Mar 06 2009

Bitter about Chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania

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.

Downtown Hershey PA

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.

Hershey tickets

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.

Hershey Tour cows

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.

Hershey Tour

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.

Hershey Gift Shop

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?)

Hershey Chocolate World

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.

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Published by at 7:48 pm under Eat and Sleep
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36 comments so far

36 Comments to “Bitter about Chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania”

  1. Anne on 07 Mar 2009 at 7:08 am

    We have been to Hershey on vacation and you saw the worst part of it. We enjoy the park, the gardens, the museum, the zoo, etc. Unfortunately, Chocolate World is overcrowded and over-hyped. Don’t judge all of Hershey by that one experience.

  2. minnemom on 07 Mar 2009 at 7:54 am

    Thanks; I’m glad to hear other parts of the area are worthwhile to visit. Unfortunately, it seems that the good stuff is overshadowed by Chocolate World.

    That reminds me as well: the museum was closed for renovations when we were there in December. If it had been open, we probably would have gone there instead of Chocolate World, and likely enjoyed it more.

  3. Cheryl on 07 Mar 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I hope you’ll get a chance to return to Hershey and visit the new museum — The Hershey Story, on Chocolate Avenue. Here’s the website: http://www.hersheymuseum.org/

    This museum replaces the older attraction located within the Hershey Park complex, and it’s all about the life of Milton Hershey and his career as a chocolate maker.

    I agree with Anne — there is more to see in Hershey than simply Chocolate World.

  4. Bridget Smith on 07 Mar 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Great review! Just as I remembered my tour of Hershey a few years ago. I’m still kicking myself for not having warned you. Might want to drop them a note about the peanut thing…that’s very important.

    -Bridget

    Bridget Smith’s last blog post..The Latest Discounts, Bargains and Contests at Legoland

  5. Sandra Foyt on 07 Mar 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Yes, but once you get past the whole tourist trap thing, visiting Hershey Park and Chocolate World can be fun.

    I’ve taken my Girl Scout troop to the annual Camporee, and we had a blast. The amusement part has exciting roller coasters and chillin’ water rides.

    At Chocolate World, we’ve enjoyed a Chocolate Tasting Class. It’s also the departure point for the Town Trolley Tour highlighting Milton Hershey’s life.

    No, it’s not a small town experience, but it can be an entertaining experience.

    Sandra Foyt’s last blog post..Before Blogs, There Was Graffiti

  6. Jess on 07 Mar 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Thank you for the info this is good to know! Being a fellow chocolate lover, this was a place that we’d considered visiting. Good to know that our time and money would probably be better spend somewhere else!

    Jess’s last blog post..Free Espresso for Daylight Savings at Caribou

  7. Anne Mayhew on 08 Mar 2009 at 7:19 am

    So sorry to hear about the chocolate factory. It is definitely not an experience that I am interested in. I’m sure the number of people has a lot to do with it.

    Anne Mayhew’s last blog post..Economic Trends for Martha’s Vineyard Vacation Rentals

  8. minnemom on 08 Mar 2009 at 7:27 am

    The funny thing is, it wasn’t crowded when we were there. It was a weekday morning during Christmas break, and we were able to park very close to the door and didn’t have to wait in line for anything.

    If there had been crowds, the experience would have been even worse. I don’t do well in crowds at all.

    I’ll be Martha’s Vineyard is looking even better now. :-)

  9. minnemom on 08 Mar 2009 at 7:29 am

    Cheryl, the new museum sound like it would more up our alley. I think one of the problems with our stop is that we’re not fans of big-and-flashy in general (still not sure we’ll ever take the kids to Disney) and prefer quiet, quirky, off-the-beaten-path type stops. History helps, too. :-)

  10. minnemom on 08 Mar 2009 at 7:30 am

    Sandra, I think more time in the Hershey area would have helped. We had hoped to get to the Christmas Candylane but couldn’t work it into our schedule.

  11. Judy on 08 Mar 2009 at 4:56 pm

    I grew up a few hours from Hershey Park, Years ago it was different, they would go into detail about how Hershey started you would get your choice of free samples of candy and more if you wanted. the rides were a lot of fun. I have not been back in many years, friends have told me exactly what you have said. How sad.

  12. Mara on 08 Mar 2009 at 6:00 pm

    I laughed reading this. I also think Hershey is kind of lame myself, and I’ve been to the amusement park. I like honest reviews like this!

