The Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance Tour - Part 7

Edited: September 2, 2018, 10:33 PM

To read the previous installment from Knoebels Amusement Park & Resort, click here.

Even now, two months after my visit, I think of how great my day at Knoebels was. While the park is not the best in the world, it is exceptionally fun and very unique, offering a look into both what amusement parks used to be and what true amusement parks should be. No skip the line systems, no branded attractions for the sake of sponsorship, no mandatory loose article lockers...it's a place that seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, yet the fact that more incidents don't occur is perhaps a testament that when guests need to be somewhat responsible, they can be. Either that, or everyone knows what they're getting themselves into.

Unfortunately, that park set a high bar, and there wasn't much chance that any of the remaining parks would be able to match it. However, it was time now to head off to the sweetest theme park in America, as well as the only coaster-centric park in the country not owned by one of the three big regional park chains.

The Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance Tour
Part 7: Hersheypark

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Note: This is the day in the trip where I began running into significant space issues on my phone, so photos will be somewhat limited in this and following reports.

In 2014, Hersheypark was the kickoff to the second leg of my Epic Theme Park Summer. At that time, it jumped to the top tier of parks I'd visited, outranking most of the Cedar Fair and Six Flags properties. On that trip, we spent an afternoon and evening at the park, along with the following morning and afternoon. Fearing that our visit on the Sunday before the 4th of July may result in increased crowds, we opted to do something similar this time...spend the full day at the park on Sunday, July 1st, then return for a few hours on Monday, July 2nd before heading off to our next park of the tour. Little did I know that the blessing of low crowds would strike again, and this time it would expose something I hadn't seen before at this place.

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With Rob once again joining us after his individual escapade to Conneaut Lake Park and Waldameer the previous day (two nice parks, but nowhere near as good as Knoebels), we began our day at opening and joined the mad rush toward Fahrenheit, one of Hersheypark's lower capacity yet more interesting coasters. Much to our surprise, we were on the third train of the day, as most of the mad rush continued past Fahrenheit to the Hersheypark boardwalk.

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So, how was the ride? In 2014, I remember really enjoying this one, but on this visit it was running a bit sluggish. It's still a very fun (albeit short) ride, one that I'm surprised Intamin has yet to duplicate elsewhere, but it felt more like a graceful B&M and less like the forceful Intamin I was expecting. Based on the way it was running, it outranks the Eurofighters and most similar coasters, though I'd probably place it a hair below HangTime at Knott's Berry Farm.

Slightly disappointed, we took a quick ride on the Wild Mouse so that Joshua and Douglas could get their credit. Needless to say, Joshua and Douglas do not count credits, so it was mostly a waste of five minutes. Nothing much to report about this wild mouse...most of them ride fairly similarly, and despite a little less braking than normal there isn't anything particularly remarkable about this.

Next up, Hersheypark's lone new coaster since my previous visit...Laff Trakk. A Maurer spinning coaster built inside a box, this ride is themed to a glow-in-the-dark funhouse. The theme is clever, but sadly the execution isn't the greatest...static props lit by blacklights that guests whizz past on this fairly mild spinning coaster. For a family coaster it isn't a bad ride, with a much more interesting layout than Kennywood's Exterminator. Thematically, however, the latter is done much better...a surprise at Hersheypark, which has a much higher budget for their attractions.

Back in Midway America, two other notable Hersheypark coasters accompany these stock models. Lightning Racer, a dueling GCI wood coaster that put Hersheypark on the map for most coaster enthusiasts, stands hidden in the very back corner of the park. Built the year after Gwazi, Lightning Racer improves on the design, with numerous moments of interaction as the Lightning and Thunder trains race each other around the course. It is not the most extreme ride ever built, but to me this is the ride that established GCI as the master of classic wood twisters, and with an exceptionally high capacity this coaster rarely sees much of a wait. It is a fun ride for all members of the family to enjoy.

