May 25, 2014

copyright Jay Ducharme 2014

On a beautiful Sunday, Karen and I headed west from our hotel.  Pennsylvania's Hersheypark was the second and final destination for the Western New York Coaster Club's annual Coasterfestâ„¢.  The park was quite literally "down the street" from us, albeit 35 minutes down the street.  We arrived just before 9:00 and the vast parking lot was virtually empty.  There weren't even any parking attendants present.  The long circuitous driveway wound its way to the vast Hersheypark Arena where we parked next to one other car.  At least we wouldn't have any trouble finding our car.

It had been seven years since we had last been to Hersheypark, for their 100th anniversary.  Outside of a few more new rides, not much had changed.  There was still meticulous landscaping visible everywhere, and lots of shade.  We walked over to the park's entrance opposite Hershey's Chocolate World and stood under the many trees.  Within a few minutes, other club members began filing in.  There was a registration table set up, and one of the park representatives greeted us.  Geff Ford arrived with our registration packets and within a few minutes we were all signed in.  We were then led on a walk-back behind the park for our exclusive ride time on the great Lightning Racer wood coaster.  Since we were there before the park opened to the public and maintenance was still ongoing, we had to stay together at the ride, which was a challenge for me since I really wanted to wander around the exterior of the ride to get some good photos.

But why take photos when we had the ride all to ourselves?  The retro and comfortable Millennium Flyer trains were a perfect compliment to the coaster's undulating hills.  The park was graciously running all four trains, so there was plenty of room (and time) to choose any seat we wanted.  Karen and I sat down in the front seat of Lightning, which was in the station on the right.  We rolled out of the station and up to the lift.  Thunder was racing us on our left.  The lift hills were in an unusual arrangement, offset so that we couldn't really see the other train.  We crested the lift and swooped down to the right.  The course was a rapid blur of sharp twists and turns interspersed with spikes of air time.  It was a bit rougher than I remembered it, but it was still a lot of fun (even though we were beaten to the finish by Thunder).  When we returned, we crossed over to the other station and took a front seat on Thunder.  Lightning Racer offered two completely different track configurations, unlike many other racing coasters that run in parallel.  The Thunder side seemed to have an edge, because we finished first just like the last train.  After that, we took a few more pictures and then walked down to the gift shop at the front of the station.  There were several nice shirts that I made note of for later.  Karen bought herself a new hat.

At 10:00, the park officially opened and we were free to wander about.  We watched the nearby Farenheit steel coaster run through its convoluted paces.  That looked a bit too severe for us.  So we walked over to Pioneer Frontier.  The park was informally divided into seven sections:  Founder's Way, The Hollow, Kissing Tower Hill, Pioneer Frontier and Midway America.  There was also the Boardwalk (the waterpark) and Zoo America.  Out of all those sections, only Pioneer Frontier and the Boardwalk had much theming.  The rest of the park had the look of a fairly standard midway.  The Pioneer section, as you might expect, had the look of an old western area.  One of the rides there was the Dry Gulch Railroad, a miniature steam train.  We hopped aboard and took an enjoyable trip around the park, past humorous animatronics and alongside several of the park's roller coasters.

After that we walked a short distance away to the Founder's Way section and boarded the (Capital BlueCross) Monorail.  There was abundant branding in the park.  The Dry Gulch Railroad, for example, was "presented by Amtrak".  Many other rides had corporate sponsors, which seemed odd given that the park itself was a giant advertisement for Hershey.  The Monorail was a great family ride, with ample views of every section of the park, plus a trip outside the park next to Chocolate Avenue.  There once was a stop there for the Monorail, but it appeared to have been closed off and a lot of construction was taking place.

By then it was after 11:00 and we were both hungry.  We knew that the Coasterfestâ„¢ banquet later on would have few vegetarian offerings, so we headed for the nearby Central PA Kosher Mart.  We had seen it on our last trip to Hersheypark, but never got a chance to sample its offerings.  They served falafels, which we like.  When we arrived at the window, it appeared to be closed.  A man was servicing the soda machine and parts were strewn all over the booth.  But he called out to someone in the back, and a woman came right out to take our order.  We each ordered the pita falafel with veggies.  They were made fresh, and it took a while, but they were worth waiting for.  The falafels were moist and flavorful; the pita was soft and thick.  They were absolutely delicious.

All refreshed, we set back out onto the midway.  As we were looking though some gift shops along Founder's Way, I noticed a path heading down toward the brook that the Comet roller coaster crossed.  It was narrow and looked fairly new.  So I followed it and discovered it was a scenic walkway surrounded by the park's newest coaster, Skyrush.  The track wove a figure-8 around the expanse of water with a large fountain was in the middle.  The huge trains roared past just a few feet from where I was standing.  It was an awesome site.  I walked along the path with Karen and it emerged in Comet Hollow, next to the Skyrush station.  Since the ride didn't have any loops in it, we decided to take a ride.  The line was pretty long, but I knew it wasn't going to get any shorter as the day wore on.  We were told that the park was expecting over 20,000 guests that day.  So we got in line.  We were next to a guy from the Bronx, who was at the park with his family.  We chatted, which helped to pass the time.  Hersheypark had installed oscillating fans with water misters throughout the queue, which kept us cool in the blazing sun.

