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United States: Hershey- The Sweetest Place on Earth

If you have a chocoholic living in your house, or maybe two or three, I know of the perfect vacation destination—Hershey, Pennsylvania, about an eight-hour drive from Toronto. You may have encountered hotels that leave bedtime chocolates on the pillow. Well, at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Centre, they slap down your room key along with an entire bar of chocolate. But then, this is the “sweetest place on earth,” where the street lamps are shaped like Hershey kisses (diet kisses because they are ‘light’ chocolates, one visitor joked) and the streets really do smell like chocolate. One night, when the beans were being roasted, we drove up and down the main street, pausing at the intersection of Chocolate and Cocoa Ave. to breathe in the aroma. It smelled as if a town giant was baking a huge pan of brownies. We wanted more.

More was to come the next day when we visited Hershey’s Chocolate World to see a simulated chocolate factory (and purchase 5-lb. bars of chocolate for a sale price of U.S. $29.99), sip a chocolate milkshake (the world’s thickest) at the Hershey Town Cafe and shake the hand of a human KitKat bar at the famous Hersheypark.

Of course, all of this wouldn’t be possible if one enterprising young caramel maker, Milton Snavely Hershey, had never been born. From the age of 15 when he started working in a candy factory, he knew that sweets could be synonomous with success. When he saw some English lads sucking off the chocolate coatings of caramels and spitting out the candy, he decided that chocolate would be his business. He would concentrate on a few items—the Hershey bar, Hershey kisses and breakfast cocoa—and make them so good that no-one could be without them. He also built a model town around his factory to give his workers and their families an ideal place to live that was almost unbelievable for its day. “Leave dull cares behind,” he instructed the citizens and encouraged them to enjoy the new rose garden, a swimming pool, a lake for canoeing or ice skating, an amusement park with a zoo, a music-playing carrousel and an ampitheatre featuring the latest dance bands—plus, a photographer who would record all this enjoyment at reasonable prices. No wonder when the name of the new town was being considered, someone suggested Saint Milton.

Milton apparently never lost faith in his famous Hershey bars. When the U.S. went to war in 1914, each soldier was sent a chocolate bar fortified with nutrients every day. On the wall in the Hershey Hotel, there’s a great photo of Mr. Hershey sitting on a camel in Egypt. The caption reads, “This camel just ate a Hershey bar.”

You might want to start your visit with the 10-minute ride through a simulated chocolate factory at Chocolate World (where the kids will receive another chocolate bar as they disembark), but better to book a ride on the reproduction turn-of-the-century trolley. Buy tickets at the Visitors Desk in the lobby. Singing conductors on the Hershey Trolly Works, one dressed as a variety of old-time characters, lead visitors on a madcap ride through town as they re-enact events in the town’s history. One minute, Milton’s mother is on board in her bonnet and long skirts reciting what a good lad Mr. Hershey was, the next minute, the Swedish chef has appeared, complaining about the vast amount of chicken served at the Hershey Manor. The tour is interspersed with group sing-alongs of old-fashioned favorites such as “You Are My Sunshine.” And of course, as one would expect, baskets of Hershey kisses are passed up and down the rows.

The Hershey Museum also offers time travel. Displays of original Hershey wrappers proclaiming “It’s a nourishing food,” newspaper clippings of the one-time strike and a Hershey time line showing when Sprittzles were introduced are interspersed with interactive pursuits such as a locker room where you can don a factory uniform and punch a time clock. Kids loved the Discovery Room where they can dress up in top hats and lacy shawls, man the counter of an 1830s General Store or leaf through a Bloomingdale Brothers 1886 catalogue. The corset page is a favourite.

Most families come to Herhsey, however, to ride the six roller coasters, get soaked on the water rides, eat funnel cake sprinkled with icing sugar and try the games on the midway at Hershey Park. You’ll also find Tidal Force, the world’s tallest splashdown ride and Wildcat, America’s Number One wooden roller coaster according to Popular Science magazine. Just hearing the thundering Great Bear coaster, the recent $13-million U.S. dollar steel inverted looping roller coaster (which means that you are suspended with your legs dangling as you hurtle around loops at 60 miles an hour) was enough to daunt me but not the kids who were lining up to ride it two or three times. Don’t miss the new Wild Mouse that looks like a kiddie ride, but is considered to be the scariest ride at the fair. For the little ones, there’s Midway America with the popular Frog Hopper and a 100-ft- Ferris Wheel. The park is open May through Labor Day and select weekends in September.

In the ZooAmerica section of Hersheypark, the new Black Bear Encounter exhibit features a natural wooded expanse—fallen trees, mossy grass and a lake with real fish— for bears Richard and Spooky so they can live like bears. It seems to be working. The day that I visited, Spooky wandered into the water, caught a trout with her paw for the first time and devoured it daintily, much to the horror of the kids but to the delight of keeper Tal Weinrich. “Here, you see a bear acting a like a bear—playing, climbing trees—and catching fish.”

For a time out from the buzz of activity, visit the beautiful and vast Hershey Gardens (Mrs. Hershey’s old roses are still there). The new Butterfly House lets you get up close to some 300 flitting creatures who love the plants just outside their enclosure. Even here, however, as you are sitting admiring the blossoms and the view of the town and the amusement park, the aroma of chocolate seems to be wafting through the air. Can it be? Apparently so. Cocoa bean shells are ground up and used as mulch around the plants. Apparently, this chocolate feeding makes the flowers bloom like crazy. Anyone for a Hershey bar?

There are over 200 lodging choices in Hershey but only three give you early admission to Hersheypark, free shuttle service and a chance to have a buffet breakfast with the Hershey’s Product characters, such as a life-size Kiss you can squeeze with a hug. The Hotel Hershey offers 300 panoramic acres and lodging that traveller Lowell Thomas called “a palace that out-palaces the Maharajahs of India” (rooms that sleep six start at $xx); the Hershey Lodge and Convention Centre offers quilts on the bed, a stone fireplace, indoor and outdoor pools and free mini-golf (rooms for $xx); the Hershey Highmeadow Campground has 55 acres of space, a wading and swimming pools, playground and campsites or cabins with refrigerators and microwaves that sleep four (cabins from $40). For reservations, call 1-800-533-3131. For information on Hershey, call 1-800-HERSHEY or visit www.HersheyPA.com.





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