Tired of your extended family descending upon your home like a flock of hungry vultures? Ready for an option that replaces cooking and cleaning with rollercoasters and chocolate spa treatments? Hershey, Pennsylvania, offers a splendid option for your holiday weekend.
A couple years ago, I woke up on Thanksgiving, thinking that I’d be spending the day watching the Macy’s Parade and eating overcooked turkey. But I was pleasantly surprised when my parents loaded up our car with suitcases and headed to Hershey. We checked into the Hershey Lodge, one of two hotels and one camping resort owned by Hershey and adjacent to Hersheypark, an incredible amusement park which opens during late fall with a holiday theme to launch your holiday season.
When I stepped into our lodge, the chocolate smell aroma that permeates this town wafted toward me. Immediately, I felt transported to chocolate nirvana. But nirvana comes with a price: there was a huge crowd at check-in and the lodge itself is maze-like, which resulted in quite a lengthy trek to our hotel room. After the long hike to find our room, believe me, I was ready for a Thanksgiving feast.
The Hershey hotels offer many options for your Thanksgiving meal both at the lodge where I stayed, and also the swankier, and decidedly more expensive Hotel Hershey where I’ve stayed in the past (which, I might add, is a much easier hotel to navigate). The Circular, the Hotel Hershey Ballroom, Fire & Grain, the Hershey Lodge Ballroom, Harvest, and Trevi 5 all offer delectable traditional fare like slow roasted turkey dinner with cranberry-sourdough stuffing and mashed potatoes. Feeling a little adventurous? You might prefer something along the lines of their veal Milanese or house smoked ham brined with sweet tea. The meal I ordered was satisfactory… but I wasn’t here to eat. I was here to enjoy Hersheypark.
After the long drive to Hershey, my parents were glad to toss aside the keys to our car. The Hershey shuttles take visitors to most of the exciting destinations Hershey has to offer, including where I was headed, with my stomach full of turkey and stuffing.
Hersheypark is lit up like a supernova during their Christmas Candylane, which has four million colorful lights. But there is so much more to experience at the park during this season than just the lights. Fifty rides are open (weather dependent) including six rollercoasters. My personal favorites were the Claw, a ride that whirled me around while catapulting me upwards and then dropping me down, as though I was trapped inside a washing machine set on high that had been sucked inside of a F5 tornado. My mother stayed on firm ground for that one. The pirate ship was more up her alley, and made me feel like I was floating. The invigorating cold winds whipped my face and the colorful explosion of holiday lights zipped by me as I rode the many thrill rides at Hersheypark, including my first looping rollercoaster, the Sidewinder. Another great coaster I enjoyed was Laff Trakks, which is an indoor glow-in-the-dark wild mouse-style roller coaster. The line was short, so I managed to sqeeze that one in at least four times before the after dinner crowd showed up. Other rides include the SooperdooperLooper and the famous Hershey Triple Tower, which consists of three towers ranging in height from 80 to 189 feet tall.
At this time of the year, you can take a selfie with more than just the usual giant candy bar characters that Hersheypark offers throughout the year. That famed North Pole resident, Santa Claus, is at Hersheypark with his live reindeer – including Rudolph! For those with stronger ankles than my parents, there is a skating pond. A new holiday show at the park, A Music Box Christmas, is premiering this holiday and is perfect to enjoy with your family.
Before you slip away and go back to your hotel, be sure to stop by the adjacent Hershey’s Chocolate World where you can create your own candy bar! First, you choose your base chocolate – dark chocolate, white chocolate, or milk chocolate. Then you select your add-ins: chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, butter toffee chips, pretzel pieces, almonds, or raspberry bits. Top it off with sprinkles and personalize the wrapping with your own name for your treat. Hershey’s Chocolate World also offers the most delicious gift shop imaginable with candies so huge they look like they were stolen from a giant’s lair.
If you go on Thanksgiving like I did, take my advice and eat your meal quickly, so that you’ll avoid the long lines that appear at the park when the sun sets. Then, rather than fighting it out with the masses later that evening, you can race back to the Hershey Lodge where a wet and wonderful chaos awaits you at their new Water Works, an indoor waterpark exclusively for hotel guests. The noise will invigorate kids like me, while it may have your parents running for a margarita at Cocoa Cabanas. The splash-tacular Water Works provides many ways for children to have fun, including two Twizzlers Twists slides which propel you in a tube that goes outside of the hotel structure and then back inside again. Another activity is the Reese’s Water Walk, where kids can enjoy hopping across Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups while clinging to a rope ladder. What’s decidedly amusing is watching adults try to make it across the Water Walk. They usually fall into the water on the first couple steps because it was built to sustain a kid’s weight, not an adult’s. Just the same, my dad tried at least five times before he finally gave up, feigning a bad back, and headed to join my mom at the Cocoa Cabana right next to the pools, where a diverse menu of drinks and food is available. In addition to these activities, there are water play areas where little ones can have fun, too, and many large pool areas where guests can take a not-so-leisurely swim.
If you don’t enjoy getting wet, that’s okay! Hershey Lodge also offers a fitness center to work off those extra chocolate bars that magically appear on your pillow after housekeeping arrives. Also, kids will love the many games in the arcade, which include my personal favorites, skee ball and air hockey.
Need to break away from the hotel for a bit? Grab your cocoa to-go and drive through a two-mile long color explosion of holiday lights at Hershey Sweet Lights. You can also check to see what Broadway caliber shows, ballets, or symphonies might be playing at the Hershey Theatre during your Thanksgiving weekend. The historic theater itself is a sight to see with its striking 1930s architecture. Or you can check out Indian Echo Caverns just ten minutes away, an underground limestone cave formed more than 440 million years ago.
Looking for an escape from the chaos of the Thanksgiving holiday? The Hershey Hotel has got you covered – in a chocolate fondue wrap, that is! The Spa at Hotel Hershey offers luxurious spa treatments like the Peppermint Hot Chocolate Immersion, Peppermint Mocha Manicure and Pedicure, and yes, even a Chocolate Fondue Wrap! But you might prefer spoiling yourself in a more adventurous way like my family did – with a Falconry Experience at the Hotel Hershey where guests can interact with hawks, falcons, and a golden eagle.
But you’re like me, you’ll steer clear of the spa and spend as much time thrill-seeking this Thanksgiving on rollercoasters and waterslides. With a weekend trip to Hershey, you’ll have plenty to be thankful for this holiday.