It should come as no surprise that a family vacation to Hershey, Pa., will meet with an enthusiastic thumbs-up from the entire clan. What you may not realize is that you can have a fantastic time sans kids as well, as I did on a recent girlfriend getaway to the home of the chocolate bar.
My former college roommate and I were sorely in need of a little R&R. A stressful couple of years involving injuries and illnesses for both of us had left us a bit worn out. Our “prize,” we promised ourselves, would be a few days of pampering when we were both completely back on our feet. That time finally came — yippee! — and our thoughts turned to spas, beautiful accommodations, and plenty of things to do without feeling like we had to turn into whirling dervishes to accomplish it all. And since she lives in New Jersey and I’m in Baltimore, we wanted a place that was easily accessible for both of us. Hello, Hershey!
Hershey offers a number of lodging choices, from The Hotel Hershey to the Hershey Lodge to the Hershey Highmeadow Campground. My friend Nan is the outdoorsy type and probably would have enjoyed the campground but me … umm … not so much. (You can’t convince me that tents and pampering can be used in the same sentence!) Our choice (and Nan didn’t really need any convincing) was the brand-spanking-new Woodside Cottages at The Hotel Hershey. When it first opened in the 1930s, The Hotel Hershey offered cottages behind its main building. As part of the hotel’s expansion to mark its 75th anniversary, the hotel has built 10 new cottages (not to mention, a new restaurant, recreation campus with full aquatic facility, ice skating rink, newly renovated hotel lobby, and seven boutique shops).
The cottages, named for plants found throughout the hotel grounds — we stayed in Cherry — have either four or six bedrooms, and both an upper-level and lower-level great room. Guests can rent individual bedrooms or reserve the entire cottage. The individual bedrooms are beautifully decorated, and amenities include flat-screen TVs in both the bedroom and bathroom, as well as fireplaces in the great rooms.
Since the rainy drive had slowed us both down, we had only a moment to check in, drop our bags in the cottage, grab the shuttle (the main hotel is in walking distance but the shuttle is a nice touch) and dash over to the beautifully appointed spa. We were asked to arrive 30 minutes before our appointments which seemed like a long time to check-in but, we found, that was all part of the spa experience. After wrapping ourselves in the soft robes, we padded to one of the “quiet rooms,” where before and after your spa service, you can sip a cup of tea or coffee — or, of course, hot chocolate — have a piece of fruit or pastry, relax in front of the fireplace or on the expansive deck overlooking the grounds, and just chill out. It was a great way to both start and end the spa visit.
I decided to take advantage of “all things cocoa” that Hershey is famous for and had reserved a cocoa facial. The oh-so-relaxing, and yummy-smelling, treatment was preceded by a warming foot soak, and included not only the facial, but a hand and foot treatment, neck and shoulder massage, finished off by a scalp massage. Nan had gone cocoa-less for her facial but was no less enthused, and relaxed, when we met up again in the quiet room.
The next morning we decided to visit The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue, a new project that honors Milton S. Hershey — it’s hard to imagine that the Hershey empire, including the town, is the result of one man’s vision and efforts. On the second floor of this engaging, interactive museum are five themed exhibits: Failures to Fortunes: Milton Hershey’s “rocky road” to success; Sweet Innovations: how Hershey revolutionized the production of milk chocolate; Power of Promotion: how Hershey’s products were advertised before TV commercials; Hershey Builds Hershey: a look at how the town, complete with amusement park, theater, professional sports, and educational opportunities, began; and A Living Legacy: how Milton Hershey’s many philanthropies continue to influence the community he created today.
Prior to the museum visit, I had also signed up for the Chocolate Lab and a chocolate tasting. The Lab offers hands-on classes such as tempering, molding, dipping and making chocolate from scratch. The class I took — The Art of Chocolate — didn’t reveal any hidden Picasso-esque talents on my part, but I was rather pleased with my swirly abstract creation that, yes, is edible and yes, can be taken with you.
Following the Lab, as if we hadn’t already had our chocolate fix — before noon yet — there was a chocolate tasting in the Café Zooka (named after Zooka Chocolate Sticks, penny candies that were one of Milton Hershey’s early chocolate novelties). The Countries of Origin Chocolate Tasting featured exotic chocolate flavors from around the world. We sipped these warm drinking samples, made from cocoa beans from Africa to Indonesia and beyond. My favorite? The fruity Madagascar. I have to say, I’d much rather do a chocolate tasting than a wine tasting!
Straight from chocolate-sipping was lunch right across the museum complex at Devon Seafood Grill, where fresh fish rules the day. My Copper River king salmon from Hawaii was simply but deliciously grilled and accompanied by lemon asparagus risotto and perfectly seasoned green beans. On the recommendation of another guest, Nan had the seared walu, a fish from Hawaii not that well-known on the East Coast. She was equally impressed.
Despite the fact that we had no little ones with us, Nan and I decided you can’t really say you’ve been to Hershey until you’ve gone to Hersheypark, the resort’s 110-acre world-class amusement park. Hershey staff has nicknames for the rides, including the “howlers” and the “pukers.” We chose the “weenie” rides — Skyview, the monorail, and the Dry Gulch Steam Railroad. Just about our speed! We planned to visit the zoo but somehow never made it, but we did take in the latest addition to the park, The Boardwalk at Hersheypark: The SEAquel, which includes The Shore, a 378,000-gallon wave pool, and the Intercoastal Waterway, a “lazy river” attraction that gives guests the opportunity to float along on individual rafts.
Two hours in the hot sun, and the purchase of some souvenirs for the youngsters in our lives, and we were back in our cottage in time to dress for dinner at The Forebay, located in the Hershey Lodge. As it was everywhere we went during the entire trip, the service at The Forebay was impeccable and the food — grilled lamb chops for me, filet and crab cake for Nan — were delicious.
When you do visit The Hotel Hershey, plan on at least one meal in the Circular Dining Room, whose shape was Milton Hershey’s idea. The Dining Room was built in a semi-circle without pillars or corners, so that each guest would have a view of the Hotel’s formal gardens. The 13 windows that overlook the gardens are made of colored leaded glass and depict birds and blooms native to central Pennsylvania.
We chose to enjoy the Dining Room at its award-winning Sunday brunch — so expansive that it wasn’t until we left that I realized I’d missed an entire table! Not that I went hungry, mind you. And what’s a brunch without a chocolate fountain, with fruit and marshmallow on hand for dipping.
To walk off some of the calories — but who’s counting — we ended our trip in the Hershey Gardens, located just a short walk from the main entrance of the Hotel. The Gardens opened to the public in 1937 with a 3-1/2-acre rose garden. By 1942, the Gardens had expanded to the 23 acres visitors can enjoy today, with themed gardens, an outdoor Butterfly House, a Children’s Garden, and 7,500 beautiful — and aromatic — roses.
A two-hour walk through the Gardens was the ideal way to end our girlfriend getaway. From the spa to the dining to the attractions to the accommodations, our weekend in Hershey was indeed a sweet treat.
For more information on visiting Hershey, log on to www.hersheypa.com. You’ll find links to all the accommodations, restaurants, attractions and events to help plan your trip.