Hersheypark Reimagines the Guest Arrival Experience
When the wind is blowing the right way, the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, still smells like chocolate. Taking its name from Milton S. Hershey, the man who built the first modern chocolate factory in the nation on its land in 1905, the tiny community in the mid-Atlantic United States is now known for sweet thrills too: home to Hersheypark, the 114-year-old amusement park. Though it has grown to 121 acres from humble beginnings as a leisure space for Hershey’s factory workers, Hersheypark looked to its past to reimagine the very first moments guests spend at the facility. The result? Hershey’s Chocolatetown: a $150 million investment, the largest in company history, that includes a new arrival plaza, front gate, and themed region (with park record-breaking roller coaster “Candymonium”). And, the perfect environment to enact the pandemic-era procedures they never thought they’d need.
A Broad Path to Chocolatetown
“Our reimagined arrival experience now offers a unique sense of place with both subtle and obvious nods to the legacy of Milton S. Hershey as our guests see ‘Candymonium’ passing between our iconic pinwheel sign and the Kisses fountain. Every design choice is intentional and devoted to telling the story of the place where fun meets chocolate,” says John Lawn, president and CEO of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts.
Where once was a narrow 25-foot midway, broken up by trees and lined with Tudor-themed shops and restaurants, is now a wide plaza of cream and red brick. The design emulates a turn-of-the-century factory, with nods to the architecture of the original chocolate town throughout—like streetlamps in the shape of Hershey’s Kisses (modeled after those that line the streets of downtown) and the four-sided pitched roof of the Hotel Hershey, the luxury resort Hershey built to provide jobs and stimulate the local economy during the Great Depression.
“This area is a differentiator from other parks or places because it celebrates the unique legacy of our founder and pays homage to the architecture of his era,” says Lawn. “We often say it’s of an era but not from an era—and that’s part of the enduring legacy of the landmarks that Mr. Hershey created. They feel nostalgic and timeless.”
The company also found ways to honor the philanthropic and civic contributions of Milton S. Hershey. A one-of-a-kind Kiss-shaped bell in the arrival area is hung on a beam signed by students of the Milton Hershey School, the academic institution founded by Hershey to provide education to low-income students at no cost. And, a bronzed compass rose, embedded in the brick just before the gate, points to the geographic locations of the many contributions Hershey made to the community, including the school, botanical gardens, theater, and factories. “A glance in any direction will reveal the current or previous location of some of the significant landmarks established by Mr. and Mrs. Hershey, including Hersheypark, as lasting gifts to the community,” says Lawn.
The compass rose is just one Easter egg for locals and a way to share with visitors how the park is part of a larger family built on a foundation of doing good. “We are so proud to share this larger-than-life story of a successful entrepreneur who gave his fortune away to help children in need. His values and legacy are at the core of our company and the unique guest experience that you can only find in Hershey,” says Lawn.
Faster Front Gate Experience
The plaza culminates with new frictionless security scanners that expedite the bag check process, and a peek at the tumbling waters of the Kisses fountain, unwrapped by “Candymonium” swooping by.
“Our new front gate was designed to process guests quickly and effectively,” says Vikki Hultquist, general manager of Hersheypark. “It replaces a front gate that was originally built in 1973 that was intended to handle a capacity of 1 million guests. While we happily passed that guest count decades ago, our growth further illustrated our need to address our entry experience.”
The new design features 10 times the entry space of the old arrival area. The former design channeled guests through a series of ticket counters themed like a castle wall, and into a narrow village space. Now, the plaza before the gate is 165 feet wide and lets out into a 250-foot entrance area within the park, creating plenty of space for strollers and wheelchairs.
The entrance plaza previously sloped down toward the gates but was raised by 12 feet to eliminate hills and provide a smoother transition into the park. Additional guest services windows, family restrooms, new nursing rooms, and larger wheelchair rental space also improved overall access to important services for all guests. “We couldn’t be happier with the increased guest flow and efficiency as they start their day at Hersheypark,” Hultquist says.
Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance, but ticket windows are available on-site and located at the beginning of the plaza, eliminating the need for transactions at the front gate itself. Now, guest reservations are electronically confirmed by staff before proceeding through security and scanned to check in after. The two-point system reduces backlog in the security area where check-in takes place, as do dedicated lanes for season passholders and guests of the park’s official resorts.
The new frictionless security system scans for prohibited objects in bags as guests pass through what appears to be a simple metal detector. The detector chimes and identifies the object to security personnel on a screen before bag check occurs. This eliminates the need for checking all bags, while maintaining safety.
Where Fun Meets Chocolate
“Only Hersheypark can be located in The Sweetest Place on Earth! Like so many aspects of our destination, our cultural and historical connection to Mr. Hershey, chocolate, and fun is unique to us,” says Lawn. “We are the only amusement park in the world focused on fun and chocolate.”
Hersheypark’s connection to the intellectual property (IP) of The Hershey Company’s iconic confection brands has been a part of the guest experience. Life-size costumed characters of anthropomorphic Hershey’s candies like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s Chocolate Bars, and the Hershey’s Kiss walk the park. The names of Hershey’s products categorize rider-height requirements and even influence the names of the rides themselves. But, Hershey’s Chocolatetown integrates that IP and exclusive affiliation from the start with “Candymonium,” the new Bolliger & Mabillard hyper coaster anchoring the redesigned land. Now guests immediately encounter the company’s iconic product when one of three signature Hershey’s-branded ride vehicles sweeps across the milk chocolate-colored tracks of “Candymonium.” The 4,636-foot coaster reaches speeds of 76 mph and a maximum height of 210 feet, making it the tallest, fastest, and longest ride in the park. (For more on “Candymonium,” see page 42.) With “Candymonium” and the Kisses fountain, which shoots water from Kiss-shaped valves into the candy’s famous droplet shape, Hersheypark draws the connection between the joy The Hershey Company’s treats create and the experience the day will deliver.
