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A rainy forecast keeps the crowds away at Pennsylvania's Hersheypark

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Published: July 23, 2013 at 6:55 PM

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.

Hersheypark sign

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.

Hersheypark entrance
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

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.

Skyrush lift hill

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.

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.

Lightning Racer finish line

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.

Storm Runner

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.

Fahrenheit lift hill

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.

Fahrenheit

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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Readers' Opinions

From James Rao on July 23, 2013 at 7:27 PM
Fun report, Robert. Thanks for sharing. I haven't been to Hershey Park since... well since a long time ago. Back before they had 60 rides and all those coasters. Looks like a lot has changed. I hope to get back to several of the "northern" parks next year now that all my kids are over 54 inches tall.

Incidentally, where did you stay on this trip? Did you venture to one of the park's hotels, or someplace else nearby?

From Jeffrey H on July 23, 2013 at 7:54 PM
The last time I went to Hersheypark was in 1999. It was an amazing trip and I strongly encourage anyone who has considered visiting Pennsylvania to go on vacation there.

When I went Great Bear (inverted coaster) was the new thing and i must've gone on it like 50 times. The SuperDuperLooper was also awesome.

My fondest memory was riding the factory tour ride. They piped in the smell of chocolate everywhere. It was a supreme olfactory overload! And when I got off the ride they gave us free samples of the then-new NutRageous bars. I subsequently re-rode about 15 times or so.

Once we had done all the modern coasters, I simply had to ride EVERYTHING. Those wooden coasters where so bumpy and my mom didn't pack any ibuprofen. Legendary headaches. #1 rule of Hersheypark: pack Tylenol or Advil.

I intend to go back with my own children in a few years time. At the top of my to-do list is to visit the Crayola factory (which my dad refused to stop at during our vacation!!!). Also, check out Penn's Cave, the Penn Hills, and Sesame Place.

From 68.13.195.86 on July 23, 2013 at 9:19 PM
Really Enjoyed reading about Hershey Park, can't wait to hear more! I havent been in years, and reading this makes me wanna go back soon! -Lauren
From Rob Pastor on July 23, 2013 at 9:41 PM
Yes, there's been a lot of rain in Pennsylvania the past month. That same system that was drenching Orlando, stayed on a northward coast, and has done the same to us. I'm really getting tired of cutting my four acres every few days. Anyway, on to Hershey Park. I took my nephew there in June for a day trip from here in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Three years ago I took him to Hershey and got him over his fear of coasters. He enjoyed the previous trip and wanted to go back. Big disappointment though. Three years ago there were a plethora of good professional shows, which we both enjoyed. Well, it seems they slashed their entertainment budget. There were just a few shows and they were boring and poorly staged. Some were replaced with the horrid character greets. The food at Hershey never impressed me. Again it wasn't very memorable. The BBQ in the Western themed area is absolutely horrible. The ribs were under cooked. The corn on the cob was, in my nephew's words, like cardboard. Evidently it sat in the pot most of the day. And the coleslaw was horrid, and its hard to mess up coleslaw. The pizza we had for lunch had that same cardboard texture as the corn. The other problem with Hershey is that its a mishmash of expansions in what was once a fairly small park, so it doesn't have a cohesive or clean ambiance. But it does still have it's good points, and that's primarily their coasters. We both actually liked Skyrush. Sure, its a bit rough, but I like my coasters to have character. The restraints didn't bother me either. Storm Runner was our favorite coaster. It's very exciting. The old original woodie, Comet, also has a good ride with lots of airtime. A lot of people don't care for the woodie Wildcat, since it's so rough, but its a ride we enjoy and rode a few times. The readers seem to love the Lightning Racers, but we both thought it was kind of meh. Not much excitement, and a bit boring after riding Wildcat. Sure its smooth, but not very interesting. I still can't judge Fahrenheit though, since it's massive size scares my nephew. The other good point is their zoo. It's small but incredibly interesting.The park was very crowded until about 4:00 and then it became a virtual ghost town. On the whole, I won't return unless they restore their live entertainment to it's previous standards. That's what set Hershey above the other coaster parks. Now it's basically just a Six Flags.
From Mike Gallagher on July 24, 2013 at 6:21 AM
Last time I was at Hershey, 6/24, I passed out in the heat and had to be taken on a cart to First Aid.

Lightning Racer remains my fave at HP by a wide Margin, and is even better at night. I like Storm Runner, Comet and SoperDooperLooper, and always enjoy most of the other coasters. I've not gotten back on Thigh Crush since my first and only ride last year, which I certainly did NOT enjoy.

