“John Hammond: All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked! / Ian Malcolm: Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”– Richard Attenborough & Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park
A year ago, in October of 2019, my wife and I accompanied my brother, his wife, and two daughters to Hershey, PA, for a theme park vacation and the running of a half marathon race. It was a fantastic weekend, filled with Hershey candy, beer, running, great food, some intense roller coasters, and of course, October family fun. It is strange to think back to last October and consider that it has been a year since our family trip, now with a new October upon us. With the pandemic hitting only a few months later, it seems the trip got lost in my recollection, and now, with the return of fall, I seek to both remember the journey and see hope in its enjoyment.
For the last few months, my wife and I have watched a decent amount of YouTube vlogs. The ones we enjoy the most are from those individuals going to Disney. Vlogs from SuperEnthused, Paging Mr. Murrow, and Dani.702 are the ones we follow and watch frequently. Their enjoyment, appreciation, and excitement have given us hours of entertainment and reminded me of the fun theme parks bring forth. It has been through observing these videos I am reminded of the world outside this pandemic. I am eagerly awaiting some return to normalcy. But, while watching their videos, I am reminded of my last trip to a theme park, the fun I had, and I want to have again. So, here I look back to last October and my trip to Hersheypark and one of the last half marathons I was able to do before the pandemic took control.
As I have said in previous blog posts, my brother and I run a half marathon in October and November of every year, starting in 2014. Together, we traveled to Brooklyn and Denver, and with our wives to Nashville, but my brother had never brought his daughters, and I wanted to remedy that. I knew Hersheypark has tons of events in October for the Halloween season, which the girls would love, and they also had a half marathon race. It seemed too perfect of a situation. I presented the idea, and he quickly jumped on board. This trip would be his, and mine, first time to Hershey, but my wife was a pro and was excited to go again and show my brother’s daughters the ropes. So, in October of 2019, we headed to Hershey, PA, for a weekend of fun.
While my brother decided to drive the six hours, my wife and I decided on an extremely short flight from Boston to Harrisburg and then a quick Uber ride to our hotel in Hershey. It was one of the best decisions we made since I do not like driving long distances, and the flight was so short that it seemed to end just as it began. Our Uber ride to the hotel was perfectly fine, and our hotel accommodations were sufficient for the first two nights. We planned to stay at a hotel a couple of miles from the park the first two nights, Friday and Saturday, with a visit and day spent at Hersheypark on Saturday. Then the day of the race, Sunday, we would run, do a late checkout, and then early check-in at the Hershey Lodge so that we could experience the “staying at Hershey” feel and for my brother’s daughters to enjoy the indoor water park. It was a great plan. In hindsight, I would have stayed at the Hershey Lodge the entire stay because it was freaking awesome. But the plan worked, and we all had fun.
We ended up arriving at the Hotel on Friday within about 30 minutes of my brother. It was pretty solid, especially for Jeff, who drove several hours, and my wife and I flew in. We had a late dinner and settled into bed pretty quickly. The best part of the hotel was that an interior door connected our rooms, so we could keep the door open and hang out, eat, and the girls could have more space for their toys and let their energy build for Saturday, which would be a day at Hersheypark. The one thing about having fun on Saturday, the day before our half marathon, is that we would not have a day to rest between fun and run. In Hershey, PA, I broke my own rules of “runcations,” but as they, “when in Rome!”
“Veronica Corningstone: Oh, well, when in Rome! Ron Burgundy: Yes?…please go on. Veronica Corningstone: Uh, do as the Romans do. It’s an old expression. Ron Burgundy: Oh! I’ve never heard of it…it’s wonderful though.”Will Ferrell & Christina Applegate in Anchorman
On Saturday, we had a few things planned, but the essential part of our day was to get to Hersheypark and enjoy the rides, food, and beautiful October weather. As this was my first time at Hersheypark, I followed my wife’s lead. It was October, so some of the rides are closed since the weather is colder. But there was Hersheypark in the Dark event, so we knew what we were getting into before we made the trip. The park would be open much later, there would be trick-or-treating for the girls, and roller coasters under the stars would keep us having fun all day and night. We planned to spend a good portion of the day at the park, leave and get some good and rest, and then go back to the park as the sun descended and darkness took over.
