Previously on AJ's Epic Theme Park Summer: Six Flags Great America
Part 8: Hersheypark-July 30th & 31st, 2014
Officially, the Mini New Hotness trip ended upon arrival at the airport on July 30th. With a 4:15 A.M. departure to accommodate those doing both tours, sleep was minimal. Most of the dozen or so TPR members doing both tours were split between a direct United flight to Harrisburg or a Delta flight connecting through Detroit (this one was mine). At noon, everyone joined the waiting crowd of new tour participants to kick off the TPR Mini East Coast tour.
It wasn't too far from the airport to our welcome lunch destination: Lancaster Brewing Company. The food was good, not great, but the best part of the lunch for me was meeting the new trip participants. Most of those I had hung out with on Mini New Hotness did not continue on to Mini East Coast. Once everyone was done eating we got back on the bus and headed off to the first park of the trip. I half expected a bonus stop at Dutch Wonderland, but it was not to be. Instead, we went directly to...
Hersheypark is one of those parks I've wanted to visit for some time despite hearing mixed reviews of the property. According to what I'd read, the park contains some great coasters but is overall underwhelming compared to the major Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks due to subpar operations and extreme crowds. Despite this, I went in with an open mind and ended up having an excellent time. I really wonder whether we got lucky with lighter crowds and better operations than are typical or if reviews just tend to blow things out of proportion.
My approach to Hersheypark was similar to my approach to Cedar Point: Use the first day to pick up all the credits, then re-ride your favorites on the second day along with non-coaster rides. We had roughly 6 hours on the first day to explore the park, which was sufficient to get all the credits except the kiddie. I re-rode a majority of the coasters on the second day, got the kiddie credit, did a decent number of non-coaster rides, and explored Chocolate World. Due to a 4 P.M. departure to allow for a group dinner I didn't have time to check out the waterpark, but it didn't appear to be anything special.
What about TPR perks? Well, Hersheypark gave us more than expected in the ERT department, with 60 minutes the first night on Fahrenheit and Storm Runner (we were originally told 30 minutes on Storm Runner only), plus we got to join resort guest ERT the next morning, which included all of Founder's Circle and the Hollow plus parts of Music Box Way. In addition, we received meal tickets for both days (with included souvenir cups) and Fast Track tickets for both days.
While not up to the standards of the nation's top coaster parks, Hersheypark probably has the best coaster collection outside of Six Flags or Cedar Fair. The park features three Intamins, three woodies, a decent B&M, a historic Schwarzkopf, and several other smaller coasters. The park's top coasters are all good enough that any park would benefit from them, and even a lot of Hersheypark's second tier coasters would be top coasters at most of the country's mid-size parks. There is one significant flaw among Hersheypark's collection, however, particular with the steel coasters. Excluding Skyrush, every steel coaster at Hersheypark is on the short side compared to others of their type.
