Disneyland’s effect on the amusement park industry is undeniable. Nearly all modern parks have incorporated the themed lands idea that Walt Disney established in Disneyland. Disney has influenced more than theme park layout, however, and rides and attractions at theme parks around the world have taken inspiration from legendary rides and ride systems. One great example of this can be found in Pennsylvania in the chocolate-themed Hersheypark.
Hersheypark was founded in 1907 by Milton S. Hershey as a place for his employees to relax and enjoy themselves. Over a century later, the park has expanded to be one of the largest in the state, and highly regarded for it’s large collection of roller coasters (currently 11, with the 12th under construction for opening this season). Even the park’s motto, “The Sweetest Place on Earth” bears a striking resemblance to a certain Anaheim establishment.
Like most northeast parks, Hersheypark must close for the winter (having been there for numerous Christmas Candylane evenings, when the park is open even as winter approaches, I can tell you firsthand that roller coasters are an entirely different beast in sub-freezing temperatures). There is one part of the experience, however, that is open year round. In fact, it is completely free, and something that will make any Disney fan feel right at home. Just outside the main gate is Hershey’s Chocolate World, a large visitor’s center featuring something rarely seen at your average amusement park, an omnimover attraction.
Hershey’s Chocolate World, which opened in 1973, came about as a replacement for the popular chocolate plant tour. The construction of the facility allowed the company not only to keep up with demand, but also to give a consistent and controlled experience to its guests. While the building has seen many additions and changes over the years, the star attraction has always been the Chocolate Factory Tour. As with our beloved Disney omnimover dark rides, the tour has experienced many revisions over the years (although many original elements remain).
Upon entering the building, the entrance to the ride is straight ahead. On a crowed day, the line can often stretch beyond the entrance (best to skip it early in the morning, when it tends to be more crowded, or on hot days, as it is the only attraction other than the Kissing Tower that is air conditioned). On the left as you make your way through the queue is a look at the life of Milton S. Hershey, the company’s founder.
Around the next turn, we find ourselves in the rainforests of South America (where the cocoa beans used in Hershey’s chocolate comes from), followed by a loading dock, where the beans are prepared for transportation to the factories. We then descend down stairs to the turntable loading area. The omnimover vehicles bear a resemblance to the ones used in Journey into Imagination. They travel at a constant speed, three per group, and each contain their own speaker system for the narration.
The first scene of the attraction features a Dreamgirls-esque trio of singing cows that made their debut during the last renovation of the attraction in 2006. The genesis of the cow theme seems to come from a moment in the ride from the 1990s. When discussing the importance of milk in the chocolate making process, a large picture of a cow would light up, making a loud moo sound. After passing this scene, we enter the plant and begin our tour. The cows aside, a large portion of the actual “machinery” we will pass remains as it was when the tour first opened.
After arriving by train, the beans are sorted and cleaned. After blending the beans from different parts of the world (using Hershey’s secret formula of course) the beans, and our vehicles, enter the roaster. This is one of the most famous sections of the attraction, and features heat lamps to give you the feeling of actually being in an oversized oven. After being separated from it’s shell (shown via a short animated sequence), we pass one of several of the ride’s trademark mirror effects, which makes it appear as though we are inside a factory with dozens of rows of machines where the now liquefied beans are stored.
Once again we hear the Dreamgirls style cow trio singing ahead. They bring us to the introduction of milk to the process (this would be where the single cow I mentioned earlier appeared). We then take a U turn through the central mixing section, described as the heart of the plant. Next the chocolate is dried, and cocoa butter is added to create a chocolate paste. This part of the attraction is notable for the strong scent of chocolate that is pumped in (it really beats that unfortunate skunk smell we are treated to in Epcot’s current imagination attraction).
Up next is a process called “conching”, which resembles what you would expect to see if chocolate were to go to the gym. I often wonder if the liquid in the tanks is also left over from 1973. Finally, the chocolate is turned into the bars and kisses that we recognize, followed by the wrapping area. Amazingly, this entire process is automated, and no human hands ever touch the chocolate until it is unwrapped. There was once a large rotating Hershey’s kiss made out of hundreds of regular kisses, but this has gone missing in recent years.
The finale of the tour is a song (remember when every Epcot attraction had one of these?). Since 2006, the song is played in a variety of musical styles emphasizing that it is a “Hershey’s chocolate world”. One final cow is on hand to take our picture before we return to the load and unload area.
Hershey then takes a page out of the Disney playbook and the ride exits into a gift shop, albeit a very large one. The rather long exit ramp that encircles part of the shopping area below has, of course, a place where you can view and purchase your photo that was taken on the ride. Finally, before exiting into the shopping area, we receive our very own free sample of a Hershey’s product.
The large shopping complex features candy (of course) as well as clothing and other memorabilia from both Hershey the company and Hersheypark. There is also a food court and a counter for the paid attractions like the 3D film (which I do not recommend) and the trolley tour around town (which I do). One of the items my family purchased here, a working toy train featuring the Hershey line, continues to encircle my parents’ Christmas tree every year (along with a Disney monorail of course).
Despite the fact that I probably still know the 90s narration by heart, I still make it a point to visit Chocolate World whenever in town. If you find yourself in Pennsylvania, I highly recommend taking the time to stop by Hershey. Much like Disney, they have their own accommodations such as the Hotel Hershey (an attraction itself), the Hershey Lodge, and Hershey Highmeadow Campground, a place where I spend many a summer weekend when I was younger. Each has its own complimentary bus to Hersheypark and Hershey’s Chocolate World. It is, after all, the Sweetest Place on Earth.