Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pennsylvania the Beautiful: Part 3 Hershey and Gettysburg July 28-30, 2013

On Sunday, July 28th we left McKeesport and headed west for our 4 hour drive to Hershey, PA.  The drive probably should not have taken that long. Actually Google will tell you it should take 3 hours and 19 minutes.  Somehow in the planning, however, I told MapQuest to avoid all the toll roads, not necessarily on purpose.  Well the extra 40 minutes saved us about $17.50 in tolls--worth it, I guess.
I can still hear my husband's disbelieving voice, "We're not getting on the Turnpike???"

Hershey

Hershey, also referred to as "The Sweetest Place on Earth," is a small town of about 15000 residents.  The area really is so small that it is not a municipality at all; all municipal services are provided by Derry Township.  I have heard it said that the air actually smells like chocolate here.  It doesn't, possibly due to the fact that Hershey's chocolate hasn't been made here for years.  The factory that stands here is just a landmark.

There are several attractions in the Hershey area.  There is a visitor center (Hershey's Chocolate World), Hershey Stadium, Hershey Arena, Hershey Museum and something called Giant Center, but really the only reason to come out to Hershey is to spend a day in the famed theme park, Hersheypark.

Where to stay

As I stated before, Hershey is not a very large town, so places to stay (and eat for that matter) are fairly limited.  The accommodations that exist are pretty much your run of the mill Days Inn and America's Value Inn type.  If luxury is what you're looking for, there are the Hotel Hershey and the Hershey Lodge.  Both are very expensive and at least one or both could not accommodate a family of five.  We arrived in Hershey at 7 pm, spent the next day at Hersheypark from 10 am to 10pm and then left early the following morning.  We were not concerned with luxury accommodations, so we stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites.
The Hampton Inn is a clean and comfortable place to stay and had the amenities to suit our needs.  The room had 2 Queen beds and a sofabed, a microwave, a good sized refrigerator, and plenty of drawer space.  There was an indoor pool, a game room, and hot beverages available in the lobby 24 hours a day.  The staff is courteous and helpful.  Complimentary breakfast is provided, but it's really pretty gross--Styrofoam plates, reconstituted eggs, potatoes, badly processed pastries--quite unappetizing.
One of the reasons we chose to stay here is the fact that it was only just over one mile to Hersheypark, and we had hoped to walk and avoid the parking fee.  However, there is no safe way to walk to the park and therefore we were stuck paying the $12.
It's fine--just don't expect a great breakfast.

Hershey's Chocolate World

Hershey's Chocolate World is essentially the visitor center for the Hershey area and the focal point of all things chocolate.
Within HCW the only thing that is free is the 10 minute Great American Chocolate tour. 
There is nothing great, American, or chocolate about this tour.  The ride takes you through a badly simulated chocolate factory which traces the steps of chocolate bar production.  In 2006, they added some singing cows mooing about the milk in the milk chocolate.  It is pure torture.  On exiting the ride your get a mini Hershey bar and then are dumped out into a gift shop full of more chocolate and chocolate themed paraphernalia than anyone could imagine. Don't forget Twizzlers, Jolly Ranchers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, or anything else that Hershey makes.  I think we bought one bar which we split and finished that very night.
There are other chocolate "experiences" within HCW, but they all cost something ranging from $7 to $15 for experiences ranging from 20 to 60 minutes.  Nothing looked overly exciting and with a family of five it didn't seem worth it to spend $40 to see the 20 minute Great Chocolate Factory Mystery in 4D.  You can also do a Chocolate Tasting, Build your own Candy Bar, or take a trolley tour through Hershey. Packages combining the experiences are available.  We did none of it.  Hershey's Chocolate world is really only worth a stop if you want to buy or eat chocolate, otherwise save your time and money.
 
Hersheypark is a 121 acre theme park founded by Milton S. Hershey in 1905 as a leisure park for the employees of his chocolate empire.  The park now has 11 roller coasters and 68 rides/attractions.  Park hours vary during the May to September months, but pretty much in the swing of summer, the park is open from 10 am to 10pm.  Admission to the park also gets you into The Boardwalk (Hersheypark's water park area) and the adjoining ZooAmerica, a worthwhile diversion.

Tickets for Hersheypark are expensive.  Discount tickets are available in Hershey area GIANT food stores.  We ordered our discount tickets through the local (meaning PA local) Boy Scouts of America.  We saved $15 on each ticket (all adult) and we were able to print them out at home.  Just don't forget to bring them with you!

I felt that Hersheypark was a little hard to navigate as a first timer.  They also had a very strange assignment of a Hershey's candy name and a corresponding letter to height brackets which somehow designated which rides you were permitted to experience.  Thank goodness we were all in the "allowed to ride everything" bracket (Jolly Ranchers-J) or I would have never figured it out.  Each ride is also assigned a "thrill index" based on a number between 1 and 5. Somehow a "high thrill ride" was different from an "aggressive thrill ride" but I never really figured out what the criteria was--some 5's I found to be quite tame and borderline boring (sooperdooperlooper) while some 4's I wouldn't dare attempt (The Claw).  My intensity scale would be based on how likely you were to vomit; I think theirs was more about how likely you were to throw out your neck riding it.  Both are practical I suppose.

And how about those rides?? Some of the roller coasters at Hersheypark are so intense that even the heartiest of riders may have to sit out.  I was fooled by Hershey's newest addition, SkyRush, which seemed manageable as I watched it from the sidelines, as I like to do before
This is about where the praying began
experiencing a new attraction.  Riders sit in rows of four with the only restraint across your legs, so that feet and torso dangle freely.  As soon as I was hurled over the lift hill, I had met my match.  The speed (max 76 mph) and G-forces were so intense that I found myself silently praying that I would make it to the end of the ride without my eyes rolling back in my head and passing out.  No one in the family, except Nicholas, had any interest in riding again.

