My dad had medical training in Hershey this week, so he invited me, The Gryphon, my sister and her husband to join him for a day at Hershey Park on Saturday.
A band performs just inside the entrance
The plan was to meet in his hotel room at 12:30. He would have tickets for us, which he would buy at a discount from the hotel. We'd arranged to board Una overnight and would stay in Dad's hotel room, so we could stay longer in the park.
After dropping off Una and having breakfast at a local diner, we headed for Hershey. Our timing was nearly perfect: arriving at about 12:35. My sister and her husband arrived shortly afterwards.
We were planning to do the water park first, known as the Boardwalk. That was my suggestion, because my sister had done it last year with her Little Sister, and she'd enjoyed it. I'd never gone to it, and it sounded like fun. My sister and her husband were already wearing their swimsuits under their clothing, but the rest of us waited to change.
Once we were ready, we caught the hotel shuttle to the park. While we waited at the stop, we joked that they should create a pill that will give you whatever hairstyle you want, such as a fro or a pompadour.
Since it took a few minutes to get out of the room, and a few waiting for the shuttle, we didn't get to the park until sometime close to 1:30. The first thing we did was look for the Boardwalk. Even in such a small park, it was somewhat difficult to find it. There, we looked for the changing rooms. Outside of them was a huge line which turned out to be for renting lockers. We probably should have posted someone there right away, but we all changed first. Of course, there were also lines inside for the changing area and for the bathrooms.
When we came back out, we got in line for a locker, since we didn't want to carry our gear around. I was under the impression the water park area would be like an overgrown swimming pool with tube slides and the like. But as it turns out, we probably could have stuffed our extra gear in the backpacks and the bag that Dad was carrying. While Hershey Park does not offer free lockers for the rides where they don't allow loose items, they do offer a cubby hole where you can leave your stuff. Of course, it is on the honor system, so you do take a risk that someone else can grab it.
As we were waiting for a locker, the skies opened and soaked us with drenching rain. They began to make announcements that the Boardwalk area was closed until further notice, due to the threat of thunder storms. We remained in line, thinking we could get a locker, put our stuff away and get something to eat. Then we realized they were no longer dispensing lockers, because as long as it was raining, the park employee had the registers covered with plastic.
By this point, I was feeling really cranky, because I'd waited to eat lunch, figuring I'd have something after the water park. And while I was wearing a bathing suit, I was also wearing sneakers I did not intend to get wet but which were now completely smoked. Furthermore, we were out in the open, standing in a line that wasn't moving.
When I told everyone how I felt, they agreed we could go get some food. In fact, my sister was very sympathetic, because she gets cranky, too, when she's hungry. We didn't want to go too far, though, because we still intended to grab a locker. I pulled out a poncho, because now that I was soaked, the breeze was making me cold.
I don't normally eat fast food, but the closest food stand was Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs. Since I don't eat beef or pork, I had their grilled chicken sandwich, figuring it was the healthiest thing on the menu. As it turns out, that's not so. It's no better than the hamburger, clocking in at 523.6 calories, with 29.5 grams of fat! I haven't been able to figure out exactly what they do to make it so fatty, other than adding mayonnaise. Perhaps their buns are especially fatty, as well. Or maybe they do something to pretreat the chicken.
At the time I ate it, I didn't realize this and thought I was doing pretty good. I'd had an egg-white omelet for breakfast, after all. As we were eating, the sun came out.
Once they gave the all-clear, we got back in line, but it still seemed not to be moving. I'm not sure exactly what the holdup was, but perhaps all the lockers were full. I don't know how they know this, because you pay for a locker pass that gives you access all day long, allowing you to open and close your locker multiple times. The Gryphon told everyone to stay in line while we checked out another set of lockers we'd seen earlier which didn't look as crowded. Turns out that you needed a locker pass for them, as well, purchased from the place the others were in line. By the time we returned, our family was at the front of the line and purchased two lockers, in which we stowed all our stuff.
