A Family Road Trip to Pennsylvania

A Family Road Trip to Pennsylvania

Lancaster and Amish country followed by a long weekend in Philadelphia provided a week of kid-focused fun, from amusement parks to museums and much more.

For our recent vacation, I had one major request: No airplanes. This year, for what has become our annual late-August week away, we’d avoid the expense, hassle, and wasted day of air travel and instead pack up our car and hit the road. The verdict? No regrets, and I am already thinking of where we can road-trip to next year.

This year’s destination was Pennsylvania: four nights in Lancaster, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, followed by three nights in Philadelphia. It ended up being the perfect getaway for our family, especially given the age differences in our kids, who are 10, 6, and 3.

 

Pennsylvania Dutch Country

The Eden Resort & Suites in Lancaster

In the Lancaster area, we stayed at the Eden Resort & Suites, which is about as family-focused as a hotel can be. The property features indoor and outdoor pools, two kiddie pools (one for the youngest tots, the other for slightly older kids not yet ready for the big pool), a playground, miniature golf, and other activities. Staff distribute free ice cream and popsicles to the kids in the afternoons and evenings, and the on-site restaurant makes it easy to get food and drinks delivered poolside. I think my kids would have been happy remaining on the property for our whole stay, but we insisted on dragging them out to enjoy the region’s attractions.

 

Turkey Hill & Hershey: Making Our Own Sweets

Making our own ice cream at the Turkey Hill Experience

Our first stop was the Turkey Hill Experience, which features interactive exhibits and activities about the making of everyone’s favorite product: ice cream. The kids had fun, but let’s be real, the free samples were the star of the show--until we got to the Taste Lab, where staff members guide you through making your own flavor. Starting with a vanilla soft-serve base, you can choose what flavoring(s) and mix-ins (nuts, chocolate chips, cookie crumbs, etc.) to add. Not to brag, but my whole family agreed that my cinnamon apple crunch was the winner.

I would strongly recommend paying the extra for the Taste Lab, and booking in advance, as there are limited slots available. They don’t offer tops or bags, so go in with the stomach room and determination to consume your creation on the spot!

A few days later, we went to Hershey’s Chocolate World, where we did the five-minute ride about the making of chocolate--which was quite informative--and made our own chocolate bars. There are fewer options and possible variations than there were at Turkey Hill’s Taste Lab, but it was still fun to watch the bars travel down the conveyor belt and see our choices be added to them. You also design and print your own wrapper, which was a fun addition to the experience.

After two sweets-focused attractions, we decided to skip the Herr’s chip factory, but that’s another popular local option.

 

Dutch Wonderland

The amusement park Dutch Wonderland is among the area’s best-known attractions, and it didn’t disappoint. Its rides are mostly low key, great for young kids not ready for hard-core roller coasters (though they’ve got some faster-pace rides, too). My kids particularly loved the Sky Ride--a ski-lift-type aerial trip across the park--and bumper cars. Height restrictions are clearly marked for each ride, which I appreciated, and plenty of rides are geared toward the youngest kids.



Cherry Crest Farm

Riding a tractor at Cherry Crest Farm

A true gem, Cherry Crest Farm was one of the top highlights of our trip. A working farm, the owners carved out of their land a sizeable kids’ attraction featuring a corn maze, petting zoo, tractor rides, a trampoline, and many other activities. My kids got to hold baby chicks and shoot balls from a slingshot, but it was the giant hillside slide that they remember as their favorite activity there. We all loved the fresh corn on the cob, and I appreciated the healthy options at the snack bar. One of the workers described Cherry Crest to me as a “true piece of old Americana,” and that seems accurate to me. (Note that Cherry Crest Farm is closed Sundays and Mondays even during the busy summer season; check its online calendar for scheduling the remainder of the year.)

 

Experiencing Amish Country: Horse and Buggy Rides & More

A buggy ride with our Amish tour guide

We did a lot of driving aimlessly around the countryside, observing the fields of produce growing, the farmers working the field, and the horses and buggies being driven by Amish people. We also loved seeing the bicycle-scooter hybrid many Amish people used to get around--think a bike without gears or pedals, with just a scooter platform instead. We took a buggy ride with an informative Amish man named David who patiently answered all our questions and described the lifestyle he and his community maintain, with minimal technology and a lot of self-reliance.  

We also checked out one of the many local farmer’s markets and bought our share of produce and fudge. And my kids discovered the joy of shoo-fly pie!



Philadelphia

We knew we’d left bucolic Amish country behind and were approaching the big city as traffic slowed to a crawl and the last 10 miles took us about as long as the previous 40 or so. Nevertheless, Philadelphia is a great city for kids, and we made the most of just a few days there.

We stayed at the Windsor Suites, centrally located on Benjamin Franklin Turnpike, and while it lacked the plethora of kids’ activities that our Lancaster hotel offered, it did feature a rooftop pool, which was really cool to experience (after a brief bout of vertigo by one of my daughters). It is also walking distance to many attractions, especially museums. There is an out-of-the-way water playground across the street, and we spent a couple of hours just reading and playing in the children’s room at the public library down the street.

 

American History: Liberty Bell & Betsy Ross’s House

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

Before we even went to our hotel, we experienced some of the amazing historical sites in Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell was a quick stop, and then we walked to Betsy Ross’s house a few blocks away. The house is relatively small and quick to tour, which is great for attention-challenged young people, and my kids were engaged and learned from it. The basement is particularly kid friendly, and my 3-year-old spent a while playing in the toy kitchen while the older kids took in some of the historical lessons to be learned at the exhibit.



The Franklin Institute

Making paper at the Franklin Institute

We spent the better part of a day at the venerable Franklin Institute, and could have come back again and again without the kids being bored or even duplicating activities. The giant heart exhibit has been around at least since I was a kid, and it’s now joined by an even-more-impressive brain exhibit. My kids loved the physical challenges of the physics-teaching activities in Sir Isaac’s Loft, and I enjoyed the virtual-reality experiences the museum offers. Making our time there even more meaningful, the staff is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and eager to enhance the kids’ experiences. One staff member used an ultrasound machine to show my kids inside their own arms, while another led them in an impressive paper-making activity.



Diggerland

Though not in Philly--or even Pennsylvania--we capped off our vacation with a day at Diggerland in southern New Jersey, a construction-themed amusement park. We had a great time overall riding and operating the construction equipment, though we found that even our 6-year-old did not meet the height requirement for riding many of them on her own, and she balked at sitting on our laps. The 3-year-old was even more limited, obviously, but had fewer objections to lap riding. For all the very cool construction rides--and yes, I loved it as much as the kids, maybe more--it was the rock-climbing wall and ropes course that most excited them in the end.