Here you go! We LOVE spending a couple days each summer in Pennsylvania. The first year, we went with my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and three nephews, and headed to Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster for the Day Out of With Thomas event, and then to Dutch Wonderland for some amusement park fun. It was a fabulously fun weekend, and perfect for our crew, ages 2-8 at the time. Since then, we've revisited Southeastern PA, but instead of Lancaster, we've headed straight to The Sweetest Place on Earth, aka Hersheypark! We haven't attempted Disney (finally taking the plunge this November!) or even boarding an airplane yet with our kiddos, but Hershey? We've got this one down! Hope these tips help you out and maybe even persuade you to visit this nearby gem.
Before your visit, be sure to download the Hersheypark app onto your iPhone or Android phone. This super app gives you an interactive map of the park, a list of nearby rides, show times, dining options and more. It is completely free and such a great tool.
WHERE TO STAY...
We are a HUGE fan of Country Inn and Suiteshotels (part of the hospitality group that owns Radisson Hotels). We usually stay at the Country Inn and Suites @Union Deposit Road in Harrisburg, which is about a 15 minute (EASY!) drive to Hersheypark. There are a few other Country Inns closer to Hershey, but they can also cost $50-100 more a night that the Union Deposit Road location. We've paid anywhere from $100-$125 a night, depending on the date, and I've found that no matter what website I use (hotels.com, Travelocity.com or the official website of Country Inn and Suites), the price is always the same. You can book either a standard room (we get one with 2 double beds) or a two-room suite, with a separate living room area. All of the rooms come with a flat screen television, refrigerator and microwave.
This hotel is super clean, very accessible to a grocery store, Target (especially helpful since I left our memory card and sunscreen at home!), gas stations, restaurants (Outback, Panera, etc.) and the highway. There is a great indoor pool/hot tub and a super complimentary breakfast that includes the usual cereal, muffins, bagels as well as Belgian waffles, eggs and other goodies. In the lobby, you will always find a selection of coffee, fresh fruit and warm Otis Spunkmeyer cookies- perfect for refueling those tired kiddies and even more tired parents!
Other Mommy Dashers have also suggested The Hotel Hershey, which looks ahh-MAAAZ-ing, but will cost a few more beans than some other places (a summer stay can cost $350 a night and above), BUT you also have the convenience of being on Hershey property, using the shuttle service to visit Hersheypark amusements, having access to the golf course, and some other cool perks. Hershey also has a campground, at which you can bring your own tents, trailer or rent one of their awesome cabins. Other hotel suggestions include Days Inn Hershey (less than a mile from Hersheypark and also offers free breakfast and a shuttle!) as well as Marriot Townplace Suites in Harrisburg, which offers the convenience of a 2 bedroom suite with a living room and pull out couch- perfect for larger families, or for those traveling with friends or grandparents.
**This year we mixed things up a bit, and were more economical by staying at the Travelodge, right on E. Chocolate Avenue. It was $84 for the night (we found a promo discount code on line through our union) and although the hotel was absolutely no frills and hasn't been remodeled since 1982, it was clean beyond belief, had an indoor pool (which we didn't get a chance to check out), and was a five minute drive to Hershey. We checked in at 3 pm, spent the whole afternoon out and got back to the hotel around 10:30 and crashed...and then woke up, checked out, grabbed some fruit, cereal and muffins from their free breakfast and went back to Hersheypark- for the amount of time we actually spent in our room, it was a fabulous deal.
HOW TO DO MORE,FOR LESS!
The standard "Gate" price for admittance into Hersheypark is $62.95 for ages 9-54, and $39.95 for kids ages 3-8 and adults ages 55 and up. Under 3 is free...which I totally took advantage for a couple of summers a few years ago, when I may or may not have instructed my then-3 1/2 year old to sit in the stroller, look short, and not say a word until we got though the admission gate...what this mama will do to save a few bucks! :)
There are MUCH cheaper ways of getting Hershey tickets without paying full price at the gate, or by making your children an accomplice in lying...Our preferred method is buying our tickets at a Giant Food Store once we are in PA (there is one right near our hotel). Tickets are $47.80 for adults- that's $15 less than at the gate, and $38.80 for kids. Go right to Customer Service and they will take care of you. Usually, if you go before 6/30, you will also get a free parking pass ($15 value!). Dunkin' Donuts and Burger King also offer coupons for discount tickets (usually about $10 off), but the Giant option is def the most cost effective. *Military families do receive a special discount...ask at the gate or check out hersheypark.com for details!