After a group discussion, we headed for an attraction my sister had liked when she visited last year. It's an open playground type area, open to both kids and adults, with lots of sections to climb and play with water. However, that was fenced off (which it hadn't been when she'd visited), and there was a long line to get in.
A big fake sand castle in the Boardwalk area
So instead, we got in line for a ride called the Roller Soaker. Dad doesn't usually like thrill rides, but this was a milder one, and he'd heard it was a lot of fun. Now, I've been told that, at the entrance, there was a sign that said there was a 90-minute wait. I did not see that sign, since I wasn't wearing my glasses. They were in my bag, because like I said, I was expecting a different kind of water park, involving pools and individual water slides.
Nobody else in our group seemed to mind the wait, possibly because they believed the line would move faster than the sign predicted. The wait, at least, was entertaining due to the interactive nature of the ride. There are water canons mounted on the ground, which people on the ground, usually little kids, can use to soak riders as they go by. Jets of water can also fly up and hit the riders, some automatic and some triggered by people on the ground. The riders get to fire back, pulling a lever that drops water on those below.
While we were in the outer section of the line, as the ride passed, we'd often get bombed with a load of water. Sometimes the kids manning the water canons would turn them on us, as well. I was beginning to understand the park's rule stating that you must wear swim suits in the Boardwalk area. At first, there were a couple of people in line trying to use their cell phones until they realized it was a bad idea.
We did our share of people-watching while we waited. In front of us were three athletic looking young women, who seemed to be together, all wearing two-piece bathing suits in colorful floral patterns that contrasted against their brown skin. One wore oversized gold hoop earrings, her hair carefully twisted into a bun on the nape of her neck. They looked like they should be sipping drinks at a beach resort. Yet, they were very serious the whole time, and while they were patient, their faces often looked blank and expressionless, as if they'd turned their minds off. It wasn't until we got to the ride itself, more than an hour later, that they became animated and started talking excitedly.
Behind us was a woman my sister was certain had breast implants. She was very tanned, probably from using a tanning bed, and she wore a much more revealing low-cut bikini. With her was her very pale husband and her very tan boy, presumably from running around outside. She was not amused when she got soaked, and she actually yelled at the kids with the water canon, "Enough already!" The dripping people around her snickered.
The line was longer than we realized. After we got out of the lower section, where we were being bombed regular by riders, we headed up a ramp covered with a sunscreen. This left in water, as well, and we were still getting soaked. Finally, we reached the pavilion at the top, where the line snaked around further until we reached the chutes to load into the baskets.
Since we had so long to think about it, The Gryphon figured out why the line was so slow. He realized that only four people can go through the ride at any one time. Only one basket is on the track at any time, since it's gravity-powered and cannot be stopped. If two baskets were on and the first got stuck, the other would crash into it. The Gryphon figured out it took five minutes for one of the baskets to make the complete rotation, of which only a minute and a half was actual ride time. While several baskets got loaded at once, the fact that they could only send four people out at a time meant there was an unavoidable pileup.
Also, no one was doing line facilitation up front: instead, they allowed people to load into chutes themselves, with the result that many people got confused. Things might have moved more quickly if someone had been there to answer questions and direct people into chutes. Plus, two people were doing safety checks, and then one of those people also started the carts forward, rather than having a separate person do it. This probably cost them a few seconds every time, which would add up incrementally.
My sister, her husband, and Dad got a basket first, and we waved at them. As we neared the front, we started chatting with a young couple ahead of us, who overheard me observing that we'd been in line so long I could see the stubble starting to poke through The Gryphon's skin. They thought that was a funny observation, and we joked around about the insanely long wait. As some people unloaded from a returning basket, the man counted the people and said that, at $50 bucks each, that was about $400 walking around over there. He said that's how Hershey sees it anyway. We nodded in agreement.
Finally, it was our turn. The seat was very slippery, which made me nervous, since we were high up. I'm kind of amazed they can fit small children on it, but despite my nervousness, it held me in.
