Hi friends! If you have been following along on Instagram, you’ll know that we recently took a family road trip to Hershey, PA, aka The Sweetest Place on Earth.
Growing up, road trips were common, so it only follows that my boys are used to traveling long distances in the car. This trip, we covered a little over 800 miles, and by the time you count various stops, somewhere in the ballpark of 14 hours on the road.
In the car, especially long trips like this, I refuse to allow my boys to sit and tune out to the iPads. It was pretty funny when I explained to my oldest that ::cue granny voice:: “Back in my day, we didn’t have iPads.” It blew his mind. “What did you DO?” I explained to him that we had books, and coloring books and those super fancy predecessors to the iPad: the Magic Slate drawing board that erased by lifting a transparent sheet. And if all else failed, I would ::gasp:: look out the window. I’m not saying we don’t bring their iPads, but they aren’t allowed time on them until they’ve done a few other things for a bit of time first, and we also try to save it for the evening, when light isn’t good enough for their other activities. What other activities you ask? I fill their backpacks with lots of things to do: coloring books, educational workbooks, their Boogie Boards (which I think are the new version of a Magic Slate), a few books to read, and their road trip binders.
The road trip binder started when my oldest was about 2-3 years old, when we went to my sister-in-law’s house in Florida. Living in St. Louis, I knew we had a long haul ahead of us, and I wanted to make sure he had plenty to entertain himself with. I searched Pinterest for ideas and adjusted it to suit my son’s predilections for activities. It included a map showing the route of our trip and silhouettes of the states traveled to (are we there yet?). I found mazes and video game coloring pages, and I also grabbed some clip art to make a Road Trip Scavenger Hunt game. And you can’t forget the old classic License Plate Game! Speaking of license plates, I had a page where they draw their own. Plus a few pages of Tic-Tac-Toe and the dot / box game.
As we went on more themed trips (Walt Disney World and Universal, and this Hershey trip) I would add activities centered around those as well, like themed word searches, mazes, coloring pages, etc. I printed everything in duplicate (don’t forget about the return trip), punched holes into it all, and put them in binders. I added 3 ring zippered pencil pouches to hold colored pencils / crayons, pencils, erasers, and sharpeners. I also included some stickers because they liked to add them to their coloring pages or state stickers (saved from Highlights Magazine subscription enticements) to cover the corresponding license plate once it was spotted. The boys love their books and request new pages before every trip (in case I forget or run out of time to update / print them for a particular trip).
With their busy bags packed, and everything else as well, we set off! We broke the trip up on the way out between Indianapolis (where my mom lives, and where I grew up), Columbus (where we have friends), and Hershey. Breaking it up definitely helped keep the natives from getting too restless. It was wonderful for them to be able to get out and run and play for a while. Plus we had the bonus of visiting with my mom and stepdad, our friends in Columbus, and even a friend who lives in Virginia drove up to Hershey to hang for a day.
Coming into Hershey, you will know you have arrived when you smell that sweet scent of cocoa in the air and see those iconic Hershey Kiss street lights. Later on, our tour guide on the Trolley Works trolley tour through town had some punny jokes about those kisses being made of light chocolate, and when a bulb goes out, they are dark chocolate. I do love a good pun, what can I say?
We stayed at one of the Hershey resorts, The Hershey Lodge, which was budget-friendly, and offered a shuttle to Hersheypark, Chocolate World, and Trolley Works Tours. We took advantage of their Stay & Play offer, which allowed our kids to stay free, eat free breakfast (with an adult breakfast purchase), free Hersheypark admission, and because we bought our tickets during a special promotion, we were able to get further discounts for ourselves, including complementary admission to The Hershey Story (museum) and Hershey Gardens. It was a really awesome deal!
We were surprised to see just how much there is to see and do in Hershey. Hersheypark itself boasts an amazing amusement park, East Coast Waterworks – a massive waterpark, and its own zoo, ZooAmerica. All of this is right next door to Hershey’s Chocolate World, where you can shop, eat, take a virtual factory tour (free chocolate at the end!), create your own candy bar (expensive, but a cool experience), tour the town of Hershey in a replica trolley (more free chocolate!), and so much more! Not to mention The Hershey Story museum in town, which tells the life story of Milton Hershey, and the Hershey Gardens, a botanical garden overlooking Hersheypark, which we didn’t get to but offers a butterfly house, children’s garden, and an extensive assortment of flowers and rare trees.
