AMPLIFICATIONS: Chocolate World
Hershey, Penn. — The funny thing is, I don’t really like chocolate. I have always been a salty, crunchy person, but I love Hershey, Pennsylvania. I was here over 20 years ago on a bad, extended date and always wanted a redo because I found the entire area charming, even if the aforementioned date was less so.
The drive here was exceptionally lovely from Middleburg, Virginia, where I picked up my daughter from the National History Academy (after telling approximately 3 billion people that she was awarded a full scholarship). Thanks to a traffic snarl, we took secondary roads that wound us through farm and horse country. We drove through vineyards and meticulously maintained properties and enormous fields of corn and something green I decided were soybeans, but could have been triffids for all I know. Kay and I marveled at the landscape and drank copious amounts of coffee (decaf for her) and laughed and laughed and sometimes talked about boys.
Our first destination was Chocolate World, a massive building dedicated to all things Hershey and situated next to Hershey Park and ZooAmerica. I never ate a morsel of the sweet stuff, but I enjoyed every minute of the visit. We built our own candy bars and then took a walking tour and a ride that gave us some background to the place and explained the entire process of candy-making. Then we shopped, joyfully buying candy as presents and clothes that bear the logo of every candy sold by Milton Hershey’s descendants. We spent an entire day there and with only one exception, it was worth both the time and the money.
The 3D movie “mystery” was a clever interactive experience in which the floor shook and real bubbles and streamers fell from the ceiling. Kids were interviewed in the preshow and their responses made it into the animated film. It was funny and entertaining, even for grown-up and sophisticated teenagers like my Kay. The taste testing is definitely geared for younger kids, but was still entertaining. However, the build-your-own-candy-bar experience was close to a waste of time. One is made to don a hairnet and an apron, as if one is actually going off to work with the elves in a chocolate forest. Instead, you punch ingredients into computer stations and then watch as your candy bar is created in front of you as it rolls along a conveyer belt. It’s fun, but if we had paid full price and not been comped by the company (because I am a visiting writer), I would have spent a whopping $54 for the experience and two candy bars. The rest of the day was such fun that this simply seemed overblown in comparison.
The best part of the Chocolate World visit was the trolley ride. There are two versions, one in which skits and songs are performed along with the tour and history lesson. The other is less rife with entertainment and more straightforward. We went for the kid-friendly version and I was impressed, as I was when we went to the amusement park the next day, with the talent on display.
After an entire day of inhaling chocolate fumes and shopping with hoards of others, we drove less than 10 miles into bucolic farm country and the Inn at Westwynd Farm, owned by Carolyn and Frank Troxell. Think picturesque. Think enchanting. Then multiply your vision by 10. Having stayed in numerous B&Bs and inns in my life, I cannot remember ever being so fully enchanted by a place. Antiques and comfy corners abounded. One could sit on a porch swing and listen to a small waterfall spill into a pond below the porch. My daughter took a long walk and visited some of the horses that board there along with mini-horses, alpacas and donkeys.
Everything you could want, from a homemade snack to make-up remover, was included in the stay. Carolyn told me that she and Frank have traveled a lot and it taught them what to do—and what not to do. They started their second life as innkeepers upon retiring from a more corporate existence, and have made it their mission to help their guests feel at ease and pampered. Their care showed in a scrumptious full breakfast and a table groaning with homemade goodies. In all honesty, if I were planning a wedding or reunion or just a retreat from the world, I would go back to that lovely slice of Pennsylvania, if only to chat with Carolyn while watching her dip strawberries into warm chocolate.
The next day was reserved for rides at the park, but I have to say that it was not what I expected. I have such fond memories of the place, but the crowds were not as thick 20 years ago. Kay and I spent close to 10 hours at the park, but only went on seven rides. In fact, we waited two hours just to go on an indoor roller-coaster ride that lasted all of three minutes. It was fun, but I kept thinking about Milton Hershey. He was a man who took civic responsibility to heart. The school he and his wife, Catherine, started for orphaned boys now helps 2,000 impoverished and at-risk children a year. Hershey also built homes for his workers and sold them at cost. I could not help but wonder what he would have thought of the enormous machine that has grown out of the small leisure park with a few animals that he first constructed for his employees in 1906.
The park is clean and well maintained. ZooAmerica is adjacent to the rides and a lovely refuge for North American beasties. No one has ever died on the rides; the park is very well staffed and clean. I saw happy people everywhere, just as I did at Chocolate World, but I also saw parents trying to buck up tired kids who were drained from standing in line. It costs about $70 to attend for the day and if you want to cut the lines, you can spend another $50 for a Fast Pass (the very thought of which makes my inner proletariat want to commit suicide). Children between 3 and 8 years old and anyone over 55 pays $49. Once you pay and are in the park, it doesn’t really matter to the company how many rides you are able to enjoy because if it mattered, then the number of people allowed to enter would be limited and wait times would be reasonable. One ride, the newly opened Reese’s Cupfusion Dark Ride, was a three-hour wait every time I checked the app on my phone. I am not sure why that is acceptable to the corporate heads at Hershey or the people waiting.
Frankly, I would never do it again unless I went at night. A couple of locals told me that the night-time admission tickets are less expensive, there are fewer people and, of course, you won’t be standing in line in the broiling sun. (Full disclosure: I was a guest of the park; I did not buy my tickets.)
In the end I was left feeling torn. After learning about Milton Hershey, I have nothing but admiration for his vision and his kindness. I love that so many people are employed by the company, and I feel safe at the park—safer than at other amusement parks, which, for the most part, I refuse to attend. But I was sad to see how greed has allowed that vision to bloat and crush the values Hershey clearly espoused. Or maybe it is just that you really can’t go home again.