Hershey, Penna., is synonymous with chocolate and with its giant amusement park. But you can avoid expensive, crowded Hershey Park and still have a great time, including a 75th anniversary exhibit at the Hershey Auto Museum and a new 4D experience at Chocolate World.
Here’s how to enjoy this popular destination and keep your budget from melting through your fingers like warm chocolate, visiting with or without your kids or grandkids.
Top tip is to stay at Hershey Lodge, the sprawling hotel and conference center that’s part of the Hershey corporate complex.
You’ll get enough money-saving perks to lower your room rate to practically nothing. If you use them all, it’s possible to save enough to stay for free. You can’t get a deal better than that. More about that later.
First – my favorite destination in Hershey.
Hershey Auto Museum
Because I am a huge fan of vintage vehicles, I dragged my grown son to the Hershey Antique Auto Museum, one of the best in the country.
2023 is the 75th Anniversary of the Tucker, whose brilliant forward-thinking engineering and marketing shook up Detroit enough to shut down the entrepreneur founder, Preston Tucker.
The Hershey museum has one of the world’s largest displays of Tucker vehicles and memorabilia, and features a special exhibit honoring the brand’s anniversary, including screenings of the 1988 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, “Tucker: A Man and His Dream” starring Jeff Bridges as Tucker.
We were in Hershey for a family event, and while he does not share my enthusiasm, he was curious about the old newspaper and magazine advertisements and real paper road maps that folded out to the size of the kitchen table.
He was especially impressed by display cases filled with sculptured hood ornaments – the ones that disappeared a generation ago thanks to aerodynamically designed hoods – including from manufacturers also long gone, like Studebaker and Durand.
And, he became curious enough about the gorgeous old Tuckers, Packards, “Woodie” station wagons, Pontiac GTOs, trucks and buses of generations past and Marlene Dietrich’s Pierce Arrow in a gorgeous a custom cream beige to read their information panels.
An interactive exhibit on the evolution of headlights over 140 years lets you or the kids turn any of them on and off, so it’s a great teaching moment about design, engineering and safety. That’s really what cars are all about and central to all our decisions about buying or leasing.
There’s also an extensive display of vintage toys, including cars, firetrucks and airplanes that kids sat in and pedaled around the block way back “then”.
The museum is a Smithsonian affiliate, with more than 100 original and restored vehicles on display over three floors.
They are grouped by decade, so you can wander from the 1890s to the 1990s with stops in between, including a “Back to the Future” DeLorean, which may (or may not) be produced again.
There are some working vintage Ford Model T’s, and the museum uses them periodically for a driving experience. Yes – you can actually drive a Model T.
Since this is Hershey, after all, the legendary Kissmobile also is on display. It’s a 12-foot tall, 26-foot long custom-made vehicle resembling three Hershey’s Kisses. Before it was retired, it had traveled over 250,000 miles and distributed over 2,000,000 milk chocolate Hershey’s Kisses samples.
- The Hershey Antique Auto Museum is open daily, 9am to 5pm. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors 61 and over, and $10 for children 4-12.
Now for the perks making your Hershey Lodge stay virtually free.
Hershey Lodge Perks
The hotel contains one of the largest indoor water parks in the Northeast, FREE to guests.
The indoor Water Works complex is more than 30,000 square feet of slides, spray zones and watery games such as basketball, and special small pools for little kids. The rope course over one of the pools is challenging, and a mis-step and dunking is an integral part of the fun. Probably why kids get a free souvenir logo towel.
Unlike Hershey Park, which is open only seasonally, the hotel facility is open year-round, and there’s an outdoor pool between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Okay, you aren’t riding the roller coasters and other rides at Hershey Park.
Do the math –
- You avoid the 2023 Hershey Park one-day admission of $84.95 for adults or $120 for a two-day pass, or $54.99 per day for kids aged 3-8 or their grandparents 62 and over.
- Plus, you aren’t paying $25 a day for parking.
- Or paying $45 per person per day for nearby Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom if you want to have a similar experience as Hershey Park at a lower cost.
Are they really worth the price when you can get the water park for FREE as a hotel guest?
Hershey Lodge Free Tickets
Every Hershey Lodge stay also includes free tickets to two company-owned attractions, which my son and I took full advantage of.
This sounds like a gag-worthy bore for kids, but there’s much more here than Mrs. Hershey’s prize rose bushes. The Children’s Garden features whimsical giant chocolate kisses to climb, and the collection of thick fir trees from Asia look like they belong in a Harry Potter story.
The most enchanting area, though, is the year-round Butterfly Atrium with hundreds of colorful creatures fluttering around, ranging in size from slightly larger than a thumbnail to palm-sized, in brilliant rainbow colors.
