Every summer, my company finds something for us to do with our families. For several years in a row, it was the company picnic at a local swimming club, but… then we grew a lot. So it got moved, first to Six Flags America (see On the Road – Six Flags America), and then the last two years have been at Hersheypark. (Given where the staff at our company live, it just makes more sense to have it north of the office than south.)
(For the record – I was not compensated in any fashion for this review by the park. My company provided admission to the park for all of us at its own expense.)
Hersheypark is an amusement park located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half north and east of our home, and just outside of Harrisburg, PA. (I know, it’s a shock that “Hersheypark” is located in “Hershey”.) As you can no doubt find from online searches, the park was established in 1906 by Milton Hershey himself, but has grown since then from a community park into a fairly sizable amusement park.
As with whenever we’re going to an amusement park, the biggest issues are rides that are appropriate for the Monster, whether there are blowers in the restrooms, and the accommodations they’ll make for him.
To the last of these… Hersheypark has adopted a system that’s very much like the system at the Seaworld Entertainment parks – you go over to Hospitality Services inside the park and approach someone about getting signed up for the program, and as needed, you get return times for rides and/or they let you in through an alternate entrance. I didn’t notice anything quicker about the signup this year over last year, so I’m not sure how long they keep information… but they did give the Monster a very unobtrusive wristband (the yellow one) in addition to another one that showed he’d been pre-measured for rides. (For the record – I do love their candy-bar measurement system, in that at least it helps to warn you in advance as to if your children can’t ride something.) They did insist that the Monster wear the wristband, though, so for children with sensory issues, this might be a difficulty.
Because we were visiting the park pre-season as part of a group, the park was hardly busy, so we had little cause to actually use the accommodations on the card. But it’s nice to know that the system works in a user-friendly fashion.
But as for the rest…
Restrooms – The Monster is massively sensitive about blowers in bathrooms. I don’t recall seeing any blowers throughout the park – the restrooms used paper towels – so it was nice to be able to take him into the restrooms to use them without having major meltdowns or fits.
Food – Obviously, like most parks, Hersheypark is very picky about letting you bring in outside food. They didn’t give us too much trouble about the sippy cups for the kids or the small snacks (we brought grapes), but I wouldn’t have pushed it with real food. On the other hand… Hershey is also one of the most flexible parks I’ve seen in terms of cuisine inside the park. We’re talking an amusement park that has a kosher kiosk. The pre-purchase meal plan has an allergy-friendly option. I wouldn’t vouch for every picky eater that’s going to come into the park, but they’re certainly very flexible from the looks of things.
We had lunch at one of the picnic pavilions, where it was burgers and hot-dogs and the like… and as I’ve mentioned on the Facebook page, he actually ate a burger without being bribed/cajoled.
Other Things to Do – There’s a small zoo – ZooAmerica – attached to the park. It’s free with admission to Hersheypark (a small fee if visited separately), and if we’d not been concentrating on other things, we might have wandered over that way. It looked like a good place to take a quieter break if you have a child who’s getting overloaded, though.
Plus, let’s be honest – it’s Hershey. You’re going to take your kids over to Chocolate World to take the silly ride to see how chocolate is made, and it’s going to be another relatively quiet break. The Monster doesn’t have motion issues, but I could see how some aspects of the ride might be disconcerting (moving floor while boarding/disembarking, and the car swings back and forth), and I didn’t see any way to deal with a child who can’t wait in lines if it’s busy.
The Rides – I’ll be honest. The Monster’s not usually one for rides. Most of the Seaworld parks, and all of the Six Flags parks, are mostly coaster-parks, and he’s not keen on them thus far (and let’s be honest – Hersheypark does quite a few coasters). Sesame Place is hit-or-miss on him as to whether he’ll get onto a ride… and waterparks aren’t usually too much of a problem. Hersheypark has a good variety of child-friendly rides throughout the park – one of the reasons that my company chooses to go there – and so at least R is able to do something fun…
Now, it did take a little bit of coaxing at first, and he did wear his noise-dampening headphones all day. But he also went on plenty of rides, enough that it was worthwhile for us to be at the park. (Both kids were asleep within about 15 minutes of leaving the park, if that tells you anything.)
But it is a good park for families with young children, and makes for a very doable, fun day if you have children on the spectrum, while offering opportunities (in a group that’s large enough to swap child-care) to take on more adult rides.
We’re not going to be getting season passes at Hersheypark any time soon, but that’s more due to other factors – having our Sesame Place passes, for one 😉 – rather than anything negative I can say about the park. If you’re in the area, and you’ve a child with special needs, I’d definitely recommend giving Hersheypark a look for a day out.