Across the midway is another GCI creation, Wildcat. The first coaster GCI built, Wildcat still provides a decent ride but is definitely showing its age. The layout lacks the ferocity of later GCI designs, and the trains do not track quite as well as those on later rides. Despite GCI coasters not generally being good RMC candidates, Wildcat is one that might actually benefit from the IBox treatment. Besides, Hersheypark can afford to lose one GCI when they've got a better one just a few hundred feet away.

The north end of Hersheypark conquered, we made our way back south into Pioneer Frontier. With nobody interested in taking a spin on Sidewinder, Hersheypark's above average Boomerang, we instead set our sights on its neighbor...Storm Runner. My personal favorite coaster at Hersheypark, Storm Runner took what Knott's started with Xcelerator and perfected the design, adding several unusual inversions into a layout that takes advantage of being built on a hillside and incorporating a dual station to increase capacity. If there is a flaw of Storm Runner, it is the length of the ride: Station to station, this coaster is just 50 seconds long. However, it is 50 seconds of intensity with no interruption whatsoever taken with all the smoothness of any Intamin coaster. It's not an award-winning coaster (nothing at Hersheypark truly is), but it's a ride that would be a top two or three at almost any coaster park.

Down the hill from Storm Runner sits Trailblazer, Hersheypark's mine train coaster. Joshua the mine train fanatic loved this ride, declaring it above average for the genre. Douglas and I, on the other hand, weren't nearly as enthusiastic. With a single lift hill and just 1,600 ft of track, this coaster is essentially the first half of Cedar Creek Mine Ride...a largely dull journey through the woods with a slightly speedier helix to finish it off. It's not the worst mine train ever, but definitely on the less interesting end of the genre.

Pioneer Frontier complete, it was time to trek upwards to the top of Kissing Tower Hill to take on the Great Bear. Named after the constellation, this ride is a B&M Inverted Coaster with a highly unusual layout due to the terrain. Just 90 ft tall, the ride begins with a helix before plunging down a 124 ft drop and skimming the river running through the park. The coaster then negotiates four inversions in rapid succession before winding its way back to the station. It is a shorter inverted coaster, more comparable in length to a Batman clone than a Raptor or a Banshee, but the ride does pack a bit of a punch. Unfortunately, on a trip with so many great B&Ms, this one just doesn't compare favorably to most. It's not a bad ride by any means, but if you exclude the Batman clones it may rank as my least favorite invert.

Once again, we headed down the hill into the Hollow, Hersheypark's southernmost area. Jammed into a ravine are three coasters of different designs and different vintages, all with the longest lines we've seen so far. First up, we take on the Sooperdooperlooper, a 1977 Schwarzkopf that bears resemblance to Six Flags Magic Mountain's Revolution but is only two-thirds the length. Like many of Hersheypark's coasters, this ride's biggest flaw is how short it is. I like the design of the ride, but it feels like just as it gets going the ride ends. With a 42 inch height restriction, this is an outstanding first looping coaster for kids. Once you've progressed to bigger and better rides, it is still nice for the historical value but no longer holds the thrill it once did.

Fortunately, Sooperdooperlooper's neighbor, Skyrush, brings enough intensity to make up for it. An Intamin wing coaster, this ride is guaranteed to satisfy any adrenaline junkie. Though quite short for its height, Skyrush consists of nothing but a series of extreme airtime hills, each strong enough to fling riders out of the park if they weren't fully secured by the harness. As awesome as this sounds on paper, Skyrush has a poor restraint design, as the lapbar secures riders only by their upper legs, giving this coaster the rather appropriate nickname of thighcrush. With regular trains, there is no doubt in my mind this would be a top ten coaster (or perhaps top five), but due to the discomfort involved it just isn't as good as it should be. It still outranks most other coasters, but among three Intamin creations at Hersheypark this is probably my least favorite.

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For those that have been counting, this leaves one coaster to go in our coaster tour, and that is both Hersheypark's oldest and most popular: The Comet. A Herbert Schmeck design dating back to 1946, the Comet is a classic double out-and-back wood coaster that still runs in great form. It's nothing compared to the woodies found at Kennywood or Knoebels, but it's still a solid ride for all members of the family and provides enough airtime to remain exciting but not so much to freak out novice riders.

