Last week I attended a conference at Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA. I will be summarizing some of the conference in a different post, but I also wanted to use the opportunity to do a mini-review of some of what we visited while we were there. It’s a lot to cover three venues in one post but I didn’t think it was enough material to warrant three separate posts, so I’m just going to hit main points and need to know stuff. So here is my special needs travel review of Hershey Lodge, Hershey Chocolate World and Troegs Brewery.
Hershey Lodge: Overall, it’s very nice and there is a lot for kids to do. It is also one of the more expensive hotels in Hershey, so if you’re not going to be spending much time at the hotel, I’d shop around. The restaurants are good, but a bit pricey. We spent an average of $50 for four people to eat breakfast and lunch, $75+ for dinner. And that was usually without alcohol because a glass of wine is $9 and up. Yes, you could get in the car and go nearby to a fast-food place or Panera or something, but I had to be at the conference early each day so there is the convenience factor.
My boys loved playing miniature golf and bingo. There was no fee for either activity and it was held daily. On Wednesday, little K won the bingo and got a huge Hershey kiss.
The pools looked nice. My husband took the boys while I was at the conference and he said it was very clean. The room we had (2 queens) was cozy. The AC unit left much to be desired. They use one of those swamp cooler things, so you either freeze or it’s very humid. I recommend that you look at a map prior to taking a room, as the walk was much further than we anticipated to get to the lobby and restaurants for activities. I did not specify that we needed a handicapped accessible room as we usually don’t. But endurance is a challenge sometimes and it was quite a walk for Kevin to be doing several times a day. The lobby bar was nice but expensive. It was $23 (including tip) for two drinks though they were splurge drinks for us, like their signature chocolate martini. Still, something very nice about being able to enjoy a drink like that on vacation without worrying about driving. I like to stay at places where we can access everything in one spot, I can relax more. Packing up the kids, Kevin’s push chair, a “diaper bag” for a 9-year-old…it often takes the relaxation out of a vacation, so I like when everything is there.
The noise level in some of the restaurants was high, particularly in the Bears Den and Hershey Grille. But on one evening we got put in a side room adjacent to main room which helped. Overall, the entire facility is much larger in person than it seems online, so again, I’d make sure ahead of time you know how far of a walk it will be for your special needs child if that is an issue. I did not see any allergy options on menus (maybe I missed it) or carb counts for kids with T1. The place overall was clean, but there was much detail-y type work to be done. I used the same glass door every day that rarely got cleaned and our room needed detail and edge vacuum and dusting. The refrigerator in the room was not that cold, better than nothing, but I’d be leery of keeping things like yogurt or milk in there if you needed to. The kids’ menus were fine for us. Despite Kevin’s many feeding challenges we were able to give him variety and things he liked. In summary, yes I would stay there again but definitely not at full, peak-season rates. I would look for deals and discounts online (there are many!) or go in the off-season. I have heard that they have renovations in their future plans, so by the time we go again, it should be even better.
Hershey Chocolate World: Our time was limited due to my being at the conference so the only Hershey activity we chose was Chocolate World.
Brian liked it, Kevin did not. We arrived mid-day during peak season, so that=very crowded. It is free to enter and you can take the 15 minute tour for free, plus visit the gift shop and food court. The desserts looked amazing but we had just eaten lunch. We chose two paid add-on activities: the chocolate tasting and Create Your Own Candy Bar which came to $93 for the four of us. The layout of Chocolate World is horrible in my opinion. It’s just like a giant cluster and people go everywhere. It’s not arranged in lines or directions for people to follow, it’s like a free for all of people trying to get at things. It’s very noisy and the lighting is just ok. It was very unsettling for Kevin and his sensory issues. The chocolate tasting is not really for kids. Mine were bored and just wanted to eat the chocolate. I did see a family restroom. I did see notices about nuts being on premises for allergies. I did not see any quiet areas or place you could possibly sneak off to to get a break for a few minutes. For most of Chocolate World, strollers are prohibited, though they were going to allow me to use ours since is has a ‘handicapped accessible’ tag on it and is his assistive device. For kiddos with sensory issues, I would not recommend going in peak season. I would like to go back when it’s less crowded. Kevin just doesn’t do well with lots of noise and crowds and waiting in line. It was overwhelming for him, which means that Mom doesn’t enjoy herself either. Still, the gift shop is not to be missed….I’ve never seen so many Hershey things in one place!
