As you walk into Hersheypark in December, you are greeted by over five million twinkling lights and many smiling faces, most of them under 10 and thrilled to be in an amusement park decked out for the holidays. It may surprise you, but there are many sweet and festive things to do at Christmas in Hershey.
Sure, Disney is a popular destination around the holidays, but sold-out theme parks and ridiculously long lines are not so sweet. But in Hershey, everything is sweet, from the Hershey Kiss-shaped street lights to the candies on your pillow — chocolate is everywhere.
Even if you haven’t heard of Hersheypark, you’ve probably had a Hershey product, including Reese’s, Krackel, Mr. Goodbar, Hershey Kisses, and many others. When Milton S. Hershey returned to his hometown in 1903 to build a state-of-the-art chocolate factory, he built more than a business, he created a community that included a school, an orphanage, and a place where his employees and their families could relax…Hershey Park.
Since 1927, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts has turned Hershey, PA into a tourism destination adding hotels, an arena, a zoo, a theater, a museum, a giant factory store, and the famous Hersheypark amusement park.
Things to do at Christmas in Hershey
What could be better than the “Sweetest Place on Earth” to celebrate Christmas? Families and kids at heart will enjoy celebrating the holidays at Hershey.
For more ideas, try these places to go for Christmas on the East Coast.
Note: Our stay in Hershey and entrance to Hersheypark and Hershey Sweet Lights was provided by the Hershey Harrisburg Visitor’s Bureau. We thank them for providing our family with this fun way to enjoy the holiday season, which does not influence the opinions expressed above.
1. Christmas Candylane in Hersheypark
Hersheypark offers 110 acres of family fun with more than 70 rides including 13 roller coasters and 20 kiddie rides. In the winter, Hersheypark scales back its available rides and transforms into a winter wonderland with the opening of its Christmas Candylane. Open mid-November through December on weekend afternoons and some weekday evenings, Hersheypark welcomes visitors that are willing to brave the cold for some holiday cheer.
As we joined the crowds filing into the park at its opening at 5:00 pm a few days after Christmas, we got the sense that we were about to experience something special. Yes, it was only 25 degrees and the sun was setting fast, but as those twinkling lights began to glow, we were caught up in the holiday spirit with music blaring and children smiling.
It was cold, but the cold is what set it apart — we were hanging out at an amusement park in winter — a very different experience than standing in lines in the sweltering sun. While Hersheypark in general caters to families with young children, it was definitely the under-12 set who were getting the most out of the Candylane experience.
For obvious safety reasons, some of the rides were shut down, although you can still ride Candymonium and the park’s many kiddie and not-so-scary rides were open. Throughout Hersheypark the many varieties of holiday light displays beckoned you forward.
The lines weren’t long, nothing seemed longer than 10 minutes, and there were heated pavilions next to the refreshment stands to warm up (although the warmest place was in the bathrooms!) We quickly jumped on the carousel, Himalayan, and took a couple of turns on the bumper cars, but we were a family on a mission.
Before leaving home we took a look at what Candylane had to offer and we discovered that Santa’s Reindeer would be visiting the park. Santa and all nine of his reindeer make a special stop at Christmas Candylane each year at Santa’s Reindeer Stables (although Santa returns to the North Pole on December 24th.)
We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit the reindeer, so we threaded our way through the park in search of the stables. Our noses, and a few signs, led us to our destination.
Finished with their work on Christmas Eve, the reindeer were already shedding their antlers, which apparently they lose every year around this time. One of their keepers kindly took some time to talk to us about the habits and lives of reindeer, and we were able to discern that they were visiting Hershey from the North Pole, by way of Buffalo, New York.
With frozen feet, we took another stroll through the park to see what rides we might have missed, like the Kissing Tower, Pirate Ship, or the frightening-looking (at least to ride wimps like me) “Claw.” As we walked we were treated to the highlight of the park, the holiday light and sound show in The Hollow. Here, a row of trees dripping in different colored lights would light up in time with some of my favorite holiday tunes.
When visiting Christmas Candylane, you can’t miss seeing the show NOEL, featuring more than 250,000 lights dancing to classic holiday tunes. Also, stop by the Kissmas Tree display, and see the iconic Kisses Fountain decked out in its holiday best.
Not being ride die-hards and also not having packed hand or foot warmers, we decided it was time to take this show on the road — literally. We stopped into Hershey Chocolate World for a sweet treat at the bake shop to take in the car and then it was off to see more lights…more Sweet Lights.