Our coaster tour complete, we make our way back toward the park exit, a long day in the books. Or rather, that's what I had expected we would do. As it turns out, we completed all 11 of Hersheypark's worthwhile coasters by 1:30 in the afternoon. Despite my expectations, the park wasn't crowded at all (likely due to the oppressive heat wave that was going on at the time), so we instead made our way to a food court to grab lunch. Joshua and I opted for Nathan's hot dogs, a decent choice other than the terribly slow service. Douglas and Rob, on the other hand, opted for some mediocre theme park pizza. I think Douglas named it the worst meal of the trip, making it even less satisfying than the A&W/Long John Silver's a couple days prior.

Lunch complete, it was time to say goodbye to Rob...he had a couple credit stops to make on his way back to Virginia. The rest of us decided to take a ride on the Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge to get indoors for a bit. Unfortunately, as we entered the first scene of the ride, everything came to a stop and the work lights came on. Yep, the ride was down, and we were stuck. Fortunately, it only took them about 15 minutes to reset everything and we got to ride through the remainder of the attraction with lights on. Unfortunately, Hersheypark gave us nothing for our trouble, just told us to enjoy our day.

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Dissatisfied, we opted to leave the park...in order to head to Hershey's Chocolate World next door. Upon entry, it was clear this was where everyone was hanging out. A gigantic store full of every Hershey product currently in production, Chocolate World is a tourist attraction on its own. Beyond shopping, this location also features a number of upcharge experiences, including an opportunity to custom fabricate your own candy bar as well as several tasting experiences. We instead opted to join the 30 minute queue for the free attraction, an omnimover dark ride called Hershey's Chocolate Tour.

In 2014, Hershey's Chocolate Tour was a Disney-esque dark ride simulating a trip through a chocolate factory. The ride was narrated, but the tour was largely organized by a group of cows that had their own theme song. Full of practical sets and animatronics, it was probably one of the top five dark rides not at a destination theme park. Unfortunately, the ride has since been upgraded, and while the cows still feature occasionally the attraction feels more corporate, with a Hershey employee narrating from a screen on the car and the Hershey candy bar mascots appearing on screens throughout the ride. It still has a theme song and lots of practical sets, but the ride is not the same as it once was and feels less like a tour and more like a sales pitch. Naturally, after claiming your free chocolate sample on the way out, the ride dumps you right in the heart of the gift shop, and most will instantly become kids in a candy store.

Rather than buying any chocolate products that would likely melt in the triple digit temperatures, we opted to go visit Hershey's Sundae Parlor in the Chocolate World food court and indulge in some excellent (though overpriced) ice cream sundaes. I'm not usually one to buy non-exclusive desserts at a theme park, but these sundaes were particularly good. Whether that is due to Hershey's ingredients or simply due to the heat I can't say with certainty, but we all really enjoyed it.

Returning to Hersheypark proper, we went for a second go on Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge, now operational after about an hour of downtime. I'd ridden this before, and declared it one of the most hilariously bad dark rides ever built. After experiencing it properly, Joshua and Douglas agreed. The ride is themed to an extreme sports competition between team chocolate and team peanut butter, a seemingly clever theme that fits in at Hersheypark. Unfortunately, this somehow morphed into a hybrid between a powered coaster and a shooting dark ride, resulting in an attraction that moves too fast to shoot accurately. Worse yet, you're not shooting at ghosts, zombies, or monsters, but instead at randomly placed targets located adjacent to kids participating in extreme sports activities. As I jokingly stated, you're trying to kill off the kids who don't like your team. Yeah...it's a bizarre ride that can't even land above Boo Blasters in my dark ride rankings. No wonder Hersheypark is retiring it for something new next year.