We really enjoyed the Create Your Own Chocolate Bar.
But again, it was very crowded and while the activity is fun, it’s a lot of waiting in lines throughout the activity for each station. Overall, for Chocolate World, I would go back but at a much less crowded time of year. Luckily I have that option since I live close.
Troegs: Ok, now for our last outing-Troegs. Yes, it’s a brewery and not an attraction for kids. Still, Hershey is a vacation destination for families, Troegs is right down the street from HersheyPark, and they have a kids menu. So they certainly acknowledge that kids will be visiting, including kids with autism and sensory issues. And, kids have parents. Parents who like Troegs. So here is what to expect it you want to go.
Overall, unless your kids are super-tolerant and very well behaved…I’d avoid taking the kids if you can. It’s just overwhelming in noise and smells. In full disclosure, I really don’t like beer. But my husband loves Troegs and since we were staying right down the street we felt like we had to visit. And we plan on going back as maybe a day trip or something when my brother or FIL is visiting because they also love Troegs. But if at all possible, don’t take the kids. It was sensory overload for me, I’m very surprised that Kevin did as well as he did. Dan had no complaints.
There were very strong beer brewing smells. Yes, it’s a brewery, I know that. But I have visited several other breweries and I don’t remember there being such a strong, offensive smell. Brian complained about it several times. It’s very open and airy and warehouse-y inside, which means it’s noisy. Add to that people drinking beer and having a good time, and the volume level is incredible. So, we chose to sit outside thinking it would be quieter for Kevin and that backfired. Outside, depending on the breeze, the beer brewing smell was stronger and more offensive and smelled more like a dumpster. Add to that, the only table they had available was right next to their smoker (which I can’t figure out why they’d put that on a restaurant patio?!) and my hair smelled like campfire for 2 days afterwards. What could make it more unpleasant? Well, FLIES! Yes, on top of the noise and the bad smells, the flies and gnats were annoying even though they had fans to try to keep them away. Their kids menu was just ok. The PB and J we got for Kevin had very tough, artisan type bread. I was stuffed from lunch so didn’t eat much. Brian did not like any of the choices so he just ate the chips that came with Kevin’s sandwich. They did not have any beverages for small kids except a cranberry lemonade which they didn’t like. Dan said his food was good and that the beer was reasonably priced and “it doesn’t get any fresher than this.” The building itself is very new so accessibility is not an issue. The bathrooms were just ok as again, a very strong perfume-y smell in them and the floors were wet. But again, I recognize that this is a brewery and not a kids attraction. Leave them behind if you can and you’ll probably have a better time.
I have lived Pennsylvania for over four decades and this was my first real trip to Hershey. I have been there one time before in the 1980s and I’ve still never been to HersheyPark. I saw what looked like several families having extended family vacations with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, much like some of our vacations we have done. The Hershey Lodge and Hershey would be a good spot for something like that, but it’s not going to be an inexpensive trip. You can look beyond Hershey and find things to do in Lancaster, Gettysburg and Harrisburg to maximize your trip.
If you are taking a child with sensory issues or a child who struggles with big outings like this, you’re going to really have to prepare ahead of time. It is a sensory overload place and even NT kids will be overwhelmed. But, with preparation I think it can be done and that your family can have a great time. I think we will go back but that it will be as a day trip. I still love Hershey, I still love their chocolate and other items but I just wasn’t as “wow’d” at Chocolate World and the Lodge as I had hoped to be.
Author’s Note: These posts are often written and scheduled days or even weeks ahead of time. So I’ve been mulling over this post in my mind, long after I wrote it. I am wondering if it’s too harsh-Hershey and Troegs are two of PA’s most beloved brands, right? But I’ve read it and re-read it, and I can’t help but be honest. Keep in mind that I am blogging from the perspective of a family who has extra sensory needs. I feel that I have to be honest with my readers as far as what to expect with their kids, if you choose to go.