Friday, November 28, 2014

Hershey, PA - Sweeeeet!

I no sooner got home from my excursion to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando, and my mom hit me with a road trip to Pennsylvania. I seem to have been going nonstop since, and getting stuff up on my blog when it happens is a losing battle, I'm afraid!

I'm trying to catch up on the road trip, since we were in quite a few areas that didn't have very good Internet. The reason behind the trip to Pennsylvania is because my mother's family is from there. My grandpa's enormous family of 15 siblings, many of whom worked in the coal mines, and my grandmother's much-smaller Lithuanian family were all from PA. My mom was born there as well. She's the genealogist of the family and she's been wanting to take a trip up for years. So we finally just got in the car and went.

Hershey was one of the first places we went once we got up to Pennsylvania. I've wanted to go there since I was a kid. I was only up in PA twice before; once at a family reunion and once for a funeral. I knew about Hershey, but we didn't get to go either time. So, mom decided it was time. It was a bribe for me NOT getting to go to Philadelphia, which was really the only place I wanted to go. Mom lived there briefly when she was growing up, but I've never been and there are several museums and landmarks I really would like to see. Well it didn't happen THIS trip! Among some of the things on my list was the Mutter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

Another is Tun Tavern, birthplace of the Marine Corps. I was in the Marines when I was a younger, less broken train wreck. I guess that one goes on the bucket list for the time being. I would have loved a ghost tour of Eastern State Penitentiary, which is a very famous prison (now abandoned and practically falling down, but they do have tours),  I was also a corrections sergeant when I worked. I know it may seem weird to those who don't work in jails or prisons, but I like to visit the old ones, to see how far we've come, and how far back we should go...when prison was a punishment, not a cushy place to spend your life doing nothing constructive but sucking down tax dollars, Not only did I NOT get there, but then my mom informs me that when she was growing up, they literally live down the block from the prison. That's just wrong, mom!  Basically, I'm a history junkie and I could easily spend a week there and not see everything I want to! The country was practically born there!

But now, back to Hershey. When I was living in Vegas, we actually had a small candy factory (and tour) for Ethel M's. There's also a big M&M shop and experience near the MGM Grand on the Strip.  I guess I thought it would be like that. But Hershey was like that, plus Willy Wonka, plus Disney! If you're lucky, you might see the human Hershey bar (costume) wandering around for pictures.

We walked about the town a bit to see what there was to see, while we waited for "The Hershey Story" on Chocolate Avenue to open. A few things to point out about Hershey is that obviously it's changed and grown quite a bit since my mom had been there last (about 40 years). The original factory (which looks a little like the chocolate factory in the early "Willy Wonka" movie), is apparently not used anymore. They have a more modern factory that is attached to a ginormous souvenir store under the name "Hershey's Chocolate World". A word of advice, don't pay for both (The Hershey Story and Hershey's Chocolate World). They basically have the same things. But, if you specifically want to go on the factory tour, that is at Chocolate World. If you want the museum, then I suggest The Hershey Story. We really enjoyed the latter. I guess because we have Ethel M's in Henderson (Las Vegas), we weren't really interested in seeing another modernized chocolate factory. BUT, if nothing else, go to the free part of Chocolate World just to shop and enjoy a Hershey's ice cream sundae!

The Hershey Story Museum was very interesting. It shows you the progress and origins of chocolate and there are some interactive exhibits as well. At one part, you receive a time card and then walk through the chocolate making process the way it was done originally, as if you are a new employee. Once you finish a station, you get a raised stamp on your time card. A nice little souvenir. There is also a small store and a cafe. We enjoyed the chocolate tasting at the cafe. It's set up just like a beer sampling flight would; six or seven different flavors of chocolate going from mild to strong. Mom and I shared it and it was yummy!  If you are going to the Hershey Story, I strongly recommend you do the combination ticket of the museum and the Chocolate Lab. We had a blast there! 

They sit you at a long table (just like a lab in high school) with other people. You have to put on a little apron and a hair net and they give each person a little plastic chocolate mold.  There are a variety of items you can add to your chocolate... we had mini-marshmallows, white chocolate chips and a few others. They bring the melted chocolate to the table and you put it in your mold, add your goodies, top it off with a little more chocolate and then they take them to the fridge to solidify while they tell you the history of chocolate making and Hershey. Best part? You get to lick the spoons!  Ha, ha, ha! At the end of the lab, they bring your chocolate bars back to you, all nice and solid and you have a goody for later! We posted pics of the lab on Facebook and of course all of my friends immediately told me how much we look like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory from one of the old "I Love Lucy" shows. Unfortunately, I couldn't argue; especially with the red hair!

I didn't really want to go to the Hershey Park. I had just been to Universal Studios the week prior and I was roller-coastered out. Besides, my mom wouldn't go (party pooper) and who wants to go to an amusement park alone? In the end it didn't matter. The park wasn't open the day we were there anyway. They shut down for two weeks (beginning of October) to prepare for Hershey Park's Halloween festivities. The park has grown tremendously since my mom was there as a kid. It's hard to go anywhere in Hershey and NOT see a roller-coaster track going this way or that.

We stayed at a hotel outside of town, but there are several B&B's in the area. If you REALLY want to max out the credit card, you can stay at the Hotel Hershey which was built in 1933. WAY out of our budget, however. It's huge!  And I suspect it was modeled after the old railroad hotels that cropped up across the country as the railroad progressed. As you come in to town, take a moment to look up on the hill at the Hotel Hershey. There's a nice photo op with "Welcome to Hershey" written in flowers on the hillside.

There are also Hershey Gardens and Butterfly House, wineries, several interesting caves in the area and the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum. If you really want to do Hershey justice, plan on staying more than one day. That's all the time we had on our agenda but if you're going with family, give yourself lots of time to do everything in the area.

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