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Two months later, my memory of the remainder of this day is a bit foggy. For the most part, we just did a second lap of the park, hitting a few non-coaster rides and re-riding the park's better coasters. During this excursion, something that I had overlooked on my previous visit became painfully obvious: Beyond the top coasters, Hersheypark is a very bland park. Nothing about most of the rides stands out, with them largely containing generic names and being unthemed stock models. The buildings throughout the park lack any interesting architecture beyond those at the entrance, with a majority being simply painted boxes. Yes, there is a frontier area, but other than a couple food stands next to Trailblazer it is easy to walk through and not even realize it. Lastly, beyond a handful of attractions (including the new Hershey's Triple Tower, an S&S tower ride that may be Hersheypark's best flat), there is little evidence that the park is owned by Hershey. Height categories are named after different candies, but that's about it. Such a wasted opportunity that the Hershey Company built a park that looks nice on paper but in reality completely lacks character.

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By about 6 P.M., all three of us had had our fill of coasters for the day, so we left the park and took a scenic tour through the town of Hershey. Afterward, we headed to a nearby Cracker Barrel to grab something for dinner, then headed back to our Quality Inn in Harrisburg. After a couple long days in a row, it was nice to have an early night for a change.

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As it turned out, a second morning at Hersheypark was unnecessary, but since we had already paid for the tickets we opted to go anyway (my alternative suggestion of visiting Dutch Wonderland was vetoed as it would cost over $40 each for a predominantly children's park). Upon arrival, Douglas opted not to even enter the park and headed over to Chocolate World to take a bus tour of the city. Once inside, Joshua and I parted ways...Joshua bound for Midway America, and I for the Hersheypark Boardwalk. Despite not being a true roller coaster, Hersheypark has been advertising the new Breakers Edge Water Coaster as their 14th roller coaster (I blame TPI's selection of Krakatau Aqua Coaster for best 2017 coaster for this), and after having ridden Holiday World's water coasters I wanted to see how this one compares. While it is still a fun ride, this one isn't quite as good. It's only about half as long as Wildebeest and has a much smaller elevation difference, though Breaker's Edge does feature a few saucer turns which add something different to the ride. Overall a fun ride to try, but I probably wouldn't wait 50 minutes for it again (like I mentioned, the running of the bulls at Hersheypark is for the waterpark).

With all other slides in the Boardwalk boasting 30-45 minute waits, I opted to instead ride Tidal Force, Hershey's gargantuan splash boat ride. Although it isn't nearly as steep as the former Perilous Plunge, this ride is now the tallest splash boat ride in North America with a ten story plunge. Like most splash boats, this one exists solely to drench riders, and that it does very well. It's not worth a long wait, but when you've only got to wait a couple boats and already have your swimwear on it's well worth riding.

Finished with the Boardwalk, I met up with Joshua and we took a ride on Storm Runner and Coal Cracker (Hersheypark's fairly average log flume). As we exited, we were met by Douglas, who had just returned from his city tour (be sure to read his trip report to hear about the tour). With lines growing and a second park scheduled for the day, we decided to forgo last rides on Great Bear and Skyrush in order to get started on the drive to our next destination.

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In 2014, I really enjoyed Hersheypark. On this visit, I had a good time, but I didn't love the park quite as much. Truthfully, I'd absolutely return if I was in the area, as I still think the park has a pretty solid coaster line-up and there are enough good things to justify a visit. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it still makes my list of top theme parks, as beyond the top coasters there really isn't a whole lot to say about the place. In short, I guess I'd say this...If you're a fan of Six Flags or Cedar Fair parks, you'll likely enjoy Hersheypark for what it is. The park takes good elements of both chains and combines them into one, while ditching some of the hassles that come with visiting those properties. However, if you need a well themed or well landscaped park like the Busch Gardens properties, or you aren't really a fan of big roller coasters, you'll probably find Hersheypark incredibly dull. There are a lot of smaller rides, so every member of the family will be able to find something to do here, but if you're not coming for rides like Storm Runner or Skyrush it's hard to justify a visit here over another park that likely offers better family attractions and a lower gate price.

Hersheypark Coaster Ranking:

A:

1. Storm Runner x3
2. Fahrenheit x2

B:

3. Skyrush x2
4. Lightning Racer x2
5. Great Bear

C:

6. Wildcat
7. Comet
8. Laff Trakk
9. Sooperdooperlooper

D:

10. Wild Mouse
11. Trailblazer

Next Time: The most underwhelming park of the trip, and the biggest surprise of the trip

For another perspective on Hersheypark, check out Douglas's report from the park.

