Wander in Hershey's Winter and Bear Wonderlands

As the search either begins or continues for "that special something" for "that special someone", the Sweetest Place on Earth comes alive and alight with the reopening of Hersheypark Christmas Candylane. With more than a million tiny twinkling lights blanketing the trees along the park's pathways, the holiday mood dawns in this Central Pennsylvania winter wonderland December 1, 4-8, 11-24, 26-31 and January 1, 2003. One of the Keystone State's most popular holiday attractions, Candylane brings out the spirit of the season with games, food, unique gifts, and musical offerings. Visitors pay as they go for select amusement rides, horse-drawn carriage rides, and a steam-powered train trip through Santa's Magical Forest. Brass bands and Yuletide carolers keep the chill night air filled with the sounds of the season, and a taste of the chocolate that made this town famous is never more than a stone's throw away in one of the many gift shops that line the front of the park like a rustic little village out of Dickens'. Quaint, old-fashioned window diplays liven up the storefronts with their charm, making a stroll through the lane feel like an 80-year walk back in time. Many surprises present themselves along the lane, including high-spirited Christmas shows at The Music Box Theatre and a stop-off for a visit with none other than Santa and his live reindeer. Special events taking place at The Hershey Theatre this year include the national tour of "Bring in "da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk", from December 6-8, and performances by the Canadian Brass ensemble, December 12. _________________________

Not far from Hershey, just due south of Gettysburg, lies another distinct land of its own: Boyd's Bear Country. Self-described as "the world's most humongous teddy bear store" this 120,000-square-foot museum/store is jam-packed with plush big bears, little bears, brown bears, black bears. Four floors filled with bears. Save some time because the kids will want to roll up their sleeves and get into the fun of designing their very own adopted bear at Boyd's Make ¡®N Take Craft Center; there's a wide array of clothing and accessories for these nifty souvenirs that even come with their own adoption certificates. Parents can get into the fun, too, by decorating their own wreath to spruce up the home for the holidays; the 20-inch grapevine or faux pine wreathes can be topped with assorted flowers, foliage, bows and¡­you guessed it, BEARS! This is a magical place, where the resin figurines, stuffed bears and other plush animals live (and possibly even play) in their whimsical worlds from the Land of Liberty with their star-spangled prints and frocks, to Kringle's Yuletide Hideaway, where Santa bears and elves are adrift in a winter wonderland all year long. There's a Faerie Forest that leads to Marsh Creek, which flows towards Spring Fling, and ends up in The Bearly-Built Village; they even have running water and an indoor creek. The Village scene features an elaborate Lionel train display with an eight-foot-tall mountain festooned with collectibles from the Boyd's Town, Boydsenbeary Acres and Kringle's Village collections. A life-size ark displays animals of all types and sizes ¡ª from tigers and camels to giraffes and monkeys. In the Baby Boyd's section, baby and kid-safe plush and accessories to decorate the nursery are available; there's also a play area for the kids. Check out the good eats downstairs at the family-style eatery: from Sweetie Pie's Bearkery with its baked snacks and sweets to Rufus, Dufus and Daryl's Dinner Hall, with its all-you-can-eat home-style cooking.

Other nearby attractions: - Hershey Park Arena is right next door to Hersheypark, with AHL hockey action most Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights through April. For ticket information and a complete schedule, call (717) 534-3911 or visit www.HersheyBears.com. - Hershey's Chocolate World, the official visitors' center of the Hershey Foods Corporation, also fringes on the park. Take the free chocolate-making tour ride that ends with a sweet sample, and shop for holiday treats and special gifts. Open year round and always free. - With more than 60 brand-name outlet stores, The Outlets at Hershey are right up the road from Hersheypark. Open Monday-Saturday 9:30am-9pm and Sunday 11am-6pm. For more information, visit www.theoutletsathershey.com. - Offering 16 trails with a 600-foot vertical drop, a half-pipe and terrain park, Ski Roundtop is open daily for skiing, snowboarding and snowtubing. Hours and prices vary. Call (717) 432-9631 or visit www.skiroundtop.com.

Where to Stay: - Towne House Suites Hotel in the capital/business district of downtown Harrisburg, less than 20 minutes from Hersheypark, offers spacious one- and two-bedroom suites with separate living and sleeping areas. For package information and reservations, call toll-free (888) 532-1900 or visit www.townehousesuites.com. - Just 12 miles from fun-filled Hersheypark and 15 minutes to Boyds Bear Country, Days Inn Harrisburg East, in Middletown, offers special Hershey package deals starting at $49.99 per night. For information, call (717) 939-4147 or visit www.daysinnhia.com. - The Hotel Hershey and The Hershey Lodge offer an array of affordable overnight packages with specially planned holiday events. Special packages (on select Friday and Saturday nights) include deluxe accommodations, breakfast or lunch buffet with Santa, caroling, complimentary tickets to Hershey Museum and shuttle transportation to Candylane. For more information or reservations, call (800) HERSHEY or visit www.HersheyPA.com. - Harrisburg-Hershey Howard Johnson Inn, just 10 minutes from the park, offers HersheyPark Packages starting at $159. For information, call (717) 564-6300 or visit www.hersheyhotels.com and click on Howard Johnson Inn.