|Our big outing for 2007 was more subdued than in the past. We chose to stick with just one park. Karen, our girls and I headed for beautiful Hersheypark and a week at Hershey's Highmeadow Campground. It was the park's 100th anniversary this year. I had tried reserving a log cabin a few months before, but they were booked up for the entire year! So instead we reserved a campsite and brought our tent. It was sort of ironic that we were in Hershey for our longest stay a park, because I'm allergic to dark chocolate.
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon. The campground was packed. We pitched our tent at our assigned spot, conveniently located down below the camp store and abutting a tiny creek. Our neighbors to one side were young coaster enthusiasts who had just been to Dorney Park. To our other side was a large family. The father was a teacher at my old alma mater in Mississippi, and they used to live in the town where I was born. Small world....
We spent the rest of that day relaxing. We started a crackling fire in the firepit and roasted marshmallows. Then we went to bed early to prepare for our day at the park. Karen and I camped here in 2000. I hadn't remembered the steady stream of trains that roared past the campground all night. I found it soothing, but I wondered how the campers felt who had sites right next to the tracks.
The next morning we took the free camp shuttle over to the park. When we were last here, the park felt sort of disconnected from the rest of the town. But Hershey (the town and corporation) had since created a synergy between its many facets. The town not only included the park and campground, there were also the Hotel Hershey, the Hershey Lodge, Hershey Gardens, Hershey Museum, Trolley tours, Chocolate World, factory tour and three huge concert arenas. All of them shared shuttles so that guests could easily migrate from one place to another. In 2000, the shuttle's route was pretty direct: down the main road, through the parking lot and into the traffic circle. But this time the route was long and convoluted. We drove past the huge new Giant Center. Our girls were excited because singer Josh Groban was going to be there the next night. They were hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the park. The shuttle then dove below an overpass and followed a long circuit around the Center and then back onto another road that finally led to the main parking lot. I couldn't understand why the route was necessary.
We arrived before the park was open. The shuttle dropped us off in a nicely-landscaped loop reserved for shuttles and the many trams out to the vast parking lots. The weather was perfect if a little hot, with a bright, clear sky. In front of us was the lighthouse that stood at the site of the old Hershey pool. The lighthouse was across a small road, all alone, surrounded by colorful plants. To our left was the entrance to the park. Throngs of people were already lining up. To our right was the big modern building housing Chocolate World. It was open, so we headed there first. Hershey's candy mascots waved to us from the top of the building. We entered the huge lobby. People were milling about everywhere. There was a new "4-D" movie theater to the left. The Chocolate Tour was to our right. The area in front of us opened up into a huge gift shop that sold anything and everything that could be branded with Hershey's logo -- sweatshirts, piggy banks, soccer balls, candles....
The Chocolate Tour was free, so we started off with that. A long sloping path led upward to an empty darkened corridor. Along the left wall was a large illustrated timeline detailing Milton Hershey's development of the Hershey company. We turned a corner and seemed to walk into the tropics. Cacao trees lined either side. The walls were painted with murals of lush forests. Video screens played scenes of cacao beans being harvested. We turned another corner and the corridor sloped downward. On the left was a large mural of an ocean liner delivering the cacao beans to a seaport. The corridor split into three lines. A handful of people were in one of the lines. We were directed onto a moving turntable that kept pace with large dark-ride-style cars moving on a track. There were three cars in a row then three blank areas of the track, small narrow metal platforms with a large metal cylinder in each center. It looked as if more cars could be added to those platforms. I assumed the three cars in a row were to match up with the three queue lines in the corridor.
We took our seats and a talking cow peeking out of a barn door above and in front of us welcomed us to the land of Hershey. We turned a left-hand corner and there were cows (actually just their butts with tails wagging...) that sang the praises of Hershey chocolate. The ride then took us on a simulated tour of what it takes to make chocolate. Karen and I had ridden it in 2000, but it had been updated quite a bit. Even though we had seen some of it before, it was still interesting. I especially liked the part where we were pulled through the roasting machine. There was also a section toward the end that filled the room with the scent of chocolate. Our girls loved that. At the very end of the ride, the same cow that welcomed us asked us to smile for a picture. Sure enough, when we left the ride we were directed right past a booth selling photos of us on the ride. We passed on that. The ride's exit was cleverly designed, a long twisting walk above the Chocolate World complex where you could look down at the brightly-lit shops with strategically placed colorful neon lights. It made the gift shops and food court appear more fun than the ride.
We decided to see the new movie, "The Really Big 3-D Show." The large colorful ticket booth diplayed show times. All of the early times were sold out. We had to wait about 45 minutes for the next available showing. So we bought the tickets ($5.95 each) and wandered about the complex. We went into the giant candy store. There was a counter selling all sorts of exotic confections. I bought a lemon square filled with white chocolate. It was heavenly. We headed back for the theater, handed over our tickets and entered into a sort of waiting area. The walls had floor-to-ceiling murals depicting Hershey's rural countryside, a fanciful old plane with Hershey candy bars for wings and lots of ads from the early 1900s. The emphasis was clearly on the history of the company.
After a few minutes an older man emerged dressed like an impresario. He said we'd be going to an historical lecture about Hershey given by the foremost authority about the company. He told us to get some special glasses but not to wear them until instructed. We were led into another room where the bins of glasses were, and then were let into the theater itself which had a long narrow stage backed by a deep red curtain and a lecturn off to the left. We sat in the middle of the theater. After a few moments, a young nerdy-looking guy emerged and told us he was the Hershey authority and began lecturing dryly about the park. Suddenly a 3-D animated guy appeared. It was a nice effect, making it appear that he was actually standing in front of the red curtain. He was sort of a short squat used car salesman with a Brooklyn accent. He interacted with the live performer and basically said that the lecture needed a little jazzing up. He told us to put on our glasses. The next half-hour was filled with the usual "4-D" gimmicks (spraying water, things crawling under the seats, etc.), but it was done with style and was well-integrated with the story, so none of it seemed like gimmicks. Hershey did a terrific job with this film. It was very funny in places, and at the same time we learned a lot about Milton Hershey and the history of the company. And we left the theater feeling really good. Hershey seemed like a really great place to be.