Replies (13)

September 4, 2018, 7:47 AM

Hersheypark is a strange cat. On paper, it's got an excellent collection of coasters, and looks to be a decently themed, non-chain theme park. However, not a single coaster is anywhere near the top of its class, and the theming, while more present than even many Six Flags or Cedar Fair parks, is haphazard and inconsistent. I would agree that Lightning Racer is one of the best coasters in the park, but when you put it against other top wooden coasters, it would just barely rank in my top 10. I think I like TheighCrush, I mean Skyrush, more than most (I actually think it is the best coaster in the park), but the combination of really intense elements (positive, negative, and lateral g's) with those poorly conceived restraints is a real detriment to what could have been a top 10 coaster.

Hersheypark seems to be under the impression that more is always better, instead of considering that taking their time and money to invest in what could be better and longer attractions. The rumor is that the park is getting ready to build a new entrance that will completely change the layout and dynamics of the park as whole, but it won't change the fact that while Hersheypark has a lot of good rides, it doesn't have anything truly "great" that warrants a visit over other nearby parks.

September 4, 2018, 3:40 PM

I am really curious how the expansion goes for Hersheypark as the most popular rumor I've heard is that a B&M hyper will anchor it. To me, that seems like a pretty silly choice for the park given the proximity of Nitro and the existence of Skyrush in the park, but it should be a crowd-pleasing high capacity coaster, both things that Hersheypark is lacking. I definitely agree with you on Hersheypark's rides overall being very good but not great...Storm Runner doesn't even make my top 30 overall and there were at least ten coasters on this trip alone that I found to be better rides. The place feels like it should be a top park, but when you've got a better coaster collection at SFGAdv, SFNE or KD and a better park experience at Knoebels or BGW it's a bit hard to justify a visit to Hersheypark unless you're going to be in the area anyway (or have already visited the above).

September 5, 2018, 7:30 AM

I hear you AJ. We have season passes to Cedar Fair (Kings Dominion), Sea World (Busch Gardens Williamsburg), and Six Flags (America), so visiting Hersheypark is a once ever 4-5 years experience despite it being just 2.5 hours away, just 30 minutes further away from us than BGW. We go to Six Flags Great Adventure and Cedar Point virtually every year despite them being further away than Hersheypark, and visit Dorney Park about every other year.

On paper Hersheypark should be a coaster lover's dream with almost every possible type of coaster represented in their collection. However, since not a single one is anywhere near the top of its class, it's one of those places that you go to once and then you don't feel the need to return until there's at least a few new attractions to try. We're holding on a future visit to Hersheypark until our son is tall enough to ride everything, since we don't want to have to visit 2 years in a row. It's disappointing, because I think the park has some potential if they planned a little better and instead of trying to add something big every year, spent the extra little bit to build truly iconic attractions every 2-3 years. I think Skyrush could have been that iconic attraction, but Intamin really blew it with the restraints. I worry that the rumored B&M hyper will have the same issue that every other coaster in the park has - not nearly the best of its type, and unusually short. We'll just have to see what happens.

September 6, 2018, 12:38 PM

As always AJ, LOVE your trip reports to places I've never been. But with your visit to Hersheypark, I've had a surreal "whooooa" moment.

Hershey is my home park and I am about 45 minutes to the gate. From childhood on, we visited roughly 4 times every summer (didn't have seasons passes back then) and it was always the highlight of the summer. In the 1970s, Chocolate World was my first ever "dark ride" and it launched a lifelong fascination in attraction technology. My first coaster was the Trailblazer and then I graduated to the Looper and Comet (only 3 coasters in the park in the early 80s). Everyone I grew up with and live around...goes to Hersheypark...it's just what ya do!

