In particular, I miss roller coasters.
Most of you are used to dinner and a movie on a Friday night. For fifteen years I was accustomed to dinner and a coaster (or two). I used to live in Orlando, FL. I always had an annual pass to one of the theme parks. I love DC but I miss theme parks. In particular, I miss roller coasters. Each summer now involves a road trip to one of the regional amusement parks in the Mid-Atlantic. This year was my first time visiting Hersheypark, in Hershey, PA, and I loved it.
My boyfriend, Zach, and my friend Peter, and I hopped in a rental car and drove up there last weekend. It was my first time visiting Pennsylvania and I have to say it's really rather pretty. I had no idea that so much corn was grown in PA. Everywhere I looked there was another corn field. (Another quirk about Pennsylvania: they think cheese sauce is a food group or something. It was available as a side dish on every menu I saw.)
Hersheypark was created by Milton Hershey — Milton Snavely Hershey (which sounds very Harry Potterish, no?) — in 1906 as a leisure park for the employees of his Hershey Chocolate Company. It turns out despite Milton's kinda creepy name he was a pretty decent boss, actually. He believed that treating his employees better would result in them being better employees. To Mr. Hershey that meant creating educational and cultural opportunities for the residents of Hershey, PA. That legacy lives on in the M.S. Hershey Foundation which supplies funding for the Hershey Theater, the Hershey Gardens, the Hershey Community Archives, and the Hershey Museum (more on that in a minute).
The Wild Cat was the first coaster opened at Hersheypark in 1923 and operated until 1945. In 1946 it was replaced with another wooden roller coaster, The Comet, which is still in operation and which I did not ride because I didn't want to ride anything that might shake my molars out of their sockets. The East Coast's first looping coaster opened here in 1977. Fast forward to last weekend and it turns out Hersheypark has 13 roller coasters, many of which rank quite high on the OMG-am-I-going-to-die-on-this-ride scale. This made me very, very happy. I love roller coasters. In short, I was much more impressed with Hersheypark than I'd planned on being. It was clean, the rides were pretty fantastic, and the staff we talked to were very friendly. 9/10 would go back.
Our only complaint was their fast pass arrangement. $60 would get you a head of the line pass but could only be used one time on nine of their attractions. Meh. It turns out that if you pony up five bucks to play Plinko (a game which they have scattered around the park) you can win one head of the line pass that's good for any ride. Ever since I was a child watching Price Is Right at my grandmother's house I've always wanted to play Plinko. That wish finally came true while I was at Hersheypark AND I WON A HEAD OF LINE PASS SO TAKE THAT HERSHEYPARK!
And we made chocolate because duh...
It won't surprise you to learn that in a town made by chocolate there are a thousand different ways to engage with chocolate. We decided to visit the Hershey Museum and Chocolate Lab where we got to make salted chocolate bars. The ladies of the lab explained a little bit about the history of the chocolate (which is way more fascinating than I'd have imagined) and the various ingredients used to make modern chocolate. They even demonstrated how the ancient Aztecs would grind cacao nibs using a mano y metate to form the basis of chocolate liquor.
So here I thought I was just going to visit a moderately sized regional theme park and it turns out I was actually visiting the functioning legacy of a very forward thinking entrepreneur who saw value in giving back to the community which helped him make his fortunes. What a novel-sounding idea in 2015. There are still rides we didn't get to ride and sights we didn't get to see. I'm fairly certain this won't be my last trip to Hersheypark.