We took a short vacation to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the end of August. There is so much to do in Harrisburg, it was the perfect place for us to visit, especially since it is only about 4 hours away from our home in New York State. We have been visiting the Harrisburg/Hershey area with our kids for years. Our oldest kids loved going to Hershey Park and other nearby attractions like Lake Tobias Wildlife Park every summer.
We had not visited the area for a few years, and it was high time for a vacation to the sweetest place on Earth and beyond. Working together with the Visit Hershey & Harrisburg Tourism Bureau, they helped us select the attractions that best suited our family’s tastes, and then created a jam-packed itinerary for us. They also helped us find accommodations in the Harrisburg area that had ample parking and easy access to all the attractions.
We stayed at the Hotel Indigo in Harrisburg. Honestly, we were on the go from early morning until late at night and spent very little time in the hotel. We did appreciate that there was a large parking lot, so we did not have to deal with parking garages or pay for parking as we have done in the past with hotels located in downtown Harrisburg. The Hotel Indigo is new, there were a few issues that I chalked up to growing pains. All in all, it was a good experience for what we needed, I will write more about the hotel in a future post.
National Civil War Museum
Our first stop was the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. The museum is located up a long driveway that leads to a large parking area. The grounds are clean and picturesque. Inside there is a large gift shop where we picked up our tour tickets for a self guided tour.
The museum has 2 levels and we were directed to start upstairs armed with our map. The museum does not allow video or flash photography. This museum is filled with so many exhibits, many hands-on and others that are made up of life size models that add an incredible level of realism.
One of our kids’ favorite exhibits was the medical scene where the army medics were in the middle of performing a leg amputation on a wounded soldier.
The slavery exhibits were very moving, and there were videos, sounds effects and life size displays throughout.
You could easily spend several hours to see everything.At the very least, you should block out about 2 hours. Check out my video slide show of our visit below.
Whitaker Center’s Harsco Science Center
Our second stop was the Whitaker Center’s Harsco Science Center in downtown Harrisburg. The Science Center allows kids to explore and get up close and personal with all kinds of exhibits as well as letting them perform all kinds of experiments. The hurricane simulator was a huge hit with my boys and my husband too! There was so much to do and see. You can easily spend a day there and not run out of things to do.
Unfortunately, we only had a couple of hours to devote to the center, but we made the most of it and packed a tremendous amount of hands-on fun and learning into those hours. The Whitaker Center is located in downtown Harrisburg and we did find metered parking outside. More to come in a later post. Check out more in our video below.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
After the Whitaker Center we set off to Hershey’s Chocolate World which was about 15 minutes away. Once there, we scheduled our Hershey Trolley Works Tour . There are a couple of different trolley tours you can choose from, but we picked the longer ride with more history of Milton Hershey and more candy!
The trolley is delightful and very vintage with wooden bench seats. It is actually a trolley bus, so it rides directly on the road and not a track. We had a very animated conductor and tour guide which made our experience very informative and fun. We had a great group of fellow passengers who made the tour even more fun. We learned so much about the Milton Hershey family, the Hershey School and of course the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory and Hershey Park.
When our tour was over, we went back inside Hershey’s Chocolate World to embark on the Hershey’s Chocolate Tour, which I have loved since the first time I went on it, way back in 1988! It is a fun tour and our family rode together in a moving car that took us along a track, as we learned about how Hershey’s chocolate is made. Before the ride we posed for 2 photos, and at the end we presented with a souvenir photo book that we purchased. The tour itself is free, at the end we were each given a snack size Hershey Bar. Guests can take the tour as many times as they like.
The Chocolate Tasting Experience
After that, we were off to the Chocolate Tasting Experience. There is a fee required to attend the tasting and they are held several times throughout the day and evening. We were ushered into what reminded me of a college lecture hall, only not as large.
There were rows of narrow tables with chairs, a center aisle and a stage area at the front with a video screen. The tables were set so all of the participants had a bottle of water, a small brown paper gift bag, an informative placemat, a small cup of real chocolate nibs and a Hershey’s Kiss. There were table top tablet kiosks that we used to select the flavors we tasted as we sampled the chocolate.
The host explained a bit about different kinds of chocolate and the unsweetened chocolate nibs that were in front of us. He invited us to try the nibs and then the Hershey’s Kiss. After that, it was time to get serious. He explained the water was to rinse our pallet between chocolates. He then showed us a video that explained how to correctly taste chocolate with all of our senses.
After the video, we were instructed to empty our bag which contained 4 different chocolates. We were guided through tasting each chocolate one at a time. Upon tasting each chocolate we paid careful attention to the different flavors, and then entered them on the kiosk. Once everyone in the room had entered their flavors, they were shown on the video screen. At the end, we were given certificates declaring us official Hershey’s Chocolate Tasters along with a full size Hershey bar.