So of course, we locals adore it because it plays to our nostalgia factor. Though I must admit, it was a RARE treat to be taken several hours DOWN the road to King's Dominion and BGW. Top notch parks in my opinion. Yet I've always considered Hersheypark to stand on its own merits as a "must see" attraction.

I now realize that I have never honestly heard from a true "outsider" to the state of PA and now that I have, I'm a little shaken.... I have danced end to end through that park more times than I can count, all the while with my chocolate covered blinders on. With "The Sweetest Park on Earth" commercials playing through my head on an endless loop, a trip to Hershey meant anticipation and still does in this very day.

So to read your report and find the park to overall be..."meh"....I entered that "HOW DARE HE!?!" state of mind only to sit back and really think about it.

Then it hit me. And it hit me HARD! You're RIGHT! On the grand scheme of things, Hershey is nothing to write home about. There literally is no theming as it IS just a collection of rides thrown together in clumps. A "coaster enthusiast" is not a category I would rate myself in. I've ridden them near and far and still love them to this very day and always considered Hershey's to be on par with the big boys...but now I realize they aren't!

Please understand I didn't comment on this to guilt you about destroying a Hershey girl's life long vision (LOL)! What you did was provide a different perspective that I can wholly accept and agree with. The "magic chocolate bubble" I've lived in for over 40 years popped, but in a good way!! Hershey Entertainment will always be a brand that resonates warmth and happiness inside but I doubt I will dub the park as "Must See" ever again. ^_^

Edited: September 6, 2018, 1:22 PM

@Sarah - I was on the same page as you about 15 years ago. While I didn't live as close to Hersheypark, it has always been within reasonable driving range (less than 3 hours), and I praised the park for being independent, charming, and offering a great amount of variety. However, after seeing the park continue to build average coaster after average coaster after mediocre flat ride after unnecessary replacements for the severely undersized water park, I began to realize that Hersheypark isn't all what it was cracked up to be (plus its single-day admissions are surprisingly expensive with few discounts). Perhaps it was that I never visited more than once every other year when I was younger, or maybe it was my exposure to far more parks, particularly Dollywood and Holiday World, as I got older that demonstrated what great independent parks can do and strive to be.

However, if you think AJ was tough on Hersheypark, take a look at what Douglas (who accompanied AJ on most of his trip) thought of Hersheypark. His assessment is even more critical, and borderline harsh to the Sweetest Place on Earth...

https://forums.wdwmagic.com/threads/visions-of-steel-wood-roller-coaster-road-trip-2018.945433/page-5#post-8313166

Edited: September 6, 2018, 10:24 PM

ooooh my! Well Douglas's report shuts me up!! Eghads!

I do suppose as a child, when you don't have anything to compare it to, a local annual carnival can look like the greatest place in the world. It's true the admission has gotten beyond reason and new rides are added for the sake of making announcements. Since the news of the land expansion has broken, it's been all the talk on local media. I am excited to see what happens with it.

But on a side note, the strangest attraction I have ever experienced was at Hershey in the late 80s. What is now a dome covered arcade was once the strangest show imaginable. Titled "The Frontier Meeting House", you went in a building and sat on 2 church pews that were back to back that ran the entire length of the building. The inside had props of an old Quaker church with rustic wood stove, old organ, choir loft etc. When the show began, the pre-recorded host said "Welcome friends, to chapel on the mountain!" and continued to talk about coal miners and those under the surface digging for treasure and the dangers it posed. As he talked, the room would shift a little and it felt like the pews were moving, when in reality the entire room was rotating around them. The building would creak and moan and continue to rotate slowly as everyone in the pews started to scream. The illusion was one I will never forget.

As you tipped further and further, the entire house eventually went 360 and and the lights went out and there was thunder and lightning...you looked up and saw the pits of hell including the devil himself illuminated with strobe lights. Fire and brimstone and demons lined the walls as people screamed and held onto each other. Then the room would reset to its normal starting position and the lights came back on and everything was as it was in the beginning. As cheery banjo music played, the pre-recorded hosts told us not to be digging tunnels where we didn't belong and the automatic doors opened to exit the church pews.