The only scary part of the ride was at the beginning, where there's a dip that sends you off, gravity-powered, for the rest of the loop. It was fun to get hit by the water canons and the jets from below. One such jet struck the bottom of my foot and tickled me. We held steady with our water load until the end, so we could hit the largest number of people, and when we pulled our levers, soaking the crowd below and hearing them shriek, we laughed maniacally. Ah, schadenfreude, thy name is Roller Soaker.
We'd had enough of the water park by that point, so we returned to the changing areas and changed into dry clothes. My sister and her husband just put their dry clothes on over top, but the rest of us had to wait in line to change. Incidentally, while you're required to wear a bathing suit in the water park, you're not allowed to wear them in the rest of the park, forcing people to change. The changing rooms, however, do not provide enough booths to accommodate all those people. A woman in line with her daughter was saying that she liked the water park better at Dorney Park, since they're better organized.
By this point, we had ridden one ride, and it was about 5 p.m. Of course, we did spend a lot of time waiting in line various places, all in preparation for a one-and-a-half-minute ride.
For our next ride, my sister wanted to go on something that would make him scream, and The Gryphon also wanted to go on a thrill ride. My dad opted to sit on a bench in the shade and hold our bags. We got in line for the newest coaster, Fahrenheit.
Fahrenheit,silhouetted at dusk
Again, there were no digital signs at the entrance giving wait times, like there were at the Orlando parks The Gryphon and I visited on our honeymoon. Instead, there was a permanent wooden sign in the outer section that said if the line was that long, it was a two-hour wait. The line looked like it was about half that long, so we figured it was an hour wait.
We entertained ourselves with people-watching and silliness. Some park staffers walked through the line, selling drinks. They didn't look like very healthy drinks to me: half were bright blue and the others looked like really sugary lemonade. The staffers had to hold the trays over their heads. One woman, who was tall enough, balanced it on her head. We asked a staffer if it was hard to hold the try up for that long. He said that his shoulder had popped out three times the night before. Ow!
Ironically, the young woman with the gold hoop earrings was a few people ahead of us again, just as she'd been at the Roller Soaker. She'd just thrown her clothes over her suit, but her friends had changed, which was probably why they'd arrived at the ride at about the same time as us. They were wearing their serious line-waiting faces.
Directly ahead of us was a guy in his early '30s wearing Prada sunglasses, Bermuda shorts, and a black designer T-shirt. His hair, though curly and long, was carefully coiffed. Yet, he turned out to be very down-to-earth. He was in line with his 12-year-old daughter, who wanted to go on the ride, though he was having second thoughts, especially as he glanced up at the almost vertical drop the ride makes at the beginning. We joked around about how we'd better all get our last looks at our loved ones now. The guy with the Prada sunglasses especially liked watching the faces of the people coming down, noting that while they were screaming, they were smiling.
My sister and I came up with silly suggestions for how to make the wait more interesting, such as serving cocktails or having a standup comedian making the rounds. We also came up with a ride designed to make everyone throw up, called The Hurler. In the waiting area, the floor would vibrate for maximum disorientation, and they'd serve you bad sushi. Occasionally, when they overheard us, the people around us laughed along.
Even though we were having fun, I felt bad that Dad had to sit on a bench by himself the whole time. He said that he was people watching, and knowing Dad, he was probably also talking to the people around him.
Fahrenheit was actually worth the wait. It was a very thrilling ride. I haven't ridden too many rides that left me weak-kneed and wobbly afterwards. It starts with a very high vertical drop, then winds through at least one loop and a number of twists, turns and little bumps. It was definitely some high-octane fun.
By the time we rejoined Dad, it was almost 7 p.m., which either means the line was longer than we'd anticipated or that it had taken us longer in the changing rooms than I'd realized.