Create Your Own Candy Bar
Now that we had tasted the chocolate, it was time to make the chocolate. We headed off to the Create Your Own Candy Bar Activity. This is another paid attraction that I highly recommend. Create Your Own Candy Bar takes place at certain times throughout the day and evening. As we stood on the line we were given aprons and hair caps. Even infants have to wear the hair caps because of the strict regulations.On the plus side, they make for great photo ops.
Once our aprons and hair caps were in place, we were led into an area with several kiosks where we scanned our tickets and entered our name and email address. Then it was on to the next area of kiosks where we selected the kind of chocolate bar we wanted to make. The fist step was to choose milk chocolate or white chocolate for the actual bar. We then chose up to three toppings like pretzels, crisp rice, Heath toffee pieces, chocolate chips and more. All bars are encased in delicious Hershey’s milk chocolate. We were able to add colored sprinkles to the top for a festive touch if we wanted.
When we were finished customizing our chocolate bars, it was time to head off to the assembly line, where we were able to watch every step of the manufacturing process. This part was really fun, especially for our kids, who were able to see their name and their chocolate bar as it moved along. When finished, our bars were boxed and then placed in a Hershey’s embossed tin box. At a final kiosk we were able to design the special cardboard sleeve that goes over the tin box.
We ended up doing this attraction again a couple of days later, because we wanted to make custom chocolate bars for our older kids who were not able to join us. Everyone was so happy with their chocolate bars, and I have to say, the bars were absolutely decadent and delicious. The chocolate covering made them absolutely delectable!
We browsed the gift store where the kids each choose a Hershey truck and car set, and then we headed off to get a very late dinner. We were all very tired, as it had been a very full day including our drive to Harrisburg.
The next day, we set off for Hersheypark. The Park has been greatly expanded since my last time here with my older kids. They have added an entire Boardwalk area with tons of water rides, splash areas and more. The addition of this area makes it very hard to do the entire park in 1 or 2 days. You can easily spend an entire day in the Boardwalk area alone.
It was very hot when we were there, and we were so lucky that they weather was nice and sunny because the summer was the rainiest one I remember. In fact, just a few weeks earlier, the area experienced such severe flooding, Hersheypark had to close for at least a day.
Since it was so hot, my kids wanted to spend almost the entire day at the Boardwalk until it closed at 6 pm. After changing, we headed off to check out the rest of the park which closes much later.
The lines for food were the only thing that was unnerving, especially since we had bought the all day dining deal. My husband literally spent 45 minutes online to get food every time. It was not only us, there were dozens of other guests who were very disappointed with the wait times coupled with many restaurants that were listed on the plan being closed.
I have to say, guest services was very receptive and really wanted to make things right. They talked with us at the end of the night and refunded our money because of the fiasco. I do recommend the Souvenir cups apologized to us and refunded our passes because of the issues. This is the only thing I would not recommend even though you might have better luck during the week or at less busy times.
I highly recommend the souvenir cup deal that you buy for one price and are able to have refilled for free with soft drinks or ICEE for 36 hours after purchase and 99 cents after that. Our cups worked for both days for free refills including ICEEs. Free ice water is available throughout the park.
The next day was devoted to Hershey Park as well. It was another hot, sunny day, and our kids wanted to go right to the Boardwalk area. We spent the next several hours there swimming in the wave pool called The Coast, floating on the lazy river called the Intercoastal Waterway, riding the exciting tube slides and water rollercoaster and playing in the immense splash area that is filled with slides, fun structures and of course, two huge buckets that dump water on everyone down below. The Boardwalk has attractions for kids and adults of all ages.
When you enter Hersheypark there is an area where you can measure your children, to see where they fall in height. Everyone’s height correlates to a candy. Every ride has a sign in front that shows which “candies”the ride is suitable for. This makes it easy to see if your child is big enough or too big to ride. There are many rides that adults and kids can go on together, this makes it easy to accompany smaller children.
You can check out a slide show from our Hersheypark trip below. We also have and will be adding more videos and slide shows to our YouTube Channel, so be sure to check it all out to see more.
When we were done at The Boardwalk, we headed off to walk thru ZooAmerica, the zoo at Hersheypark that you can access from the park, and is included with your Hersheypark admission. We walked around looking at the animals. They have nice walkways and exhibits. The animals are divided into groups based on where they live and the kind of animal they are. After ZooAmerica, we ate at a venue in the park that was cafeteria style and had a variety of foods. We were able to get everything from Pizza to Burrito Bowl to Cheesesteaks. It was nice, because everyone got what they wanted, and they also filled our souvenir cups for free.
