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Looking For A Sweet Family Destination?

Looking For A Sweet Family Destination?

Head to Hershey with the Whole Family

What do you get when you combine kids and parents who want one last fling before the busy school year begins with younger, active grandparents who want to help out with vacation costs? How about a delightful road trip to a nearby family destination? A place like Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Our family grew up accustomed to intergenerational travel, as my husband and our two kids met my in-laws during the summer at a destination that all of us could enjoy together. I never thought of my in-laws as having an agenda, other than getting us all together, but with grandchildren of our own now, I’ve intuited the goals they obviously had: a bit of edge-of-your-seat fun; a bit of education; good meals (that we didn’t have to cook); and a free-for-all at some swimming hole (hotel or otherwise)If you’re considering intergenerational travel, take a closer look at Hershey Resorts. There was no question that all three generations of my family would get a rush from the multitude of chocolate at the town called The Sweetest Place on Earth – not exactly a meal, but good eating still. And with Hersheypark’s many thrill rides and attractions, I knew we were in for adventure, too.

What we didn’t expect was the educational component, an inspirational tour of the Milton Hershey School along Route 322 in Hershey. This tour gave nuanced meaning to Hershey’s original marketing slogan: The Town Built on Chocolate. It’s a meaning that bridges the Depression of the thirties with where we are today, experiencing hard times all our own, yet still searching for worthwhile ways to enjoy time spent as a family.

First things first. With three generations traveling together, one thing’s for sure: Costs will mount up fast. So buy tickets and accommodations package in advance online at hersheypa.com. Besides saving time, many tickets (such as those for The Hershey Story) carry a discount if purchased online. But make your accommodations decision first, as guests of The Hershey Hotel, The Hershey Lodge, and Hershey Highmeadow Campground receive the Hershey Resorts Advantage, which includes the best price on Hersheypark tickets, preferred pricing, priority access to certain activities, and free admission to specified attractions. If you decide when you get to an attraction that you want to purchase an experience you didn’t buy in advance online, you can upgrade your tickets at the admissions desk on the day of your visit. Keep in mind that lines can be very long at this time of year.

In addition to my rationale of saving enough money on tickets to compensate for staying at the Hershey Hotel or Lodge, I liked the less tangible benefits, too, such as watching my six-year-old granddaughter, Helena, meeting Hershey candy characters in the morning and late afternoon at the Hershey properties. That said, if you’re not staying on-site, online ticket ordering is doubly important in the summer, or on any school holiday, as all attractions get crowded very early on any kind of holiday.

Where are you coming from? If the family’s traveling from different directions, meet halfway to limit transportation time and have more time together. One of the reasons we chose Hershey for our brief trip was the Amtrak connection in Harrisburg. The trip from Richmond is four hours, but the convenience of a Harrisburg train-station pick-up and twenty-minute van ride to Hershey carries an additional per-person fee. My husband and I compromised. We chose to drive to Harrisburg, where we picked up our son, and Helena, who loved the train trip from New York. We then drove the whole crew to Hershey.

Arrive early enough to do at least one activity together on day one. If you arrive in the mid-afternoon, check in to your accommodations first. The three Hershey properties offer free admission to The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue, located in downtown Hershey, so this is a great starting activity. The shuttle bus downtown is also free for resort property guests. Here, you can spend a couple of hours experiencing the rags-to-riches story of an authentic American entrepreneur. At the museum, we followed Milton Hershey’s bumpy ride from failure to fiasco to success, which creatively reinforces timeless truths, such as If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

In fact, Helena had to try several times to get the timing right in creating a Hershey Kiss behind glass on a production line. If Kisses don’t cool before going to the wrapping machine, for example, a big chocolate mess ensues. But The Hershey Story doesn’t let visitors off the hook easily. You’re compelled to choose either Fix It or Quit – and who wants to be a quitter with the image of Milton Hershey everywhere?

The interactive Chocolate Lab – where visitors can take hands-on classes with chocolate – looked like a great deal of fun. But knowing of our limited time in advance, I had opted for online tickets to the make your- own-candy attraction at Chocolate World, scheduled for the next day.

Remember dining (beyond chocolate!) And other entertainment options. A swimming instructor’s adage, Pull them out while they’re still having fun! Also applies to intergenerational travel. We made a point of getting to Hershey Lodge by five o’clock to enjoy the pool before dinner on our first night. We opted for game-day, casual American fare at the Bears’ Den. Its hockey-rink atmosphere, modeled after the Hershey Bears hockey team venue, was perfect. Twenty-eight HD Tvs surrounded us, and a video wall was tuned to the latest sports action.

You can also reserve time for a nice trip to Hershey Gardens, a 23-acre botanical garden overlooking the town of Hershey. Helena enjoyed free play in The Children’s Garden.

Our second day was busier and more exhausting, so for dinner we chose the much quieter – but still casual and reasonably priced – Hershey Lodge restaurant, The Forebay. If you’ve never sampled a chocolate Stout or chocolate martini, this is the place to try one.

Even continental breakfasts inflate the bill quickly at a resort. Consider picking up basic breakfast foods at a local grocery and stocking your fridge in the room to save money. A seasonal Hershey meal plan is available for purchase online, but we typically like to include a mix of on- and off-site restaurants for local flavor, especially when staying at a resort property.