Lightning Racer: I am a GCI fan, and in my opinion Lightning Racer is the most creative of their North American designs. Independently, each of the ride's two tracks would be considered somewhere in the middle of GCI's coasters: they're not too intense for families but thrilling enough for everyone, they have a little airtime and a good amount of twists and turns, and the coaster is decently long, but there isn't anything to make it a top tier ride. Put the two tracks together, however, and you have one of the most fun wooden coasters I've been on. Solely due to the dueling aspect, Lightning Racer is in my top ten woodies, ranks as my second favorite GCI, and is my favorite of Hersheypark's three woodies. A-
Wildcat: Wildcat is GCI's original coaster, and it's quite interesting to see how far they've come in under 20 years. While it's probably the worst GCI creation I've been on, Wildcat is still a decent wood coaster that gives a fairly thrilling ride. The coaster is a bit rough, but not terrible by any means, and has a great first drop leading into a truly twisted ride. B-
This was the last North American accelerator for me to ride. Even though most people consider it the best, for whatever reason I think it's my least favorite. Don't get me wrong, it's still an outstanding ride with more air time than any of the others, but I didn't find the inversions particularly exciting and the top hat is smaller than any of the others so the drop isn't quite as good. Put it this way: If Storm Runner and another accelerator were placed side by side, I'd ride the one with the shorter line, but if an ERT session included both I probably would spend more time on the other accelerator. A-
This ride gets extremely good reviews, but after riding I was disappointed. Everyone raves about it being one of the most extreme coasters in North America, but I found the ride somewhat sluggish and intense but not insane. I did hear other people with similar comments, and I did later ride in a wing seat, but while I found that experience significantly more intense it was too uncomfortable for me to enjoy it. Now, the ride does have good airtime and it is just as twisted as other recent Intamins, but like Intimidator 305 I consider this coaster overrated. Skyrush is a very good ride, but not quite a top tier coaster in my book and surprisingly my least favorite of Hersheypark's three Intamins. B+
Comet: Comet is good mainly because of its classic status than because it is a particularly good coaster. The ride isn't bad by any means, but it has very little airtime and just isn't worth the long waits it typically gets (probably partly due to low capacity). Fun to ride once or twice, but not a coaster I'd wait more than 15 minutes for again. C+
Okay, I expected to really like this one since it is somewhat like Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain but still has only lap bars. Unfortunately, I actually found the ride to be fairly dull. It definitely felt like the ride was trimmed somewhat strongly, but I think the biggest factor was that I was expecting a thrill ride when Sooperdooperlooper is more of a family looping coaster. Fun, but not the legendary Schwarzkopf experience I'm still looking for. C+
Great Bear: If Great Bear was longer, it would be a top tier inverted coaster. The ride starts off strong with an interesting helix/first drop combo and three great inversions. Unfortunately, after that point it just winds its way back to the station. The ride is certainly unique and is still better than some of B&M's more recent inverted coasters, but it's still only a middle tier invert in my opinion. B
Trailblazer: While not the worst mine train ever (in fact, it's not even as bad as Cedar Creek Mine Ride), Trailblazer is nothing to write home about. This is a pretty short and uneventful mine train with a couple jerky spots. Every park's got a worst coaster, and this just happens to be the one for Hersheypark. D+
Sidewinder: Sidewinder was my 10th boomerang, and if such a thing as a good boomerang exists I think it is this coaster. Sidewinder uses the new Vekoma trains first seen on Carolina Cobra at Carowinds, but unlike the latter ride Sidewinder is fairly smooth. A boomerang is a boomerang and they only get so good, but Sidewinder is one I would not only be willing to ride again but one I'd be willing to wait for again. B-
A standard Mack wild mouse with one exception: no trims on the switchbacks. Due to this, the ride is actually pretty fun and features stronger laterals than many of these coasters. A wild mouse is a wild mouse, but Hersheypark's is on the better end of the spectrum. C-
I always thought Fahrenheit looked like a good ride and would be quite fun, but I never expected it to be my favorite coaster at Hersheypark. After one ride, however, I knew it was. The ride may not be the biggest or the fastest, but the elements on the coaster just flow together really well and the ride is perfectly smooth. It has just the right number of inversions, a great drop, one strong airtime moment, and some twisting as well. I didn't ride this one until night ERT the first night, and due to being extremely tired (I don't do well on less than 4 hours of sleep) I only got a few rides in. Unfortunately, Fahrenheit has terrible capacity so I didn't get as many rides as I would have liked, but I would absolutely wait whatever length the line is for this coaster on a return visit. A
Cocoa Cruiser: Hersheypark's brand new Zamperla kiddie coaster, this is the smoothest of its type I've been on. I think it did two or three laps (don't remember for sure), and I did enjoy it more than Trailbalzer. Not much else to say about the ride.
Hersheypark Coaster Ranking:
2. Lightning Racer
3. Storm Runner
5. Great Bear
10. Wild Mouse
11. Cocoa Cruiser
Hersheypark has one of the better non-coaster collections, with a good selection of flat rides, two quality water rides, a unique dark ride, and numerous other attractions. Of the flats I rode, my favorite was Frontier Flyers. While not the best flyers I've been on, this was one of the better ones and had a nice setting. I also liked the Claw and Flying Falcon, though I found Hersheypark's Whip on the weak side.
