May 26, 2016

copyright Jay Ducharme 2016

Karen and I were looking forward to our first big coaster event of the season, the Western New York Coaster Club's Coasterfestâ„¢which this year was taking place at Kennywood Park and Waldameer Park.  But I figured if we had to drive all the way to western Pennsylvania, we might as well stop at some other Pennsylvania Parks that we hadn't been to in a while.

So my plan was to leave early on Wednesday and arrive at Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, in the heart of Pennsylvania's Amish country.  On Thursday we'd travel the short distance to Lakemont Park (home of the oldest roller coaster in the world, Leap the Dips) and DelGrosso's (which we've never visited).  Then on Friday we'd spend the day at Idlewild Park, next door to our first Coasterfestâ„¢ park, Kennywood.  We would be visiting six parks in five days, a more rigorous scheduled than we've had in recent memory.  But since they were smaller parks that were fairly close together, I figured it wouldn't be too stressful.

I arranged it so that all of the hotels (non-refundable, of course) were near each of our stops.  A week before our trip, Karen asked if I had checked whether the parks were actually open.  I had never thought about that.  I just assumed we were in summer mode and that they'd all be open.  Karen checked and discovered that indeed all of the parks were closed with the exception of Idlewild, which advertised "limited operation" for an Outdoor Classroom day.

In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise.  I had packed rain gear and sweatshirts, since the forecast that week was for cooler temperatures and rain.  As it turned out, the weather was sunny and in the 90s, with high humidity.  We never would have made it through six parks.  Instead, we scaled everything back.  The only park that was open during the week was Hersheypark.  We always enjoy going there and hadn't been in a couple of years, so we planned for that park on Thursday.

Wednesday was spent on a leisurely drive into the rolling fields and farmland of Pennsylvania.  We stopped for the night at our first hotel (which turned out to be the nicest one on the entire trip), the Best Western in Paradise.  One thing that was curious about all the hotels was a new trend to smush up all the pillows on the bed into small squares.  Every hotel was doing that; none of them did it last year.  I'm not sure why.  We stopped for a delicious dinner at Joni's 430 Diner and then rested up for our short trip to Hershey in the morning.

We had a delicious breakfast at the hotel the next morning and then rode along the backroads until we arrived in the town of Hershey, with its street lamps shaped like Kisses.  The Kissing Tower at the park was appropriately visible in the background.  As we arrived, the vast parking lot looked relatively empty except for school buses, tons of them that kept pulling in until one section of the lot was completely filled with them.  It was a evidently a big school outing day.  That meant we had to park further from the park entrance than we usually did, but Hershey had two trams running so it wasn't an inconvenience.  Well, it wasn't an inconvenience for us, but evidently the school kids couldn't quite get it together.  A girl on crutches sat in front of us with her friends and a boy, who was obviously trying to get her attention.  They were yakking for quite a while and then the driver announced the tram was leaving.  The girl suddenly screamed out that she had lost her mobile phone.  The boy spotted it; she had left it on a picnic table in the parking lot where they were waiting for the tram.  So as the tram started rolling away, the boy jumped off and ran for the picnic table, all the while the driver and parking lot attendant yelling at him.  Then he came running back trying to catch the tram and jump back on as it sped away, but the attendant prevented him from doing that.

As we drove toward the park entrance, there was a huge sign on the Hersheypark Arena advertising a Paul McCartney concert coming up at the Hersheypark Stadium.  There were also many performers coming to the Hersheypark Music Box Theater.  The place certainly had plenty of entertainment venues.

We arrived at the entrance and walked over to the ticket sales window.  Since most of the visitors that day were on buses, the ticket window line was empty.  Hersheypark regards anyone over 55 as a senior, and so this was the very first park where Karen and I were able to buy senior tickets, which were half the cost of standard adult tickets.

We followed the pleasant shaded path down to the entrance gates where we encountered an absolute mob of people waiting to get inside the park.  After about 20 minutes, we followed the line of people into the park.  This was my fifth visit to the park, and the more I've seen it develop, the more it seems they've run out of room.  There seemed to be too many rides packed into too small an area.  It's interesting how so many of them intertwined, but at the same time it sort of felt claustrophobic.