Almost as soon as we arrived, my brother took off with my eldest niece, and they started going on all the most impressive roller coasters. My wife and I, and my sister-in-law took our youngest niece on all the quieter rides. My wife loves the calm, less intense rides, as they are the ones we gravitate towards when we visit Canobie Lake Park in Salem, NH. I was able to go on a few rides, though, even as I enjoyed watching my youngest niece’s face of pure joy as she went on the same ride two dozen times, but each time seemed to express an exciting outburst as if it was the first time. Seeing her have so much fun made me think back to the few times I went to Disney World as a child and the joy those experiences produced. I loved Thunder Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, and, as I got older, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Fast Track. Watching my niece made me feel young, and I was having a blast.
The first ride I went on was Skyrush, which was intense and terrifying. As I have gotten older, I don’t usually go on the giant or larger roller coasters. I get scared of heights and the overall experience. I enjoy a classic coaster, like the wooden ones, not the ones that go too fast or go upside down. I know my limits, and I try to stick to them, but when my older brother asks me to go on a ride, I can rarely say no. Sibling peer pressure sucks! So, when he asked to go on Skyrush, I immediately said yes, but even as I walked up the stairs of the ride entrance, then got in the line, and eventually sat in the last seat of the last row, I feared I had made a mistake. But, I could not turn back, so I buckled up, closed my eyes, and, well, tried not to cry. The one good thing, Skyrush was over pretty quick, but it scared the shit out of me. I swore that I would go on no more of newer thrill roller coasters the rest of the day. With my time on the big roller coasters done, I went to get some snacks, and my brother and the girls continued crushing each roller coaster they came across.
“Lasky, Guard at Walleyworld: Rusty, may I call you Rusty? I had a bad experience on this ride once. / Rusty Griswold: What happened?/ Lasky, Guard at Walleyworld: I threw up.”John Candy & Anthony Michael Hall from National Lampoons Vacation
My wife and I are not a couple who turn down fair, carnival, or theme park snacks. I always go for a soft pretzel while my wife digs into some fried dough. Seeing as though we would be walking around for a good portion of the day, we got our favorite snacks, drinks, explored Hersheypark, and then went on The Kissing Tower ride, which had amazing views of the surrounding park area. It was a relaxing few minutes, and then we meet back up with the rest of our group for some lunch, followed by more rides. Seeing how the weather was cool and agreeable, we wanted to walk around and have as much fun as possible since we knew we would be leaving soon to get some rest and put the girls in their Halloween Costumes for the Hersheypark in the Dark trick-or-treating dance party, as well as other events that were taking place at the “after dark” event.
After a few more rides, a few extra chocolate snacks (tons of Reese’s peanut butter cups), and dozens of miles covered, my wife and sister-in-law took the girls back to our hotel to rest and get dressed for more park entertainment at night. Still, my brother, who required no rest, recommended we go to a local Hershey, PA brewery, which just so happened to be one of his favorite beers. I said yes, and as I said before… sibling peer pressure! While the rest of the family headed to the hotel and planned to meet them back at the park in a couple of hours, my brother and I headed to Troegs Brewing.
Troegs Brewing is just under two miles away from Hersheypark. A visit to Troegs seemed a logical venture for the two of us, who usually go to a local brewery when we travel, especially to run a half marathon. When we arrived at the brewery, it was pretty busy. There were many people in the beer garden outside and a substantial amount inside the taproom. The place was massive, so it didn’t matter, and we were able to find a spot near the bar at one of the communal tables, and one by one, grabbed a beer to try. My brother tried a flight with a wide array of Double IPAs and Stouts, which he enjoyed. His favorite was the Troegenator Double Bock, while I gravitated towards the lighter side and selected the Unfiltered DreamWeaver wheat beer, as usual. The beers at Troegs were fantastic, and the atmosphere inviting and enjoyable. Troegs has food, so we sampled a couple of things from the menu and enjoyed a couple more beers. We took it easy, did not drink a lot since we were heading back to Hersheypark, and running in the morning. Even so, we enjoyed the quality and flavor of the beer and the inspired food options with local flair.