We walked back outside into the increasing heat of the day and headed across the loop to the park. A small pond, waterfall and tudor-style buildings greeted us. There were also lush colorful plantings everywhere. The area was clotted with people, but the traffic was flowing smoothly in toward the park. Signs everywhere reminded us that this was Hersheypark's 100th anniversary. The first line we encountered was before the ticket booths. Hershey had security stationed here to check everyone's bags before they entered the park. I thought that was a great idea. That way once you bought your tickets you could just walk right in, rather than wait and be searched (as at most Six Flags parks). A 2-day pass to the park was $62.95, and that's what we opted for. (Surprisingly, the campground offered no discounts.)
Passing through the ticket booths, it looked as if we were still in the same area. There was a sign telling us we were in Tudor Square. It felt just like Busch Gardens. There was a Dunkin' Donuts shop on our left. Next to that was a peculiar sculpture, a "rollercowster," basically a fiberglass cow with a seat in its back standing on four wheels attached to a section of tubular steel track. To our right was the Hersheypark Chocolate House. The wide cobblestone path led upward and to the left and was interrupted by raised flower beds and dozens of tall trees. Nearly every building had the Hershey characters on them.
At the top of the hill the path opened up into a wide midway called Founder's Circle. The centerpiece was a new fountain at the center of which was a bronze statue of Milton Hershey. Behind that was Hershey's beautiful antique PTC "carrousel" (I don't know why they spell it with two Rs). What I found fascinating about this ride was that it still had an oil bottle at the very top of the centerpost. PTC carousels were designed to be self-oiling using that bottle, but very few remaining carousels operate that way.
The old double Ferris wheel that used to be nearby was gone, replaced with a swing ride themed with colorful balloons and the relocated Starship America, a jets ride. There was also a large assortment of kiddie rides. One thing I liked about the park is that there was no "Kiddieland" per se. Rides for kids were everywhere, side by side with adult rides. And many of them were antiques. The white structure of the classic Herb Schmeck-designed Comet roller coaster wrapped around this area as well. Its layout was a unique sort of Y-shape. We continued walking up to Music Box Way, where the Chevrolet Music Box Theater was located. There were some shows there that the girls wanted to see, so we noted their times. (The girls were recovering from nasty sunburns and didn't want to ride anything.) The theater was also playing a movie about the life of Milton Hershey. One of the kiddie rides here, Ladybug, was a miniature Tumble Bug. It was perched at the top of an intersection that dropped steeply down to Comet Hollow. The names for each section of the park didn't indicate a theme (except for Tudor Square) but merely helped guests locate rides and shops on the map. The entire park really had no theme except for the chocolate look to much of it. Basically, it was an old-time trolley park that was meticulously landscaped.
To our left was the station for the Captial Blue Cross Monorail. (I hate it when parks name rides after companies, but I guess if it helps pay the bills....) As you might guess, the train and the track were painted blue. This was our first ride of the day, to help familiarize us with the park. In the distance I could see the distinctive red track and white supports of the Stormrunner coaster, one of the newer additions to the park. The park was running two lengthy monorail trains, and it didn't take long to board. The ride was very smooth and the entire circuit (which left the park and went partway into the town of Hershey) was punctuated by a recording narrating not only sites throughout the park but also the legacy of Milton Hershey. As we passed a set of huge yellow and brown buildings with two brick smokestacks bearing the word "Hershey," we were reminded that we were looking at the largest chocolate factory in the world. Near that point was a monorail loading station for Chocolate Avenue (with its Hershey Kiss streetlamps), but it was gated off and locked up. I was surprised that the monorail track included several small hills and valleys; on other monorails I've ridden the track was always level. We cruised past the 11-acre Zoo America complex and passed right through the structure of Stormrunner. No matter where we looked, the park seemed inviting with lots of shade, bright colors and intertwined rides.
We strolled down a winding path into the Pioneer Frontier. The Hershey candy characters were everywhere, poking out of the tops of buildings or walking around. There were some log cabins in the Pioneer section, but that was the extent of the theming. The two main rides (Stormrunner and Sidewinder, a chocolate-colored Boomerang) didn't quite look right there, as if the theme had been abandoned. I wanted to try Stormrunner, which was a sort of miniature Top Thrill Dragster. Karen passed on it. So I made my way through the winding unshaded queue up to the small station. It looked like Intamin couldn't quite line things up; the track coming out of the station made a slight s-curve to the left before it joined up with the launch track. The trains looked odd. They were tall and boxy. The over-the-shoulder restraints looked extremely uncomfortable. They were made of flat metal bars with very thin padding. Soon I was seated in the front seat, which didn't feel as bad as it looked -- at first.
The train slowly rolled out of the station and around the s-curve. It was a bit bumpy, as if the wheels weren't quite round. So I prepared myself for the worst. The train moved up to the cable block and a "klunk" signaled we were locked in place. I looked down the long straight track that was slightly inclined. At the very end it bent up (too severely, in my opinion) and twisted 90-degrees up into a tight hill that dropped 90-degrees on the other side. I heard a whoosh of air and saw the brakes on the track release. Then I was yanked forward with alarming speed and thrown up that tall hill. The restraints weren't like most other coasters' and didn't surround my head. So at least my ears didn't get boxed from all the shaking. But instead my neck and shoulders were slammed back and forth against the thinly padded bars. We crested the hill with characteristic severe Intamin airtime and plunged straight down again, negotiating a long dip in the track and then quickly rising up into a sort of odd half-loop. I thought my fillings were going to shake loose. We plunged down again, rose up more gently and then spun through the roughest heartline roll I've ever encountered. Then we hit the brakes. Mercifully, the ride lasted only about 30 seconds. I was already in pain.
