Still haven’t locked down a family getaway for the summer? Missed the boat on a Disney trip but like the idea of a one-stop shop where you can relax, the kids can hit some coasters, rides and carnival games and everybody can get relief from the heat of summer in the city? Here’s a sweet idea to consider: Hersheypark in (where else?) Hershey, PA, which is just three hours away from NYC. Read on for a preview on what you can expect when you pack up the family and head to Hershey, plus thoughts on where to stay, eat, and how to get the most out of a visit.

Hersheypark, Hershey, PA.
Perhaps you visited “The Sweetest Place on Earth” when you were a kid; a lot has changed since then. The amusement park, which debuted the first looping roller coaster on the East Coast, the SooperDooperLooper, in 1977, is now home to 13, with the latest addition Laff Trakk, opening this year. Hersheypark now covers 120 acres, features 70 rides and attractions, nine water attractions and even an 11-acre walk-through zoo with more than 200 animals. To say there’s enough to keep the whole family busy for a few days is and understatement — you could spend a day at the water parks, alone.

The vibe: Like Disney, but with chocolate. OK, that’s not exactly true, but the whole town is built on the sweet stuff, so instead of Mickey ears everywhere, you do see Hershey chocolate products at every turn: the street lights are topped with Hershey’s Kisses, the bedding at Hershey properties features a subtle Hershey’s Kiss print, you can have breakfast with the Hershey Candy characters a la dining with the princesses at The Mouse House. (Who can blame them? It’s hard to be a chocolate hater.) Cosmetics or branding aside, Hersheypark is clean, welcoming and very family-friendly, while also feeling a little less corporate and amped up than a mega amusement park operation in the very best way.

Laff Trakk photo: Hersheypark

What’s New: The big addition at the park is Laff Trakk, the first indoor, spinning glow-coaster in the U.S. Hershey describes it as a “21st century fun house that spins riders through an eye-popping adventure of sights and sounds.” (People are excited about it; the waits for it when we visited were the longest of any ride in the park.)

The park also welcomed a new option for food that goes beyond burgers and fries: a brand new Moe’s Southwest Grill serves up fresh southwestern food, and the Hershey spot is the first location of the chain to open in an amusement park. Families with dietary restrictions will rejoice to hear a new restaurant, The Outpost, serves allergen-friendly food including gluten, nut and dairy-free items and vegetarian dishes.

The rides
 Hershey’s selection of rides is impressive, and it includes classic midway-style rides and wooden roller coasters (that pack a punch, despite old-school construction) as well as thrill rides high octane enough for true speed demons. Both in quantity and variety, there’s something for everyone here with enough to keep adults and kids occupied for at least a couple days.

For the littlest thrillseekers
 Hershey is so kid-friendly, the park features different tiers of kids’ rides, based on height and with increasing intensity, and dubs 20 rides exclusively “kiddie rides.” Many of the rides for the youngest kids are adorable mini versions of “grown up” rides, i.e. a teeny roller coaster dubbed the “Cocoa Cruiser”, or a tiny scrambler or pirate ship ride.

Where to cool off
Similar to the wide array of rides, you’ll also find several ways for all ages to splash around, from looping waterslides with names like “Riptide,” “Hydro” and “Vortex”, to huge Technicolor spraygrounds, to wave pools both massive and mini. Most of the water attractions are located in or near the “Boardwalk” section of the park, which is also outfitted with beach chairs for lounging, beach town decor and the sound of seagulls pumped in to give it a surprisingly convincing seaside vibe in the middle of Pennsylvania. If so inclined, you can rent your very own poolside cabana to chill the day away.

The Hershey Lodge

Where to stay
For a deluxe experience, it’s hard to go wrong with Hershey’s own properties. The Hershey Lodge has the feel of one of the great lodges you’d find in national parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite, but with all the modern conveniences like updated bathrooms and attached restaurants offering a wide range of food, from basic breakfast and lunch to a special meal. The supreme experience can be found at the resort’s Hotel Hershey, which promises “refined elegance and abundant amenities.” Guests who stay at one of the Hershey properties also get the bonus of gaining admission to the park one hour before everyone else, enjoy free shuttle service to the park, and can take in a variety of activities offered daily on site, including making s’mores at a fire pit on the property, enjoying a wild animal presentation from the park’s zoo employees or meeting and greeting with the Hershey candy characters (you’d be surprise how cute an anthropomorphized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or York Peppermint Patty can be.)

For a more economical  and rustic option, consider Hersheypark Camping Resort. The campground has facilities for tent and RV camping, as well as cabins, all with electrical hook-ups. Camping fees include admission to the park, along with the free shuttle service.

Where to eat: As previously noted, the Hershey Resort complex offers a good variety of both casual and more upscale dining options. (We ate tasty meals at The Hershey Grill and The Forebay; the nearby Cocoa Diner — not a part of the Hershey complex — is a great choice for quick and easy diner food, especially breakfast.)

Good to know if you go: Download the Hersheypark app for helpful, real-time updates on ride wait times and more. If you find yourself itching for some retail therapy, a Tanger outlet is almost literally a stone’s throw away. Need a luxury spa, a quick round of golf or a visit to a botanic garden? You’ll find those at the Hershey Resorts and properties as well. Finally, don’t leave without taking a full tour of Chocolate World, which not only sells the widest range of Hershey souvenirs at the park, but is stocked with every Hershey product imaginable/in existence (think: an entire wall of Reese’s permutations.)

Have you visited Hershey recently? Tell us about your visit in the comments below!

—Mimi O’Connor

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