Hersheypark, August 22

Friday, September 6, 2013 3:08 PM

My sister and I had made plans to do a rollercoaster tour of Pennsylvania for her birthday, but due to vacation schedules (and concerns whether we were up to a full week of amusement park visits) we decided to break it into two trips. Part I was the East/Central part of PA: Hershey, Altoona, and Knoebels. Part II (for a future summer) will be Kennywood, Waldameer, and maybe Conneaut or Idlewild. (Not sure if/when we’ll hit Dorney Park.)

Anyway, it was my first ever full-on rollercoaster tour, so I thought it deserved a trip report. Comments welcome; apologies for the length and the delay in posting. I’m breaking it into the three days.

Day 1 was Hershey – on a Thursday in late August, with rain threatening, I thought we might dodge crowds – so it was worrisome when we were told the Chocolate World parking lot was full. (Somehow that resulted in us getting free parking all day; I still don’t really understand why.) And Chocolate World was a complete zoo, so I was further worried, but we did the “tour” of the “Chocolate Factory” (a ride through ala Epcot circa 1989), and then headed over to the park.

Which also appeared crowded – we wandered in and made our way past the gift shops and carousels to the first coaster we came to, the Comet. The queue was full, with a predicted wait of an hour. We soldiered on, and waited for about thirty seconds before we realized we were doing what all the sheeple were doing. So we beat it, found a map and a friendly person who confirmed our conclusion that we were better off starting at the back and working our way around, and headed off to find shorter lines. The rest of the day we had maybe three or four lines of longer than ten minutes, including when we got back to the Comet.

The Coasters, in approximate ascending order:

Skyrush: Neither one of us liked this coaster at all, really – it was, if this makes sense, exciting without being fun. I stapled myself in pretty good, rather uncomfortably; my sister (in one of the interior seats) left her bar a little looser, and afterward said she was convinced she was going to pop out of the car. In any case, I found it was a lot of disorienting elements and forces coming at us randomly, with no pacing at all.

Trailblazer: We were warned by an employee that it’s for kids, and it basically is, but I love mine trains, and it’s a perfectly fine ride – just a little short. It needs another lift hill, like Cedar Point's Mine Ride. But fun enough.

Fahrenheit: This was our second-last ride of the day, after dark, and easily the longest line we waited in. I liked the first half, which was thrilling and smooth. In the second half, though, it got very rough, like it was taking too-tight curves at too-high speeds. The vertical lift hill is fun for giving no indication of when you’re about to tip over the top.

Comet: I really wanted to like the Comet. It was built by Herb Schmeck, after all, who built two of my favorite rides (Knoebels’ Phoenix and the defunct, and hugely underrated, Elitch Gardens Wildcat – both airtime monsters). But the Comet didn’t live up to my expectations. I’m not sure if it’s poorly maintained, or somehow braked, or if Schmeck just left the first hill five feet too short, but it kind of strolls through its route when it should be running, promising air and then reneging. Very middling.

Stormrunner: We almost skipped this as looking a bit too intense, but we went for it, and I’m glad we did. The launch, the surprising whip over the first hill, the way you hang and then drop out of the loop – all crazy scary fun. We screamed and laughed the whole way. My only complaint is the length of the ride, and the way it hits the brakes with a lot of energy left – although, for that, I don’t really think another three or four inversions would suit my tastes.

Sooperdooperlooper: This one was high on my list of reasons to visit Hersheypark, whereas my sister wanted to ride it just for the name. The girls in front of us questioned its Sooper-ness, having only one loop, but for me it was classic Schwarzkopf goodness, especially a little wooziness coming out of the loop and the way he plays with elevation changes during the final spiral. Good to see Hershey is treating this one with love (although I think it’s a shame the way the visual of the loop is cluttered by Great Bear’s supports). Speaking of which:

Great Bear: A lot, a lot, a lot of fun. Maybe my favorite inverted ride; I love the little loop around at the start and the speedy section along the creek just before the vertical loop. The ending is a little weird; it seemed like they could have thrown a surprise barrel roll in there just for laughs, but even so this is a terrific ride.

Wildcat: This was our first ride of the trip, after we bailed on the Comet’s hour-long line. And a good one, wild and fast and maybe just slightly too much roughness. (I’m a fan of getting tossed around a bit – the Coney Island Cyclone ranks high on my list – but not of constant rattling.) The Wildcat is fun but not really re-rideable.

Lightning Racer: For both of us, our favorite. We started on the right side (Lightning?), then immediately tried again on the left – they’re basically the same ride, I suppose, but different enough to justify trying both. And why not – this is a supremely good ride, in my opinion: fast and breathless, feeling almost out of control without beating you up too much. We rode this second, after the Wildcat, and then returned at night to cap off our visit, and I’m not sure if it was an illusion created by the darkness but it seemed to be running insanely fast.

The other rides and stuff:

Coal Cracker (flume): I love classic flume rides, ever since my grandmother took me on the original Shoot the Rapids at Cedar Point (look it up, kids). And this is a pretty good one, with nice landscaping and the bump at the bottom of the hill that sends you hydroplaning along.

