On our last visit to Hershey and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we had a nice time hanging out in the area. Afterwards, we realized that there was a lot more around the Sweetest Place On Earth which we didn’t get to experience. There were so many things to do near Hershey PA, in fact, that we just had to make the fifteen hour round trip drive (don’t worry, with bickering small kids, it felt like twenty hours. Wait, what?) and go back again this summer!
Now, before we can talk about things to do near Hershey, PA, I need to mention THE attraction to do in Hershey – Hersheypark. I won’t go too deep here (note: you can check out this piece, where I discuss it extensively), but in terms of family fun, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to this park. If you aren’t into amusement parks, though, you can still have a memorable time in the area.
For example, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is situated about 35 miles outside of Hershey. The park is home to animals, birds and reptiles from all over the world. There are zoo exhibits, a petting zoo, fishing, a reptile /exotics building, and my kids’ favorite, a safari tour! The tour is pretty wild. It has a Jurassic Park-vibe to it, as we got into a roofless “cruiser”, and then headed off into the yonder. As we drove through the open woodlands, we saw scores (500 approx., according to the website) of animals roaming about freely, some of whom weren’t shy about coming up, or in, to our cruiser!
You could easily spend half a day at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, without the kids being bored. Concessions are available throughout the park, but you’re allowed to bring your own food, too.
Another fun thing to do near Hershey in the summer is hit up everything that Adventure Sports In Hershey has to offer. Located four miles south of Hershey, this entertainment park features stuff like bumper boats, go-karts, batting cages, an escape room and an arcade. While not ideal for little kids (since they are too small/not age appropriate to go on most of the attractions), it was still a fun way to spend a few hours, with the family. For example, B and J were both too short to ride the go-karts on their own, so they had to roll with an adult. This meant that I had to get behind the wheel, to predictably mediocre results.
It’s not as if little two year old KJ was bored, by the way. He loved pretending to play games in the arcade, and flexed some serious short game skills on Adventure Sports in Hershey’s beautiful mini-golf course!
Adventure Sports in Hershey is also home to a Turkey Hill ice cream parlour. Along those lines, another fun thing to do near Hershey, PA with the family is to learn more about Turkey Hill and their offerings. Located about 20 miles outside of Hershey, The Turkey Hill Experience is not an ice cream and tea factory like we thought, but a way cooler indoor attraction! It’s full of interactive exhibits and stations (re: so lots of opportunity for kids to play and run around) all centred on how Turkey Hill’s ice cream and tea is made. Yes, there are sampling stations around, to try them out.
As an add-on option, you can also take part in one of their Taste Labs, where you follow the steps that Turkey Hill uses, to create (and eat!) your own ice cream, and in Tea Discovery, where you learn about (and drink!) tea.
I’ll admit to not being familiar with Turkey Hill and their products before (around us, anyway, they aren’t readily seen in stores). This place is basically a big advertisement for them, which is pretty clever, and effective, in terms of brand awareness, and goodwill.
Now, on our last trip to Hershey/Harrisburg, we went to the lowest of the lows, on our Echo Caverns cave adventure. As such, it would only make sense to experience the highest of the highs this time around, which is what J and I did, when we went on a hot air balloon ride! The United States Hot Air Balloon Team are a premier ballooning company, with multiple locations. Our ride took place in Lancaster, PA, about 33 miles outside of Hershey, and smack dab in Amish country. Fun fact #1 – hot air balloon rides are VERY weather dependent, and for safety reasons, can only take place either super early in the morning, or early in the evening. Fun fact #2 – we chose the morning flight, and were there so early, that even the roosters next door weren’t awake.
I’ll tell you what, man. When you say to people that you’re going on a hot air balloon ride, they think you’re crazy, or awesome. I’ll own up to being in the former category. Heights aren’t exactly my jam. However, the staff, and pilots at the United States Hot Air Balloon Team are pros, and their calm attitudes made me feel better. Plus, once you’re up there, it’s such a breathtaking, serene experience that you can’t help but soak it all in and appreciate it. I know some people might question bringing a little child on a hot air balloon ride. The United States Hot Air Balloon Team did assure me that they take children on flights ‘all of the time’. As well, the basket that we were in was almost as tall as J. She had to sit down, and look out of peep holes, to see out, as opposed to trying to look over the edge. Again, I’m slightly acrophobic, and I tend to be more overprotective, when it comes to J. I at no point felt that we were in any imminent danger while we were on our hour long hot air balloon ride, for what it’s worth.
Zip lining, on the other hand, now that was a scary rush!
Roundtop Mountain Resort is a ski hill that is open year round, and offers a summer activities area called Roundtop Mountain Adventures. Located in Lewisberry, near Hershey PA, among the many fun things to do here is zip lining. K, B and yours truly took a whirl down the 700′ long “Dual Zip Lines”. J was too small for these, but, luckily, Roundtop Mountain Adventures has “Tree House Zips”, which are 100′ long lines, and more little kid appropriate (ages five and up). I think she went on this six times, so, suffice to say, it was a hit!