I staggered out of the exit. Karen greeted me. She had just spoken with two American Coaster Enthusiasts. When she asked them what they thought of Stormrunner, they said they rode it once and never again. I felt the same way. I couldn't understand how Intamin could have made great rides like Superman and El Toro, and then have produced this torture device. It did look great from the midway. But that was about it. Perhaps if the trains had just lapbars instead of the shoulder harnesses, it would have been more comfortable.
We hadn't eaten much for breakfast, so Karen and I stopped at the nearby Mixed Grille. The girls went to Subway. Karen got a huge salad and a delicious spanikopita. I got some really tasty penne with marinara sauce and a slice of very good baklava. It was difficult to find a shady spot to eat there, even though there were plenty of tables. In the center of the area was a small gazebo. A guy named Karl Hausman was inside playing a small upright piano, whipping through one song after another and one style after another, from Scott Joplin to Elton John.
After that refreshing meal we followed more steep winding and shady paths over a bridge. We passed the Aquatheater, which in 2000 had a really good show with dolphins and sea lions. We walked up another steep hill (This park was a workout!) past the tall Condor ride to Zoo America. It was unusual to find a zoo inside a big amusement park, especially a zoo of this size. There were many exhibits in air conditioned rooms (thankfully). One whole section was darkened, lit only by blacklights, and featured creatures of the night. Another display featured creatures of the desert. That's where I saw my first real roadrunner, and boy were those things fast! We walked back outside following the shaded paths. There were all sorts of animals from bobcats to buffalos, but almost all of them were lying in the shade, exhausted from the heat. The only creatures who seemed unfazed were the humourous prarie dogs. They dove in and out of their tunnels and frolicked with each other.
By then it was time for the first show in the Music Box Theater, Impact. It was a musical performance in the style of "Blast" or "Stomp:" all percussion. The backdrop on the large stage was velvety black with hundreds of tiny lights forming a twinkling star field. At the center of the stage was a large flatbed handtruck with some scenery pieces on it and a couple of trash cans. Other would-be percussive items were scattered around the rest of the stage. A tall thin young guy appeared dressed as a security guard. But it was really obvious that he was a performer. Another young kid appeared dressed like...well...a young kid. He tried to walk up on the stage but the guard stopped him. They had an inaudible argument. Other people appeared. One was dressed as a custodian. The kid bolted up onto the stage and began banging on the trash can. The other performers made feeble attempts to stop him. Finally things gelled a bit more and the performers dropped all pretense and took positions behind the different items on stage. Then they began banging away. The guy who played the guard picked up an electric guitar and began playing power chords.
This went on for a while. The performers drifted off stage and returned in different costumes. A huge structure was lowered from the flyspace. It looked very much like "Blast": six small stages (three stacked on top of three) with various percussion intruments in each square. The performers took their positions and began pounding. It was all very very loud. One of the female performers probably had a bit too much caffeine before the performance. She was so overly energetic and animated that it became annoying. She would have made a much better circus clown. Some of the performers did some interpretive dance. Some sang passably. The big finale had four of them hoisted up into the air on cables, flailing away at suspended percussion instruments that wouldn't stay still. It was sound and fury signifying nothing. After seeing that, Karen and I decided to pass on the other big show in that theater, "Velocity," which by the description sounded like a poor man's Cirque du Soleil.
We then hopped aboard the nearby Dry Gulch Railroad. The old steam engine gave a relaxing trip around the park, with some silly little stunts along the way (a large snake, a hanging skeleton and -- my favorite -- a crazed barber holding a razor). From there we made our way down to the crowded new Boardwalk area, billed as the largest water play structure ever built. We passed by Tidal Force, a Shoot-the-Chute ride that drenched the surrounding midway with its massive splash. Karen and I headed toward the exit gate so that we could stand up on the exit bridge and get splashed, but an attendant there stopped us. The only way we could get splashed was if we took a ride first. I thought that was odd. The queue was full, so we just moved on.
The impossibly twisted yet graceful structures of the Wildcat and Lightning Racer coasters dominated that area. In the distance was the colorful Ferris wheel and the Wild Mouse. And in the middle of all that was the brightly-colored jumbled up structures encompassing the new waterpark. It really was huge, capped by an airplane five stories up trailing a banner that read "The seashore at your door...."
The girls went off to explore the gift shops. Karen and I went off to ride Lightning Racer, our favorite ride at the park when we were last here. Watching those wonderful open-front trains by Great Coasters International fly around the track, it was easy to imagine I was back in the 1920s. The big entrance area and long queue line was empty. I noticed that Hersheypark used lots of ramps instead of stairs, and the ramps were constructed with durable (and expensive) composite wood and non-skid metal slats. We queued up for the front seat of Lightning, which seemed to be winning every race. (The other train was named Thunder.) In a few minutes we were seated in the train, which was so heavily padded it felt more like an overstuffed leather armchair. I noticed a refreshing site: the tracks were glistening. Hersheypark greased their coaster tracks!