The line moved at a steady pace, and after about an hour we were entering the station.  There the line split into a queue for the front seat, and a queue for everywhere else in the train.  The lift hill looked impossibly steep.  The trains seemed absurdly huge compared to the track.  There were four seats in each row, and the outer two seats were suspended off of the track.  We were finally seated in the front; Karen took and inner seat and I took an outer.  The molded seats were comfortable, as were the lap bar restraints.  Thankfully, there were no over-the-shoulder harnesses.  In short order we were dispatched up the lift.  It felt like we were being pulled up vertically.  It was one of Intamin's cable lifts, and was very swift.  Within about ten seconds we crested the top and plummeted down the incredibly steep drop out over the water.  Like Lightning Racer, the ride was a blur of rapidly changing direction followed by bursts of air time, but it was also smooth and comfortable.  In less than a minute we were back at the station.  The ride was appropriately named; it was definitely a rush.  Hersheypark had another great ride in its collection.  All the guests seemed to really like it, young and old.  It was thrilling but not punishing.  I was amazed at how the park was able to shoehorn the huge ride into that tight a location.  They even made sure that the old Comet station was left intact.  It was an impressive feat of engineering.

Speaking of the Comet, that was one of my favorite coasters in the park.  The line, however, was enormous and wasn't moving nearly as quickly as Skyrush.  The queue was also positioned in the bright sunshine and there were no misters.  So we passed on it and instead decided to take a relaxing trip on Skyview, the park's ski lift.  But when we arrived at its station, that line was also extremely long, snaking along Founder's Way.  It was also nearly time for the banquet to start.  So instead we made the trek down toward the Wildcat Picnic Pavilion.  The crowds on the midway were getting really thick.  In front of the Play Dome Arcade, a silly sort of musical revue was taking place.  Although the costumes sort of looked like they were from 1950s, the music was from the 1960s and '70s.  I guess for kids now it's all blended into one nostalgic era.  We also passed by Tidal Force, the park's big shoot-the-chutes ride that generates a massive wave reaching out onto the midway.

The pavilion was situated between Farenheit and Wildcat.  The management thought we'd enjoy being sandwiched between two coasters, and it was fun to get up-close and personal with the two rides.  Karen and I made ourselves cheese sandwiches with lettuce and tomato, and also had some potato chips and macaroni salad.  That was fine with us, since we already had the falafels.  We sat with John again, who we had met the other day at Dorney Park.  We chatted with some of the other enthusiasts.  There was going to be another exclusive ride time at 9:30 in the evening on Trailblazer, the park's mine train.  Many of the club members were saying that they didn't think they would hold up that long and would probably be leaving early.  Karen and I felt the same way.  Although Hersheypark was a wonderful host and a great park, we just didn't have the stamina to last through the night.

So we said farewell and thanks to the WNYCC members and headed back out onto the midway.  The Ferris wheel emblazoned with the Hersheypark logo was nearby, so we decided to relax on that for a while.  There was a fairly long line, but it was a high capacity ride and I assumed the line would move quickly.  I was wrong.  Guests began leaving the line; evidently they had been standing there a long time.  The ride would turn and stop, and then guests were loaded in.  Then the ride would turn again in a seeming random fashion and then stop again.  There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to how the wheel was being run.  I operated a Ferris wheel at Mountain Park, and so I knew how to efficiently load and run one.  Karen wondered if the operator was being trained.  But we didn't see anyone else around training him.  While we were standing in line, we noticed the unique sign used to designate a ride's thrill factor: different candies represented different thrills, with Hershey's Minatures indicating a kiddie ride and Jolly Rancher Hard Candy designating a thrill ride.   It took over a half hour before we boarded.  Once we were on, it was a pleasant trip with the usual panoramic views of the park.

Afterward, we headed back toward the entrance.  We were going to attempt the Skyview again, but the line was even longer than before.  Across from Skyview, Hershey's candy characters were posing for photos.  We walked past the park's beautiful carousel and the fountain with a statue of founder Milton Hershey.  We stopped into the main gift shop and I bought a couple of t-shirts.  Then Karen wanted to walk across the entrance circle over to Hershey's Chocolate World.  It was another mob scene, but at least it was air conditioned.  We got in line for the Chocolate Factory Tour, an enjoyable dark ride about how chocolate is made.  The queue line went on seemingly forever, and we noticed that it had been re-routed.  Previously, the line wound through dark corridors with painted scenes from Hershey's past.  The new queue wove through non-descript hallways.  The line moved steadily, and within a short time we were walking down the stairs to the loading platform and seated in one of the large cabs.  The ride hadn't changed since the last time we saw it, but it was still enjoyable.  After that we did a little more shopping and then called it a day.

Hersheypark was so big, to do it justice would require more than one day.  On our other visits, we spent two days and that worked out well.  On this visit, we had to carefully pick and choose what we wanted to do.  There were many other rides I wanted to go on: Superdooperlooper, Twin Turnpike, the Kissing Tower, the Comet.  I would have ridden Skyrush and Lightning Racer again.  I would have enjoyed walking through Zoo America.  But one day wasn't nearly enough time.  I was happy to see that Hersheypark hadn't changed much since our last visit.  That meant that they knew who they were and were maintaining their tradition.  At the same time, they were adding modern rides without ruining their character.  That was a difficult thing to do, and yet Hersheypark was somehow managing it.  And the park seemed to be as popular as ever.  The food was delicious and reasonably priced.  The landscaping was attractive.  Hersheypark was a true family destination with something for everyone (even us vegetarians).

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