HERSHEY, Pa. - I love chocolate. And my wife and three daughters love chocolate. So we could think of no better place to spend our next vacation than Chocolate Town USA, aka Hershey, Pa.
We recently returned from our four-day exploration of that central Pennsylvania community built a century ago by Milton S. Hershey, founder of the chocolate company bearing his name. The company still operates three factories there the original, which remains the largest chocolate factory in the world, one built in 1990 that specializes in Hershey Kisses and a third that makes Reese's products.
The history of Hershey is a sweet story (pun intended). After going bankrupt twice, Milton Hershey developed a successful caramel candy business, which he sold to finance the first U.S. factory to mass produce milk chocolate. Breaking tradition, Hershey opted not to put the factory near a large city but instead chose a rural area near his birthplace where ample dairy farms could supply the fresh milk needed for chocolate.
Hershey then built a town around his factory, complete with affordable housing, shops, churches (he donated $20,000 to five congregations), a bank, school, safety forces and provisions for recreation including Hersheypark.
Today the town has swelled to a population of 21,000, and the park that began as a place for picnicking and swimming has evolved into a major theme park celebrating its centennial this year. Park-goers can enjoy rides, shows, water attractions and a zoo, all for one admission price.
Hershey is also home to Chocolate World, America's most-frequented corporate visitor's center. Each year, more than 3 million people take the free chocolate-making tour to learn how those tasty treats go from bean to bar, with a free sample at the end (yum!). The facility boasts the world's largest selection of Hershey's products clothing, souvenirs and, of course, tons of candy.
Those places are described in more detail in accompanying stories.
While the area is full of inns, motels and hotels, the three park-affiliated accommodations are The Hotel Hershey, Hershey Lodge and Highmeadow Campground. These provide complimentary shuttles to and from the park and are full of chocolate treats, as we would discover.
We spent one night at the lodge, where we received five regular-size Hershey bars upon check-in and seven more for handing in a survey during check-out. The girls got chocolate while stopping at their own check-in desk. And kisses were left on the bed during a turn-down service. The lodge is full of recreation options and activities, including five pools, a miniature golf course and tennis and basketball courts. Lodge (and Hotel Hershey) guests also receive complimentary tickets to the Hershey Museum and Hershey Gardens. While the lodge isn't cheap a room costs more than $200 per night you get what you pay for in terms of activities, amenities and atmosphere.
We also camped for two nights. While there wasn't as much free chocolate (only a bowl of Hershey's miniatures at the registration desk), Highmeadow Campground offers scenic sites with electric, water and cable hookups. The shower houses are cleaner and more private than many of the campgrounds we've visited. And the pools and playgrounds attracted a slew of kids, including our three who seemed to forget there were other attractions to visit in Hershey. Our tent site cost about $40 per night.
The hotel and lodge each house several restaurants, while the town itself offers many other dining options, ranging from fast-food and sit-down chain eateries to diners and pizza places to more formal restaurants. Concerts, live theater and minor-league hockey are among Hershey's other cultural attractions.