My next ticket saver tip is to visit the park during the "Preview" hours. Hershey allows you to enter the park 2 1/2 hours prior to closing...so for example, we were there on Monday evening, and the park was closing at 10 pm, so we were allowed to enter at 7:30...FOR FREE! (*Guests staying in Hotel Hershey, or other Hershey resort properties can enter 3 1/2 hours prior to closing!) You just show your ticket, and then hold on to it for the next day. We love the preview hours because most people are on their way out, after a long day of Hershey...by the time we get there, rides are emptying, and we have free reign over everything.
We usually get to the Hershey property around 6:00, and visit Chocolate World (found right at the front entrance of Hersheypark) first. There are lots of activities in Chocolate World (4D movie experience, make your own chocolate bar, etc) but in an effort to save $$$ and to maximize our time inside the park, we jump right onto the line for the chocolate tour, which is absolutely free! You hop right onto a motorized ride (stroller parking is conveniently located right there), and get taken through the chocolate making process- from the cocoa beans in the forest, to the store shelves. It's adorable,informative and totally kid-friendly. I will warn you though, the tour starts and ends INSIDE the Chocolate World store...which is heaven on Earth for chocolate lovers! We usually tell our kiddos that they can choose one treat- we escaped this haven of chocolate spending less than $10, and enough candy to last us a month (or maybe one really bad PMS week ;) ).
If you have older kids, I would suggest hitting up the more popular rollercoasters during the Preview hours. Those of us with little ones, you can probably have your kids go on each of the approximately 25 kiddie rides twice during the evening. Just make sure you hold off on the ice cream treats until AFTER the Tilt-a-Whirl...trust me, I know from experience.
We usually stay until 10:00 pm closing, and if we are lucky, our kiddos pass out on the way back to the hotel. The next morning, we head back to Hershey after a hearty hotel breakfast, and are amongst the first visitors at 10 am. The first half of the day is devoted to the Boardwalk- Hersheypark's own waterpark, which is totally included in the price of admission, and is found right within the Park! The Boardwalk is AWESOME, with over 16 water attractions including a MASSIVE wave pool and a family-friendly Lazy River. Get there early to grab some chairs in the shade, stake out your spot and you are set for the day! The water park is soooo clean and well maintained- it's really the highlight of our trip. When our kiddos were younger, after 4 or 5 hours of fun in the sun, they were usually ready for a nap, so we would head back to the hotel to rest, shower and change. We would usually grab dinner at one of the local restaurants, and then head back to Hersheypark around 7, to do some more kiddie rides and check out the animal attractions in ZooAmerica. If everyone was in a good mood and well rested, we shut it down again at 10 pm, bid our farewells to the Sweetest Place on Earth, and head back to Harrisburg for a very good night's rest! This year, since 2/3 of our crew is older (ages 7 and 9), we powered through the day- conquering the rides after the water park and going strong, until we were Hershey-ed out, and just headed home around 6:30 pm.
MOMMMMM, I'M HUNGRY!!!!!
Hersheypark, like any amusement park, has plenty of delicious and not-so-nutritious food, at pretty expensive prices. To be fair, their brochure and website does say that they offer menu choices for guests with food sensitivities and allergies, but we usually do not dine inside the park, so I can't comment from personal experience. I did notice an entire food stand that was just for Food Allergy sufferers, as well as many Gluten Free and Kosher options. There is a Dunkin Donuts inside the park, which could work wonders when you feel that 4:00 crash happening!
There are meal plans (think Disney, on a MUCH smaller scale) that you can purchase, as well as a souvenir cup which costs about $11, but refills are only 99 cents for the entire season once you have it.
The peeps at Hershey probably wouldn't love to hear this, but despite their "no outside food policy", I am guilty of sneaking PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, juice boxes and fruit into the park. You are allowed to bring in sealed water bottles, which we did as well. I am not usually a rule breaker, but in an effort not to go completely broke, and to provide my family with a filling lunch, it's my best option. We do indulge in some fun vacation treats while there...cotton candy, ice cream, kettle corn...but not purchasing entire meals for everyone really helps us to stay on track with our budget.
MISSION HERSHEY COMPLETE...NOW WHAT?
After our first two days spent livin' la vida Hershey, we do usually spend one more day in PA (this year we headed home after two days)...our last day is spent checking out some of the other local attractions, including:
-Bass Pro Shop in Harrisburg (Trust me, it is unbelievably awesome...even if you don't think you will think so!) :) They have activities in the store for the kids, a mini carousel and the biggest fish tank you will ever see in a store.
- Kitchen Kettle Village (authentic Pennsylvania Dutch shopping experience- also offers Amish buggy rides, a playground and a petting zoo)
- Gettysburg (if you're a history buff!) is only about 45 minutes away.
- Tanger Outlets- there are actually TWO fabulous shopping centers- one in Hershey and one in Lancaster.
- The back of my eyelids as I try to sneak a nap on the ride home :)
I do hope this information is helpful to y'all! :) Please feel free to comment with your own experiences or questions you may have.