The iconic amusement park has a rep for being little-kid heaven (it still is), but if your teens haven’t been, here’s why you should take them.
It had been a long time. Eleven years, to be exact. The last time I took my kids to Hersheypark in Hershey, PA, they were 6 and 2. I remember we all really liked it. The layout and size was much easier to navigate than at mega theme parks. It was clean (as much as such a place can be). And—no small consideration in July—it was hot, but unlike Florida parks, not go-to-your-hotel-after-lunch-or-leave-on-a-stretcher hot. Skip ahead to 2016, when my sister-in-law asked if we wanted to go to Hershey with them over Labor Day weekend. Her kids are 15 and 13. “Aren’t the kids too old for Hershey?” I asked her. “Nah, we go every year and they still love it.” So off we went, with two eighth graders, a 10th grader, and a high school senior. I was dubious that they wouldn’t be bored. I was wrong.
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The Hershey Fun Factor for Teens
For all you first-timers, Hershey has two parts: the theme park, and Hershey’s Chocolate World. The main draw of the latter is a ride that shows you how Hershey’s products are made. It may surprise you to learn, as it did me, that there hasn’t been a real operating factory in Hershey since 1973. They have several factories in places as far flung as Illinois and Mexico, but here it’s just for show. It’s still a cute ride, modernized recently, so better than the one I remembered. Plus it’s free. Chocolate World also has 4-D movie and make-your-own candy activity (neither of those are free, though), and a vast shopping bazaar.
But the theme park is where the action is for teens. How much could there be that appeals to the 13–17 set in a place that bills itself as the “sweetest on Earth”? At a bare minimum, I counted 12 activities, and that doesn’t include the water rides or the Wave Rider open only in the summer, or the carnival games and the two arcades. Here—ranked by no greater authority than my kids and their cousins, admittedly—are the top five teen attractions, thrill coasters all, unsurprisingly. Plan to spend a lot of time on the surrounding benches, sipping the lovely old-fashioned lemonades they sell all over (with an entire lemon half floating around!). That is, unless you are unusually strong of stomach for someone old enough to be the parent of teen.
1) Fahrenheit: This inverted vertical loop “lift” coaster starts off swooping your baby up 121 feet, to immediately throw him right back down in a 97-degree negative drop—the steepest of any U.S. ride. My 17-year-old son told me that, at the very top, even being in the front (where he insisted on sitting for every ride, even if he had to wait longer), he couldn’t see anything in front of him or beneath him. When I first saw the shape of it, I thought, “No….what is that? It can’t be….” and briefly considered just not letting him go on, but then it would have been a long ride home. This is the one he’s still talking about.
2) Skyrush: This is the highest coaster in the park—200 feet—and riders zoom along at 75 mph. What got me, and not in a good way, was that the restraints appears to be quite minimal. Is there anything really holding them in? Of course there is, but feeling like there isn’t is what my 13-year-old nephew liked about it. That, and being seated “over the side of the track.”
3) Storm Runner: Dubbed “the slingshot ride” by my son, and that pretty much sums it up. It shoots riders straight out from 0–72 mph in two (2!) seconds. And in the heartbeat before it does so, an evil-sounding voice croaks, “Here we go!” If you are sitting on the bench right at the entrance to the ride, against the iron fence, on the right, you will hear that voice, oh, I don’t know, 100 billion times. It’s a little unnerving. Seat yourself accordingly.
4) Sidewinder: Twists. Corkscrews. Upside down for a while. This is the favorite of my 13-year-old daughter, who giddily offered this explanation of her desire to go right back on the line: “Imagine being a boomerang!” This from a girl who complained all the way there about being carsick because she had to sit in the back with her brother.
5) Wild Mouse: My 15-year-old niece lobbied hard for this one to make our top five. It’s her first stop whenever she comes to Hersheypark, and her ardor for it convinced me to go on it. After all, the word “mouse” is in the name and the cars are little and there aren’t any big drops--how bad could it be? Well, here is the shtick with this one: It moves quite nimbly, making extremely hard, sudden, and tight corner turns, which makes you feel certain the entire while that your car is going off the rails.
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Tips for Visiting Hersheypark with Teens
Chocolate World is optional. My advice: Don’t bring it up. They won’t really get too excited about the slow-moving ride with its talking dairy cows, or the movie starring a Hershey Kiss with Kardashian eyes, or donning a paper hat to fashion a custom chocolate bar. What they will get excited about is you buying candy. So. Much. Candy. And really, they have nothing special there you couldn’t get at home, and cheaper, in Costco. What is different is the fancy packaging, but a Twizzler is a Twizzler is a Twizzler, whether it’s in its usual plastic bag, a gold box, or a metal pail. Trust me: If you enter that store with a teenager, you will leave with a giant Hershey Kiss bedecked with a “Let’s celebrate with a big Kiss!” sticker.
If you are up for that risk, then I suggest going first thing in the morning, when it’s much less crowded. You’ll pass it on your way to the park. But then you’ll have to carry your purchases with you, or stash them in your car, provided it’s cool enough out. Parking is free if you’re there less than three hours, which I assure you will be the case.
Wear sneakers. This may seem obvious, but if your kids always wear flip-flops unless there is snow on the ground, like mine, it’s worth saying. Hersheypark is hilly. You’ll all be going up, then down, then up again. And you know as well as I do that they’ll be running at least half the time. Even if they manage not to lose one on a ride, flip-flops will still not end well.
Consider scrimping. My savvy sister-in-law booked us in Harrisburg, instead of right at the park in Hershey. What’s the difference? About 40 percent cheaper, well worth it in my book for a 15–20 minute ride.
Then, consider splurging. Full disclosure: Some of the teen favorites (especially Fahrenheit and Storm Runner) had interminable lines. You might think that kids this old are better able to take a wait. But when I asked mine what they didn’t like about our trip, if anything, all they had to share was their disdain for the lines. Granted, this may well have been due to it being Labor Day weekend. But it may be worth it to ante up for a Fast Track Pass, which lets you skip the line for one ride on each of 10 coasters. When my kids asked about it, I pulled up the info on my phone, and saw “starting at $60,” which promptly ended all discussion. I know, it’s a lot. But in hindsight, I wonder if it might have been worth it to keep them from having any downside at all to our mini vacation.
Take advantage of twilight. When you have a one-day ticket, you are allowed to “preview” the park the night before, from 7:30 pm to closing, for free. You just show your ticket for the next day and you’re in. This is a good opportunity to get on the most popular rides when the wait tends to be shorter. You won’t pay twice for parking, either. You pay the $15 when you park for your preview evening, then show that stub again the next day.
Think outside the main gate. Adjacent to Hersheypark is Giant Center, a full-on event arena that hosts major performers. My sister-in-law, who lives on the NJ/PA border, told me that during their last Hersheypark trip, she and her husband dropped the 15-year-old and her friend off for a 5 Seconds of Summer concert, while they enjoyed a dinner date. Point being, it’s worth checking the schedule before you leave home, especially if you have older teens.
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