d heard of this chain but knew nothing about it and damn, were we impressed. Gail, Nicky, and I all had burgers that were outstanding, with great fries as well, and Ryan loved his fish & chips. Dinner was so good that I tweeted to Red Robin, asking them to please open restaurants in Canada. They replied that they had some, but they’re only in BC and Alberta. Ontario please!

We love our trailer, and the beds are quite comfortable (and an order of magnitude nicer than sleeping on the ground), but man were the Hampton Inn beds nice that night.

Saturday, August 29

After breakfast at the hotel, we tried to leave for home. We really did. But the van must have seen what fun we had with the dead trailer battery that it decided to have a go. No engine start, no lights, it wouldn’t even unlock the doors. Completely dead. For the third time in five days, we needed a jump start. The hotel manager gave us a hand and once we got the van started, we drove north on route 15 all the way to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY. This may not sound like the most exciting place ever, but we were really impressed. There were a number of demonstrations and shows including glass blowing (the guy turned a blob of glass into a beautiful vase in 15 minutes right in front of us), flameworking (a different guy turned a couple of glass rods half an inch wide into a goblet in 15 minutes right in front of us), glass breaking (more about the differences between standard, bulletproof, and tempered glass and how heat and pressure affects them), and fiber optics. There was a lot to see and we didn’t see it all so we may have to go back there again.

After the museum we drove north to Bath, NY where we stopped at a Ponderosa. This was kind of a nostalgia thing for me and Gail since we both remember going to Ponderosa as kids but they haven’t been in Canada for 30+ years. For a buffet, it was pretty inexpensive but there wasn’t a ton of variety. After dinner we continued north and west through Batavia and Buffalo to Niagara Falls, crossed at the Peace Bridge after a 15-minute wait at the border, then arrived home around 10pm.

Other random notes:

  • The roads in New York on the way down were terrible. Bumpy with potholes everywhere. The second we crossed the border into Pennsylvania, things were much better. On the way back, we expected to hit the opposite once we crossed back into New York, but those roads had been freshly paved and were great. I guess they hadn’t gotten to route 219 yet.
  • When getting on the highway in Pennsylvania, you have to be quick because the merge lanes are about 6 inches long. This is especially fun when you’re pulling a trailer. I don’t know how truck drivers do it.
  • We camped for 3 nights and other than breakfasts, we made no meals at the campground.
  • I thought that visiting Hersheypark might trigger some memories from my 1986 visit, but it didn’t. The closest thing was the Sooper Dooper Looper roller coaster. I don’t remember if we went on it, but I had a very slight memory of the name.
  • On the way to Corning, we drove through a town called Williamsport, where traffic slowed down considerably. It turns out that the Little League World Series takes place here every year, in late August. There were two games on the day we were driving through, including the International Finals, and we were just in time to be in line with all the spectators. The traffic added a good half hour to our drive.
  • We stopped at a Wal-Mart to get Cherry Coke Zero which we can’t get in Canada, but they had none. We did pick up a case of Cherry Diet Pepsi, but it isn’t as cherry-y as the Coke. Going shopping in the US is always fun because they have exciting and delicious things we don’t have in Canada, like pork rinds and aerosol cheese! OK, bad examples.
  • The weather was awesome the whole trip. Mid-high 20’s (low 80’s) the whole time, no rain. A touch warmer on the water park day would have been good, but even that was fine.
  • Kilometers driven: 1250.2
  • After trickle-charging the trailer battery overnight, it’s fully charged now. Thought you’d want to know.

1 thought on “Vacation report: Hershey, Pennsylvania

  1. Pingback: Vacation report: Washington, DC | Cut The Chatter, Red Two

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