With so many interactive exhibits and activities at Hershey’s Chocolate World, make it your first stop of the new day. We rode the free, three-minute Great American Chocolate Tour ride, a musical attraction reminiscent of Disney’s “It’s a Small World.” Other activities in this building carry fees, which you should investigate online before leaving home, as the costs per person can add up quickly. Helena was thoroughly engaged by the ride’s animated information on the origin of chocolate’s ingredients from nearby farms, from cows’ milk to the cacao beans grown and harvested by Central and South American farmers. As we whirled around the make-believe Hershey manufacturing facility, ingredients came together in huge vats, getting strained, processed and flattened by machines bearing designs for the many varieties of candy and their wrappers.

Allow for things to go wrong. And when they do, all three generations will learn to take the bumps of travel along with the smooth riding. The Chocolate World employee who helped us don our hairnets and aprons for the original candy bar assembly line assured us that once we got inside, the process would take about 45 minutes. Ours took twice that, but virtually all of the families in the long line hung in there, waiting patiently for their individual $14.95 candy bars, personalized by choice of milk or dark chocolate, almonds, and sprinkles (or none), and wrappers also designed by us. Emerging with her custom candy bar truly was worth the wait and the biggest Hershey thrill for Helena.

Because of the presence of almonds, all products from the “Create Your Own Candy Bar” experience carry an allergen warning. A spokesperson told me they’ve received no complaints about allergens In the air at Hershey’s Chocolate World. Management encourages guests and visitors concerned about allergens to use their best judgment based on their knowledge of their own level of allergy sensitivity and the fact that almonds are present at the facility.

A theme park is almost always a hit! From mild to wild, nearby 110-acre Hersheypark includes five categories of rides and water attractions, too. Although Hersheypark isn’t within easy walking distance from Hershey Resorts properties, it’s a very short trip by complimentary shuttle (or you can drive). At Hersheypark, smaller rides are integrated with larger attractions and rollercoasters. With this kind of family-friendly layout, the group doesn’t need to split up if different generations want to check out different rides. There is also live entertainment, some of it on specific stages and in theatres, but also the roving variety.

Sandcastle Cove provides water-fun for young children, and Dinosaur-go-Round is another of the 20 popular kiddie rides. Water rides like Coastline Plunge-Vortex appeal to the older set (with swimwear required), accelerating down a steep tunnel before shooting into a large bowl and exiting down a chute into a landing pool. Older children and adults will enjoy the thrills of a dozen coasters, including the new Skyrush, which soars more than 200 feet and reaches speeds in excess of 75 mph on 3,600 feet of steel track.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a vacation that’s sweet as can be, wet, or wild (or all three) you should plan your family’s visit to Hershey. There are treats for every member of the extended family waiting at The Town Built on Chocolate!

For recipes from the chocolate experts at hershey resorts, click on Tell me more

The Milton Hershey School

The sheer scale of Founders Hall Rotunda, a towering 74-foot entrance to Milton Hershey School on Route 322 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, drew us into the multipurpose building and the auditorium, which seats more than two thousand.

At the time of its construction in 1970, the rotunda was the second-largest freestanding dome in the world, second only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. An inspirational video and exhibits, as well as our friendly guide at the visitor’s center – made the story behind Milton and Catherine Hershey’s founding of the school a compelling one.

Milton Hershey had seen terrible living conditions on business trips to New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia in the late nineteenth century. This experience, combined with eleven years of his and Catherine’s childless marriage and their desire to help boys whose fathers had died, led to the 1909 establishment of what was then the Hershey Industrial School for boys.

Today, nearly two thousand students – an equal number of girls and boys in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade – live and learn on the campus year-round while obtaining an education at the school. Tuition, room and board are covered by the school, from which 192 students graduated this year. While 78 percent of students come from Pennsylvania, the school selects 22 percent from applicants from the other 49 states (all students must be US-born). Each student home at the Milton Hershey School is supervised by houseparents, a married couple responsible for supervising eight to ten children of the same gender who do homework, play sports, practice musical instruments, and perform chores – all the things they might do if they lived at home.

Except for school holidays, the stately Founders Hall is open daily from ten to three for visitors and tour groups.

If you go:

Local accommodations (other than Hershey Resort properties) include Chocolatetown Motel, 1825 Inn Bed & Breakfast, and chain locations such as Best Western, Days Inn, Econo Lodge, and Hampton Inn. For more information, phone 717-298-1359, or visit hersheypartnership.com. (Single-day discounts to Hersheypark may be available.)

Hershey’s chocolate world has a pay-per-experience rate structure. Best to purchase tickets in advance of your visit at Hersheys.com. Open year-round, but hours will vary throughout the year.

Hersheypark has a typical single-price theme park admission. Considering a September visit? Hersheypark closes the week after Labor Day, though it is open on weekends in September. Please visit Hersheypark.com for details.

Later, Hersheypark re-opens for: Hersheypark in the Dark (October) Hersheypark Christmas Candylane (November and December) and Springtime in the Park (April).

Visit HersheyPA.com for information.

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Martha Steger is a Midlothian-based freelancer and grandmother who writes about travel opportunities for families.
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