    I’m thinking of trying a tour of the nearby Crayola factory this spring, although I’ve also been cautioned that it’s not that great and mostly just a big product placement. I wish they let you actually go into the factories to see what happens! They do this at the Ben & Jerry’s factory, and it’s very cool.

    Mara’s last blog post..They liked me! They really liked me!

  13. Carolina on 08 Mar 2009 at 7:32 pm

    So funny. I was just saying (as I watched the Ace of Cakes commercial of his show in Hershey’s) how it would be fun to go there. And then today I posted about our trip to the Jelly Belly Factory here in Fairfield. I think it’s a different experience than Hersheys, in that you actually get to see the factory process there, which is good for kids. But there are many similarities to your experience with Hershey’s, the souvenir photos, the gift shop, the giant jellybeans…

    Carolina’s last blog post..Learn a Few Things at the Jelly Belly Factory

  14. Janine (@twincident) on 08 Mar 2009 at 9:13 pm

    I’m laughing because we went to Hershey for the first time last summer and for us, Chocolate World was a perk we got for the cost of the tickets we bought for the amusement park! After a day of rides it was fun to pass through Chocolate World on our way to the car…and get some chocolate to keep me awake for the 2+ hour ride home :) .

    Janine (@twincident)’s last blog post..Playground Games I Forgot How Much I Enjoyed

  15. minnemom on 09 Mar 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Mara, don’t go to Crayola until I do my review of that one. ;-) It was the second-biggest disappointment of our trip, just behind Hershey.

    In a nutshell, it’s not very creative if you allow your kids to use crayons and markers at home. If you don’t allow your kids to make a mess at home, you’ll love it!

    Best part of Crayola was the store, because they had every Crayola product there, a lot that I hadn’t seen elsewhere.

  16. minnemom on 09 Mar 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Janine, buying some chocolate was the highlight. It just so happened that I got one Hershey bar for each of the kids and managed to sneak a few extras for hubby and me when they fell asleep in the car. :-)

  17. minnemom on 09 Mar 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Carolina, we’ve been to the Jelly Belly “tour” in Wisconsin, and I preferred it to Hershey. Like you said, somewhat similar, but at least they let you taste all the flavors and you can buy Belly Flops cheap.

    I’ve been watching those Ace of Cakes commercials too!

  18. minnemom on 09 Mar 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Judy, it sounds like it was great in the good old days. Wish I could have gone there then.

  19. BarbaraAW on 10 Mar 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I couldn’t agree MORE! I went through there last fall and share your disappointment. Even wrote a post about it myself. It was a scam…sham?

    BarbaraAW’s last blog post..Blogging Boomer Carnival #107 Is At GenPlus

  20. wandermom on 10 Mar 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Oh dear. That’s a shame. Maybe if you make it to Seattle I can take you to visit Theo’s Chocolate? http://www.theochocolate.com/
    It’s a local chocolate factory where they run daily tours of the facility – you actually see chocolate being made AND get to taste some pretty special chocolate with nary a peanut in sight.

    wandermom’s last blog post..5 Tips for Family Travel Budgeting In Difficult Economic Times

  21. minnemom on 11 Mar 2009 at 6:23 am

    Theo’s Chocolate sounds wonderful! We’ve thought of touring other small chocolate shops but the peanuts always scare us away.

  22. Hip Mom's Guide on 12 Mar 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks for this forthright review. My in-laws live in PA and we’re trying to narrow the possibilities for good day trips when we visit. Glossy brochures and travel books that say everything is “great,” don’t help. At least this gives us food for thought. Ummm…chocolate for thought? (Doesn’t really work, does it?)

    Hip Mom’s Guide’s last blog post..Simple Thoughts About the Economy

  23. minnemom on 12 Mar 2009 at 7:46 pm

    In the days and weeks to come I’ll be posting the things we actually enjoyed in Pennsylvania. There were a lot of them, and not all the ones you’d expect.

  24. Kevin Buck on 13 Mar 2009 at 4:01 pm

    As a chocolatier I was really disappointed in the factory tour. After having discovered how superior the chocolates of Europe are I don’t think Hersey’s will really be around for much longer. Theo’s is way better also.

  25. Pamela Kramer on 14 Mar 2009 at 11:10 am

    I’m really surprised by your review. We went about 10 years ago though. Our family had a great time.

