Mar 06 2009
I like chocolate. No, I love chocolate. I eat it daily, in as many forms as possible. And my favorite is probably Hershey’s chocolate. Hershey’s Syrup. Hershey’s Cocoa. Hershey’s Kisses. Hershey’s Chocolate Chips. So on a recent trip through Pennsylvania, we altered our schedule and went out of our way to visit (where else?) Hershey, Pennsylvania.
It was the biggest disappointment of our trip.
You see, I had an idea in my mind of a cute little town with a chocolate factory, where you roamed the streets and smelled the chocolate, where you wandered in and out of (what else?) chocolate shops. And as we drove into Hershey, that’s what we saw. The streets with Hershey-Kiss-shaped streetlights. The quaint downtown. The Milton Hershey school for the disadvantaged.
It wasn’t until we had wound our way past Zooamerica and the signs were still pointing us toward “Attractions” and sports arenas that I began to be suspicious. We went out of town, turned left at a stoplight onto a four-lane road, then left again into the Attraction-and-Arena area with its monstrosity of a parking lot between the sports complex, the amusement park, and Hershey’s Chocolate World.
Still unwilling to give up my ideal, we headed into Chocolate World and bought tickets for the “Really Big 3D Show.” While in the holding area before the show, we got a short history of the Hershey company and town. This was very interesting, just what I was looking for. How Milton Hershey got his start. How he learned to make chocolate. How he built the town. Ah, this was good. Then we were herded into the theater and handed our 3D glasses. The show itself was a 3D spectacular, glitzy and showy and shake-in-your-seats and get-misted-with-water-to-make-it-seem-real . . . and having absolutely nothing to do with Hershey except for having dancing Hershey Kisses.
Thankful that the show was done (and wishing I could get our money back), we headed up to the (free, thankfully) “tour.” I use the term tour very loosely, because it’s nowhere near the actual factory, and even as far as off-site tours go (Jelly Belly comes to mind), it’s not very impressive. Well, actually, it’s very impressive if you like an amusement-park-ride-type car moving you along a track, cows singing at you, and glimpses through “windows” of the chocolate-making process. You’d better look quick, because by the time the narration catches up you’ll be past it. The ride doesn’t stop for getting on or off, so you need to be sure to grab the hand of an attendant so you don’t fall as you’re rushed off the ride.
At the end of the tour, you are offered a treat, which is a nice touch. I mean, what’s a factory tour without a free sample? We were offered a new Reese’s product, and politely declined so as to protect our peanut-allergic son. The attendant kindly offered him an alternate chocolate instead: a Hershey Bliss, which is processed on the same equipment as peanuts and tree nuts. (To non-allergy parents, this may seem inconsequential, but to most allergy people, this screams “hands-off.” And it’s not like Hershey doesn’t make several treats that actually are peanut-safe . . . )
Not surprisingly, after receiving your peanut-laden treat (and now wondering if it’s safe to touch anything in the building since you know absolutely everyone that day has peanut-butter fingers), you’re dumped into the gift shop. Actually, I don’t have a gripe with this; it’s what every good tourist trap does. It was kind of fun to see how many different products they could slap a Hershey logo on and see if you’d buy it. And how many different-sized bags of Hershey Kisses they actually make. And how they try to pass things off as being a “deal” in their “outlet,” even though you know you could get them cheaper at home when they go on sale every other week.
If you haven’t had enough fun or spent enough money yet, you’re welcome to purchase a high-priced photo of yourself on the amusement-ride tour, or pay large amounts of money to make a few Hershey Kisses of your own. As for us, we headed for the rest room to rid our hands of the peanut residue, and then ran for the car as fast as we could. (Actually, the running was mostly because we’d left our coats in the car and we were cold, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?)
If you think Hershey is an ideal stop, think again. If you want a real product tour in Pennsylvania, check out Utz snacks, where you see potato chips actually being made, from start to finish. If you want a quirky American-food-product experience, stop by the Spam Museum in Minnesota, where you expect it to be a little corny but it’s endearing (and at least you’re close to the factory). If you want a look-we-built-a-tourist-trap-and-huge-gift-shop experience that’s at least in the cute downtown area of where the product was born, check out the Crayola Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania.
If you want bitter, head to Hershey.