I stood on the sticker in the middle of the floor that gently reminded me to keep a 6-foot distance from others. When it was my turn to check in, I walked up to the front desk lined with Plexiglass in a scene that has become the new normal around the country. Except, it’s not normal and I could feel that pandemic-related anxiety creep up once again. Travel isn’t only my job, it’s my passion in life but everything has been turned upside down in recent months creating these odd scenes in hotels that are decidedly from an alternate timeline. But then an act of normalcy occurred that immediately put me at ease, “Here’s your chocolate Mr. Long, welcome back to The Hotel Hershey.” I had forgotten that all guests to this quiet luxury hotel in the farmlands of Central Pennsylvania start each visit with a bar of Hershey’s chocolate, but it put a smile on my face that didn’t seem to leave for the rest of the weekend.
It is now redundant to say how different the world has become, it’s a new reality with which we have all become far too familiar but we do still have opportunities to relax, to travel away from home and to try to assuage the stressors we all endured throughout the spring. My recent trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania was my way to accomplish all of that and more and I couldn’t have chosen a better haven than a hotel that I knew from past experience would give me a weekend of rest and relaxation that I so badly needed.
This is naturally a subjective point, but for the millions of folks who live in the Mid-Atlantic or even the East Coast of the US for that matter, Hershey is very easy to reach. Two hours from the Washington, DC metro region, less than three from New York City and a veritable stone’s throw from Philadelphia, the Lancaster and Hershey regions of Pennsylvania are amongst the most convenient in this part of the country. The town is of course the home of Hershey Chocolate, the eponymous company founded by Milton Hershey in 1905. Not only did he revolutionize the chocolate industry, but he molded from the farmlands of rural Pennsylvania a new community, one designed after his own sense of community and even morality. Today Hershey is still home to the company, but so much more including Hersheypark, which has become one of the country’s favorite theme parks. Across the street from both the park and the company sits a remarkable hotel set high on a hill overlooking the nearby countryside, the luxurious Hotel Hershey.
The Hotel Hershey
I have a special love for hotels and they’ve always been an important part of my travel experience and amongst the great hotels I’ve patronized over the years, historic properties have a special place in my heart. I love the decades of history and grandeur that are imbued throughout these special places, hotels that have more stories to tell than any of us will ever know. The Hotel Hershey is one of those grand old institutions, first opening its doors in 1933 as part of a Depression-era building project undertaken by Milton Hershey himself. The property was modeled after the grand hotels of Europe, an image and set of standards it still adheres to today.
While the official nomenclature is hotel, I really think of The Hotel Hershey as a resort, but in a more classic sense. It’s a very large property, and I could easily spend several leisurely days enjoying the amenities throughout the hotel and be perfectly content. Among the many diversions at The Hotel Hershey are pools – both indoor and outdoor – an 18-hole putting course, an outdoor recreation complex, disc golf, Segway tours, falconry, trails and so much more. This is a fantastic rural escape that also just happens to be across the street from one of the country’s best theme parks. It’s most well-known feature though may be its spa. This massive, 40,000-square foot spa has all of those amazing services one would expect but, because this is Hershey after all, they also have some incredible chocolate-themed treatments. On my first visit to Hershey, I indulged in what I think must be their signature experience. Their most popular treatment is the cocoa massage, using essential oils for a relaxing and fragrant experience and yes, it’s just as amazing as it sounds.
While the hotel is I think a destination in its own right, there are also plenty of ways to enjoy yourself both in Hershey and just a short drive away, making this the perfect home base for a shockingly fun Central Pennsylvania getaway.
