Delicious Fun: Hershey, Pennsylvania

MAJESTIC STANDS OF WEEPING WILLOWS and stately oak trees grace 55 acres set aside for the
Hershey Highmeadow Campground. Dubbed the Sweetest Campground on Earth, Highmeadow is part
of a complex of Hershey resorts nestled in the rolling Pennsylvania hills about 15 minutes
east of Harrisburg. A happy welcome, complete with sweet treats for young and old, greets
guests registering in their motorhomes or those who simply wish to pitch a tent. Highmeadow
is family-oriented, with spectacular views from the hilltops above Hersheypark. There are
two pools, a kiddie wading pool, a country store, playgrounds and volleyball and basketball
courts, along with all the amenities that make a campground comfortable. Guests enjoy
laundry facilities and four separate buildings with restrooms and showers, as well as
electric, water and sanitary hookups, plus a picnic table and a grill for each site. Cabins
are available with electricity, microwaves, refrigerators and breakfast nooks. Guests at
Hershey Highmeadow Campground enjoy a free shuttle to Hersheypark from May through
September, access to 72 holes of championship golf and special packages, such as Breakfast
at the Park, which offers early admission into Hersheypark plus breakfast with Hershey’s
product characters. Hershey is a company town in the sweetest sense. The place is
reminiscent of any quaint American small town, tucked into the greenbelt of Pennsylvania
farm-and-dairy country. Its big-city neighbor, Harrisburg, is the state capital. “On paper,
there is really no such town as Hershey. The place is still officially Derry Church
Township,” our trolley conductor intoned into a microphone. It wasn’t really a trolley,
rather a bus made to look like an old-fashioned trolley car, with singing conductors
dressed in turn-of-the-century garb. Trolley passengers board in front of Hershey’s
Chocolate World visitors center. It meanders through the streets that chocolate built.
Everywhere visitors see the hand of Milton S. Hershey, farmer, apprentice newspaper man,
failed businessman and, finally, millionaire candy maker and philanthropist. “We will come
back to the school later,” the trolley conductor said, launching a sing-along. The school,
like the chocolate factories, amusement park, resplendent Hotel Hershey, Hershey Gardens,
theater, stadium and community center, are centerpieces in what has become an American
visionary’s life and work. Milton S. Hershey was born on a farmstead near Derry Church
Township on September 13, 1857. He was the only surviving child of Fannie and Henry
Hershey. Milton was raised a Mennonite, taught the discipline and value of hard work. It
may have been this early training that gave the young candy maker the grit to stick to it
even after three ventures into the candy business failed. Finally, on the verge of his
fourth bankruptcy, Hershey’s Lancaster Caramel Company received an order from England, and
the money began rolling in. Early on, Hershey’s sales in the United States flagged while
his sales in Britain boomed. A trip to England, where he observed Brits dipping Hershey
caramels into a new rave, chocolate, decided Hershey on his course. Returning to the old
homestead, the farmhouse and barn where he grew up, Hershey perfected a formula for milk
chocolate. Today’s chocolate factories are a far cry from the humble beginnings that slowly
transformed quaint and bucolic Derry Church into a company town resplendent with limestone
mansions and buildings. A free 15-minute tour of Chocolate World offers visitors a ride
through the history and process of chocolate making. The process runs from a tropical rain
forest — where cocoa bean seeds are extracted from pods of the cacao tree — through a
heated tunnel where the beans are dried. It’s a good place to get to know Hershey before or
after the trolley tour and prior to entering fabled Hersheypark. The Chocolate World ride
ends on ramps that lead into a shopping emporium of Hershey products. (It is wise to shop
after visiting Hersheypark in order to avoid carrying packages.) There are times when
Hersheypark admission is free, mainly weekends near Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and
New Year’s. Many rides then operate on a pay-per-ride basis, unlike the one-admission,
all-ride fee the rest of the year. Hershey is family entertainment. Product characters
stroll the grounds, greeting children; music and the noise of roller coasters and wild
rides fill the air. The entrance esplanade spills into a grand circle where a wonderful
old-fashioned carousel, complete with its Wurlitzer Military Band Organ, 42 jumping horses,
24 stationary horses and two chariots, takes visitors back in time. It is worth standing
awhile to listen to the organ music and enjoy the bright colors of the carved carousel
ponies. Young and old alike consider the carousel ride a must-do despite other more
sensational rides, including the newest, the Lightning Racer, a wooden dueling, racing
coaster. For thrill seekers, there is the gravity-defying Great Bear, an inverted looping
steel coaster that twists and corkscrews. There is also the Sidewinder that rattles; the
Sooper-Dooper-Looper that scares; the Comet, an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster; and
the Wildcat, a cyclone-style coaster from the 1920s. Admission includes a dolphin and sea
lion show and ZooAmerica. Wolves, bison and black bears, along with birds of prey and
reptiles, offer insight into the prairie, forests and wetlands of North America. There are
more than 60 rides and attractions in Hersheypark, including wet and wild rides in summer,
plus food stands and restaurants to tempt the appetite. Accommodations at Hershey include
the Hotel Hershey, built in the 1930s after Milton S. Hershey took a trip to Europe. The
hotel’s Fountain Lobby recreates an 18th-century Spanish courtyard. Dining in the elegant
AAA four-diamond-rated Circular Dining Room is a special event. The Circular Dining Room
features leaded glass and large picture windows that look out at pools that once served as
the town’s reservoirs. At night, the pools and balustrades are lit, as is a stucco atrium,
adding to the elegance of the setting. The food is gourmet: grilled shrimp salad or duck
confit to start, followed by a saffron mussel chowder that rivals the finest cuisine of
Europe. Main courses include wild mushroom cannelloni and peppered cod, shrimp and scallops
on truffle. The Hershey Lodge and Convention Center is a large, sprawling complex that is
more family-oriented than the hotel. Sunday brunch with all manner of temptations is
available at the lodge. Any time is a good time to visit Hershey. Museums, theaters,
concerts, golf courses and world-class amusements are in close proximity. Kitty Hershey’s
rose garden at the Hershey Gardens is especially beautiful in summer and fall. Almost
everywhere a visitor stops, a free Hershey chocolate gift is given out. Milton S. Hershey’s
legacy is a school for disadvantaged children, with an enrollment of about 1,100 students.
Their entire education, room, board, books and stipend for college upon graduation are paid
for from the profits of Hershey’s businesses, which the school trust owns in large measure.
For the kindness and generosity of its namesake and for the fun and fine fare available
there, Hershey, Pennsylvania, may be the sweetest place on earth. Before You
Go
State Routes 743 and 322 go through Hershey. Hersheypark is open from May
through September. January through April events include Winter on the Hill, Chocolate
Lovers, Big Band and Kids are Sweet weekends. October events include the Fall Meet of the
Antique Automobile Club of America, Halloween in Hershey and the gala Hersheypark
Balloonfest. Mid-November through December brings Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane and
other special events. For additional information, brochures and maps, contact: Hersheypark,
100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033; (800) HERSHEY. For campsite
reservations, call Hershey Highmeadow Campground, (717) 534-8999. For Keystone State travel
information, contact Pennsylvania Tourism, (800) VISIT-PA.

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