We walked up Founder's Way toward the park's vintage carousel.  It had a working band organ, which was good to hear even though it seemed a bit feeble.  We continued on and decided to begin our visit with a ride on the park's lengthy Monorail.  But when we approached the entrance, it was blocked off with a sign stating it was out of service.  I saw a supervisor on the midway and asked if there was a chance the ride would be running later in the day.  He said he doubted it.

So instead we hopped on the next best thing, the nearby Skyview, the park's sky ride.  It offered us up-close-and-personal views of the park's giant looper, The Great Bear.  Something I realized is that, as big as Hersheypark was, there were no modes of transportation to take you from one area to another.  Every one of those rides (the sky ride, monorail and train) ended where they started.  It would be handy if the train, for instance, had multiple stations.  Hersheypark was really spread out and extremely hilly.  For older guests, some form of interpark transportation would make sense.  At any rate, we enjoyed the relaxing pace and the expansive views.  While we were riding, I saw the Monorail pass by, so at least it was being tested.

Next we walked over to the Dry Gulch Railroad and got the front seat.  For us, this was a good day to visit the park since the vast majority of the kids would be in line for the thrill rides, leaving us a bit of peace and quite on the family attractions.  The leisurely steam train ride was pleasant and actually refreshing because the vapor blowing off from the stack occasionally sprayed onto us.  It was a sort of combination rail/water ride.

After that we walked down toward the Midway America section of the park, past the tsunami coming from Tidal Force, the park's big shoot-the-chutes ride.  We were heading toward our favorite ride in the park, Lightning Racer.  Along the way we passed the giant white building that housed Laff Trakk, an indoor spinning coaster themed to an old-style fun house.  Karen wasn't a big fan of in-the-dark coasters, so I headed for the queue line, which appeared to be non-existent.  It was only when I entered the building that I encountered the line snaking back and forth through a large room lit with small light bulbs like a circus tent and lined with fun house mirrors.  The room was deafening.  There was peppy 1920s-era music playing, occasional pre-recorded announcements and all the kids talking loudly.  The sounds reverberated around the room creating cacophony that was overpowering.  The line moved slowly, but at least the room was air-conditioned.  After about 40 minutes, I entered the station area which was lit with blacklights and had colorful murals along the walls.  The wall opposite the loading track was a huge whimsical mural depicting "Laughing Sal" against a stylized midway.  Unlike Kennywood's similar Exterminator coaster which had semi-circular cars, this used cars that sat four people back-to-back.  I ended up facing backwards, not my favorite way to ride, and we were on our way up the lift hill.  The car didn't start spinning till part-way through the ride.  That made it difficult for me to see all of the colorful blacklit cutouts that had been placed along the track.  The spinning itself was quite mild until near the end, when the car really started whipping around.  Overall it was a really fun ride, not too severe (though I'm sure the spinning would vary depending on the weight distribution in the car).

From there we headed over to Lightining Racer, one of our favorite wood coasters.  Even though the park was running just two of their four trains, there wasn't much of a line.  We were soon seated in the front seat of Lightning (which always seems to lose the race).  The ride layout was just as disorienting as ever; I never can figure out where I'm going on that coaster.  But we did notice that it was rougher than the last time we rode it. 

The morning was humid but mild.  As we approached high noon, the air turned oppressively hot.  We decided to take a break for lunch.  The park sold black bean veggie burgers; it was just a matter of finding them.  The park website wasn't much help.  I thought there was a food stand near Storm Runner that sold them, so we headed over to the Pioneer Frontier area.  When we arrived, we found a Chickie & Pete's where we had last gotten a veggie burger.  This was an increasing trend at parks: instead of creating their own unique eateries, parks had begun farming out their food stands to big chains like Johnny Rocket's and Famiglia Pizza.  It had begun to create a depressing sameness to park food offerings.  Next to Chickie & Pete's was Moe's.  They didn't have any veggie burgers either.  Karen thought they were sold further down into the Pioneer area, so we walked down toward the Trailblazer mine train ride.  There was a collection of barbecue places, but no veggie offerings.