“Candymonium” is the marquee experience of Hershey’s Chocolatetown, but not the only ride in town. The park moved the 101-year-old “Carrousel” to a place of prominence in the region and into a new pavilion designed to harken back to its setting in the 1940s. A Hershey’s Kiss at the pinnacle of the pavilion pulls double duty as a lightning rod as well.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the century-old carousel is “Hyperdeck,” the park’s other addition to Chocolatetown. “Hyperdeck” is an immersive virtual reality game experience that incorporates a full-motion floor with effects that simulate wind, heat, and vibration. The 300-square-foot space provides the environment for two sets of four players to participate in two totally different games: “Dreamland,” centered on a quest into the subconscious, and “H.A.I.R.” which brings a rocking ’80s-inspired soundtrack to gameplay. The attraction is a product of fellow Pennsylvania company MajorMega, which first connected with Hersheypark at IAAPA Expo.
A Taste of Hershey to Take Along
The park themed to chocolate couldn’t resist including a few sweet surprises. Treats added to the new arrival experience were curated for their appeal at the beginning (and end) of the day when guests would be passing through. Inside the gate, for that morning caffeine boost, is the park’s first Starbucks. The park worked with the coffee company to customize the look of the shop to incorporate its own theme—resulting in an organic-feeling placement of an international brand. Historic photos of the views of the park from Starbucks further ground it in Hershey, all the more important as the building occupies the land where the old front gate stood.
On the other side of the gate, Chocolatetown Treats was created after feedback that guests enjoy a treat on their way in or out of the park. The window-service outlet offers soft pretzels and house-made cinnamon bread with apple butter, vanilla icing, or Hershey’s Chocolate dipping sauces.
Next to Chocolatetown Treats sits Hersheypark Supply Co., the new 10,000-square-foot flagship retail space, which will also house three food and beverage experiences: The Chocolatier (a full-service restaurant, bar, and patio), The Sweeterie (custom confectionary kitchen), and Milton’s Ice Cream Parlor. Due to pandemic-related construction delays, the three outlets are set to open in 2021, but the retail store has already been very successful for the park. The space is decked out with nods to legendary rides, such as merchandise bins in the shape of the park’s Ferris wheel gondolas, an LED-equipped replica of the “Kissing Tower” ride vehicle, and the logo’s pinwheel revolving in the window (revived from ’70’s-era branding to add some throwback fun.) The large store replaces a few small separate retail shops that had been located inside and just outside the gate. Hersheypark Supply Co. straddles the gate and serves as an exit for the park, with plans to allow for entrance in the future.
The positioning of the flagship store also proved useful for operations. “What appears to be a large extension of our flagship retail and restaurant building is actually screening a fully functional receiving and material handling space, which includes our on-site recycling programs, daily food and beverage deliveries, our retail warehouse shipping and receiving activities, as well as dedicated team member entry and clock-in spaces,” says Hultquist.
An Unexpected Benefit
The park also opened HP Collections, a retail space for gifts, souvenirs, home goods, and apparel (including a co-branded line with Vineyard Vines). One will also find “Candymonium” merchandise in the store. The physical distancing restrictions required for indoor spaces in response to COVID-19 made it difficult to open the coaster’s exit retail space. Fortunately, the new HP Collections location was close enough to “Candymonium’s” exit to provide a logical temporary home for the merchandise.
This isn’t the only change the park made that proved to be fortuitous in this unexpected era. “While we couldn’t have predicted the impact of COVID-19 on our operations for summer 2020, our new region was always designed to give us the benefit of additional space,” says Hultquist. That additional space allows for physical distancing that would not have been possible in the former design, as well as room for no-touch temperature screening, in-queue pavement markers for spacing out guests, and lower touch security screening.
The statewide cessation of construction activity during the spring of 2020 could’ve derailed the opening of Hershey’s Chocolatetown, but it was ready for the public when the park started the abbreviated season on July 3. “Luckily, ‘Candymonium’ installation, testing, and commissioning were essentially completed prior to the COVID-19 halt. As a matter of fact, the first run of a ‘Candymonium’ train occurred on May 5, 2020, the Monday after the work resumed,” says Hultquist. “Our construction and operations team worked tirelessly to implement new safety enhancements as we opened for the July Fourth weekend.”
Hersheypark was the first amusement park to reopen and one of the first businesses overall in the state. “The health and safety of our team members, guests, and our community is core to our brand and our most important commitment to all that choose to work with us as a member of our team or honor us with a visit,” says Lawn. “Like parks throughout our industry, Hersheypark has implemented a variety of safety initiatives to welcome our guests back to a fun and safe environment.”
A Sweet Outlook
From the top of “Candymonium’s” lift hill, one can see a bird’s-eye view of Hershey. The town and legacy that shaped the park in the beginning may well define it in the new world as well.
“We pride ourselves on being a clean and green park that has a lot to offer guests who are interested in a family-friendly road trip—we feel that will always be a differentiator for us post COVID-19,” says Hultquist. “Some initiatives we launched this summer, like mobile ordering and cashless games, will continue to expand. But guest enjoyment and safety will also remain the foundational elements of a Hersheypark experience.”
Contact Prasana William, IAAPA’s director of global publishing and content strategy, at [email protected].