We rolled out of the station into a wide clockwise turn up to the lift. The Thunder train was nowhere in site. Its lift hill was staggered, to the left and slightly in front of ours. We could hear the clacking of its rachets but didn't see it until we crested the lift. Then the track sharply turned right and severely dropped down. We plunged fast and at the bottom of the hill the train jackhammered and shook violently. We flew up the next hill and caught some strong airtime. The rest of the course was fast and furious, with rapid changes of direction and moments of airtime. But there was still jackhammering and shaking at the bottom of every drop. Even with all the padding, it wasn't very pleasant. We flew into the brake run. Lightning won again, much to the chagrin of the people on Thunder.
I sadly dropped Lightning Racer out of my favorites spot. It had become too rough. If the park replaced some track at the bottom of the drops, it probably would revert to its old smooth self as it was when we first rode it. I'm glad the tracks were greased; the trains certainly kept their speed up and didn't squeal once. But one ride was enough for us. Even so, the structure was a thing of beauty. Great Coasters International designed some of the most visually pleasing rides I've ever seen.
At the opposite end of the midway was the first coaster ever built by GCI, The Wildcat. It had that instantly identifiable GCI look: the swooping first drop, the flowing curved hills. When we rode it in 2000, it was really rough. This year the park purchased new GCI trains. So we gave the ride another shot. The new trains seemed even more open in the front than those on Lightning Racer. We left the station and the train sped around a right-hand corner then hopped over a little speed bump and up the lift. The tracks were slick with oil. But the ride was similar to Lightning Racer. Even though the new trains tracked better and were speedier than the old PTC trains, the bottom of every hill jackhammered. I liked the ride much better this time; airtime was much more prominent with the increased speed. And the layout was completely unpredictable, a mass of twists and turns. But again, it rode too rough for my taste.
Next to the Wildcat was a large circus-styled building. The last time we were at the park, it had various displays in it like model railroads and the ubiquitous Hershey products. This time it was closed. We looked in the windows and saw a stage with a banner that indicated there was a talent search going on, like American Idol.
We met up with the girls and hopped on the Ferris wheel. From the top of the wheel, it was surprising to see just how large the park was. Most of the area was filled with trees. The tops of the coasters appeared like distant mountain peaks. It was also evident how vast the Boardwalk area was. The Roller Soaker, a suspended coaster, was rolling through its gentle zig-zag course. Each 4-person car (two seated forward and two backward) were equipped with water cannons to douse guests on the midway below. But the people on the midway also had several water cannons that they could fire at the passing cars.
The only sections of the park we hadn't explored were Comet Hollow and Minetown. We made the long trek to Comet Hollow. The Great Bear, a B&M suspended coaster with an unusual helix before the first drop, was living up to its name, roaring loudly next to the stream that ran through the park. The inviting profile of the Comet enticed us. When we rode it on our last visit, it was our least favorite ride in the park. It was slow and rough. But we decided to give it another chance. Within a few minutes, Karen and I were sitting in the front seat.
Looking up the lift hill in front of us, it was a bit disconcerting to see the track towards the top jog a bit left and then right, as if it had warped. The chain pulled us up over it without incident and we plunged down to the stream and over to the other side, and we were greeted with a strong pop of airtime. We circled around to the left and then dove back over the stream. After a big bunny hop with airtime, we crested the second turnaround. We bounced back out toward the stream again, took a hard right with strong laterals and rode over bunny hops parallel to the stream. Then we made a big left-hand circle around and went back in the opposite direction, took another hard turn to the left with strong laterals, hopped over a few more bunny hills and then hit the long skid brakes. The train curved around the end of the station and finally came to rest at the loading area.
What a blast! The Comet ran much better than I remembered it, and it became Karen's favorite ride in the park. There was a little bit of shaking, but none of the roughness or jackhammering that were on the GCI coasters. Herb Schmeck's signature airtime hills were everywhere. And the layout was unique. The ride had just as impressive a profile as the GCI coasters, but in a different style. It felt more like a coaster from a small town park.
We then walked across the bridge to the Hersheypark Amphitheater, a simple metal building with bleachers, to see Road Trip. The stage was set up with an old sports car in the center (like Grease). A sign above it read, "Hatfield." (Why couldn't it have read, "Hershey?") The whole look of the stage was 1950s, with pastel colors, old gas pumps, soda fountains and chrome. Karen and Liz made a bet. Liz said they'd sing Greased Lightning and won the bet as the large cast opened the show with that song. There wasn't much of a story. They freely mixed songs from the '50s through the '90s. None of it made much sense, and the sound system was set to "disintegrate;" It was painfully loud and featured cheesy pre-recorded music.
By that point the heat was getting to us. Karen got some kettle corn, and we walked over to the entrance loop to catch the shuttle back to our campground. On the way we passed by a brass band playing in the Founder's Circle. They were similar to Busch Garden's Boogie Band, playing upbeat funky tunes and working the crowd.
That evening at the camp there was an activity called Chocolate Bingo. Everyone had to bring a Hershey candy product and put it in a box. We were given Bingo cards and a camp counselor called out the numbers. A father and his two kids sat at the same table we did. Our daughter Liz got Bingo first. She went up to the counselor and was able to pick one of the candies out of the box. Unfortunately, the box was sitting in the rays of the setting sun. Liz brought back a Hershey bar that was more like hot chocolate wrapped in foil. I won next and picked a Reese's bar (and gave it to Karen). Then Liz won again. Then one of the kids sitting next to us won. Then I won again. Then the other kid next to us won. And Karen won. I guess we had the lucky table that night. The counselor restricted everyone to two wins. We had won our share and went back to our tent for a good night's sleep.