    Pamela Kramer’s last blog post..Today’s Quote

  26. The Mother on 17 Mar 2009 at 8:40 am

    That’s really too bad. I remember Hershey so fondly from my childhood. We haven’t had a chance to get there with my kids, so I didn’t realize that it had changed so much.

    The Mother’s last blog post..The Gene for Common Sense is on the X Chromosome

  27. bipolar2 on 06 Apr 2009 at 11:13 am

    You like their chocolate? Now that’s disappointing

  28. Jesilyn on 07 Apr 2009 at 10:03 pm

    A friend of mine called the other day and said they were in Hersheys, and I told him he apsolutley had to check out the “free” attraction. I told him about the amazing trip my father had taken me on in 1986 when I was a young girl. Unfortunately, I had no idea how much things had changed until I tried to show my family a virtual tour. To say the least I can understand your disappointment! Now that I know what they have done to the place I once charished, I am heartbroken. Sadly, I’ve been looking for photos, videos etc that would show my kids the way things were and that is how I found your entry. (PS. For the record, they always have had crazy music, and have always dumped visitors off in the gift shop where they are overwhelmed w/ high priced products.)

  29. Lori on 29 Apr 2009 at 7:20 pm

    I live about an hour from Hershey, close to King of Prussia, and have been to Hershey many times. I find it to be a very endearing town but you have to know where to go of course. We’ve stayed at the beautiful Hotel Hershey and Spa, a little pricey, but well worth the splurge once in a while and visited their equally beautiful gardens. We also went to The Hershey Chocolate World Tour which was always a fun excursion for us when we were kids but now as adults not so much. Also, a favorite restaurant my husband and I like (just outside of Hershey) is the Hershey Cafe, very quaint and delicious-a must. I’ve found it’s always best to check with the “locals” about what to see rather than the “tourbooks”. Sorry your Hershey tour was so bitterly disappointing. Maybe you will one day visit again and check out these spots I’ve mentioned.

    Lori

  30. minnemom on 26 May 2009 at 8:34 pm

    An additional comment got jumbled into the comments for this post: Independence Hall.

  31. Barbara on 15 Jun 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I am really sorry that you had such a disappointing visit in Hershey. The wind must have been blowing the wrong way for you that day, because the chocolate factory does make the whole town smell wonderful. Because of the number of visitors to the town and health regulations, the factory no longer offers tours in the actual factory, so the simulated factory tour is what is offered for the over 2 million visitors each year. The kids (which are many) seem to enjoy the singing cows. I particularly find them amusing.

    And in case you are a history buff, the new Hershey Story will give you a much better idea of who Milton Hershey was, a philantropist and entrepenuer, the likes of which we seldom see today. This amazing man, built this amazing town with a park (Hersheypark) just for his employees. He started the Hershey School for orphaned boys but it now serves underprivileged students, both male and female, and pays for every student’s higher education in college or trade school. All of this is funded by the Hershey Trust which is funded again by the The Hershey Company. Look it up history buffs.

    So next time you wish for some foreign chocolate company to do well and prosper, remember Milton Hershey, who cared for his employees and children and still to this day leaves an American legacy of love. Hershey has changed but maybe it’s because we have all changed and the children and families who come to Hershey expect even more.

  32. Vicki on 08 Jul 2009 at 1:48 pm

    An alternate opinion:

    My thoughts of Hershey were completely different. We live in CA and have visited 3 times over the past 15 years; all visits were, in the opinion of my kids and myself, well worth it. On the last visit, April 2009, my son narrated a 10 minute video on the life of Milton Hershey (school project) so we made stops at Homestead House, Hershey’s first school, the new (and totally AWESOME) Museum, as well as Chocolate World (we skipped the amusement park – living by Disneyland sort of spoils us). It was crowded and there were plenty for sale, but we walked in and out spending a total of $15 (t-shirt).

    The ride was a highlight for my 9 yr old son and we found it informative…really. It was presented in a juvenille format (could’ve done w/out so much of the singing cows and we edited most of them out of our video) but there was useful info from start to finish on how chocolate is made. My son loved how the tunnel felt hot when we went through the “roaster” and the smell of chocolate during the stirring was mouth-watering.

    We took pictures of the “world’s largest chocolate bar” and “world’s largest chocolate kiss” in the gift shop (I’m sure they aren’t the actual largest in the world at all, but they were GIANT).