In addition to flats, I rode the three scenic rides at the park: The Monorail and Kissing Tower offered some good views, but Sky View was probably the worst chairlift I've ridden anywhere.
In the water ride department, Coal Cracker is one of the better flume rides I've been on. Although it only has one drop, there is an airtime hill at the bottom and the ride is quite dry. Lastly, I did ride the Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge. It's one of the worst interactive dark rides I've been on and doesn't make much sense at all, but it's worth riding for the WTF factor.
In addition to what I rode, Hersheypark has numerous other flats (mostly geared toward families), a railroad, a splash boat, and a small waterpark.
Finally, there is also the Chocolate World dark ride just outside the park, which is an absolute must ride and is just one step below some of Disney's attractions. It even has its own theme song.
I went to Hersheypark with an open mind and left with a new top ten park. The park is quite large, but feels more like a family owned park and less like the corporate Cedar Fair and Six Flags properties.
The entire park is nicely landscaped, with decent (although limited) theming throughout. The park has a good selection of attractions, and in addition to rides there is also a zoo, waterpark, and Chocolate World. All the employees I encountered were great, and operations for the most part were great. Food quality was decent, certainly better than a lot of major parks. Lastly, we got lucky with crowds and managed to avoid any waits longer than 30 minutes.
There are, however, two major issues I have with Hersheypark. Firstly, the layout is very awkward. The park is long and narrow, but doesn't form a complete loop, so Pioneer Frontier and Midway America are essentially a dead end. I could see this being a major traffic issue if the park was busy. The second issue is the park's Fast Track system. Hersheypark uses a punch card system, where a Fast Track gets you on a set number of coasters once each, similar to Quick Queue. However, at Hersheypark riders are restricted to a single boarding row and must return in a 45 minute window, or at least in theory. I found that operators tended to not enforce the end of the return windows, and would let you on early if there weren't any other Fast Track users waiting. Additionally, when it was more convenient Fast Track riders were sometimes seated in other rows than the designated one. Finally, they would occasionally forget to mark the card, allowing multiple uses. Yeah...either enforce the rules or don't have them. We also discovered that Hersheypark limits the number of Fast Track tickets sold for each return window to 17 and makes no effort to fill the Fast Track row if no users claim it. By my calculations, that's as many as a hundred empty seats per hour. Due to all these issues, along with the excessive price ($50 for 9 rides or $25 for 5 evening only rides) I would recommend against using Fast Track and suggest Hersheypark either switch to an unlimited use system, cut the price, return times, and assigned seats, or increase the number sold to ensure the seats are filled on every single cycle.
Regardless of these issues, Hersheypark has become one of my favorite parks. In terms of thrill parks, Hersheypark is second only to Cedar Point in my opinion, and when compared to all major parks it is just behind Dollywood for overall quality. It isn't a park I would make a trek to visit every year, but is definitely one I have interest in returning to.
Cocoa Cruiser: 1
Great Bear: 2
Lightning Racer: 3
Storm Runner: 8
Wild Mouse: 2
Chocolate World: 1
Coal Cracker: 1
Flying Falcon: 1
Frontier Flyers: 1
Kissing Tower: 1
Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge: 2
Sky View: 1
Total: 42 rides over 2 days (~13 hours in park; 3.23 rides per hour)
The bus left Hersheypark at 4 P.M. on Thursday. Despite an adequate number of reminders, nearly 1/4 of the tour was left behind (1 person didn't make it and took a taxi). We had a group dinner at Funck's Restaurant that night, an interesting restaurant with some decent but not spectacular food (though better than Lancaster Brewing Company IMO). At about 6:30 P.M. we headed back to the hotel in order to get plenty of rest for the next day. Although a full day with a late night was in store, it was perhaps my most anticipated day of the entire tour, as I would finally get to experience the legendary Knoebels.Tweet
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