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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
1. Storm Runner x3
2. Fahrenheit x2
3. Skyrush x2
4. Lightning Racer x2
5. Great Bear
8. Laff Trakk
10. Wild Mouse
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.Tweet
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