    As for the Crayola Factory, it is another fun stop for us. We enjoyed the demonstration about the making of a crayon and marker, w/ my son having fun rolling his own paper cover on his newly made crayon. He enjoyed using the special coins they gave him to put in the machine for his marker and crayon too. True, many of the crafts available you can easily be done at home, but we don’t have a drying oven like that and my son loved watching his creation go through. He also liked playing w/ the model magic (using the markers to change it’s colors as they showed him) that was also free using his special coin (mine actually). The model magic came in handy on the flight home.

    BUT – our absolute FAVORITE part of Easton, PA was not the Crayola Factory – but the Canal Museum above it. My son walked his barge around and around the water-filled canal and learned how a locke works with the hands-on activities there. We left there and followed the directions of one of the docents and visited the Lehigh Canal and Lockhouse – that was just breathtaking! They give canal rides in a mule-drawn boat, but because it was closed at the time,we didn’t ride it. We did see the locke, the dog-house holding the gears and saw the close proximity to the Lehigh River…so we could SEE how the whole process works. Water from the river fed into the canal through the locke system – absolutely priceless. No classroom or book could have conveyed the idea as well. Info on the canal is here: http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~carrleith/lehighcanal16.html

    Here are a couple photos we took of the trip: http://s386.photobucket.com/albums/oo301/vmoreno4/Lehigh%20Canal/

    We found both Hershey and Easton well worth our time. The Hershey museum has an interactive map that is being used as a model for new museums the world over. It’s too complicated to put in this review, but if you have a minute, visit the site and read about it. It’s just unbelievable how it works, projecting the image of your choice on the opposite wall. We learned Hershey was all set to sail the infamous Titanic when we saw the $300 signed check he’s made out the the White Star Shipping Company projected up on the wall. Fortunately, business in New York kept him from making the trip.

    I just wanted to share my thoughts on Hershey and Crayola, since they were so different from the original viewpoint, in the hopes others might decide to give it a chance to prove a worthwhile venture!

  33. minnemom on 08 Jul 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Vicki,

    Thanks for your perspective about Hershey and Easton. It’s always useful to have another viewpoint.

    I wish the Hershey Museum would have been open when we were there (we were a few weeks early). I think it would have been more of what we were looking for in our Hershey experience.

    Our kids loved the National Canal Museum as well.

    Thanks for chiming in.

    Linda

  34. Tim on 10 Aug 2009 at 8:50 pm

    We’re heading off to PA in a couple weeks. Hershey (and Crayola) are both on the to-do list.

    In reading your article, it seems your biggest “disappointment” was that they served a peanut product.

    Like you, I’d much prefer a ‘real’ factory tour, but if they had one, my 2 and 4yo’s probably wouldn’t be allowed anyway (which is why we can’t do Harley Davidson in York…) As long as the kids can get an idea where the chocolate comes from, that seems fine by me.

    Anyway, maybe I’ll stop back in a few weeks and let you know how I felt :)

  35. minnemom on 10 Aug 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Tim, I was definitely disappointed about the peanut thing, because I’ve heard in allergy circles that Hershey is one of the few companies that can be trusted with allergy labeling, and is known for being knowledgeable about allergies at their attractions.

    My biggest disappointment, however, was that Chocolate World was just a big commercial enterprise. In hindsight, from comments I’ve read from others, it sounds like the new Hershey museum is what I was looking for, but it wasn’t yet open when we were there.

    I’ll look forward to hearing about your experience. One person’s disappointment is another’s joy. Please report back.

  36. Kim on 07 Jan 2010 at 2:45 am

    If people only knew half the truth about “The Hershey Story”….The latest Chocolate World is an even bigger sham than the last version. A lot of what you see in the newest version is very inaccurate. Part of the problem is, that a lot of the original “processes” do not even exist anymore. Hershey’s woes have more to do with the fact that they keep trying to cheap-out on everything, and messing with products that were great at one time. I could go on and on about this….Next, you are correct that Milton Hershey built the Park for his employees. The employees at one time were admitted for free. Those days are way gone. The hershey Company felt generous in giving us one day a year (on mother’s day of all days) of free admittance. Most employees did not receive enough passes to include their whole family, and mom. The once a year free day then was reduced to every other year. Noe, it doesn’t exist at all. Milton Hershey’s legacy IS NOT ALIVE AND WELL DESPITE WHAT HERSHEY WOULD LIKE YOU TO BELIEVE, OR THE FANTASY THEY TRY TO PORTRAY!Milton Hershey’s legacy is dead and buried right along with Milton Hershey himself. ……..

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