The next morning we headed down the street to Bob Evans for breakfast. Then we returned and boarded the shuttle. It was Friday, and Josh Groban was performing that night. Cars were already streaming into the Giant Center. We headed right for the park. The traffic was a bit thicker than the day before as we made the long loop around and over to the park entrance. The girls decided they were going to spend the day watching all of the shows in the park (and there were a lot of them!). So Karen and I went off together. Since we enjoyed the Comet so much, we started off the day on it. There were very few people in line and we were in the front seat in no time. Once again, the coaster delivered a fast and fun ride filled with airtime. It leapt into my top 5 favorite wood coasters. We walked over to the Comet gift booth, but it was closed.
We walked over to the nearby Superdooperlooper, one of the first modern looping coasters built in this country. It was a long climb to the station. I was surprised to see that a short run of chain in the middle of the station track, like a mini lift hill, was used to position the train. The seats were comfortable and roomy -- and there were no seat belts or over-the-shoulder harnesses! There was just an individual lap bar. Karen wasn't big on looping rides, and neither was I. But there we went clacking up the lift hill. The train turned to the left, dove down and then flew through the big loop. It was really smooth and didn't have the near-blackout G forces for which Anton Schwartzkopf was known. For the rest of the circuit there were twists and turns almost like The Wildcat, and even a few pops of air. We cruised back into the station smiling. It was a really fun, comfortable ride.
Since we were at Hersheypark, we couldn't pass up a ride on the unique Kissing Tower, the tall observation tower with windows shaped like Hershey Kisses. The tower was emblazoned with "100 Years." Thankfully, the ride was air-conditioned. It gave yet another impressive bird's-eye view of the grounds. After that we went next door to ride the Coal Cracker, one of the last Arrow Speedracer flumes left in the world. The station had blowers running across the queue line. The roar of The Great Bear surrounded us as we waited. In a short time we were standing on the big revolving turntable and climbed into our boat (which curiously looked like a cross between a tank and a submarine). It had a long back seat and a short front seat. Evidently, they wanted weight in the back of the boat. We obliged by both sitting in the back. We floated out onto the course and were pulled up the lift. We gently splashed into the trough. The last time we were at the park, the interior of the trough had been painted to make it look like the water was chocolate. This time though the trough was white and the sides were really high so that we couldn't see over it. We floated along and splashed down a little drop, then went up another lift and floated through another trough. Then came the big drop and -- because this was a Speedracer -- a little bunny hop that sent our boat slightly into the air and then splashing down. We didn't get very wet, but it was relaxing.
Though we were technically in the Minetown area, there was nothing there themed like a mine or even a mining town. Nearby was the large Gourmet Grille. We stopped in. Karen got a salad with breadsticks (which were basically rolls) and I got a small and very good pasta salad. I was impressed with the variety of food at the park. It seemed like every eatery offered something different, and it was all fresh. Karen spotted a large air-conditioned arcade. We entered and looked around. There were the usual Skee Ball, racing games and shooters, but there were also some older machines (i.e.: the classic 1982 video game, Joust). Way at the back end of the building was a neon sign on the wall: Pinball! So we walked over there. There were about eight machines, some new and some classic. I saw one of my favorites, Comet. We played it, but several of the targets didn't function and the sound didn't work. Hard to miss was the largest pinball machine ever built (and it had a plaque to prove it!), Hercules. This one wasn't functioning properly either. The pop bumpers and one of the side bumpers were dead, which killed most of the action. Near that was the classic machine Fireball. It stole our quarters and did nothing. I got my money back from the attendant. Finally we tried one last machine, one I had never heard of before: Gottlieb's Ice Fever. It had a fun playfield and great action. It also had 8 free games racked up on it. I could have played it for a lot longer, but we moved on.
We walked by The Great Bear's entrance ("Great Bear looks too intense for me.") and queued up for the Sunoco Twin Turnpike. It was two side-by-side auto rides, one with antique cars and one with race cars. We opted for the cushy antique cars. The ride was enjoyable, if short. I liked the signposts along the way identifying different areas of Pennsylvania.
From there we went to the Aquatheater. We got to the entrance and the gates were closed. An attendant told us we were in the wrong place. We had to go all the way around and down the hill to another entrance. We made the long trek down and around, walked up the steps inside the theater and sat down just below where we were moments ago. This certainly wasn't going to be the same show we saw before, which was mainly dolphins and sea lions doing tricks (and it was quite enjoyable, actually). Instead, this was "The Great Candy Caper." There were big scenery pieces all over. A guy came out with two sea lions and explained how hard they'd been working on this show, and how young the sea lions were, and how much progress they'd made. Then he and the sea lions went backstage. Two characters came out dressed basically like gangsters but in day-glo colors. There was a pre-recorded soundtrack again. But this one even had the characters voices in it. And the performers didn't even attempt to mouth the words; they just sort of moved their bodies and bobbed their heads. It was distracting and confusing. The extent of audience participation in the show was to boo the bad guy when he appeared and to get splashed. The rather irrelevant storyline revolved around the search for a chocolate pearl the size of a basketball. The two sea lions ran a detective agency, and their "voices" were on the pre-recorded soundtrack. The bad guys were trying to steal the pearl. At one point in the show, the bad guys spontaneously took off their costumes, revealing swimwear. Then they went into the usual diving board clown antics we've seen dozens of times at dozens of different parks. They might as well have flashed a sign: "We interrupt this pathetic attempt at a story to bring you equally pathetic attempts at humorous diving routines. We now return to our regularly scheduled story, already in tatters." Just as quickly as they had started, the antics stopped. Meanwhile all of the cast members were shoving food into the sea lions' mouths. It was just terrible. Karen actually fell asleep during the show. Bring back the dolphins!