I was in high school when this show came out and to this day, I often wonder if it really existed. No one knows what I am talking about and there is VERY little information on the internet about it. I think it ran 2 years and from the research I've been able to uncover, it was built in-house by Hershey staff. It was certainly real because I went on it several times on multiple visits and damn I wish I had a camcorder back then! On the park map, Hershey touted it as a "Magic Room Ride". It's something I have never seen anywhere else to this very day.

Edited: September 7, 2018, 1:01 AM

Sarah, do not get me wrong...Hersheypark is a very nice regional park and is well worth a visit for anyone visiting the region. I'd still consider it the second best park in Pennsylvania after Knoebels, and would absolutely consider it a must visit park if someone hasn't gone before. However, when reflecting on all the parks on this two week road trip after I got back home, it is the one that made the least impression on me. Looking solely at the eleven parks on this trip...

-Comparing just the coasters, Hersheypark lands fourth behind Cedar Point, Kings Island, and Six Flags Great Adventure, with a coaster collection that I consider to be in the B tier.
-Among non-coaster rides, Hersheypark has a solid collection but lacks anything that stands out. Perhaps visiting the park after Knoebels made this more apparent than it would be otherwise (it was originally going to be the first major park of the tour), but either way I'd expect a park of this size to have a few signature non-coaster attractions.
-Food was pretty mediocre, which is surprising for a park run by a food company. This is a common problem among thrill parks, but it definitely isn't helpful on a trip with a fair number of independent parks serving quality meals.
-While I wouldn't say any of the parks were highly themed, several of the others at least tried. Hersheypark, sadly, is largely devoid of theming beyond a couple lightly themed areas despite the fact that they separate the park into different sub-areas.
-As a whole, I'd probably place Hersheypark sixth on the trip (right in the middle). Cedar Point, Holiday World, and Knoebels are all better parks, and while it may not always be the case I had more enjoyable days at Kings Island and Six Flags Great Adventure. However, I enjoyed the park more than Kennywood (which is a really neat park with just a few too many annoyances), and much prefer Hersheypark to somewhere like Kentucky Kingdom or (spoiler for the next segment) Dorney Park.

All of that said, Hersheypark still has enough going for it to make it well worth visiting. The three Intamin coasters, while not among the best ever built, would be top 3 rides in many of the major parks across the US, and a couple of the other coasters have unique quirks that can't be found on other examples of their type. The park has a great setting with really nice landscaping (except for the Midway America section...that area is a bit dull), and the rides take advantage of the terrain well. Operations, while not outstanding, are good enough to keep lines manageable. If I lived within a hundred miles of the park, I'd probably be a passholder and visit 4-5 times a year. The main issue comes when Hersheypark is thought of on a macroscopic scale, as with so many other top-notch parks on the East Coast, it is difficult to select Hersheypark over the competition. Two parks within 200 miles offer a better coaster collection, and two others in the same radius are just overall much more enjoyable parks. It's not a bad park by any means...it is a good park surrounded by great parks.

September 7, 2018, 7:38 AM

FWIW Sarah, if you'd like to ride that strange "Magic Room Ride", there's one not too far away from you at Six Flags Great Adventure called Houdini's Great Escape. I don't ever recall riding the attraction you're talking about at Hersheypark, but the one at SFGAdv is quite good, and very underrated, especially considering the shortcuts Six Flags normally likes to take with their theming. Also, it's one of the few rides in the park where you can enjoy some air conditioning for a bit as even the pre-show area is inside (with a very well done pre-show to boot). You should really check it out, and I assume AJ will talk about it when he gets to that part of his trip.

Maybe because Hersheypark hasn't added anything notable in the past 5 years (since Skyrush) to make me want to take a trip up there (and pay their pricey single day admission versus the free admission and parking we get at Dorney Park and Six Flags Great Adventure through our chain-wide annual passes), I would put it right on par with Kennywood, which has added a few new unique and interesting attractions over the past couple of years (in addition to next year's Steel Curtain) that would cause me to lean more towards a visit to the Pittsburgh area park over Hersheypark.

