Warming up

Hersheypark is open the next two weekends to give visitors a sneak peek at attractions

April 02, 2010|By Chris Kaltenbach

You can tell spring is here. The roller coasters at Hersheypark are getting ready to rumble.

"During the winter, the temperatures are too cold - for most roller coasters, it must be above 32 degrees for them to operate," says Kathy Burrows, the park's public relations manager. "If the tracks aren't warm enough, they just won't go."

Thank goodness it's supposed to be plenty warm enough this weekend for Hershey's annual "Springtime In the Park" celebration. Even though the season's grand opening won't be until May 1, visitors over the next two weekends (except for April 9) can get a sneak peek at what the 103-year-old park will be offering this year. Hard on the heels of the worst winter on record, park officials are expecting an influx of people anxious to rid themselves of those last vestiges of cabin fever.

"It's a beautiful time of year to visit," Burrows says. "We have 65,000 pansies planted throughout the park; we have pansies blooming everywhere. Generally, the crowds are smaller, but the weather is going to be perfect this year, so I don't know that that's going to be true."

Certainly, the price is right, significantly discounted from what visitors will pay once the season opens. All-day passes will run $23.95, $15.95 for juniors and seniors (down from $52.95 and $31.95, respectively).

True, some of the water rides won't be ready yet, since there's still a bit of a chill in the air, and many of the new shows that park officials have planned for this year won't be up and running. "Primarily, the performers are college students, so they're still in school," Burrows says. "By Memorial Day weekend, all the shows are open and the water areas are open."

But most of Hersheypark's 11 coasters - from the 64-year-old Comet to the vertically challenging Fahrenheit, installed in 2008 - should be rumbling along with all due speed; so should some 30 other rides, everything from the sedate, kid-friendly Dinosaur Go-Round to the swinging pendulum known ominously as The Claw (make sure you have either zippered or empty pockets for this one). Plenty of midway games, retail shops and food venues will also be open for business. And some entertainers who no longer have to worry about their college classes will be performing, including the Marc DeRose band ( today in the park's amphitheater) and Chris Linn, "America's Magical Funnyman" (Saturday and Sunday in the amphitheater). There's also a new sea lion show that make its debut today.

All this is in keeping with the spirit of Hersheypark founder and benefactor Milton S. Hershey, who opened it in 1907 as a picnic and pleasure ground for town residents and employees at his chocolate factory. In the early years, many visitors would arrive by streetcar; until the early 1970s, they could also tour the factory where Hershey's chocolate was made and stare longingly at vast vats of freshly poured chocolate. These days, instead of touring the factory directly, they can visit Hershey's Chocolate World, just west of the park, where new features this summer include the computer-assisted "Create Your Own Candy Bar," allowing budding chocolatiers to create and package their own confections.

Also adjacent to the 110-acre park is ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, celebrating 100 years of having a zoo in Hershey. Zoo admission is included in the price of a ticket to Hersheypark.

Once the season officially gets under way next month, Burrows says, the park will debut three new shows. They include "Tap," "Rock the Jukebox" and "Crystal Sneakers," which Burrows describes as "a modern, young Cinderella story with a Miley Cyrus- Taylor Swift kind of feel to it."

Happily, however, there's plenty about Hersheypark that hasn't changed - and that includes the venerable Comet, which has been thrilling riders since the Truman administration. Park officials continue to take pride in Hershey's reputation for cleanliness and hospitality, a pride that is drilled into its 4,000 seasonal employees.

"There is a crew that hoses down the park every morning," Burrows says. "The park, at 7 o'clock in the morning, is absolutely beautiful. There are aspects of the park that are pretty much the same as they've always been - things that make you feel the same as when you were a kid."

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