We then trudged up to Kissing Tower Hill where Karen spotted the Mixed Grille.  We stopped there.  It was indoors and air-conditioned, and it had some vegetarian offerings (though none of the elusive veggie burgers).  We could have walked all the way back to the front of the park where the Central PA Kosher Mart sold delicious falafels.  But we were too exhausted at that point.  The Mixed Grille offered a pair of soft tacos with black beans, rice, cheese and guacamole for a very reasonable $7.50.  Karen also got a spanikopita and a salad.  When we arrived, the place was relatively empty.  But by the time we got our order, it was mobbed.  We grabbed a booth when someone left.  The food was delicious and quite filling.

From there we walked over to the nearby arcade.  I was surprised to see a giant neon Pinball sign, so I headed for it.  There were just two machines but they were classic: Hercules and Fireball (which was out of order).  The Hercules machines were really hard to find in good working condition.  This one was in pretty decent shape and I played a couple of fun games on the massive playfield.  Karen spotted a new Star Trek machine in another section of the arcade, so we played that as well.

Next we queued up for the nearby Sunoco Classic Cars, a.k.a. the Twin Turnpike.  There were two stations with their tracks intertwined.  The one on the right was the Sunoco Speedway, which featured smaller race cars.  We opted for the "classic" models because we could ride together.  It was an enjoyable if short diversion.

Then we got in line for the Coal Cracker log flume.   This was one of only two remaining Arrow Hydroflume rides in existence.  The boats were styled like canoes, and the bottom of the big drop featured a speed bump, making the boats slightly leap into the air and then skim across the runout channel.  The line was long but moved fairly quickly.  There was plenty to look at, including the Superdooperlooper and the Great Bear that surrounded us.

We didn't get very wet on the ride, and I needed something to help cool me off.  We followed the path down into the Hollow area of the park.  There was a slushie stand opposite the Comet station.  I was going to get one until I saw what it was: a special cup that was mostly a one-inch-thick neck with a flare at the top and bottom -- for five dollars.  I passed.  Instead we walked back up to the Founder's Way section.  I stopped at the fresh-squeezed lemonade stand, the Lemon Drop, and ordered a glass.  The attendant dropped two lemon halves into a cup and then filled it with liquid from the soda dispenser.  That wasn't exactly what I would call "fresh-squeezed" but at least it was cold liquid.

The Monorail was finally open, so we lined up for that and soon were cruising high above the midway.  We sat with a young couple who had their one-year-old with them.  It was their first time to the park.  As we cruised outside of the park, we passed by the new Hershey corporate office that was under construction on our last visit.  It was an impressive stone edifice resembling a cathedral for business that fit in well with the rest of the city's architecture.

By then it was 2:30 and over 90 degrees.  Karen was wearing down.  So she went off to explore the air-conditioned gift shops while I filmed a park walk-thru.  It was difficult deciding how to proceed.  The park was so spread out with so many interconnecting paths.  As I passed Tidal Force, a girl suddenly jumped out in front of me, middle fingers extended, and shouted, "I'm in your video!"  So classy.  Fortunately, I had rotated the camera away from her right as she appeared.

And that wrapped up our visit to Hersheypark.  There was really too much to do for a single day visit and too much ground for us to cover on such a hot day.  On other trips, we stayed at the park for a few days and had a more enjoyable time.  But at least the park was open!

As we rode the tram back to the parking lot, one of the operators talked over the intercom about Hershey's school for underpriviledged children high on a hill opposite the park.  He also recommended we visit the Hershey hotel next to it and admire its beautiful plantings.  So we drove over to the hotel.  The building itself was an impressive structure, much like the corporate office, with a tiled fountain out front.  The "beautiful plantings" were simply rows of red salvia.  I thought the most interesting thing about the hotel was the parking lot: it was filled with BMW, Acura, Mercedes and Lexus cars.  It evidently was not a hotel for the working class.

As we headed for our next motel in Altoona, we encountered the only cloudburst of our trip.  It produced a beautiful double rainbow and also lowered the temperature a bit.  That was a much-welcomed change and would help us keep going over the long weekend to come.

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