We had to wake ourselves up after that, so we hiked down to the Boardwalk area. Along the way we noticed off to the side of one of the paths a small solar cell array. In another area was a solitary wind turbine. There were small signs next to each talking about how Hersheypark was trying to help out the environment by using renewable energy. Obviously, for a park of that size those two tiny devices were merely paying lip service to the idea. But I was glad that Hershey was willing to raise awareness of our finite resources.
We passed Canyon River Rapids, which had a nearly full queue line, and instead lined up for Tidal Force. The queue line was mercifully under cover. The heat was becoming oppressive. While we waited we watched the boats come flying down the hill, sending up a huge wall of water. For some reason, the park had placed thick netting above the entire trough where the boat splashed down. Plus, the bridge was sheilded with thick plexiglass windows in the front and heavy padding on the back. Signs warned of the extreme force the water had. I assume all those measures were taken to reduce the force of the water across the bridge and ensure the safety of the guests, but it seemed to defeat the whole purpose of the thing. There were even plexiglss sheilds surrounding the ride operator.
While we were standing there, a security guard arrived at the station and conversed with some guests there. The guests were talking in an animated way and pointing at some other people in line. Then the guard escorted those people out of the line. There were signs everywhere saying that line cutters would be ejected from the park. I'd seen those signs at other parks, but the rule was rarely enforced. I guess Hersheypark was serious about it.
After about a half-hour we sat in the front of one of the boats. The lift was long and steep. The turn at the top offered yet another wonderful bird's-eye view of the park. We turned around to the right. The drop was unusually steep and crossed under the lift. We plunged down with great speed and smacked with tremedous force into the water. Everything went white in front of us as a wall of water flew up. But the netting prevented it from going very far, and instantly we felt the weight of all that water come crashing down on top of us. Someone might as well had tossed us off the boat and into the holding pond; we were completely drenched to our bones. But in the heat of the day, it felt really good. We exited the ride and stood on the bridge waiting for the next boat. When it splashed down, we got sprayed slightly. But the plexiglass sheild prevented us from getting very wet. We waited for the next boat and shifted our positions slightly. That helped and we were doused a bit more (not that it mattered at that point). It seemed like the people standing on the midway were getting wetter than we were on the bridge. We walked down through the winding exit line. I noticed that there was no attendant there, and guests were continually running up the exit ramp to the bridge.
Since after that it didn't matter how wet we got, we slogged into the large Boardwalk. It was mobbed. I was surprised to see that the newly-poured concrete surface had already begun cracking. The play area had the usual array of water activities: slides, tipping water buckets, etc.... But there were a lot of them. Everything was packed so closely together that it was difficult to visually sort out what was what. We had never seen a Roller Soaker before so we headed in that direction. Along the way, we stopped to watch the Waverider. It was a short but wide inflatable water slide that forced the water uphill, like a waterfall in reverse. There were two separate sections separated by an inflated barrier. One person in each section was give a boogie board. They'd plop themselves down on the rushing water and sort of float tenuously. We watched all different age groups try it. Most of the time the rider would last about a minute before tipping off the board. Once the rider's body hit the rushing water, he'd be catapulted back up the slide and into a small pool at the top. We never saw anyone attempt to stand on the board, as if they were surfing.
We watched the Roller Soaker for a while. The ride cycle time on it was really really long. One car would go up the lift and lazily negotiate the back-and-forth course. Then there would be a long pause and another car would go up the lift. Sometimes it would take several minutes for another car to appear. The line wasn't long but it was barely moving. Since neither of us had ever ridden one, we walked into the queue line. But I stopped suddenly when I noticed a sign proclaiming that our clothes might be soiled by the grease used on the ride and that the park wasn't responsible. I thought that was very odd; how could I get covered with grease by sitting in a seat and being doused with water? But neither Karen nor I wanted to find out, so we left. Instead we took positions at some of the many water cannons scattered about the area underneath the ride. We soaked people flying above us (the few times that a car was actually sent out). Then the ride appeared to break down; we stood around for quite a while but no car was sent up the lift. Every so often, the powerful geysers that were positioned around the area would go off, sending up a stream of water higher than the coaster. We walked around the back end of the Boardwalk. Large poured concrete waterfalls skirted the edge of Canyon River Rapids. I couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like a new addition to that ride. We circled around and passed by the Trailblazer, the park's old Arrow mine train. It was one of the quietest coasters I'd ever seen (or heard). Karen and I had been on it before. The trains were pretty cramped and the ride was extremely short. So we kept walking through the nicely themed Frontier section.
After a long walk we were back at Music Box Way. The theater there was running a film about the history of Hershey, so we stopped in to see it. The screen was surprisingly tiny, like the kind you'd find in a school classroom. It seemed out-of-proportion with the huge theater. But the image was clear. The short film, "100 Years of Happy," was similar in style to a PBS documentary. When we left we had yet more appreciation for the legacy of Milton Hershey. We stopped by the Cold Stone Creamery. Karen got a dish of cookies-and-cream, and I got a dish of apple pie ice cream. It was one of the most delicious treats I'd ever eaten, basically an apple pie -- crust and all -- smooshed into vanilla ice cream and covered with caramel. While we ate standing across from the Music Box Theater, we saw our girls nearby singing their hearts out at the recording booth. Meanwhile, another performance started next to us, The Milkmen, who performed on a stage in front of an old milk truck. To a pre-recorded soundtrack, the four guys sang standard pop tunes that we'd all heard once too often. They were pretty bad.