Kissing Tower: I was expecting the kiss-shaped windows to have some arrangement of window seats around them, so I was disappointed to find just a bench around the inside. But otherwise fun. Interesting to see the old chocolate factory is being torn down (while leaving the outside wall in place).

The train: Points for being an actual steam train (albeit propane), and a needed break from jarring coasters. But there’s not much to see, especially in the second half of the ride.

Flying Eagles (whatever they’re called): I conned my sister into riding these by describing them as “surprisingly fun.” Which they were, for half the ride, and after that we both were praying for it to end. I can’t do that sort of thing much anymore.

Dueling Pianos show at the Music Box Theater: Silly, not that great, but another nice break in air-conditioning. Favorite moment was when they changed the lyrics of “Piano Man” to “…and the microphone smells like HERSHEY’S CHOCOLATE!” How old is this theater? It looks newish, but its size completely befuddled me – I can’t believe they ever fill even the front section of seats.

Reeses Cup Race: Sensory overload, and not so much fun to be standing in line with a million little kids who themselves were suffering from sensory overload times candy bars. The ride itself was fine, I suppose.

ZooAmerica: kind of sad, really, the sort of zoo that really shouldn’t exist anymore. (IMHO and all that.)

Food:

We ate at the Hershey Pantry for breakfast, which has a nice screen porch in back but was a little on the pricey side. Lunch was at the Kosher restaurant near the main gate, where I had the reasonably good falafel. For dinner we went to the Chocolate Avenue Grill, which I definitely recommend – good salads. Other than that, we really didn’t eat or drink much, and we bizarrely managed to spend the entire day in Hershey without eating any chocolate.

One complaint: although there are water fountains near the restrooms, when we asked for water at the food stands we were directed to a lukewarm pitcher of water and tiny plastic cups to fill ourselves. This is a problem with modern American society more than Hershey, but it still seems to me that pouring glasses of ice water would be both good customer service and help people avoid heat exhaustion.

Getting around the park, and the map, and other thoughts:

It’s been discussed here before, but this is maybe the most confusing park I’ve ever been to. Part of that is its “just growed”-ness, and part of that is the waterpark dropped awkwardly in the middle of everything. One of my favorite things about going to parks is the sense of exploring a little world, but I really felt lost the entire day.

But I would like to mention that the official map DOES NOT HELP. It might be the worst amusement park map I’ve ever seen, including the crummy little computer generated ones that all look the same. It doesn’t distinguish one ride from another well (try sorting out which line represents Great Bear vs Sooperdooperlooper vs Coal Cracker). It doesn’t delineate the paths very well. The most prominent features are the names of supposed themed areas, which in real life are completely indistinguishable from each other and thus no help in navigating (other than the waterpark), but whose names on the map block out big sections of paths.

[Digression: I have fond memories of the elaborate, hand-drawn souvenir maps of my youth, particularly of Cedar Point, where you could trace the path of the log flume, and the Space Spiral loomed over everything. It was a piece of art as well as a useful tool in finding your way around. Getting the new map every year, for $.75 or a dollar or whatever, was part of going to the park. The modern excuses for maps handed out at the gate generally come nowhere near this – so to have them equally fail as navigational aids is truly frustrating.]

Navigating aside, though, this is a really pretty park, with lots of trees, a cute jumble of amusement park architecture from different eras, the creek running through it, and so on. The midways over near Wildcat and Lightning Racer are less pretty, but given time for the trees to fill in I’m hopeful they’ll begin to resemble the rest of the park more. There’s a surprising lack of shade for many of the queues, particularly Skyrush and Fahrenheit – fortunately, we had short lines and were riding those late in the day, but I’d imagine they’re brutal places to wait for any length of time on a hot day.

All in all, a good day with some terrific coasters, and a fun start to our trip.

Last edited by hambone, Friday, September 6, 2013 3:46 PM
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Friday, September 6, 2013 4:34 PM

Your feelings on Lightning Racer mirror mine. It's a favorite of mine to begin with, but at night, it feels like 100mph when you exit the tunnel. It jumps up a coupla notches for me when darkness falls.

This was an excellent TR..looking forward to the next installments.

Last edited by Mike Gallagher, Friday, September 6, 2013 7:39 PM
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Friday, September 6, 2013 5:36 PM

Great trip report, and I generally don't read trip reports. Comet isn't what it used to be; it was at one point as you described how it should be. Air was abundant, and I remember it plowing through the leg that branches off the main portion of the coaster with considerable speed. I'm sure someone here can tell you for sure, but I figured it has been trimmed for many years.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013 2:14 AM

The Comet has one set of trims; they are slide brakes which are directly above the 180 degree turn over the station. Usually they only touch very light allowing a pretty entertaining ride through the out and back dog leg. I still think the Comet delivers a nice punch - especially for being 67 years old.

Last edited by Superstew, Saturday, September 7, 2013 2:15 AM
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