“Joanna: You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, like your pretty boy over there, Brian, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair? Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager: Well, I thought I remembered you saying that you wanted to express yourself.”– Jennifer Aniston & Mike Judge in Office Space
After a couple of hours of sampling beers and talking, we got an Uber and headed back to Hersheypark for the “after dark” part of the day. Rides would still be open, trick-or-treating would commence shortly, and well, we wanted to enjoy the crisp October evening under the stars. Once my brother and I met up with his wife and kids and my wife, we headed back into the park to get the girls ready for trick-or-treating. We decided to go on a few rides before candy mayhem since the lines were pretty long, but it was a nice night, so we walked around, and I went on Lightning Racer with my oldest niece. Lightning Racer is my kind of roller coaster since it goes fast, but not too fast, and is an old wooden style and is the “first wooden racing/dueling coaster in the United States.” I love these kinds of roller coasters, especially the clicking initially, as the coaster goes to its highest point before descending quickly. While at night, they don’t have the dueling coasters going, it was beautiful all lit up, and the dark sky added a little scare factor to the ride, similar to Space Mountain at Disney World. After a thrilling ride, accompanied by my brave niece, we all met up and brought the girls to the trick-or-treat area for them to get some Hershey candy.
The area where they would do their trick-or-treating was charming, and the girls had a great time. I know they are still doing it this year but are changing the location to allow for social distancing, which is excellent, and kids will have a great experience. There were pretty long lines when we went last year, but well worth it, and while the girls didn’t get a ton of candy, that’s not the point. The real goal is for them to get dressed up, go through a long walking path, and meet Hersheypark employees dressed up as scary monsters and candy bars, a great combo. After trick-or-treating, we walked around the park for a while longer, the girls went on a few more rides, and then we decided to depart back to the hotel so that my brother and I could get some rest before our chocolate half marathon in the morning.
The Hersheypark Half Marathon was a fantastic race with a beautiful course that brings you through the park, which was a nice treat. Before getting into some of the race details, I must say the weather was terrible, so my race experience, I feel, could have been way better, but that’s not the fault of the course or organization, except for leaving the parking lot at the end, but more on that later. There was a small outside expo at Hersheypark Stadium the day before the race, but since we were having fun at the park, I just dropped in and grabbed my brother and my bibs, and that was it. I should note that Hersheypark provided the park passes as a gift with our race registration, an incredible and valuable perk, which, as you have already learned, we got the most out of the day before.
“Sorry, folks. We’re closed for two weeks to clean and repair America’s favorite family fun park.”– John Candy in National Lampoon’s Vacation
On race morning, my brother and I drove to the race, which was only a few miles away. Parking was simple, and we were able to walk around Hersheypark Stadium for a little while before needing to join our corral and start running. The biggest problem at this point was the weather, which was cold and raining. It was not a mist or light rain, instead a moderate and consistent rainfall. Otherwise, the organization was excellent, with music blasting that got us excited to start. Once we began, the rain seemed to be less of a bother, and I focused on my running, breathing, and looking at all the cool sights that Hershey, and the park, had to offer. As I have said in previous blog posts, race vacations are a fantastic way to see some areas of a city or location that you might otherwise bypass.