We left the noise and took another relaxing ride on the monorail. We were still soaked, so we hopped on the shuttle, went to the camp, changed our clothes and came back to the park. The parking lots looked completely filled. Josh Groban would begin his concert in about an hour. While we were on the shuttle, a woman was talking about how she and her husband were in line for the Wildcat the day before. The line was held up while Josh Groban was led to the front seat. Her husband was given free drink coupons to compensate. The woman didn't really know who Josh Groban was, but figured he must have been important. Our girls would have liked to have seen him, but even with ticket prices at $90 each the concert was sold out. We had an idea, though: as a surprise for the girls, we took the park's tram over to the Giant Center hoping to find a concession booth selling Josh Groban t-shirts. The tram dropped us off next to a long bridge leading to the Center. I was surprised to see that the parking lot had gazebos scattered throughout it, with picnic tables inside. There were a few people set up there with coolers. There were also rest rooms in the parking lots, another example of Hershey looking after its guests. Karen and I made it through security outside the Center but without tickets we couldn't get into the lobby, which is where the concessions were. So we caught the tram back to the park.
Karen got a bag of popcorn from the popcorn stand, which had the largest popcorn popper I'd ever seen. She was hesitant after getting a similar bag from Six Flags, which turned out to be a bag of salt. So she first turned to a woman nearby and asked her how she liked the popcorn she was eatiing. The woman said it was delicious. Karen got a bag and agreed, it was very good.
We took another ride on the Sky Ride as dusk fell over the park. Lights began to appear on the midway. The Comet was rimmed with tracer lights and the coaster's big metal signs flashed cheerily. Karen pointed out the lights on Stormrunner's first hill. The structure gradually faded from one color to another. It looked really sharp. After the Sky Ride, we queued up for the Comet one more time. We struck up a conversation with some other people in line. That was one thing that was so refreshing about the park, and all of Hershey really: everyone was so darn friendly. It didn't matter whether it was an employee or a guest or whether it was at the camp or the park. Everyone we encountered was polite, helpful and just seemed happy to be there. We felt like we belonged there.
The Comet gave us another terrific ride. Karen pointed out a small rabbit sitting in the grass near the station, peacefully nibbling on clover. From there we walked back up the hill by the Superdooperlooper. The lights from the midway faded, and I was suprised to find that some of the paths were disconcertingly dark. We made our way back to the brightly-lit Boardwalk area. The Waverider was radiating an eerie blue light. The magnificent tracer lights on the Lightning Racer and Wildcat looked like a postcard out of the 1920s. And of course, Hersheypark's signature Ferris wheel was flashing its colorful designs.
We stopped by a pretzel stand. Karen got a huge freshly made pretzel that was quite good. I stopped in a gift shop bought a couple of t-shirts. By then it was 9:30 at night, so we hopped on the shuttle and headed back to our tent.
Saturday I had originally planned to take the family to Dorney Park, about two hours east. But with exhaustion setting in and the long drive I had to make on Sunday, we decided to stay put. I was happy with the decision; there was still a lot for us to do. So we caught the shuttle and headed for the Hershey Museum. I then understood why Hershey had created such a convoluted route to get to the park. There was traffic everywhere, even backed up down the road just outside the camp. The driver decided to take a roundabout route through the town of Hershey and enter the park from a back way. We got a nice tour of the area. There were lots of wide open meadows with grazing cattle. Tall corn stalks filled in other open spaces. And there were lots of old homes, many made out of rough-cut stone. When we arrived at Hersheypark, the place was mobbed. Cars were backed up all along the route we usually took. We stopped in the shuttle loop. The park entrance was packed with people, shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting to get in. We were glad we had gone to the park when we did.
The museum was up on a hill next to the park. We had our ticket stubs from the park with us, and that allowed us to get in for just $3.50. The entrance looked suitably stately, like an old government building. The first room we encountered was the requisite gift shop with all things Hershey. Just past that was a junction with a large picture on a wall in front of us of Milton Hershey holding a small boy. The main part of the building was a huge open area with stained glass skylights. Various exhibits were set up throughout covering every aspect of Hershey's life and work. There were the antique mechanical items originally used in the chocolate making process. Another section allowed you to experience what life was like as a factory worker at the turn of the century. There was a large exhibit at the center of the room featuring a video about Hersheypark. The seating for the movie was a four-bench roller coaster car. Next to that, Karen noticed a few bronze stars set in concrete that were on display. There were hand prints under them, along with names like Bob Hope and Liberace. She remembered them from the last time we were at the park. She asked an attendant about them. The stars formed a sort of mini Walk of Fame, but they were removed to make way for the statue of Milton Hershey and the fountain.
I collect clocks, so for me the most fascinating thing in the museum was a rare Apostolic clock, a sort of giant cuckoo clock about six feet tall, themed to the life of Christ and built by one man (who had never before built anything like it) in the late 1800s. It was absolutely amazing. At every quarter-of-the-hour, Christ appeared and the twelve apostles would walk by him (thus the name of the clock). There were lots of other intricate things to watch. A cock crowed as Peter passed by. The devil appeared. A skeleton rang the death knell. There was a music box in the clock as well. A woman from the museum gave a talk about the clock before the quarter-hour. The crowd in the little alcove where the clock was located applauded when its "show" was finished. That was the first time I'd ever seen a clock get applause.
I was really glad we went to the museum, and I was glad that Hershey was proud of its heritage and history and was preserving it. We had spent about an hour exploring it. The family paused outside to get a picture with the Hershey characters at the entrance. Then we headed across the loop to Chocolate World to make reservations for a Trolley ride, which gave a tour of downtown Hershey. The cost seemed a bit steep, at $7 a piece. The trollies were all booked up until 3:45, an hour and a half away. So we reserved that time slot and were given wooden coins with the time stamped on them. Chocolate World seemed really popular; it was packed with just as many people as the park. To kill time, we took another ride on the Chocolate Tour. I then understood why the queue line was so long and wide: it had to be. The corridor was completely filled with guests. That gave us more time to read all the information on the walls and examine the detailed murals. The line moved swiftly and efficiently and before we knew it those silly cows were singing for us again.