If you stand quietly, one might even land on you, and many stay still enough long enough on a leaf or dish of sugar-water for close-up photos. There also are hairy tarantulas and equally sinister-looking scorpions, but these are (thankfully) caged.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
As its name implies, this all about the chocolate experience, from farm to finished product, and designed to please kids – especially sampling their way through the exhibits, including being guided to taste differences between various beans and bars.
Costumed characters make appearances, including Reese’s and KitKat characters (Hershey’s owns those brands, as well as others), there’s a 4D movie, and the aroma of chocolate permeates the space. Add-ons include creating your own candy bar with choices of ingredients and toppings such as sprinkles and almonds and a customized label, and everybody goes home with a gift bag of Hershey brand goodies..
In celebration of its 50th anniversary in 2023, Hershey’s Chocolate World has a brand new feature billed as “the first fully immersive, interactive experience of its kind in North America incorporating all five senses” in a press release, taking “visitors through an exploration of colorful candy worlds inspired by Hershey’s beloved brands.”
A 30-minute train adventure ushers guests through three different main areas, beginning at Hershey’s Chocolate World Train Station, inspired by trains that Milton Hershey himself traveled on to explore and find ingredients for his candy-making. The train station is designed to bring guests back to the golden age of travel, outfitted with an Art Deco-inspired departure board, clocks, and retro-style posters. Costumed characters entertain everybody on a 30-minute train ride along the way, through the 270-degree 4K projection mapping other special effects.
The train’s destination is the theater, where guests are surrounded by projection-mapped screens that whisk them away to colorful sweet stops using special effects. Scents change throughout the candy worlds, including berry, coconut, roasted peanut and Hershey’s chocolate. To get from one candy-filled world to the next, guests collectively control each of the train’s destinations by voting using light-up buttons on their armrests.
The journeys through candy worlds like Jolly Rancher Junction, Kit Kat Timbers, Twizzlers Forest, and Almond Joy & Mounds Cove, tell each brand’s story for the first time ever at Hershey’s Chocolate World.
How to Get a Free Hotel Room
Hershey Lodge room rates start at $159 double occupancy, depending on date. Kids stay free all the time and even get their own personal check-in counter in the lobby, with costumed chocolate characters, of course.
Let’s do the math again –
- Hershey Gardens is $12.50 for adults, $9.50 for kids 12 and under, and $11.50 for seniors – saving $45 or more for a family of four.
- Chocolate World is $28.95 per person, including kids – saving nearly $120 for a family of four.
- Hershey Park starts at $84.95 for adults and $54.95 for kids – saving more than $250 for a family of four.
- Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom is $39.99 a day – saving another $150+ for a family of four. https://www.dorneypark.com/
That gives you budget to enjoy these other activities, all within a ten-minute drive of the hotel:
This sprawling facility is home to more than 200 animals native to North America, from alligators and bears to vampire bats and wolves, with barn owls, ferrets and rattlesnakes in between. The animals are represented in regional categories, so it’s easier to walk from Big Sky Country to the Southwest than it is to drive the actual geographic distances.
Admission is $13 for adults, $11 for seniors 62+ and kids 3-8. Admission is free for members of another accredited zoo or aquarium, so don’t forget your membership card. There also are special behind-the-scenes tours, including with flashlights after hours, for an additional fee.
The Hershey Story Museum
This is smaller than Chocolate World and focused more on the story of Milton Hershey, a trained confectioner who invented the concept of adding milk to European-style dark chocolate. And the rest, as they say, is history – including his early failures, which are a lesson in perseverance for us all.
This outpost also focuses on his philanthropy, including founding schools and scholarships. Of course, there are free samples, and the choice to upgrade to a Chocolate Lab Class and a real sit-down tasting.
- Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors 62+ and $10 for kids 3-9.
Back at the Hershey Lodge, a falconry experience is pricey ($50 for kids, $80 for adult hotel guests and $90/$50 for non-guests), but fascinating. The program is run by Master Falconer Jack Hubley and includes demos of hawks, eagles and falcons in flight, including a simulated hunt, and the chance for these fearsome creatures to land on your arm, protected from their claws by a thick leather sleeve.
They land as light as the feathers which cover them, and you’ll leave with new knowledge about, and respect for, the beauty and importance of these often-misunderstood predators.
Dining and Shopping in Hershey
While there are several cafes and restaurants within the Hershey Lodge, plus a well-stocked candy store, there are several family-friendly chains within a few miles, which offer an escape from Hershey-themed everything everywhere. Plus, a huge Tangers Outlet mall for shopping therapy.
So there’s plenty to do in Hershey, for a weekend or longer, without spending big bucks for Hershey Park.
A version of this story was published on A Girl’s Guide to Cars in 2022 and was recently republished there without updating. This article has been updated here for 2023 to reflect the two new attractions in Hershey.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter currently serves as President of the International Motor Press Assn. (IMPA), a former Board Member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and a current member of the North American Travel Journalists Assn. (NATJA).
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (C) Evelyn Kanter