HERSHEY, Pa. - For a blissful autumn jaunt less than two hours from Baltimore, take a leisurely drive north where the foliage is in full blush, and the scent of chocolate tinges the air.
If you last visited Hershey as a child or have yet to experience the pleasures of Chocolate Town U.S.A., now is the perfect time of year.
Days are gloriously crisp, summer crowds have thinned, and Halloween festivities are in full swing. At the end of October, Hershey and its famous park turn "spook-tacular," with an array of entertainment, fall food, kids activities, themed rides and more.
"Halloween is a big festive occasion at Hershey," says bus driver Martha Shelly, a retiree who works part time, shuttling visitors between hotels and attractions. "The rides are open at the park, and it's beautifully decorated. Hershey does it right."
Indeed, there's something charmingly Old World about Hershey (located in the Central Pennsylvania municipality of Derry Township), with its rolling hills, dairy farms, thoroughfares named Chocolate Avenue, and street lamps shaped like Hershey's Kisses.
Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, this "model" factory town was founded by confectioner/entrepreneur Milton S. Hershey. He was raised in a Mennonite community not far from where he later built the world's largest modern chocolate factory.
He amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune mass-producing the milk chocolate bar, Kisses, baking chocolate and cocoa. In 1907, he opened HersheyPark, then a woodsy retreat for company workers and their families. Today, the amusement park anchors one of America's leading family-friendly destinations.
The sprawling facility has more than 60 rides and attractions (including nine roller coasters and water drenchers), games, an amphitheater, live performing pavilions and an adjacent zoo.
The stamp of Milton Hershey's legacy remains. Though not everything in town is connected to the company, over the years the food/entertainment conglomerate has built hotels, a convention center, golf courses, a theater, museum, gardens, a stadium and sports arena, plus a highly regarded school (once for orphan boys) that educates underprivileged children.
The philanthropy seems to underscore a basic philosophy that permeates "the Sweetest Place on Earth" -basically, to make people happy, especially youth.
They ply you with treats. Folks smile a lot. Fun is highly encouraged.
Maybe everyplace can't be like Hershey, but in today's world, what it offers is comforting.
What to see
HersheyPark (100 Hersheypark Drive, 717-534-3900): Don your favorite costume for Halloween revelry during HersheyPark in the Dark - which features everything from spooky storytelling to decorated village shops and rides. Next door at 11-acre ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park (717-534-3860), Creatures of the Night is a nocturnal peek inside the dwelling of 200 animals, including a new Canadian lynx named Blondie. A thrilling view: seeing the park and town from atop the 330-foot-tall Kissing Tower. Park and zoo open weekends through Nov. 2.
Hershey's Chocolate World (Park Boulevard, 717-534-4900): A bonanza of candy, ice cream, trinkets, freshly prepared food and baked goods, toys and apparel. Bring the kids inside for trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities. Adults and kids will enjoy a tour ride through a simulated factory that uncovers the chocolate-making process; check out the animated, interactive Really Big 3-D Show - sheer Hollywood fantasy. Got a sweet tooth? Hershey's Chocolate Town Cafe has goodies like the "HersheyPark Happy Chocolate Cake": rich chocolate cake, chocolate butter cream icing, topped with Kisses with almonds.
Hershey Museum (170 W. Hersheypark Drive, 717-534-3439): A peek inside Milton Hershey's life and confectionery empire. Learn the origins of those famed candy Kisses, view 1930s factory machinery and discover Hershey's cocoa bean and sugar history (linked to Cuba and Africa). The museum also boasts Pennsylvania Dutch craft collections and American Indian artifacts.
Hershey Golf Club (1000 E. Derry Road, 717-533-2360): In 1930, Milton Hershey opened an elegant country club, which has since become a championship golf facility. It offers private and public courses (72 holes), and fairways that have been graced by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and other golf legends.
Hershey Gardens (170 Hotel Road, 717-534-3492): A botanical gem with 7,000 roses (nearly 300 varieties), an outdoor butterfly house and a children's garden. Open until Oct. 31.
Hershey Trolley Works (buy tickets inside Hershey's Chocolate World, 717-533-3000): Singing conductors and a one-of-a-kind trolley ride through the town built on yummy treats. Stops include Milton and Catherine Hershey's mansion and the chocolate manufacturing company.
The Outlets at Hershey (Hersheypark Drive, one block east of HersheyPark and Hershey's Chocolate World, 717-520-1236): For shoppers or anyone who craves variety. Liz Claiborne, Nautica, Reebok and dozens of other outlet stores. For hungry shoppers, Bella Luna offers hand-tossed brick-oven pizza, salads and sandwiches.
Where to stay
Hershey Lodge & Convention Center (West Chocolate Avenue and University Drive, 717-533-3311): Particularly appealing to families, this sprawling resort/convention complex boasts nearly 700 rooms, athletic facilities and pools. The cozy yet bustling lobby has a fireplace, a half-dozen eateries (Hershey Grill, Fireside Steakhouse, etc.) and gift shops jampacked with postcards, jewelry, munchies and (of course) chocolate souvenirs. Halloween packages include accommodations, breakfast with Hershey's characters, and entry to attractions.
The Hotel Hershey (100 Hotel Road, 717-533-2171): In the 1930s, Milton Hershey built this 234-room hotel set on 300 scenic acres in the grand style of those he and his wife visited in the Mediterranean. Besides great dining (five restaurants including the four-star Circular Dining Room), visitors can enjoy golf and elegant shops with everything from Gucci to Swarovski crystal. On Oct. 26, the hotel will present A Chilling Day With Poe where guests can enjoy a Tell-Tale Tea or gourmet Poetic Dinner while an actor weaves the fearsome tales of Baltimore literary icon Edgar Allan Poe.
The Spa at Hotel Hershey (100 Hotel Road, 717-772-9988): Secluded inside the Hotel Hershey, this 17,000-square-foot spa is a monument to pampered pleasure. European-style treatments range from the whipped cocoa bath to the "Chocolate Dipped Strawberry," a strawberry parfait scrub followed by a chocolate fondue wrap.
Hershey is approximately 90 minutes from Baltimore by car. Take Interstate 83 North to Route 322 at Harrisburg. Follow Route 322 East to Hershey. AMTRAK trains travel to nearby Harrisburg (about 12 miles from Hershey). Hershey offers shuttle service from the station. Taxicabs are also available.
Park admission is free for Halloween weekends, but visitors must pay as they go for Zoo- America and select entertainment/rides. For details call 800-HERSHEY or www. hersheypa.com. For AMTRAK train schedules, call 800-USA-RAIL.