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Hershey Park

This past month, my blended family of five kids took a road trip down to Hershey, PA and Lancaster, PA.  This really is the perfect “family” vacation as there’s something for everyone.  And, with a blended family of five kids, that was a top priority!  I’m actually surprised that, having grown up on the east coast, I never visited the area.  I had no idea what I was missing!

We started out at the Dutch Wonderland amusement park (www.dutchwonderland.com )  This is without a doubt one of the best attractions I’ve come across for the under 12 crowd.  It’s been around for generations but is now owned by Hershey.  It’s clean, safe, fun and affordable – what more could you ask for?  There’s a great waterpark area and my two seven year-olds rode one of the rides seven times!  Definitely a must if you have younger kids.

From there we left for Hershey, PA (www.hotelhershey.com).    Yes, it really is the sweetest place on earth!  I actually never knew the story of Milton Hershey but he was quite a guy.  He actually built Hershey Park for the enjoyment of his employees.  And the Hotel Hershey is something that must be experienced at least once.  I think the thing that impressed me the most was the friendliness of the entire staff.  Some of them have literally been there for generations.  Of course, my kids favorite part is  that each guest receives a chocolate bar when checking into the hotel!  I treated myself to a cocoa facial at the spa – that is something every mom deserves.

Hershey Park (www.hersheypark.com) itself is incredible.  There’s a great waterpark area and you can rent a cabana on the boardwalk for the day which gives the family a place to relax.  The kids loved seeing all of the characters walking around and even danced with Mr. Swizzle.  What’s great about the park is that the big kid rides are interspersed with the little kids rides so no dividing up.  We were all able to stay together the entire time which was nice.  The newest attraction that is a must for everyone is the Build Your Own Chocolate Bar at the Chocolate Factory.  Everyone dons hair nets, creates their own candy bar and watches it move down the assembly belt as it’s created, and then designs the outside wrapper.  Yes, the kids did OD on chocolate!  This really is a terrific place for the entire family to visit!

After that, it was back to Lancaster, PA.  This was educational not just for the kids but the grown-ups as well.  We toured the Lancaster Market (www.centralmarketlancaster.com) which is the country’s oldest continuously running farmer’s market.  All of us got to sample some amazing fresh produce and, of course, some Long Johns (which are a doughnuts!)

Our next stop was the Strasburg Railroad (www.strasburgrailroad.com.)  Whether you’re a train enthusiast or not, the first glimpse of the beautifully restored steam engine and authentic wooden passenger cars will take your breath away. You can feel the sense of history as people wait at the station to board the train.   Along the 45-minute trip, you’ll get to see the Pennsylvania Dutch Countryside up close. My kids were fascinated when they pointed out the small building that was the Amish school for grades 1 – 8 and seeing some of the young boys farming. We then got to stop in Paradise, PA (yes, I did visit Paradise on my trip!) and then on the way back you can disembark and have a picnic. My 4 year-old was particularly excited when she learned that her good friend Thomas the Tank Engine makes stops in Strasburg and she could ride a train pulled by him!  For the adults, there’s a beautiful First-Class Parlor Car and you can book a trip for one of their wine and cheese tastings. You can also take a behind-the-scenes tour to see steam engines being built, restored and refurbished.

The next stop was the Amish Village. All of the kids were absolutely fascinated by the Amish from the moment we arrived in Lancaster. Shane Ackerman, the owner of the Village, was a wonderful tour guide and showed us some of the tools that are used even today to tend the crops and the kids even got to feed some very active goats (mom passed on this one!) Once again, this was an eye-opening experience for the kids as they got to sit in the one-room school house that services 1st – 8th grade. After that, some will go on to a trade school but others are off to work. They learned that the school room is arranged in order of age so that the older ones sit behind the younger ones to help. My daughter whispered to me that she wanted to give them money. When I asked her why, she explained that they must be poor if they don’t have TVs, cell phones, IPods, Gameboys or any of the other things she’s accustomed to. All of them were shocked when I explained that they actually choose to live without these accessories that our kids (and us!) consider natural parts of everyday life. This was probably the most important life lesson we all could learn – it’s not about “stuff.”

Without a doubt this is a great trip for the entire family.  Check out the various website for deals and promotions.

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