We were hungry and looked for a sit-down restaurant to have dinner. We found one just outside the park exit, called the Tudor Grill. There were two areas where you could sit. If you sat on the patio, however, you had a more limited menu, so we ate inside. They actually told you in the menu how large the portions are, and they were big. Instead, I ordered a fruit and nut salad, with dried cranberries, mandarin oranges and walnuts. I ordered it with fish and was shocked to be served a huge salad topped with an 8-ounce fillet. Dad told me I shouldn't feel obligated to eat all of it, but I hate being forced to waste food. I was very stressed out about the prospect of throwing out the equivalent of a full meal, especially when I'd been trying to order sensibly.
My sister and her husband spoke up. They needed to head out after dinner, because my sister had to get up early and work on her final written exam for one of her education courses. They were going to use Dad's spare hotel key to pick up the rest of their stuff, so they said I could box up my salad and they'd put it in the refrigerator. I thanked her profusely for the offer. Her husband, who'd ordered the Cobb Salad, also boxed his up and left it for The Gryphon to enjoy for lunch the next day. I felt a lot better about the situation.
Since we were at Hershey, we wanted a chocolate dessert. The Gryphon and I shared something called a mini-explosion, which is a square of moist chocolate cake topped with whipped cream and peanut butter cups. My sister and her husband shared a slice of chocolate peanut butter cake. My dad, who'd eaten an entire rack of ribs, gave dessert a pass. The mini-explosion was a good size for two people. I'm glad we didn't each order our own. It was very tasty.
Outside the restaurant, I asked if I could get a group shot of everyone. I took it in front of a fairly well-lit shop, and with the flash, it turned out pretty nice, considering I was using a disposable camera (I decided not to risk damaging my digital camera in the park). My sister then took one with me in it.
(from left) My sister, her husband, Dad and The Gryphon
(from left) My sister's husband, Dad, The Gryphon and me
After they left, we thought we'd ride a couple more rides, now that it was darker and people were leaving. Since my dad doesn't do thrill rides and had just waited a very long time for us at Fahrenheit, we wanted to ride something he'd enjoy. So we rode the monorail. From there, we got to see a view of the park, all lit up, while the conductor gave us interesting info about what we were passing. We saw some sleeping animals in the zoo area, and we happened to pass over a train, which sounded its whistle. I attempted to take some pictures, but I didn't even get prints back because they were apparently too dark.
The Gryphon and I wanted to ride another thrill ride, so we got in line for the Great Bear. The line was moving pretty fast, and we were excited. But about halfway through the line, a large group of people started heading towards the exit. It's not unusual that people bail out of a ride, but this many people at once seemed unusual. One of them told us they were shutting down because of thunder and lightning. So we had to turn around.
This also meant we couldn't go up in the Kissing Tower, which was another ride where you could see a great view. Dad had been interested in going up it. Some park staffers had it roped off and told us it was closed becuase it was basically a big lightning rod.
The rides that were still running didn't really appeal to us, such as the Tilt-a-Whirl and the teacups, so we headed for the shuttle bus, along with a huge crowd of similarly-minded people. We had hoped to beat the rain back to the hotel and watch the fireworks from the lawn, but the only way we saw them was from the bus. It was indeed raining by the time we returned. Not only that, but people were cranky, accusing each other of jumping the line. They were definitely not Hershey Park happy.
Back at the hotel, we changed into somewhat nicer clothes and got drinks at the bar, sitting on a comfy couch in the hotel lobby and nursing them until closing time. It was good to spend some time with Dad, talking, before turning in for the night.
Some overall observations:
- If you want to ride a lot of rides, get there early.
- If you're interested in the water park, plan on staying there all day, since you lose valuable time changing.
- Try to do the most popular rides at times when there aren't so many people, such as later in the day.
I've been to Hershey Park a number of times, and this was the only time I had anything close to a bad experience. I can't think of another time when, for example, I was there so long and rode so few rides.
That said, Hershey would do well to consider instituting some of the line management practices we'd seen in Orlando, such as digital signs at the entrance giving wait times, adding more staffers for line facilitation on the busier rides, and instituting some form of Fast Pass option for the most popular rides.
If you go to the water park, stay in the water park.