We were in Hershey for 4 days / 3 nights and could have stayed longer still to do absolutely everything. But luckily, we were able to take advantage of the Park Preview and Early Admission afforded to people staying at one of the Hershey resorts (Hotel Hershey, Hershey Lodge and Hersheypark Camping Resort). Park Preview allows you to use your admission ticket for entrance to the park at 6:30pm the day before you use it for a full day. The park is open until 10pm, so we were able to cram a LOT of fun into those 3.5 hours, plus all the pretty evening pictures of the park.
While we were there, it was cloudy and overcast with occasional sprinkles or misting of rain. While it made for some grayish pictures and super frizzy hair for this curly girl, it made perfect temperatures for spending long days at Hersheypark.
My oldest was completely enamored of the roller coasters, which we were pleased to see his sense of adventure increase over previous amusement parks. He rode his favorites over and over and over, racing the green cars vs the red on the Lightning Racer, making me squeeze my butt into the narrow seats of The Comet coaster, telling me that Trailblazer was too tame for him…racing ahead of me so fast getting off the Pirate Ship that I wasn’t able to ride it the next time with him. He had a blast! After forcing him to ride a hot air balloon kiddie ride with his brother, it was only fair that he roller coaster his little heart out.
My youngest, while a bit more timid around the coasters, had just as much fun with many of the kiddie rides. I was surprised and excited to see miniature kiddie versions of many of the popular types of rides. From the seated swings of Swing Thing to the Frog Hopper, he enjoyed riding these tamer versions of the big kid / adult rides. And he is definitely my kid, as he LOVES the dizzy rides, like The Howler, Tilt-A-Whirl, and The Scrambler.
The park itself is like a mini Disney World centered around the Hershey candies. The park was super clean, everyone was very friendly, and they even had the various candy characters walking about and available for every photo op. My youngest was all about the characters and upon seeing one would pull my arm as he raced across for his picture to be taken with them. My oldest was more into posing with all the extra large versions of the candies at Hershey’s Chocolate World.
And the water park, East Coast Waterworks! Oh my! I didn’t carry my phone with me while we were there, for fear of dropping and ruining it, so I don’t have any pictures of this area but you have to believe me when I say that it was amazing. They had several areas for the little kids, a lazy river, a HUGE water playground with TWO dumping buckets that could rival any other water park. My oldest LOVED The Hydro, dragging my husband along on it time and again.
My only complaint was that the food (whether at Fire & Grain inside The Hershey Lodge, or inside HersheyPark itself) was pretty expensive. That’s to be expected, but where we’d been allowed to bring food into the park at WDW / Universal, it is not allowed at Hersheypark. You’re limited to 1 bottle of water per person in your group. We compensated for this by finding our meals off the Hershey campus. Our first night, we had eaten on the road, but our second, we went to Friendly’s, which we passed on our way to Hershey Lodge. I remarked to my husband that I thought it was ice cream…he thought it was more like a diner, turned out though I was right (which I remind him of every time it happens…which is often 😉 ). They offer a traditional American fare, burgers, hot dogs, fries etc, and their kids meals come with a create your own sundae. The boys really enjoyed it!
The last night, we went into town for Primanti Brothers, which a friend of mine who grew up in PA had told me to go try if we had the opportunity. They have a reputation for sandwiches that serve their sides ON the sandwich. I was a bit nervous, because I typically don’t like cole slaw, but this was vinegar-based instead of mayo-based, and turned out that it was super tasty!
The morning of our last day in Hershey, we woke up early, checked out, then headed to town to eat at the donut shop we spotted the previous evening while dining at Primanti Brothers. You can go wrong with donuts! And Duck Donuts was perfection! Turns out they are franchised and have locations all over, including one here in my home town and I didn’t even know it! How about that!
After finishing our breakfast, we popped over to The Hershey Story Museum and took our tour there. It was really nice because they were able to tailor it to both adults and children by means of these little disks you hold up to the digital kiosks. Adults would hear one thing and kids would hear another, relevant to their age. In addition to that, the kids were given a scavenger hunt page of items to locate throughout the museum exhibits, which my kids both really enjoyed finding each item on the list.
All in all, we had a great time! I didn’t even touch on all the rides we went on, and THAT doesn’t even touch on how many they have. They are currently under construction making a new shopping area (Chocolate Town) and their 15th coaster, that promises to be their longest, tallest and sweetest. My boys are already asking me when we can go back :).
Have you been to Hershey? What was your favorite part?