2. Hershey Sweet Lights
Located just a couple of miles away from Hersheypark in pitch-dark farmland, you will find the second attraction for families visiting Hershey at Christmas…the Hershey Sweet Lights. Hershey’s Sweet Lights is a drive-through holiday light display.
Looping around nearly 2 miles, the Sweet Lights feature nearly 600 light displays and can take at least about 30 minutes to navigate, depending on how many times you, or the car in front of you, decides to stop to take pictures.
Technically you are supposed to keep moving but once you realize how bad the pictures of lights turn out if you are moving just a little bit, even the most impatient driver is going to want to stop for a few pictures. But this really isn’t an attraction for the time-crunched or the impatient. So relax, crank up the heat, open the snacks, tune your radio to the station broadcasting holiday music and just go with it.
Your first loop will take you past quite a few of the larger displays and as you get back towards what looks like the beginning, you might have a moment of disappointment when you say, “that’s it?” (yes, I did), but don’t worry, it isn’t it.
You’ll then head off into the woods for some of the smaller displays. Here, the displays are grouped in themes, like fairytales, Victorian villages, and displays designed by local school children.
Even a Hershey child had their work featured, imagine that. What made us laugh throughout this section were the many, many Rudolphs peeking out from behind trees. Something about the way he seemed to be crossing his legs like he had to go made us think we snuck up on him relieving himself behind the tree. (By the way, make sure you go before you go because while there may be port-a-potties at the entrance and exit, there otherwise isn’t anywhere to pull off along the route.)
We aren’t going to win any awards for our backseat videography, but this quick Hyperlapse video will give you an idea of what it is like to drive through the Hershey Sweet Lights.
Hershey Sweet Lights is located at 1183 Sandbeach Road, Hershey, PA 17033
Ticket prices and park hours are subject to change, so I encourage you to visit the Hersheypark website for the latest information to plan your visit. Whether you are spending Christmas in Hershey or visiting at another time, Hershey is truly a family travel destination with family-friendly hotels and plenty of attractions.
3. Hershey’s Chocolate World
Hershey’s Chocolate World is more than a gift shop or a factory store, it is a delight for chocolate lovers with the scent of chocolate in the area. Timed-entry tickets are required and availability is limited so book early. In addition to shopping to fill everyone’s stockings, you can also sign up to create your own candy bar from choosing ingredients to designing the wrapper.
Another attraction at Hershey’s Chocolate World is Hershey’s Unwrapped: A Chocolate Tasting Journey. During this experience, guests are given an Official Chocolate Tasting Kit and learn to see, touch, hear, smell and taste chocolate. Doc Chocolate entertains the audiences in the chocolate laboratory, where he dreams up sweet creations.
Our favorite was the free Hershey’s Chocolate Tour ride, where you hop on board a ride vehicle to take a delicious journey from tropical cocoa bean to wrapped candy bar. There are even samples at the end!
Hershey’s Chocolate World is located at 101 Chocolate World Way, Hershey, PA 17033
4. The Hershey Story Museum
If you want a sweet way to celebrate the holidays, visit The Hershey World Museum and sign up for a chocolate tasting experience. This interactive, family-friendly museum tells the story of Milton S. Hershey and the town that bears his name. The museum is a lot of fun but the real thrill is in the Chocolate Lab or enjoying a Chocolate Tasting.
From fruity African chocolate flavors to Indonesian chocolate with caramel overtones, you will experience a flight of warm drinking chocolates from around the world.
The Hershey Story Museum is located at 63 W Chocolate Ave, Hershey, PA 17033
5. Stay at a Hershey Resort
If you love the theming of a Disney resort, with its Hidden Mickeys and fun decor, you will also love staying at one of the two official Hershey Resorts — Hershey Lodge or the more upscale Hershey Hotel. During the holidays, the lobbies are decorated with holiday trees and festive decorations, with special events for families.
In your room you will have fun discovering all the sweet touches such as the chocolate shampoo, Hershey Kiss imprints on the soap, and, of course, Hershey Kisses on your pillow. When you stay at a Hershey Resort you also receive free front gate shuttle service, the best price on Hersheypark tickets, and free chocolate at check in.
Hershey Lodge guests can also enjoy year-round fun at Hershey’s Water Works at Hershey Lodge, a 30,000 square foot indoor pool complex. Guests can enjoy fun interactive water features including a zero entry pool, sand castle spray zone, lighthouse tipping bucket, basketball hoops, and water slides.
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- Best Christmas Hotels in the USA
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