On one of our previous trips to Hersheypark with my older kids, we incredibly won not one, but two of those enormous black bears at a game where you try to ring the neck of a glass bottle with a plastic ring. We were able to get a bucket of rings for $5. When my four-year old was upset because he was too small to ride the Great Bear roller coaster, I suggested we try our hand at the game while waiting for his dad and siblings to get off the ride. I was shocked when my four-year old tossed a ring from the bucket right onto the neck of a bottle winning a huge bear.
Later that day, my 9-year-old wanted to try, so I bought one more bucket. That time, it was me that got the ring on the neck of the bottle winning another huge bear. We were certainly glad we had a 7 passenger van, because we had 2 extra passengers on the way home.
My younger boys love those bears and that story, so when we came upon the same game in the same spot, they had to try their hand at it. A bucket of rings was still only $5 and my husband, myself and our two boys started tossing the rings. Within the first few, our 11-year-old got a ring on a bottle (it happened to be one of the special color bottles).
The special bottle meant he won one of the rare jumbo unicorns. However, they were very pink and he really wanted a bear, so they let him get the bear. He was so proud of himself, and his little brother was too! It must be a family tradition for us, because again we had an extra passenger riding home in the back seat of our minivan.
Indian Echo Caverns
We stayed at the park until it closed at 11 pm and then returned to the hotel. The next morning, we set out to visit Indian Echo Caverns in Hummelstown, which is a few minutes outside of Hershey. First stop was the gift shop to sign up for our tour, and our kids was enthralled with all the crystals. They also each had to have a miners hard hat with a light that they wore on our cavern tour. Needless to say, we dropped about $100 in the gift shop.
It was not long before we were called for our tour. Our tour guide was enthusiastic and informative. He took us through the caverns, and entertained us with stories and history. The caverns are amazing! Lots of great photo ops and stellar views. Be aware there are many stairs to climb to go down to the cavern entrance, there are steps to climb in the caverns and upon exiting you need to climb up the stairs again. You cannot bring strollers in the caverns either.
When we emerged from the caverns, we visited the animals on the grounds. They have goats and a turkey, some alpacas and birds of prey. There is a large playground area and picnic tables, if you want to bring a lunch. We had to move right on because we were off to Lake Tobias Wildlife Park. Check out the video below to see more.
Lake Tobias Wildlife Park
We grabbed some lunch on the road, and drove about 30 minutes to Halifax, Pennsylvania where Lake Tobias is located. We discovered Lake Tobias years ago when our oldest three children were young and it made quite and impression on us. I was absolutely astounded at how much the park has grown.
They have so many animals now! Beyond that, they have the most natural and beautiful habitats for the Lions, Tigers, Bears and more. Everything is so clean including the reptiles and exotics building, where we saw marmosets, a sloth, all kinds of snakes, alligators, lizards, birds and more. Once more, I was impressed with just how pristine this area was and best of all, there were no funky smells.
Lake Tobias has a petting zoo as well as lots of other animals you can pet like zebras and donkeys throughout the park. A few weeks after our visit they added 2 young giraffes to their menagerie.
The safari ride is much like we remembered, they used sawed off school buses as their safari trucks and drive you out onto their many acres where you get up close and personal with bison, emu, Asian water buffalo, antelope and more who roam freely. You can purchase some snacks like carrots and pellets to feed the animals on the safari. The animals come right up to the safari bus and it is quite amazing! Our kids were so excited and had a blast!
There is a picnic area as well if you want to bring a lunch. Of course, our visit was not complete without a visit to the gift shop where our boys found a couple of plush bear friends to join our huge bear in the back seat. They also selected some more crystals and a few other items. We did get a free Lake Tobias tote bag for spending over $50, so yeah!
Here is a video of our time at Lake Tobias:
We loaded into our van and headed back to Hershey’s Chocolate World, to the Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction, so we could make custom bars for our older kids. We ended up doing the Chocolate Tasting Experience again as well, but this time at the end, we received a snack size bar instead of the full size we got the first time. I am not sure what is the standard size candy given out now. If you have been to the Chocolate Tasting Experience, let me know what you got at the end.
Everyone was starving when we finished, so we headed off to eat at Houlihans in downtown Hershey. We had a wonderful dinner with a friendly server, great food and comfortable atmosphere. Another day in the books, and we were ready to load up and make the trek home. I will post more about each specific part of our trip, but wanted to document our entire trip in this comprehensive post.
If you have any questions, please ask in the comments. You can also check out our reviews on TripAdvisor. Have you been to the Hershey Harrisburg area? Let me know in the comments.