Hersheypark: 20 Tips, Tricks and Must-Do Attractions for Families
This post is sponsored by Pepsi with its partner Hersheypark
Confession Time: Prior to our visit to Hersheypark, we’d NEVER attempted an amusement park with our three kids (ages 10, 7 and 5). It just seemed…stressful. Confusing and expensive and how would we keep all three of them entertained and above all, not lost? I pictured an entire day wasted waiting in long lines, with either my youngest feeling left out or my oldest bored out of his mind.
Absolutely none of that stuff was true for Hersheypark. There’s a ton of stuff for all ages to enjoy, and lots of opportunities for even bigger families like ours to enjoy TOGETHER. My kids can’t wait to go back, and neither can we, because it really was a blast. Here are my park recommendations AND some park strategy tips to help you and your family make the most out of your day or days in Hershey, PA, the sweetest place on Earth.
TIPS & TRICKS
- Download the Hersheypark app. The Hersheypark app is like a personal park concierge on your phone. You can buy your tickets, see current ride wait times and any closing information, get info on shows, animal exhibits, character walks, and more. Customize the GPS-enabled map and sort rides by height classifications, set your own wait time alerts to know if there’s a break in the line for your favorite rides (that happens randomly for almost every ride at the park, and it’s awesome)…and of course, find the nearest bathroom!!
- Get there right when the park opens. The big crowds don’t flood in until mid- to late afternoon. It’s amazing how much you can see and do in those first few hours.
- If the water rides are your thing, do them first. They are much further away from the front gate but it’s worth making the long walk in the morning when everybody’s at their peak energy point. The lines will be short (or even non-existent), and then you can work your way back slowly to the front gate throughout the rest of the day, going in the opposite direction of the crowds.
- You’ll need to bring your own towels and a change of clothes. (Note you can only walk around in just a bathing suit in the water ride area, the park asks everyone to cover up elsewhere.) We rented a locker for valuables but snagged some chair real estate by the Shore wave pool for our towels, sunscreen, shoes, etc. This gave us a permanent meeting spot for the day (great for when we had to split the kids up because of height differences) and also a great place to just sit in some shade and rest or have a snack or drink.
- If your hotel offers a shuttle, TAKE IT. If you’re comparison-shopping hotels, put a park shuttle in your top priority list. Not only does this save on the cost and hassle of parking, it saves little legs a long, arduous walk through a huge (and I do mean HUGE) parking lot at the end of the day. My kids barely made it back to the front turnstiles, so it was a huge relief to only have to walk a few more steps to a bus.
PARK MUST-DO & SEES
- Tidal Force. Tidal Force is a hybrid coaster and water flume, this HUGE splash-down ride gets you absolutely, positively soaked. If the height and speed is too much for your kids (all three of mine loved it, although the five-year-old was annoyed that his “hair got wet”), there’s a great “splash zone” at the base of the ride where you can stand and get a nice, cooling mini-waterfall.
- The Shore. We made a direct beeline for The Shore wave pool first thing and I’m so glad we did. We were able to claim some chairs in the shade (see Tip #4), relax and get our plan mapped out, and the pool is appropriate for all ages and heights so we got great photos of all the boys together.
- East Coast Waterworks. Again, East Coast Waterworks is another wonderful all-ages water attraction that has something for everybody. Seven water slides, two crawl tunnels, and nearly 600 interactive water toys. (It’s also fully enclosed and supervised, so you can relax and let your kids scatter in all directions without worry!) My older boys were alllllll about the bigger slides, while my youngest had a blast exploring the maze of bridges, buckets and water cannons.
- Cocoa Cruiser. Cocoa Cruiser is the perfect “first roller coaster” for younger kids. Or in our case, for kids of all ages who had never ridden a coaster before and weren’t so sure about it. Our older boys quickly moved on to the bigger rides, while the youngest decided that yeah, the kiddie/mini versions were more his speed.
- Wildcat. Wildcat is a gigantic, wooden old-school coaster that absolutely terrified both my children and my husband. I am nonetheless including it as a must-do because of the AMAZINGLY HILARIOUS souvenir photo we were able to purchase, showing all three of them at peak terror. I will treasure it forever.
- Wild Mouse. My husband claims the Wild Mouse coaster was actually much, much scarier than the Wildcat—that coaster was just fast, while this one careens around sharp corners so you feel like you’re going to fall right off the track. But according to my 7 and 10 year old, this coaster was their absolute favorite of the day, so I bow to their recommendation.
- SooperDooperLooper. So my kids opted to skip any and all “upside-down” rides on our trip, but my recommendation for the SooperDooperLooper is rooted in my own nostalgia, as it was MY first “upside-down” roller coaster back in the day. It’s a Hersheypark classic and a must for any real thrill seeker.