We received “Adventure Package” passes for the day. These give you unlimited access to all of the attractions in Roundtop Mountain Adventures. I’d recommend this as the way to go, if you and your family do make the trip. It’s enough to easily fill up most of a day. Besides zip lining, the kids enjoyed the 600′ downhill super water slides .and the OGO balls. I was digging their bumper boats, as it was an opportunity to smash into B and J, and squirt them in the face with water (but I say that as a loving dad)!
Little KJ was too small for that stuff, but he did enjoy the Woods Playground, which is full of things to climb, ride and play on. It’s surprisingly challenging in some parts. I did have to navigate my way high up at one point, to rescue J, when she got lost. Conversely, when I got lost in the nearby Cedar Maze, no one came to rescue me.
Speaking of matters which needed to be saved, my sorry attempt at throwing out the best first pitch ever clearly needed a lot of assistance. Regardless, the rest of the Harrisburg Senators minor baseball game that we checked out was cool. FNB Field where they play is uniquely located on an island (City Island). The stadium is also family friendly. For an added price, there’s a speed pitch cage, along with a kids’ zone section, with many inflatables and activities in it.
I’ve mentioned before on here that the closest place to watch professional baseball for us is at the Rogers Centre, the complex where the Toronto Blue Jays play. It’s OK, but it just doesn’t beat the atmosphere and intimate experience of seeing a game in a ‘real’ ballpark. The Harrisburg Senators also do a nice job with in-game entertainment to keep the vibe upbeat, and run numerous promotions during the season. Besides yours truly throwing out the first pitch, the other headliner (OK, OK, ONLY headliner) for our game was the Human Cannonball. They also had a cheap craft beer special before the first pitch, which made me flattered when the server asked to see my ID when I ordered, but then confused me, when she wasn’t sure whether my Canadian driver’s license was acceptable or not (it was, so don’t worry, my fellow Canucks).
Just like it’s impossible to talk about family fun things to do in and near Hershey PA without mentioning Hersheypark, it’s also really hard to talk about the city without mentioning the industry upon which the city is built on – chocolate! My family of choco-maniacs did have plenty of opportunities to indulge. For instance, we made a return visit to Hershey Chocolate World. We’ve done the Chocolate Making Tour before, but since little KJ is old enough to appreciate it more, we rode that again. I still can’t believe that it’s free, as it’s a neat, well-done ride (with a tasty sample at the end, to boot)!
We hadn’t watched the 4D Chocolate Movie before, and wow, that show was trippy, yo! An animated chocolate bar interacted live with us, between the action. We “helped” solve the mystery of the movie. The bar even used people in the audience’s names, while talking on screen! Having never experienced digital animation like this before, my easily amused brain was very impressed.
As of this writing, the newest attraction at Hershey Chocolate World is Hershey’s Unwrapped: A Chocolate Tasting Journey. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a really lively, engaging theatrical performance. My kids were engaged throughout, and followed the chocolate sensory instructions dutifully. They don’t even follow instructions at home dutifully. This attraction also comes with a souvenir kit, as a bonus.
The 4D Chocolate Movie and Hershey’s Unwrapped are both about 30 minutes long. On their own, the pricing is a tad on the high side, so I’d suggest bundling them up with one of the packages available, with other attractions, and making an outing out of going to Hershey Chocolate World, as opposed to going specifically for these only.
Not far from Hershey Chocolate World is another popular location, The Hershey Story Museum. The feeling that I got from visiting the city is that it is very proud of its history. The Hershey Story Museum showcases this in the Museum Experience, where you see how Milton Hershey went from a failed entrepreneur to chocolate kingpin and beyond. My kids in particular liked the new, interactive kiosks, where they personalised a wooden coin at admissions, and used that at these kiosks to activate a little story about Mr. Hershey. Be sure not to miss the final one, too (no spoilers here).
The highlight of the museum was the Chocolate Lab, a hands on workshop where you learn about the chocolate making process, and get to partake in some pouring and decorating. Our lab consisted of making customized “beach bars”. KJ was too young for this experience, so K stayed behind with him, while I rolled up my sleeves with B and J. Don’t worry, we shared the finished results.
Final note. For accommodations, we were hosted at the newest hotel in Hershey, Tru by Hilton Hershey Chocolate Avenue. Located about five minutes away from Hersheypark, it’s very bright, casual, modern, and reasonably priced. TVs and foosball tables liven up the lobby. For the buffet breakfast, there isn’t a designated area. You just grab a seat and hang out. In terms of rooms, this hotel is big on efficiency. There’s lots of storage space (ie. racks), but the rooms are smallish. We were on the go a lot during our trip, and were only really there at nights to sleep. It wasn’t a huge deal, but the room was a bit cramped for the five of us, when we were in it. For other sized families, I can see this as not being a problem, however.
There you have it. Hopefully, this will help you enjoy the Hershey and Harrisburg PA area as much as we did. Until the next one, peace!
Note: My family was hosted by Visit Hershey and Harrisburg as part of a press trip, which included passes to many of the places mentioned. Opinions expressed are my own, as always.