HERSHEY, Pa. Our debut at HersheyPark was not so sweet, but that had nothing to do with the park itself.
As we approached the gate, delighted by the Tudor-style structures resembling a small village and the smell of chocolate in the air, Madeline, 8, began complaining of stomach discomfort, so much so that it brought her to tears. So we ducked into the guest services building. Two paramedics examined her, and then took her and her mom, Jodie, on a motorized cart to see a nurse (some way to enter the park, huh?). From there, a paramedic took Madeline and Jodie by ambulance to an after-hours pediatric clinic called Good Nights. It was determined Madeline had a urinary tract infection, so she received a prescription and then was transported, along with her mom, back to the park. The ambulance rides and nurse visit at the park cost us nothing, and the care at the clinic was outstanding. It should come as no surprise that this town would have good facilities for children. Its founder, although he and his wife could not have children, adored young ones. Hershey even built an orphanage/school and left his vast fortune to it.
While Madeline and Jodie were going through that ordeal, Val, 4 1/2, Elaina, 2, and I entered the park the conventional way. We decided to peruse the place while waiting for the prognosis. Unfortunately, we didn't ride many rides Elaina wanted to but she was too small; Val was big enough but she didn't want to. So we watched a live performance by the Milk Men an entertaining foursome harmonizing to songs from yesterday and today, including disco. After much reassurance, I was able to convince Val to join Elaina and I in boarding the monorail, which offers riders an audio tour while viewing the park, zoo and downtown. A chocolate aroma fills the air near where the monorail, which leaves the park for part of the trip, passes the factory. After that, we caught the end of a sea lion comedy show at the park's aquatheatre. It brought back memories of annual trips to Sea World during my childhood.
Continuing on, we entered the zoo, something that is included in the park admission but costs $8.50 for non-park-goers. ZooAmerica, which was started by Hershey in 1905 with a colony of prairie dogs and a bear cub, has grown to an 11-acre facility that is home to 200 animals from North America. The zoo takes about 45 minutes to tour, and it was there that we were reunited with Jodie and Madeline. The alligators were the girls' favorite creatures.
While mulling our dinner options, we heard live music and ventured over to the amphitheater, where Loverboy was performing a free concert. We were able to catch the encore you know, the part where the band pretends it's finished and runs off stage, the crowd continues cheering and chanting, and then the band returns for a song or two. Such was the case with Loverboy, the band with pop songs "Lovin' Every Minute of It," "Working for the Weekend" and "This Could be the Night." Madeline asked where they came from and I replied the 80s. She responded, "And they're still alive?" Nice.
Any way, Hershey has a free concert series that runs from May through September, usually on Sundays. Other noted acts on this year's schedule include the Gin Blossoms, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Bo Diddley and Starship featuring Mickey Thomas.
We decided to eat dinner at the Hatfield Country Grill, where we enjoyed more live music a performance by Never 2nd Fiddle. The foot-stompin', hand-clappin' country band entertained and interacted, with one singer crooning at the edge of Elaina's stroller. Afterward, band members invited us to pose for a picture with them and chatted with the girls.
Park guests receive a brochure outlining the numerous entertainment opportunities, many of which seemed enticing circus performers, a pianist, percussionists and various singing-and-dancing acts. Hersheypark also has entertainers who stroll the park while performing, including the Travelin' Vibe an eclectic group of guys singing summer favorites.
We were able to notice more during our second day at the park. The ride-height "measure up" signs near the gates are branded to different Hershey's products Miniatures, Kisses, Reese's, Hershey's, Twizzlers and Jolly Rancher. And an attendant supplies a sample of the corresponding candy to each person who gets measured. Yep, more free chocolate!
The most popular thrill rides include Storm Runner and Great Bear, but Madeline was too short for those. She and her mom did ride the Comet (built in 1946, it's the park's oldest ride and is a taller and longer version of Cedar Point's Blue Streak), the Wildcat (similar to CP's Mean Streak) and the Wild Mouse (a variation of CP's Wildcat).
Madeline and I rode the interactive Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge, which has independently rotating cars that pass through competition zones. Similar to a video game, riders fire laser guns at targets, trying to rack up points that are recorded electronically on the car. Those who have been to Disney World will liken it to the Buzz Lightyear ride.
While Hersheypark has more than 60 attractions, about a third of them are geared to younger kids. And those rides are not lumped into their own section. Rather, they are interspersed among the thrill rides, allowing families to stay together as they travel from section to section. Val was a bit braver on the second day, so she and her sisters rode a bunch of the mild rides.
Speaking of sections, Hershey is divided into nine of them Tudor Square, Rhineland, Founder's Circle, Comet Hollow, Minetown, Music Box Way, Pioneer Frontier, Midway America and the newest attraction, the Boardwalk. Most offer rides and food-and-snack facilities fitting the section's theme. We found the park's layout a bit confusing, though, despite a map and numerous signposts. And the hills gave us a good workout, especially when pushing an occupied double stroller.
The impressive Boardwalk section pays tribute to the beach points of the northeast Atlantic City, Coney Island, Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach. The area features five new attractions, the centerpiece of which is East Coast Waterworks billed as the world's largest water play structure. We enjoyed donning our swimsuits and spending a few hours in the water.
Hersheypark also has characters. While not Mickey Mouse or Snoopy, the 7-foot chocolate bars grow on you after a while. Our girls enjoyed posing with a Hershey Bar who gave Val rabbit ears.
Regular admission costs $45.95, while juniors (ages 3 to 8) and seniors pay $26.95. The daily price decreases when buying two- and three-day tickets. A neat feature is the preview plan: A person who purchases a regular full-day admission ticket for the following day is allowed to spend the last 2 1/2 hours of that evening in the park for free.
During our last day there, Jodie asked Madeline which park she liked better, Hershey or Disney. Without pausing, she replied, "Hershey. You don't get free chocolate at Disney World."