I'm not a person who seeks out live entertainment at parks, but the musical shows during their Kalloween event are pretty decent.

And I NEVER go to Hershey without going through Chocolate World at least once.

From Russell Meyer on July 24, 2013 at 6:56 AM
I wouldn't categorize Skyrush as a "wing" coaster. It's really a twisting hypercoaster. Intamin has a real wing coaster in Spain called Furius Baco, where the seats are actually to the sides of the track like Gatekeeper or Wild Eagle.

Hersheypark is a really underrated park. As I wrote in my review last year of Skyrush, they don't have any record breakers or must-do coasters in the park (I still think Skyrush is the one, however, despite the restraints), but they have a solid, diverse lineup of coasters that few parks can match.

From 71.230.32.71 on July 24, 2013 at 7:10 AM
Thanks for a cool report! I went in October for a friend's party at one of their fall "fright nights". I've wanted to go back this summer but haven't had the chance. I want to ride skyrush! It was closed when I was there.
From Anon Mouse on July 24, 2013 at 8:02 AM
I was hoping to hear about the chocolate first. I will wait for part 2.
From Eric G on July 24, 2013 at 11:03 AM
SkyRush is not a wing coaster.

SkyRush is a megacoaster or hypercoaster with four-abreast seating per row. The train design has the outside seats extending beyond the track edges and slightly set back from the middle seats, but that design doesn't classify it as a "wing coaster".

From Bobbie Butterfield on July 24, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Great report, Robert. I always enjoy reading informed articles about experiences at Hersheypark, as it's one of only three parks within easy driving distance of where I live. (The other two are Six Flags Great Adventure and Dorney.) You must be on an extended road trip, as I seem to recall having recently read something you wrote while in Texas.

Differences of opinion and differences in perception are what make discussions about roller coasters interesting. I happen to adore Skyrush - you published an article I wrote about a Travel Channel filming of that coaster - and put it at no. 5 on my list of top ten steel coasters. I've ridden it a total of 15 times (11 during the Travel Channel shoot, lol) and will undoubtedly ride it many more times. Granted, the restraints are an issue. How much of an issue depends largely on where you sit, so I'm pretty selective about where I sit. The front row wing seats are the ones that gave me the least discomfort. I enjoyed reading your comment to the effect that Skyrush is rougher than an old woodie. What you perceive as rough I perceive as intense. To each his own. I find that in general people either love or hate this coaster; I have yet to meet anyone who's neutral on the subject. Anyway, enjoyable reading and good description of Fahrenheit.

From 24.218.30.249 on July 24, 2013 at 5:50 PM
We went to Hershey last April and also in summer 2010. Both times the waits were minimal. We also loved the lightning racers and went on it several times in a row.
From 209.190.208.98 on July 25, 2013 at 7:08 AM
Oh, wow, Hershey Park! We used to go here ALL THE TIME with my middle school orchestra; we still get up there now and again. The Comet is one of my dad's all-time favorite coasters. My personal favorite is the Great Bear! Can't wait to hear your take on the singing cows in feather boas...
From Brian Bauer on July 25, 2013 at 10:40 AM
We visited back in late May and had the same kind of day. It was overcast so the crowds stayed away but there was no rain.

Every ride was pretty much a walk-on all day.

From Robert Niles on July 25, 2013 at 8:54 PM
Well, I put "wing" in quotes for a reason. :^)

Hersheypark's used the wing designation for the coaster in the past, but only the two outermost seats on each row could be considered "wing" seats, as I described.

From Russell Meyer on July 26, 2013 at 7:09 AM
Yeah, I got the quotes, but I really do wish parks would quit relying on unknowledgeable PM firms to market their rides. I highly doubt using the term "wing" coaster attracts any more of the general public to the park to ride, but it does frustrate the coaster fans out there that know all of the terms and records. It's very much like what Six Flags did with Full Throttle (making up records), and parks have been doing it for years and years. If it's the biggest, fastest, or first of it's kind, I don't have an issue, but when they're using terms to describe an attraction that doesn't actually fit, it's rather annoying, and I don't think it's really beneficial.
From Joe Schwartz on July 26, 2013 at 11:29 AM
Great review of Hershey Park Robert. Since this is in my home area. I like tis park a whole lot better than Six Flags "Great Adventure" & "Dorney Park" I agree with your review of "SKY Rush". This is a really painful ride. I like the rest of their coasters a lot and if you have small children the Anton Schwarzcoff designed "Super Dooper Looper" is a great loop starter coaster for children. They also have a really nice water park that comes with the admission.

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