For those of you that follow our families travels on a regular basis, you can usually find pictures of us in a theme park somewhere. We’re equal opportunity people, hitting up popular parks like Disney World and Universal Studios, while also visiting Legoland and Hersheypark multiple times a year. My friend Richard Kerr asked this week, “Does the Pizza family have season passes to every theme park in the country?” The answer is no, but we do have season passes to more than one. After a one-year hiatus, we decided to re-up season passes for Hersheypark this year.
Hersheypark is opening this week, July 3rd. Prior to opening, they scheduled two days of previews for season pass holders. We were at the first preview day today. For a first day, I was pleasantly surprised at the precautions in place. In case you’re wondering what it was like, let me take you through what we learned.
Staying Nearby Hersheypark
Even though our daughter is very anxious about COVID-19 and going out in public, our son is very excited to go back to Hersheypark. The best compromise we could come up with was to rent an RV (something we’ve never done before) so our daughter wouldn’t need to stay in a hotel. She was willing to give the trip a try with more control over the sleeping arrangements. I’ll be covering our RV rental and campsite experience in the near future. For now, I can confirm two things:
- A 32 foot Winnebago motorhome fits through the parking booths at Hersheypark, but unless you’re perfect you’ll need to pull the mirrors in. I was not perfect.
- The folks at Hersheypark have dedicated parking for motorhomes. They made it super easy for me to park our boat.
Getting Into Hersheypark
Masks were required for all park visitors. Season pass holders still have a dedicated lot right near the new park entrance and Chocolatetown, the new “neighborhood” debuting this year. As an unabashed fan of chocolate, this area will be a pleasant addition to my waist line while extracting funds from my wallet.
Visitors arriving at the entrance to Chocolatetown will be greeted by a Hersheypark employee in a face shield. I entered this area twice during the day. The first time my forehead was scanned with a thermal device. The second time I was asked a few health questions before having my temperature checked again.
Once through the temperature check, there were detailed colored arrows on the ground to direct folks to lines. All the decals on the ground were designed for spacing people 6 feet apart. I’d give Hersheypark a grade of A in terms of giving visual cues to visitors on how to line up. I’d give the visitors waiting to get into the park somewhere around a C+. People were excited, masks were on, but spacing left a bit to be desired. You’ll also find some signs with disclaimers that essentially say it’s not their fault if you catch COVID-19.
Ticketing lines were long to pick up our King Size season pass packs, so we decided we’d wait until later in the day. Lines we’re short to have our tickets scanned. The person scanning our tickets said there was a problem and we wouldn’t be allowed to enter. She directed us to a long line outside set up for season ticket issues. Knowing that our daughter was dealing with a lot of anxiety around the crowds, I asked to speak to a manager.
The manager was polite and helpful. He was very willing to help. He immediately let our kids go sit down in the shade inside the park with my wife. His manager came over and was able to take our season pass cards with her to resolve our issue. We were held up about 10 minutes or so, but the customer service was top notch, nobody lost their cool.
While I was resolving our ticketing issue, our son was getting the first delight of the day. Unlike Disney World, where characters are pretty much off the menu for a while, Hershey had their finest out for meet-and-greets. Just to keep everyone safe, the characters were separated by a rope and stanchion to help with social distancing. After an ecstatic boy got his moment with the Hershey bar, he was able to catch the Hershey Kiss and Reese’s Cup later in the day as well.
Reese’s Cupfusion is one of the first rides near the front of the park. This is a fairly new update to an existing ride, Hershey’s version of Buzz Lightyear at Disney World. We stopped to look at how long the line was. The employee manning the line really wasn’t sure how long it was (social distancing made it a bit tough to get a good read on day one). With the queue running back-to-back and some pretty bad spacing, we were nervous that would be par for the course. While we love theme parks, standing in line for an hour in close proximity to strangers isn’t on our radar.
Thankfully, that was the only truly bad spacing we saw throughout the entire day. Our first ride of the day was Dry Gulch Railroad, the sleepy train that coasts around various rides in the park. The line was short and everyone was spaced properly. Automatic hand sanitizer dispensers were located at the front of the ride and along the queue in two other places. On the ride itself, at least every other car was taped off to maintain spacing. And, there was another hand sanitizer dispenser at the ride exit. While there was no active cleaning of the train cars in between rides, we felt reasonably safe.
We ate lunch down by Trailblazer at the smokehouse at the bottom of the hill. The line was spaced out well and Hersheypark staff had removed about half the picnic tables to provide for increased spacing.
Trailblazer is one of our son’s favorite rides. Similar to Dry Gulch Railroad, we found spacing stickers on the ground throughout the ride queue. This queue was cordoned off more effectively than Cupfusion without many opportunities to stand next to strangers. And, every other car was blocked. Again, lots of hand sanitizer dispensers. This was the only place in the park where we found an empty hand sanitizer dispenser (out of what had to be 75 to 100 different ones we saw).
We spent a bit of time in Zoo America, where they had placed stickers and tape throughout to keep people walking in separate lines. Other than a few high school kids running around without masks, we felt safe and spaced out effectively the entire time we spent with the animals.
The classic wooden roller coaster Comet, another favorite of ours, mimicked the lines we saw elsewhere. Plenty of social distance stickers, including on the ramps. For the most part, the visitors were the ones in control of spacing. I didn’t see too many employees asking people to create space in the queues.
Hersheypark is known for having a variety of carnival-style games. Here again, they were taking what seemed to be reasonable precautions. Our son wanted to play Plinko. Prior to him climbing the stairs, a Hersheypark employee directed him to a hand sanitizer dispenser and had him sanitize before handing him the Plinko chips.
Important Note About Chocolate World
Not a single visit to Hersheypark is complete for our family until we ride the original Chocolate Experience and buy a bunch of candy at Chocolate World. You’ll find similar precautions in place at Hershey’s Chocolate World, the popular maze of shopping and activities alongside the theme park. There are even some nifty automated temperature scanning stations.
However, there was one detail that threw us for a loop. Chocolate World is requiring reservations for everyone that wants to enter, whether it’s to shop, ride the Chocolate Experience, make a chocolate bar or just use the bathroom. It’s unclear how many people they’re letting in at a time, but it’s much less than normal. For Hersheypark visitors, it would be a bummer to show up and not be able to get into Chocolate World. Reservations are free and quick to make on the main website.
Is It Safe To Visit Hersheypark
Wrapping up with the question I asked about the beginning, should you feel safe bringing your family to Hersheypark. After a day in the parks, I think so. We saw at least a handful of staff members approach visitors who were not wearing masks and politely, but firmly ask them to put a mask on. As the hot summer day stretched on, mask wearing became a bit more lax. For the most part, though, people did the right thing.
Our first visit was during a season pass preview day. The crowds were certainly smaller than what I’d expect once the park opens to all guests. With a more crowded park, there will certainly be more risk. And, if your goal is to do everything Hersheypark has to offer, you’ll want to budget a bit more time. There’s no question that hour after hour of walking around in the hot sun with a mask on tired us out.
Hersheypark is running a variety of promotions right now for scoring tickets cheaply, such as buy one, get one free offers. That could make a Hersheypark vacation pretty darn affordable for your family during the COVID-19 crisis. If you’re tempted to go but worried about the safety precautions, my advice is that you should be cautiously optimistic. While I’m not ready to bring my family back to Disney World right now, I felt pretty darn safe walking around the sweetest place on earth!
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