Most of us go to theme parks for the rides, and at Hersheypark there’s no shortage of ways to spend the day. This massive, 121-acre park has scores of rides and attractions including the 15 roller coasters that I think are at the heart of the experience. I remember growing up in Pennsylvania as a kid and watching the commercials for Hershey’s still-famous SooperDooperLooper – the first coaster of its kind on the East Coast. They’ve kept up that spirit of innovation throughout the years, including their latest expansion – Hershey’s Chocolatetown. This $150 million expansion includes some great additions and innovations including their latest rollercoaster, Candymonium. It’s the tallest, faster and longest coaster in the park and features the most airtime of any of their coasters. One aspect of visiting any theme park that is important to me personally is that it doesn’t feel like a concrete jungle. I’m no fan of hot, treeless parks and instead have always preferred larger, more bucolic theme parks. Hersheypark certainly falls into this category and thanks in large part to its size, offers those quiet moments and relaxing views I always look for in a park.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
While the park is a lot of fun, the entire town has a lot to offer whether at the official visitor’s center or just around town. Next to Hersheypark is the popular Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction. The official visitor’s center of The Hershey Company, this is a destination in its own right. The complex features a huge store and a lot of different activities for both adults and children. While I enjoyed the 10-minute simulated factory tour, what I really loved was the opportunity to make my own chocolate bar. For an additional fee (it’s also included in some hotel packages, so check those out) you can go through the process of designing your own chocolate bar, from conception to packaging. Visitors can choose the type of chocolate to be used as well as the add-on ingredients, everything from pretzel bits to toffee chips. The best part though is following your personal chocolate bar as it’s made, watching it at every step of the way.
In downtown Hershey is an experience that I think should be near the top of every visitor’s to-do list, the chocolate flight at the Hershey Story Museum. Located in downtown Hershey, the Hershey Story is a museum dedicated to sharing the history of Milton Hershey and his legacy over time. The Museum’s cafe also offers something a little unusual – a chocolate flight. For an additional fee, guests are presented with a variety of melted chocolate drinks made from cocoa in places as diverse as Java and Tanzania. The drinks are meant to show guests the differences that regions provide in taste, as well as the taste differences between varying cocoa percentages. Some were bitter while a few were downright delicious. I had a great time experimenting with the chocolates and learning more about them in the process.
Hershey is also convenient to other local attractions, including Harrisburg and Amish Country. I am a big fan of trains though, so I spent an afternoon exploring the Strasbourg Railroad. Strasbourg is one of the few operating steam locomotives in the country, and visitors get a taste of the grand era of railroading when they visit. At the heart of the attraction is taking a ride on the train itself. The tour into the farmlands of Pennsylvania takes about an hour round-trip and is a fun way to get out and see more of the surrounding countryside. Plus there’s the thrill of being in a steam train, which is really what drew me there in the first place. In addition to the train there’s also a train museum, with many examples of classic trains on display. You’ll see a lot of families at Strasbourg, but from my experience it’s also great for adults without kids. I didn’t feel out of place and had a fun afternoon riding the rails.
Health and Safety
Since it is 2020 and we’re still dealing with a global pandemic, I find it necessary to also share how very safe I felt at The Hotel Hershey. At The Hotel Hershey, all guests are required to wear face masks and social distancing markers have been placed in the public areas. There are also plenty of hand sanitizer stations and activities and dining have reduced capacity to allow for proper distancing. The Hotel Hershey was the fourth hotel I’ve patronized since the end of quarantine and in all honesty, they’ve done the best job I’ve seen so far. Mask compliance by guests was 100%, at least when I was there, and employees are taking the new safety regulations very seriously. I never saw strangers enter into an elevator together and everyone kept their distance. I was extremely impressed and encouraged by everything I experienced during my time at the hotel. Now, more than ever, most of us are in need of short breaks and diversions. To be honest, Americans won’t be flying overseas anytime soon, which may not be a bad thing. I’ve lamented for years that we as a citizenry – myself included – don’t explore our nation to the extent that we should and now is the time to correct that oversight. Throughout the country are amazing resources and fun diversions, including one of the best in the Mid-Atlantic – Hershey, PA, the Sweetest Place on Earth.
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