We went to the big cafe which was set up in a spacious atrium with fake cacao trees and a waterfall. I ordered another pasta salad. It turned out that it was made differently and was cheaper (only $2.95!), but it was just as good. We had difficulty finding a place to sit; all the tables were taken. We finally found a free table, but there were only two chairs. A helpful employee appeared without any prompting and brought us two more chairs.
The girls wandered through the vast gift shop and candy store. Eventually it was time to board our Trolley. We stood outside in line in the blistering heat. There was a small flower bed nearby. A whimsical fence made of steel Twizzlers surrounded it. Our trolley pulled up, belching smoke out of its exhaust. It looked like it was on fire. The driver revved the engine really high, blowing thick grey smoke everywhere. Finally the smoke cleared. That didn't exactly make us feel secure. A young energetic guy approached dressed like a trolley conductor from the early 1900s. He asked us to have our tokens ready and board from the front to the back. When we stepped on to the trolley, no one had taken the front seats. So we did. On our seats were lyric sheets to turn-of-the-century songs.
A cheery woman in turn-of-the-century dress boarded the trolley. She had a wireless microphone that broadcast through the trolley's sound system. She welcomed all of us and said she was waiting for the conductor who would be along shortly. The conductor finally arrived, a handsome young blond guy who looked somewhat naïve. He too was dressed in turn-of-the-century garb and was really excited to be our conductor. It was his first time. They were obviously both performers, but there was nothing pretentious about them. They seemed very natural and affable. The driver closed the doors and we headed off for the downtown area. The man and woman carried on amusing banter about who would be telling the story of Milton Hershey. The woman passed around a basket of Hershey's Kisses. The guy said how excited he was that we'd all get to sing songs, but then he looked panicked. He said he'd forgotten his camera to take a picture of the tour group. He got the driver to stop the bus. The doors opened and he ran off, disappearing from view. The woman looked really uncomfortable and hesitated a bit. The driver closed the doors and we headed off once again. The woman regained her composure and proceeded to tell us about Hershey's early years as we drove up the winding road to his sprawling residence. The bus stopped so we could all get a good view. There was a knock on the doors. The driver opened them and in stepped the guy but this time holding a cane and dressed in a black vest and a ridiculously fake grey beard. I had no idea where he came from or how he caught up to us. He talked in a stereotypical Appalachian-style old-man voice, saying he was Milton Hershey's father. The trolley went on its way as the guy and the girl talked about Hershey's younger days. Eventually the guy said that this was his stop. The driver pulled over and opened the doors and the guy left, waving to us.
We took off again, and this cycle repeated. The trolley would stop, the guy would seemingly appear from nowhere and hop on dressed as a different character, from an irish delivery boy to a swedish cook to an old lady, and he would tell a story relating to a different part of Hershey's life. Every so often, he would wistfully say that he'd love to sing a song with us. He'd pick one off the sheet and everyone on the trolley would sing along. Both performers were delightful and energetic, but not forced. They truly seemed to be having a good time. And they left us with the impression that Milton Hershey was a warm generous man who lived an amazing life. We drove past the Hershey School and the Hershey Gardens (giving us a splendid panorama of the park). As we were returning to the trolley station, the guy re-boarded dressed as we saw him at the beginning. He had a film camera but no film. He said to the woman, "You don't know how hard I worked to get this camera!" Many of us in the bus laughed and one guy called out, "Yeah, we do!" The guy, who had sweat pouring off his head, briefly stepped out of character and in a very measured way said, "No, you really don't know how hard I worked." And everyone on the trolley burst out laughing.
That was one of the finest "shows" I had ever been to. It surprised me; I had expected a standard travelogue tour and not an hour-long entertaining performance. It left me feeling glad that I had come, and grateful that I chose to stay at Hershey. And then it struck me: what an absolutely brilliant company strategy! Everywhere we went, we were given free Hershey candies. Everywhere we went, presentations celebrated Hershey's brilliance, innovation, warmth and generosity. He seemed like such a great guy. And the thought that went through my head was, "From now on, I'm buying only Hershey candy!" The corporation had instilled in me such a sense of respect for the man and the company. I couldn't help it! So well-presented was that common message at all the Hershey properties, I couldn't escape feeling that way. Everyone was so friendly. The facilities were beautiful and so clean. There was such noble history repeated with variations at every turn, a story of struggle and triumph, of tears and perseverance. For the rest of my life, whenever I see a Hershey's product I'll remember Milton Hershey and what he went through. I'll remember the happiness I felt and the beauty I saw. And I'll be proud to buy a Hershey product. By returning to their roots and rediscovering their history, the Hershey corporation had created the ultimate commercial for their products, an immersive commercial that was irresistable.
Hershey was truly a resort. With only the activities outside the park, a family could be entertained for days. (We never even made it to the tour of the chocolate factory.) There were plenty of places to stay. The food at the Hershey properties was really good and it was reasonably priced. Plus there were also plenty of nearby restaurants to choose from. The park itself had a wonderful mix of family rides, plus a few thrill rides for the more daring. Karen and I never got bored at the park; there was always something for us to do. And even with the huge crowds, we never had to wait in overly-long lines. The in-park entertainment offerings needed some work, in my opinion. The general public didn't seem to mind it, and in some cases looked as if they were enjoying it. Our girls thought most of the shows were a lot of fun. But many of them didn't appeal to me. I like shows similar to Busch Gardens' fare, with live bands instead of pre-recorded music.
Overall, we had a terrific time and will definitely return. Maybe someday I'll even be able to eat their products. Here's to another century of happy from Hershey!
Return to Karen and Jay's Excursions