For years my daughter has been asking to go to Hershey, Pennsylvania. She had a feeling it was going to be a place out of heaven, with its Hershey theme park and chocolate-related activities. So, mindful of the fact that she’s 12 and has six summers left before turning 18 and venturing into the world, we spent last weekend in what’s billed as “the sweetest place on earth,” where Milton S. Hershey opened and ran his manufacturing factory. What we found was a weekend full of chocolate – and non-chocolate – with pure, unadulterated fun at the theme park, museums, beautiful gardens and great restaurants. Here’s the low-down on where we stayed, what we did and where we ate, with a few helpful tips along the way, all in three days.
Tourist season is heating up in Hershey, so it was impossible to get a room at The Hotel Hershey, the most elegant and inspired hotel in town, located on a hill that overlooks everything Milton Hershey created. Inspired by his global travels, he built the hotel in 1933, and it’s exquisite…. even just for a visit. It’s very Mediterranean, apparently having been inspired by an actual hotel he visited with a U-shaped base with a tower at either end, creating a 170-room hotel, with a Spanish patio, tiled floors, grand fountain, and a dining room without corners.
We headed for lunch at Trevi 5, a modern Italian restaurant on the hotel’s premises that was named after the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome. It was a great place to start the weekend with exquisite food and sweeping views of Hershey Park and the Gardens from our vantage point. The menu offers healthy options, in addition to thin-crusted pizza and pasta dishes including Baked Lasagna, Capellini Pasta with Garlic Shrimp and Penne Bolognese. I had the Compressed Watermelon & Feta Salad, which was delicious. The kids sampled options from their extensive children’s menu, and it made for a great start to our Hershey adventure.
Trevi 5, THE HOTEL HERSHEY, Located at The Hotel Hershey – 100 Hotel Road, Hershey, PA 17033, (717) 534-8800
Our first stop was non-chocolaty, much to my kids’ disappointment, but it turned into time very well spent. We ventured to Antique Automobile Club of America, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, where vintage cars, buses and motorcycles are on display. We toured the museum slowly, viewing station wagons, including Carol Brady’s Plymouth Satellite wagon from The Brady Bunch, the world’s largest and best-known collection of Tucker 48 automobiles, engines, mechanicals and automobilia, a restored 1941 diner, Henry Ford’s early cars from Model A to Model T, the Rolls-Royce Silver Spur factory Limousine once owned by Whitney Houston and many other vehicles. There’s an interactive area for children. In the activity room, they can do a crayon rubbing of an antique license plate and engage in a variety of hands-on projects and activities.
Antique Automobile Club of America, 161 Museum Dr, Hershey, PA 17033, (717) 566-7100
It was a beautiful sunny day so I was excited about our next stop, Indian Echo Caverns, where we would explore 440 million year-old caverns always at 52 degrees. We walked through underground labyrinth of tunnels, lakes, and rock formations that consisted of stalagmites, columns and flowstone, and crystal clear lakes. It was an afternoon full of geological marvel, and I was happy to take my kids to yet another non-chocolaty activity before the onslaught began.
Indian Echo Caverns, 368 Middletown Road, Hummelstown, PA 17036-8815, (717) 566-8131
We went for dinner at The Mill Restaurant, which was an absolute delight for all of us. Located in a two-story mill that dates back to 1858, off of Old West Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, the renovated space features exposed timber beams and vintage lights, and the menu is all about seasonal, farm-to-table meals. The menu focuses on fresh, seasonal foods including seafood such as Atlantic Grilled Salmon, Seared Sea Scallops, Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna and Maryland Broiled Crab cakes. Their smoked food techniques are unparalleled and we were all gawking at the food’s flavors and aromas.
The Mill Restaurant, 810 Old West Chocolate Avenue, Hershey, PA 17033, (717) 256-9965
For our first dose of chocolate, we headed to Hershey’s Chocolate World. We first got set up with tour times, important to do as they fill up and sell out. Getting there late at night was a good choice as they empty out and close at 11pm. First we took the free “Great American Chocolate Tour Ride,” an indoor ride that explains how chocolate bars are made. Then we went into the tasting lab and learned how to be palateers, sampling chocolate by using all of our senses. Next up was the “Create Your Own Candy Bar” experience, where we donned aprons to customize our own chocolate bars, choosing its base flavor (milk, dark, or white) and fillings, and watch them being made in an automated assembly line. We even customized our own wrappers, which my kids loved. Lastly, we went to the 4D film, which continues the chocolate theme. From Chocolate World you can pick up the Hershey Trolley Works™ to tour the town and learn the inspiring story of the place made famous by Milton S. Hershey and his chocolate.
