If the author of this NY Times travel article had joined our little troupe of travelers, he would have been on Team Tame Rides. If you are planning a trip to Hershey, PA, his article is a must read. Below I have cobbled together some suggestions for going to Hershey Park with your group. These are particularly helpful for first timers, but also might provide a different perspective for repeat visitors.
Grab your Group and GO to Hershey Park!
For the last five years my group and I have kicked off summer at Hershey Park. It is not a small group: on average 12 moms and some 25 kids, but I cannot fathom a sweeter way to kick off summer with friends.
What makes Hershey Park so special is it’s easy access to onsite lodging (our choice is the Hotel Hershey), the kind people that work at the park, and the multiple ages that the park appeals to. The kids in our group this year spanned from ages 6 to 12, and as you can see from the shining smiles, all were blissed out to be there! When I think about the number of people we have gathered, it seems ludicrous to me. It should be Chaotic! Unmanageable! But somehow it all works out. It just does and I think that was Milton S. Hershey’s grand plan.
With so many personalities, differing ages, and riding sensibilities, there is no way to properly organize the group – so don’t bother trying. Some people get to the park first thing and stay all day – ME! While others wander in mid-day and head back to the pool at the hotel at the first possible opportunity. Friends just naturally team up based on the timing of their arrival, ages and riding preferences. Many new friendships have blossomed via this pairing off. Some kid swapping occurs – often I will send my son with Team Water Park, my daughter and I tackle the 13 roller coasters with Team Scary Roller Coaster, while another parent wanders off with the critical mass of the under 7s. It is a surprisingly big park so it is quite possible you will not see other members of your group for the entire day.
That said… dinner provides an opportunity for convening as a group at the end of everyone’s fun day. Our group finds the easiest and most relaxing thing to do (weather permitting) is to gather by the pool and order our dinner there – they have a decent menu with a variety of salads, burgers and what not for the parents, and your basic kid’s menu for the under twelves. Kids are SO much happier frolicking in the pool and availing themselves of the well managed water slides than they would be locked to a dining room chair. It allows for more socializing for the mom’s too. Very relaxed and so much fun! If a proper sit down dinner is your thing, or the weather does not cooperate, The Hotel Hershey has 3 restaurants to choose from: The Circular, Trevi 5 for Italian, and Harvest for American fare.
Here is how we managed our two night stay:
Day One: Travel from NYC mid day after an early lunch. Arrive to Hershey around 3pm. Check in, get settled in our hotel room and head directly to the pool. The plan is to park it there for a good long time. They have Family Olympics from 5 to 6pm just outside the pool. And, as always, they have chocolate bingo from 6:30 to 7:30pm – a big hit with the shorter set. Hotel Hershey closes down the evening with S’mores by a giant fire pit right outside the pool from 8 to 9:30pm (s’mores kits are $5). Kids swim, run around, and have a ball! Once we corral them home they usually pass out pretty easily (depending on their sugar consumption).
Day Two: Park Day, ending up back at the pool for a repeat of the night before!
Day Three: Anything goes! Some go back to the park, others lounge by the pool, another subset heads to Chocolate World, and some just check out of the hotel and scramble home. This year we closed down our Hershey time with a visit to the gardens. The kids thought this would be a bit of a snooze, but the smiles on their faces in the butterfly conservancy were just as big as the smiles generated by the roller coasters. We toured the whole garden meandering through so much well tended to beauty the kids did not want to leave. There is something for everyone at Hershey – I am certain that’s just what Milton wanted.
Helpful Tips for the First Timers:
As mentioned there is more to the Hershey, PA then just Hershey Park. Hershey’s Chocolate World is well worth a visit and we always sneak in a visit to the Hershey Gardens on site at the hotel. Spend some time on the website before hand so you can get an idea of how you want to allocate your time. The Hotel Hershey is lovely and is often everyone’s favorite part of the trip. So if relaxing is your thing be sure weave that into your plans.
In the park… the rides and the water park are in the same perimeter area. This translates to having kids either wearing their swimsuits with a t-shirt/cover up or packing them so they are ride ready and water ready at any time. I also like to bring small towels along, but don’t overpack – sunscreen, small towel, and don’t bother with a book. You can rent a locker, but you are better off keeping your stuff with you. Just stash it in the buckets they provide as you are getting onto the rides or in the free and easy to use lockers that are conveniently placed next to the major attractions. It is a BIG park, keep your things nearby so you have what you need when you need it and travel light!
My outfit of choice is a swim dress, super convenient for wet and dry activities! They can be found in lots of stores, but my go to is Athleta. If you don’t plan to engage in water park activities – then anything goes. Anything goes at night, too!
There is a shuttle that leaves the hotel to go to the park every 30 minutes or so (they don’t like to commit to an exact time). The first shuttle from the hotel leaves at 8:30am, which gets you there in time for the Hershey early hours. The park partially opens at 9am for hotel guests – a nice perk. This is a nice way to get some rides in under your belt (The Comet, Sky Rush and The Super Duper Looper for the adventurous members of your crew) before the crowds arrive. And you can be in a better position for running to Laff Trakk the delightful new indoor ride that recently opened. Even on our last day we leave the car at the hotel and take the shuttle back and forth to the park so that we can depart from the hotel. Turns out that is the easiest way to go.
To properly gather your group I recommend getting a date on the calendar 6 months in advance. I cast a wide net when communicating the selected dates and I encourage people to share the dates with friends and friends of friends. People are making and canceling reservations literally until the day before we leave.
My friend Tate is a Brownell Travel Agent. If you book through her you will get a free buffet breakfast for two, a late check out and a $100 credit that can be applied to the purchase of food, souvenirs, spa time, or park tickets. She can also arrange to have your group placed together in the hotel – it is a large hotel – (we had our own wing!) all at no additional cost. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for help planning your Hershey group getaway. Now I sound like I am selling which I am not – no kickbacks for this gal – just a helpful tip.
Some of the same sensibilities and practicalities on our Hershey trip could also be applied to any one of the destinations highlighted in this Stay (and Play, Too) article also found in the New York Times. So grab your group and GO!