September 7, 2018, 12:05 PM

@Sarah

Now I'm feeling awful about my very critical trip report on Hersheypark. Hope there's no anger or bad blood. My time there was still incredibly fun (as was the entire trip with AJ & pals). Certain unique factors put HP in a difficult spot, like coming right after Knoebels, or visiting on the peak of a severe heatwave. These (plus additional nitpicky personal moments like a bad pizza or a poor ride operator interaction) likely colored my overall impression on the park. AJ's recap is evenhanded and neutral; I'd say it's a fair reflection of the park as we found it this summer.

It's a challenge to discuss nearly any amusement park when our opinions are formed by nostalgia, past visits, unique personal experiences at the parks, and many other factors. Hersheypark has a lot of great things about it, from the truly world class World of Chocolate to a varied and fun coaster collection. Hersheypark's biggest macro-issue is that they do everything OK, and nothing great. There's a water park, a zoo, tons of rides, factory tours, event venues, hotels...that's a pile of stuff, and most of it is decidedly average. Compared to, say, Holiday World who rock at some very specific things (water park, wood coasters, customer service), Hersheypark felt very "jack of all trades, master of none."

As AJ says, Hersheypark is still well worth a visit for any park fans visiting (or living near) Pennsylvania.

September 7, 2018, 1:52 PM

Great report, AJ! I really enjoyed reading your impressions of Hersheypark, as that's in my neck of the woods and is one of the three parks - the other two are Great Adventure and Dorney - I visit at least once a year due to geographical proximity; in fact I was there last Saturday. One thing I like about the park is that it attracts a completely different demographic than Great Adventure. Hershey strikes me as wholesome, an adjective I would never apply to Great Adventure.

As to the coasters, I appreciate the fact that the three largest ones are Intamins. In complete agreement that Storm Runner is the best coaster in the park and Fahrenheit the 2nd best. Lightning Racer is probably the best racing coaster I've ridden and although in my experience the Thunder Side wins the race more often than not, I find that the Lightning side offers a better ride experience so I stick to Lightning. As to Skyrush, what you say is spot on. Almost a year ago I posted something about the restraints on another blog: http://www.coastercritic.com/2017/10/but-what-about-the-restraints/ One thing I did not address but which was addressed in the comments is the excessive lateral motion resulting from the fact that the upper body is completely unrestrained. In any case, it would appear that those who find the restraints the most punishing are women and my theory is that this is because men have skin which is about 20% thicker than women's.

September 7, 2018, 4:05 PM

Bobbie, I do think the fact that Hersheypark has three quality Intamin coasters is one of the biggest things that sets it apart from other coaster parks (which are largely dominated by B&M and RMC creations). In fact, there are only two other parks I can think of that have more than one top tier Intamin coaster, both of which were coincidentally included on this trip as well. While I wouldn't necessarily say that Intamin makes the best rides, I do think they make more unique coasters than the other big steel coaster manufacturers and it is nice to see a park that offers a bit more variety in their coaster line-up. I also agree about the crowd...Hersheypark was very much families, while SFGAdv is predominantly teens and young adults just like pretty much every Six Flags property.

Also, like Douglas mentioned above, it's very possible to have differing experiences based on external factors that affect the day. I've gone to mediocre parks with a fun group and had a great time, and I've also had miserable visits to parks that should otherwise be outstanding. On a trip including some of the best parks in the country, Hersheypark may land in the middle of the pack, but it's still in the top 10 or so regional parks in the US.

September 7, 2018, 5:14 PM

Douglas, we're good! ^_^
I honestly loved hearing others opinions be them good or bad. And that is the joy of a forum where we live all over the place but share a common passion. You never know who's backyard you might be standing in! lol!

They are all very valid points and I respect them. I chuckled several times while reading your write up and found myself nodding...."he does have a point!" AND it did follow Knobels!

September 11, 2018, 8:40 AM

"In fact, there are only two other parks I can think of that have more than one top tier Intamin coaster"

I think Kings Dominion would be included in that list too, though Volcano is has been down for over half the year, and won't reopen until 2019, if at all.

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