A rainy forecast keeps the crowds away at Pennsylvania's Hersheypark
Written by Robert Niles
HERSHEY, Pa. — There's little better than a torrent of rain and a storm-filled forecast to keep crowds away, and lines short, at a theme park. The weather, and the meteorologists, came through for us on our planned visit to Hersheypark today.
We arrived in Hershey last night under cover of an Old Testament, underwear-soaking rain. The forecast called for continued rain today, from the before the park's 10am opening through late afternoon. We'd decided that if the rain continued, we'd just hang out in our hotel room until lunch time, then head over to the park's Chocolate World exhibit before tackling the park later in the days, when the rain began to clear.
Morning brought clouds, but no rain. The forecast flipped, with no precipitation called for the morning, but storms rolling in for the afternoon. So we flipped our plans, too, and headed out to the park for opening.
It's Christmas in July this month at Hersheypark
Fortunately for us, not that many people decided to do the same. We found short waits throughout the day — topping out at 20 minutes for Fahrenheit. On most rides, we walked straight into the loading area, sometimes getting the entire ride to ourselves.
Granted, Hersheypark's got plenty to occupy a crowd, with more than 60 attractions, including dozens of waterslides and kiddie rides to supplement the park's roller coasters and carnival rides. Only the park's Tidal Force flume ride was closed for the day, and all the coasters I rode had at least two trains running, keeping wait times minimal to nonexistent for those of us who took our chances with the skies.
You won't find estimated wait times posted at the entrances to any Hersheypark attractions, but the park offers a free smartphone app with live wait times, which I used throughout our visit. With just a 10-minute wait advertised, I decided to start with the park's newest ride, Skyrush, the Intamin "wing" coaster that debuted last year.
Skyrush kicks off with a brisk run up its 200-foot lift, before diving into a series of dips and twists that will leave riders flying from their seats. Which could be great, if it weren't for the ride's lapbar restraint system, which has earned the coaster the derisive nickname "Thigh Crush" from riders exiting with aching legs. I felt the sting of the lapbar twice on the ride, as the coaster pulled lateral G's during airtime crests, pushing my legs up against the lapbar. But that wasn't my greatest complaint with the ride. For a new steel coaster, this one's rougher than a 20-year-old woodie, knocking my whole body around the seat throughout the ride.
I rode in one of the outside seats, which extend beyond the train's floor. Unlike B&M wing coasters, only the outer two seats in each four-seat row extend beyond the track on these trains. The center two seats sit atop the track, above the outer seats, making the seating configuration more like B&M's Diamondback than Gatekeeper or Arrow/Six Flags' X2.
But enough about the lowlight of the day. Let's get to the tasty stuff. (Forgive me.) For our next stop, we opted for the park's one dark ride, the Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge.
Other readers have given this shooter poor marks, but with no wait to get on, I enjoyed the use of dips and speed tunnel effects on the ride, in addition to being able to see my laser "shot" against the wall, making it easier to adjust my aim and hit more targets. I led our car with 73,560 points, as our "Team Chocolate" beat "Team Peanut Butter" in the other car. Don't expect the immersive story beyond the game that you'll find in Universal's Men in Black or even Disney's Buzz Lightyear rides. I couldn't tell you about a narrative on the ride beyond the fact that a couple of animatronic sportscasters showed up a few times in the ride to tell us who was winning, and that spinning cut-outs of surfers and skateboarders occasionally blocked the targets. But it's a fun shooter, plus a cool ride in the dark on a steamy, sunny day. That'll do.
Let's get to what Theme Park Insider readers have rated the best ride at Hersheypark: Lightning Racer.
The GCI wooden racing coaster, which debuted in 2000, runs nearly 3,400 feet and over 51 mph on each track, which are named Thunder and Lightning. My son and I walked straight into the station to discover no one waiting on the Thunder side, allowing us to walk right into the front seat, where we'd ride as the only passengers on the entire train.
What a delightful ride! Smoother and steeper than a typical woodie, Lightning Racer offers great views of the entire park, as well as some fun visuals as the two tracks turn to face each other, allowing the coasters to "battle." We loved our ride so much that we ran through the exit to get right back on the Lightning side. This time, we had to wait one whole train to get the front seat. And two other people rode in the back seat, so we didn't get the train to ourselves. (Sniff!)
Yeah, I'm glad that we didn't spend the money for a front of the line pass today.
I also walked right into the station for Storm Runner, the 2004 Intamin launch coaster that established itself as the first hydraulic launch coaster with inversions. With a 150-foot top hat to start the ride, Storm Runner isn't known for its height or even its 75 mph top speed. It's the inversions that follow offer pure fun, with abundant airtime filling the back half of this 50-second ride.
For my final ride of the day, I headed over to Fahrenheit, a Ingenieur Büro Stengel vertical lift coaster than debuted in 2008. A 90-degree lift leads to an immediate 97-degree drop before the track sets you flying through its action-packed elements, many of which fake you out with a slight twist to one direction before turning through the opposite way.
Don't let your eyes glaze over those numbers. You start this ride facing straight up to the sky, unable to see anything but the clouds (or clear blue sky) above you. Ninety degrees seems level on the page, but when you're riding up this lift, you feel like you're pitched back beyond 90 degrees. The short, 12-passenger trains don't linger at the crest of the lift hill. You've facing straight up, then — boom! — you're falling head over heels, seven degrees over-rated beyond straight down, before sweeping into the first twisting element. Once you're through, take a moment to look toward the horizon, beyond the park's border, where you'll find Hershey's original (now-closed) factory at the corner of Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues.
Later this week, I'll tell you a bit about the current home of Hershey's factory tour, Hershey's Chocolate World, a separate attraction located just outside the park's gates. And I'll also share our lunch at Hersheypark Place, the new table-service restaurant located between Hersheypark and Chocolate World.
Have you been to Hersheypark? Please tell us about your visits, in the comments.
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