The “Happiest Place on Earth” is always a popular destination over the summer. But like clockwork, admissions prices go up every year and traffic and long lines make visitors wonder if Disneyland truly lives up to its nickname. But for chocolate lovers and families with children, a great alternative to pricey, mega-amusement parks is a visit to the “Sweetest Place on Earth.” Named after Milton Hershey, founder of the iconic Hershey Chocolate Company, which has produced such famous candies as Hershey’s Kisses, Almond Joy and Hershey’s Bars, Hershey is home to a number of wonderful attractions for all ages. In fact, first time visitors may be surprised how much there is to do in this historic city, including a trip to an amusement park with admission that’s almost 50 percent cheaper than the competition. To get an idea of what’s happening in Hershey, Pennsylvania, this family-friendly travel guide presents the best dining, lodging and attractions.
How To Get There
The closest international airport is in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, located about 11 miles from Hershey. Many major airline carriers serve Harrisburg International Airport (MDT), including American Airlines, Delta and United. Ground transportation includes car rentals, hotels and public bus transportation. The Middleton Amtrak station is two miles from Harrisburg International Airport.
The Harrisburg Amtrak Train Station is located in downtown Harrisburg, just a half mile from the State Capitol Building. The train station has a waiting area, ticket office and public restrooms. Two Amtrak routes serve Harrisburg – Pennsylvanian, with service from New York to Pittsburg and Keystone, serving New York and Philadelphia. The Middletown Amtrak station is also served by Amtrak’s Keystone route.
Hershey can be reached by car via Interstate Highways 76, 78, 81 and 83. Motorists traveling from New York City, Allentown or Reading should take Interstate Highway 78, whereas Philadelphia, Lancaster and Pittsburg motorists should take Interstate Highway 76. Motorists traveling from Syracuse or Scranton should take Interstate Highway 81 to Hershey. Visitors traveling from Baltimore and Washington D.C. should take Interstate Highway 83, then connect with either Interstate Highway 76 or Interstate Highway 81.
There are more than 20 hotel properties located in Hershey, however, there aren’t any budget motels worthy of a recommendation. Hershey does have a few campgrounds and RV parks, most notably Hersheypark Camping Resort. Fortunately, most of the best-rated hotels fall within the moderate category and only a few could be described as expensive. The following are among the best family-friendly places to stay in Hershey, including the AAA-Four Diamond-rated Hotel Hershey.
Where To Dine
There are many more choices for dining in Hershey, ranging from cheap eats to upscale. With more than 175 places to dine, it’s easier to make a recommendation in all three categories. Many of the best upscale restaurants can be found in the Hotel Hershey.
What To See
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Hershey’s hasn’t conducted tours of the chocolate factory for decades. But at Hershey’s Chocolate World, visitors get the next best thing and a whole lot more. Located on an enormous complex that also includes Hersheypark, Hersheypark Stadium and Giant Center, Hershey’s Chocolate World is filled with chocolate-related attractions like the admission free Hershey’s Great American Chocolate ride. Visitors are transported on amusement cars commonly used in Disneyland to explore a miniature version of the factory, complete with animated characters and conveyor belts filled with chocolates. After exiting the amusement cars, visitors can visit other attractions, such as the Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery in 4D Experience and an opportunity to make chocolate candy bars.
First opened in 1907, Hersheypark is a family-friendly theme park with more than 70 rides on 110 acres. Originally built as a place for Hershey Chocolate Factory employees, the park features an assortment of thrill rides, family rides and kiddie rides. During the peak summer months, the park also offers live shows such as piano duels, classic rock with Pattie and the Peppermints and a Hershey’s Character Party. Also on the property is an enormous wave pool known as The Shore, a Boardwalk and several roller coasters including Laff Trak, scheduled to open this summer.
Located between Hershey’s Chocolate World and Hersheypark, Hershey Trolley Works features a Summer Trolley Adventure tour and a more elaborate History and Chocolate Tour. Beginning in mid-June, trolleys depart every 15 or 30 minutes and transport guests on a 45-minute ride through the city of Hershey while learning about the company’s history and sampling chocolate goodies. The longer, History and Chocolate Tour is 75 minutes in length and offers riders a more in depth look of the city and its history along with plenty of chocolate passed out to guests. Other themed trolleys operate during different times of the year, such as Halloween and Christmas.
Perhaps more interesting for adults than children, the Hershey Story is still a great museum to visit for the entire family. Also known as the Museum on Chocolate Avenue, the museum chronicles the history of the Hershey Company and its founder Milton S. Hershey. Visitors can enjoy historical artifacts, interactive exhibits and a chance to learn how to make chocolate in the Chocolate Lab. Also within the Hershey Story is a museum shop, chocolate tasting in the grand lobby and Café Zooka, a great place to grab a bite to eat after the tour.
Also located on the Hersheypark property, Zoo America requires a separate admission of its own. However, for guests who visit Hersheypark amusement park, admission is free to the zoo. Featuring more than 200 animals from over 60 species, the zoo extends 11 acres and is divided into five climate regions of North America, such as the Southern Swamps and Big Sky Country. Among the animal species at the zoo are American alligators, bald eagles, barn owls, black bears, roadrunners and river otters.
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Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.