The sooperdooperlooper, the first roller coaster on the east coast to flip upside down, and the wooden Comet were quite tame.   My girls braved the super crazy Storm Runner and Great Bear, while we sat out watching YouTube videos of what they were experiencing.  No thank you.  A 5 on my aforementioned vomit scale.
Anyway, the Lightning Racer and the WildCat were my favorites, and as a family we rode them both several times.  They are both intensely fast and rickety and rough and you are hanging on for dear life.  It is a strange feeling to hurtle along so quickly on a wooden coaster.

"Mom, I don't want to be
an astronaut."
My girls convinced me to ride Fahrenheit at the end of the day.  Despite the daunting six inversions, I spent some time watching this one as well and though quite wild, it did not look too fast.  Besides, it was the end of the day, so if I felt horrible afterwards I didn't have much more to endure.  The ride starts by taking you straight up (I mean you are lying on your back--it was here than my 11 year old informed me she did not want to be an astronaut) 121 feet and immediately plunges you into a 97 degree drop-yes that more than vertical.  Then there's a Norwegian loop, a Cobra roll, a Barrel roll and a few corkscrews--whatever it was you have no idea where you are. Anyway, in 85 seconds it's over.  It really wasn't that bad--SkyRush was worse.  My husband still can't believe I rode it.



Hersheypark has a log ride, bumper cars, a swinging ship, a train, a ferris wheel, and multiple kiddie rides.  One ride of note is the Kissing Tower, which elevates you to 250 feet above the park and offers spectacular views of the park, though it did not inspire me to kiss anyone.


One view of Hersheypark from the Kissing Tower
From here you see Great Bear, SkyRush, Comet and parts of sooperdooperlooper
 
Gettysburg National Military Park

The town of Gettysburg is one hour southwest of Hershey.  Within the town of Gettysburg is the Gettysburg National Military Park, the area dedicated by the National Park Service to the remembrance of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1-3, 1863 and was the bloodiest battle fought during the American Civil War, resulting in somewhere between 46 and 51 thousand casualties.  Though the war continued to rage another two years, the battle is often seen as a turning point in favor of the Union.  In November of the same year, president Abraham Lincoln used the dedication ceremony of the Gettysburg National Cemetery to deliver his historic and moving Gettysburg Address.  We arrived in Gettysburg on July 30th, just one month after the historic commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the infamous battle. 

Craig had checked out children's books about Gettysburg prior to our departure, so we spent the hour ride getting familiar with what we were about to see.

We started our time in Gettysburg by taking a very scenic and pleasant 1 hour horseback ride with Hickory Hollow Farm.  It is recommended that you take a 2 hour tour with an official battlefield guide, but I knew what 2 hours on a horse was going to feel like, and besides, the trip was going to cost twice as much.  Our one hour tour really was more like 90 minutes.  It left McMillan Woods and trolled along Seminary Ridge past the Virginia Memorial and through some farmland.  It is a nice way to see some of this area.  I would recommend a very early ride or no time restriction on the other end, because where you really want to spend your time is the Visitor Center.


Entrance to the Visitor Center itself is free, but this will only allow you to see the cafeteria, the restrooms and the gift shop.  To truly experience what the visitor center has to offer you must buy the $12.50 (8.50 children 12 and under).  This will get you into the 20 minute film, "Birth of a New Freedom," (narrated by Morgan Freeman), the Cyclorama, and the museum.
AAA discounts are available.
At the conclusion of the very informative and very well done film, you are directed to the room that houses the Cyclorama.  The Cyclorama is a 360 degree cylindrical type painting depicting Pickett's Charge, the climactic Confederate attack on Union forces on the third day of fighting.  It was painted by the French artist Paul Philipoteaux in 1883, and stands 27 feet high and is 359 feet in circumference.  The viewing of the Cyclorama also comes with its own narration, which makes it easier to understand.  The Cyclorama is a wonder in and of itself.
The museum is also very well done.  By the time we got to the museum we had only about an hour to go through it, and we felt rushed.  The museum goes through in detail what happened before, during and after the three day battle.  There are several videos, interactive exhibits, and well preserved artifacts.  Rushing back into my memory were names and places I hadn't recalled since high school:  General George Meade, Robert E. Lee, Little Round Top, Culp's Hill, Devil's Den, to name a few.

The Pennsylvania Memorial
A 24 mile auto tour starts at the visitor center and includes 16 stops.  It is recommended that you allow 3 hours to complete this tour, but we didn't have any three hours, so we really just did stops 8 through 12 and the Virginia Memorial (stop 5).  This included the majestic Pennsylvania Memorial, which commemorates individually all Pennsylvanians involved in the battle.  There are similar memorials throughout the National Park, some dedicated to soldiers of certain states, others to specific companies and battalions.

Gettysburg was a highlight of my time in Pennsylvania.  I enjoy history anyway, and the whole experience was a good lesson for our entire family about what young men and families of years gone by suffered and sacrificed willingly and dutifully to preserve our nation and our freedom today.  Now for a few more pictures....

Just a small portion of the Cyclorama

The Virginia Memorial
Robert E. Lee on his horse, Traveller

The obligatory picture of your children hanging on cannons
I think my parents have this same picture of my sister and I at Gettysburg

 

Thank you for reading this post!  I'm still cranking them out!  Hopefully next week I will take you to the PA Dutch country for a little Amish buggy ride and some Shoo-Fly pie!






 

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