Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Hershey Christmas

We tend to do many of the same things each Christmas season, and while it is nice to have family traditions, it is also nice to seek out and do some different things. Amparo had been looking for something new this year, and we decided that we should make the drive out to Hershey take a day to do a chocolate Christmas. The weather for this weekend was supposed to be unseasonably warm, and with today forecast for a high around 60, we decided to head out for the day.

Hershey Park itself doesn't open until noon on a Sunday at this time of year, so we had a leisurely morning at home before leaving at around 10:30am. It would be almost a 2 hour drive, and I wanted to take the opportunity to grab a cache (or two or three) in Lebanon county, which is a new one for me that we would have to drive through to get where we were going. We didn't really have a plan, but we knew that one of the highlights at this time of year is a car ride through an extensively decorated area of lights. The light show started at 5pm and ran through 10 or 11pm, so we knew that would be the last thing we did before heading home.

Victorian Candy House
After an easy traffic free hour or so on the Turnpike, we got off the same exit we did last year for the Renaissance Faire, and headed north to a slight detour through the little town of Quentin. We made quick work of a virtual cache and two others and were back on the road west to Hershey in short order.

We arrived in Hershey shortly after noon, and made our way to the combined parking lot for Chocolate World (the indoor museum/store) and Hershey Park. Everything was decorated for the holidays and looking very festive. Everybody was hungry, so we had a quick (and pretty bad) lunch in Chocolate World before heading to the Park for the afternoon. The weather was nice for December, and we thought it would be nice to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

On the Monorail
The Park had a good number of people wandering about, but was not crowded by any means. Everything seemed to be open with the exception of all the large roller coasters. That would be disappointing to many people, but I have never been overly fond of amusement park rides for whatever reason. It's not that I dislike them, they just don't excite me. Except for any ride that spins; those I absolutely dislike and cannot ride because they play havoc with my stomach. Julia tends to find rides that move quickly to be unsettling, whereas Grace is fearless for her age.

Over the course of the next few hours, we rode some of the smaller rides, played a bunch of carnival games, won a bunch of stuffed animal toys (which will soon be making an appearance in a Goodwill store...), and just generally having a great time. It was nice to be doing something that everyone seemed to be enjoying, because these days it is often difficult to get the girls to agree on anything. Today they couldn't agree on what they wanted to do next, but at least they were both getting some of what they wanted.

Visting Santa's Reindeer
One of the highlights of the afternoon for the girls was the visit to the stables to see Santa's reindeer. There were nine reindeer, and I have to admit that they were pretty cool. They aren't very large animals, appearing to be smaller than the adult white-tailed deer we see around home, but some of them had very large antlers.

Grace also especially liked a Pirate Ship ride that was a boat shaped thing that swung back and forth like a pendulum. She loved it and rode it more than once.

At a few minutes before 4:00pm, we lined up at the theater to watch a Christmas themed song and dance show. It was an entertaining enough 35 or 40 minutes. The singing was pretty good. The dancing was... less so. Lots of repetitive moves and lots of arm waving. But the girls liked it.

After three hours or so at the Park we were all starting to get chilly, so we decided to head back to Chocolate World for a snack and to do some candy shopping. I am a dark chocolate fan, not milk chocolate, and it was amazing all the different items that Hershey makes in dark chocolate that don't appear in stores. As a matter of fact, they seem to make a dark chocolate version of just about everything, from Kit Kat bars to Peanut Butter Cups. Yum. We got out of the store with a nice bagful of things, but I thought we showed remarkable restraint. I would have bought as much dark chocolate as the girls could carry, loading them down like little pack mules... Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

By the time we were done our snack and shopping, it was almost 6:00pm, so we got in the car and followed the directions to the "Sweet Lights" drive through. It turns out that how they rig this display is to close a road in the woods back behind the Hotel Hershey to public traffic, hang a million lights on 600 displays, put a tool booth at the start of the road, and charge $20 per car to enter. After you pay your way in, you spend the next half hour or so driving slowly along the road, looking at the lights from your car as you drive by, and listening to holiday music on the local radio station. It was impressive in its own way, but I think we were all getting a little numbed by the time we were most of the way through, and were definitely impatient with the guy a few cars ahead of us who kept coming to a complete stop. What should have been 20-30 minutes turned into 45 minutes. It was an awful lot of lights, an awful lot of the same thing, and the extra slow pace didn't help. It was nice to have seen once, but having seen it, I wouldn't be in any hurry to see it again. But worth seeing once, for sure.

When we finished creeping through the light display, it was 6:45pm, we were still in Hershey, and everybody was getting pretty hungry. Rather than finding a place to eat in Hershey, the consensus was that we should get most of the way home before stopping for dinner at Buca di Beppo in Exton. We got to the restaurant at 8:10pm and ordered quickly. The place was mostly empty and would be closing at 9pm. Grace was falling asleep on the bench of the booth we were sitting in, but we had a good dinner and headed for home.

We were home and the kids were in bed by 10pm. That was a little later than we had wanted to get home on a school night, but it was well worth it. We all had a good time at the Park, Chocolate World was fun (what we saw of it), and the lights were great. For anyone who hasn't spent a day in Hershey during the holiday season, it is worth the trip.

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