- Intercoastal Waterway. The Intercoastal Waterway is a classic lazy river and the perfect break from coasters and cool-down after a lot of walking. The line can get long but it’s worth the wait as you can go around as many times as you want. There’s also a photographer who can take a nice group shot of your whole family (a vacation miracle!). Didn’t get the group together on your first go-round? Don’t worry, they’ll try again on your next loop around and you can pick from literally dozens of photos later.
- Midway Musical Shows. After catching a really entertaining horn band performance (by The Soda Pops) completely by accident, we used the park app to let us know where and when other street band performances would pop up. These short but fun shows gave us a chance to sit down and recharge/rehydrate without the kids complaining about being borrrrrred and when are we going to go on a ridddddddde. (I had no idea how important that was going to be.) We particularly enjoyed The Cocoa Rhythm Factory, a great drumline show near the water rides.
- The Outpost. We are (thankfully) a food-allergy free family, but I still want to commend Hersheypark for offering a dining option like The Outpost, a dedicated gluten-free, nut-free, and shellfish-free food stand where guests with celiac or severe food allergies can eat without worry. Most of the food is made to order so if you have additional dietary restrictions, the staff is there to help. I can only imagine how stressful a theme park could be when you have to worry about finding food that won’t kill your child, so big thumbs up on this one. (There’s also a guide to the gluten-free options throughout the entire park online.)
- Chocolate House & Dutch Fudge shops. Look, you can’t go to Hersheypark and NOT BUY CANDY. I mean, I bet there’s a law against that or something. These two shops (Chocolate House and Dutch Fudge) are wall-to-wall chocolate, fudge and candy. They’re also located right by the front gate and make a perfect end-of-the-day stop for the best kind of souvenirs.
AREA MUST-DO & SEES
- Hershey Lodge. While Hersheypark is absolutely doable as a day trip, it would be hard to pass up a night or two at Hershey Lodge again. There’s a lot to do in Hershey, PA besides the park, and this family-friendly hotel* offers so much to do as well—mini golf, basketball, tennis, arcade games, kids’ crafts and Legos, indoor and outdoor pools, really good restaurants—it practically felt like an attraction in and of itself. (Also: Shuttles!!)
- Hershey’s Waterworks at Hershey Lodge. This indoor water park was easily the highlight of our whole trip, and all we had to do was ride down an elevator to get there! Two big water slides, two splash playgrounds, a big pool with basketball hoops, a water walk, hot tubs for the grown-ups…not to mention food, beer and cocktails available to purchase and enjoy poolside. If you’re worried the weather might not cooperate on your trip, this makes for an excellent indoor back-up plan.
- Hershey Gardens. Need a break from all the crowds and coasters? These botanical gardens are absolutely beautiful, and the Children’s Garden is a great activity for toddlers and preschoolers who might not be ready for a ton of thrill rides. The Butterfly House lets you walk among 300 to 400 butterflies and see the entire butterfly lifecycle up close. Note that the Gardens require a separate ticket, although you can buy great combo packages that will offer better prices than buying each attraction a la carte. (Our hotel booking included tickets to both the Gardens and the Hershey Museum, for example.)
- Create Your Own Candy Bar at Hershey’s Chocolate World. Okay, I have to confess that we weren’t able to do this activity (it requires tickets and they quickly sell out), but it’s at the top of our MUST DO list for next time. It’s a chance to enter a “real” chocolate factory, select your ingredients, design your own wrapper, and I am KICKING myself for missing out on it, because my kids would absolutely lose their minds, in a good way. Next time, FOR SURE.
*Note that the Hershey Lodge offers very few rooms for families of five (two queens and a sleeper) and they book up well in advance. There are no adjoining rooms or roll-out beds, so our three young boys slept together in a queen bed. They were perfectly happy and comfortable, but I might bring a sleeping bag next time in case someone decides he’s too crowded. Other resort options for a family of five would be adjacent rooms at the Hotel Hershey, or upgrading to the suites. At the Hershey Camping Resort, the Deluxe cabins can accommodate 7+ and have indoor plumbing/showers during the season. Apparently these are very, very popular (and affordable for sure) so they book well in advance (even up to a year). BUT! There’s an ongoing waitlist since there are cancellations during the season.
GIVEAWAY (entries no longer being accepted and we are getting in touch with the winner. Thank you!)
We’re randomly giving away four (4) day passes to Hersheypark to one (1) winner. The tickets are valid for the 2016 season, any day between now and September 5th, then weekends through September 25th, 2016. Leave a comment below and we’ll randomly pick a winner. One entry per person only, please. In your comment, tell us about your best/favorite/most vivid childhood memory of Hershey candy. (Mine is the time I managed to eat an entire bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. You’d think that story would end badly but nope, I WAS IN HEAVEN AND REGRET NOTHING.) This giveaway will be open through June 13, 2016 at 11:59pm EST. The winner will be contacted via email on June 14, 2016 and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected and contacted, and so on.