The race followed, as HalfMarathons.net writes, an “out-and-back loop” which started and finished “at the city’s Hershey Park Stadium” and took us past several “local attractions like Hershey’s Chocolate World, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Factory and features a run along “Chocolate Avenue,” where the streetlights are shaped like Hershey’s kisses.” I felt pretty good throughout the race, but after the first few miles, the rain started to worsen and made the remainder of the run a real slog. I finished with a pretty solid time, received an awesome race medal shaped like a Hershey kiss candy, and had a pretty positive experience, aside from the rain. My main problem was leaving the after-race party afterward. It took about an hour for us to get out of the parking lot. There is nothing positive about being super wet and cold and hungry while also being stuck in a parking lot with hundreds of other cars trying to leave through one exit. A small dislike, but overall a race I would have done again, but I just discovered that Hershey canceled all future running of this half marathon. Very disappointing, but I would say that if they start it up again, I would suggest giving it a go if, for no other reason, you get some Hershey bars during and at the end of the race!
Once we made it back to our hotel, we cleaned up, checked-out, and headed to the Hershey Lodge, where we procured an early check-in and would spend the rest of the day and one night. The resort is beautiful and offered us quick and easy early check-in. Still, before going to our rooms, we decided to get some lunch in the lodge at The Bears’ Den, an excellent restaurant located inside the resort, where I ordered a satisfying and delicious burger and fries, the perfect post-half marathon meal.
“Big Kahuna Burger. That’s that Hawaiian burgerjoint. I hear they got some tasty burgers. I ain’t never had one myself.”– Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction
After lunch, my wife and I explored the resort, which I said before, was lovely, and I wish I had stayed there the entire trip. It’s nice being in the middle of all the Hersheypark action since the park is down the road, and the resort has tons of amenities like restaurants, a coffee shop, a bar, and an indoor water park. Since the day we checked-in had abysmal weather, the indoor water park was perfect for my brother and his kids, who quickly, after lunch, swam for the rest of the day. It had slides, obstacles, and was not busy at all, so it made for a fun few hours as we watched them swim, chatted with my sister-in-law, and then took a much-needed nap. We ended the day with some pizza and subs from a local place and relaxed in our rooms. The race had quickly tired us out, so we made it an early night. Since we didn’t have a flight till late in the afternoon the following day, we knew we had plenty of time to enjoy the resort.
The next day was simple enough. My wife and I had a fantastic breakfast at Hershey Grill, which was attached to the resort. The coffee was solid, and my eggs over easy with wheat toast and potatoes and fruit bowl were fantastic. I was still pretty hungry from the day before, so the more delicious food, the better. Afterward, we sat in the cafe and had a second cup of coffee, and waited for my brother and his family to get up. Once they did, they went to the indoor water park for a day of swimming. We all didn’t have a ton of time, but enough to sit by the pool, chat, laugh, and enjoy these last hours together in Hershey, PA.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You’re having way too much fun, it’s making everyone uncomfortable.”– Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back
A few hours later, my brother packed his car and got the family ready; we said our goodbyes and departed towards Massachusetts. Since we were flying, we relaxed a while longer, but soon called an Uber, left for the airport. We boarded our flight home with Hershey and our time there in the past. Overall, Hersheypark in the Dark was a ton of entertainment and something I would do again, especially if my brother and his family joined my wife and me for the trip. It is a perfect time of year to go since it is more relaxed, and the autumn weather makes your time comfortable and refreshing. I would undoubtedly do the half marathon again if they bring it back, but truthfully building a trip around the race is unnecessary. Hersheypark has enough fun to do this time a year, so running a half marathon can easily be pushed aside.
Next time, I would stay in the Hershey Hotel or the Hershey Lodge, where we stayed one night. Nothing wrong with not staying at one of the Hershey properties, but similar to visiting Disney World, staying on the immediate property makes things slightly more manageable. As October is now upon us, I wanted to take a moment to mention this fantastic family trip, an enjoyable half marathon, and the memory of Hersheypark. Once this pandemic is over, I look forward to visiting again, along with other theme parks, I have an itch to explore. I am looking at you, LEGO Land in NY! Until then…
Cover Image by David Traña on Unsplash