Hershey’s Chocolate World, 251 Park Blvd, Hershey, PA 17033, (717) 534-4900
The night ended with a real bang – two very happy, tired children. We chose to lay our heads at Comfort Inn at the Park, just off Rte. 422 and only a few miles from Hershey Park. Rooms are casual but clean and cozy, with free Wi-Fi, private bathrooms with showers, as well as flat-screen TVs and coffeemakers. Some rooms have minifridges and microwaves. Suites add a separate sitting area and pullout sofas. Breakfast is complimentary. There’s an indoor heated pool with a hot tub, and free outdoor parking.
Comfort Inn at the Park, 1200 Mae St, Hummelstown, PA 17036, (717) 566-2050
My kids jumped out of bed to make sure we got to Hersheypark right at 10am. After all, it was our raison d’etre for being in Hershey in the first place and they were rearing to go. We drove to the park, paying $15 for the day to park our car and then hit the rides, which was easy to do. For one thing, the park is smaller than Disney and very manageable. The kids were eager to ride Laff Trakk, “the first indoor, spinning, glow-coaster in the United States”, so we headed directly to the back of the park and made our way forward as the day progressed. There are roller coasters for all levels (they loved the Sidewinder, Lightening Racer and Comet), water rides, an old-fashioned carousel and Ferris wheel and dozens of other rides. We saw Hershey characters strolling through the park all day, and when we were hungry we headed to the Gourmet Grille sandwiches and tacos. Other restaurants include Moe’s Southwest Grill for burritos and southwestern food, and The Outpost, for gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, or vegetarian meals. They even have Kosher Mart in Rhineland serving Glatt Kosher Meat and Pareve prepared under rabbinic supervision.
After we had our fill of rides and Dippin Dots and Rita’s ice, we headed to ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, an 11-acre right next to Hersheypark and included in the price of admission, featuring North American wildlife, including alligators, owls, and snapping turtles. After an hour or two there, it was time to call it an end of day.
Hersheypark, 100 W Hersheypark Dr, Hershey, PA 17033, (800) 437-7439
On our last day, we opted to explore The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue. There we learned how Milton Hershey went from bankruptcy to brilliance, transforming chocolate from a luxury to an everyday treat in their extensive Museum Experience that features 10,000 square feet of exhibits. Even my kids were engrossed in his rags to riches story. We also learned about his charity work. Since his death in 1945 at age 88, Milton Hershey’s legacy has thrived with a constantly changing world. Today, Milton Hershey School, the institution he and his wife founded, nurtures more than 2,000 financially needy boys and girls in grades K-12. The school and the Hershey philanthropy are perpetuated through the holdings of the Milton Hershey School Trust, which in turn derives much of its support from the profits of The Hershey Company and Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company.
Then we experienced a hands-on “Chocolate Lab” class and sample warm drinking chocolate at the “Countries of Origin Chocolate Tasting.” In the 45-minute Lab, we learned how to make s’mores the Hershey way and in the tasting; we sampled chocolate flavors from around the world.
The Hershey Story, 63 W. Chocolate Avenue, Hershey, PA 17033-1502, (717) 534-3439
For lunch, we went across the street to Fenicci’s Italian Restaurant of Hershey for an Italian feast. Owner Phil Guarno remains committed to using quality ingredients, many from his own garden located behind the restaurant; and he still offers some of the most treasured original recipes along with new, creative additions to please any palette. We reveled in full plates of ravioli and authentic pizza. I especially loved the theater posters on the wall; it made me feel very much at home.
Fenicci’s Italian Restaurant of Hershey, 102 West Chocolate Avenue, Hershey, PA 17033, (717) 533-7159
Last but not least, we headed to Hershey Gardens, right down the road from the Hotel Hershey. Originally founded by Milton S. Hershey as a formal 3-½ acre rose garden, Hershey Gardens fills 23 acres. Filled with magnificent themed gardens, colorful seasonal displays, more than 5,000 rose bushes, a children’s garden, and a seasonal Butterfly House – this botanical gem is a garden for all seasons. After a busy few days, it was kind of perfect to end with a relaxing stroll through well-kept gardens and to see how Milton Hershey spread his wealth and passions through nature.
Hershey Gardens, 170 Hotel Road, Hershey, PA 17033-9507, (717) 534-3492
The result? A fullfilling weekend for all of us and memories to last a lifetime. What more can a mom ask for?
Disclosure: I partnered with Visit Hershey & Harrisburg on the logistics of this trip, but all opinions are my own.