|DAVID'S DEN HERSHEYPARK|
Hersheypark: Still sweet at 100
This Pennsylvania park offers a delightful escape for children and adults alike.
By Dave Zuchowski
A hundred years ago, chocolate tycoon Milton Hershey opened a modest picnic and pleasure grounds near his gigantic chocolate factory near the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg. Over the years, the park has grown to become one of the nation's most popular amusement parks.
Currently celebrating its centennial, the park has invested $21 million to construct the largest water-play structure in the world with five distinctive water attractions. The 4.6-acre Boardwalk, as the centerpiece of the centennial is called, is the biggest financial investment the park has ever made.
"Hersheypark's new wet area gives visitors the combination of an exciting amusement park as well as an experience similar to taking a trip to the beach," says Mindy Bianca, director of public relations for the park.
CALLING ALL THRILL-SEEKERS
While the allure of cooling off on a hot summer day by gliding down one of the Boardwalk's water slides was tempting, the call of the park's 10 roller coasters (more than any other park in Pennsylvania) piqued my interest even more. Starting with the Comet, a wooden classic with quick turns and drops that's been around since 1946, I made my way though the coaster roster up through Great Bear, the first steel, inverted looping coaster in the state, then on to my favorite, poignantly called Storm Runner. This adventurous coaster challenge launches riders from 0 to 72 mph in two seconds, catapults them straight up an 18-story tower, straight down the other side, then proceeds through a 135-foot cobra loop, barrel rolls and a flying snake dive. Hold on to your hat!
Fortunately, each of the park's 60 rides is graded from mild to wild on a five-point scale, with one being the slowest and gentlest and five being the top of the aggressive thrill ride options. About 26 rides are deemed appropriate for small children.
One of my favorites, the Kissing Tower (rated mildly at 2), is a must-try, especially in the evening when the park lights illuminate the sky. After entering an enclosed cabin much like a huge donut that turns in a clockwise direction as it slowly rises 250-feet up the tower, riders can look through "Hershey Kisses" windows for a panoramic view of the entire park. Incidentally, the famed Hershey Kiss is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. For more information, visit hersheypa.com.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
For its centennial, Hersheypark is also unveiling five new shows, including the spectacular "Velocity", a cirque-style audio-visual sensory experience featuring acrobats, gymnasts, dancers and aerial artists performing to stimulating music.
Another show, "Impact Effect", is a high-speed extravaganza of dancing, singing and percussionists playing a range of both likely and unlikely instruments. Elsewhere, in the Aquatheatre, a pair of sea lions join a motley crew of humans in a comic, water-based adventure.
The one-price park admissions ticket is good for all the rides, entertainment venues and the Hersheypark ZooAmerica, an extensive assortment of exotic animals. Just outside the park, Chocolate World gives visitors a free riding tour that explains how cocoa beans are transformed into milk chocolate with animated characters, special effects and a spectacular finale that includes a free chocolate sample.
For an extra fee, Chocolate World also shows an energetic 3-D film with special effects in its big screen theater. It's also the starting point for guided trolley tours that take you into the town of Hershey for a drive past the chocolate factory, High Point, (Milton Hershey's 22-room mansion), and many other landmarks including the famous Hershey Kiss-shaped streetlights.
Horticulture lovers might want to plan an hour or more stay at the Hershey Gardens, just up the hill from the park, where 23 beautiful acres are home to 7,000 rose bushes, consisting of 275 varieties, a new children's garden and a butterfly house. Admission is charged. For more information, visit hersheygardens.org.
IF YOU'RE GOING
During the centennial, Hershey Resorts is offering special packages at the four-diamond, four-star Hershey Hotel, the Hershey Lodge and the Hershey Highmeadow Campground. Among the benefits are best prices on park tickets and early access to select rides and attractions. The hotel and lodge are also offering a dessert created to honor the park's centennial, the 100th anniversary of Hershey's Kisses and the 150th anniversary of Milton Hershey's birth. Even the spa at the Hershey Hotel is getting into the spirit of the occasion by offering two new nail colors - "100 Years of Happy" (red) and "Happy Anniversary" (silver).For more information, phone 1-800-Hershey or visit hersheypark.com.
IN AND AROUND THE PARK
For a fun place to dine outside the park, the Soda Jerk Diner and Family Restaurant in the charming village of Hummelstown, has been around for 11 years offering a copious menu in a retro '50s and '60s atmosphere. In addition to several daily specials, seafood items, sandwiches, burgers and more, the diner makes its own ice cream and Italian ices. Breakfast is served all day, and an outdoor deck is available for those wanting to dine al fresco. Need more info? 403 E. Main St., Hummelstown, phone: 717-566-7707 or visit sodajerkdiner.com.
Dave Zuchowski has been writing about travel for twenty years, and his articles have made the pages of many newspapers aand magazines cross the country, including AAA, Pathfinders, West Virginia Magazine, Southsider, and Westsylvania. Currently, he is the travel correspondent for the New Castle News, a daily in the Pittsburgh area. In his spare time, he also puts his horticultural interests to good use on his fifteen acre farm located near Centerville, Pa.
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