Prior to moving to the States, my husband and I had taken the view that we needed to avoid doing touristy things in the early months of being here so as to focus on bedding down into regular, everyday life. That was the theory. In practice, that was a bit limiting when it came to quality family time activities. Therefore, on Sunday we set out for Hershey.
Having not grown up in America or lived here prior to a few weeks ago, Hershey does not have the same cache to me as it does to other people. I do, however, recognise that it is an American cultural institution and a big deal in terms of our home state of Pennsylvania. It, therefore, seemed like a good idea to go and do something “Hershey” as a family, especially since Halloween had made the boys so familiar with its products.
There are many different facets of the Hershey site, one of which is a theme park (thankfully closed in Winter), so we had some options. Mr Pict, who had undertaken the research, decided that we should go to Hershey World.
It was a middling length journey to get there, made easier by the fact we stopped off for a Cracker Barrel breakfast. Our kids already love Cracker Barrel. My 10 year old has been doing battle with the solitaire games that are always at the table and finally, on Hershey expedition day, he completed it with just one plastic doohickey left in the grid. That put him in a good mood. We also had to stop at a level crossing to let two trains pass (in the end we did a U turn). The first train had three engines and 121 carriages (or whatever the cargo word for a carriage is). This inspired my 6 year old to announce, “That train had more carriages than people have been killed by sharks.” Interesting measure.
Anyway, Hershey is this big cultural institution, of course, but not being from the culture in question I suppose I was never going to get the fanatacism or the iconography of Hershey World. That said, I grew up munching my way through Cadbury’s chocolate like a pig at a trough but I was very much underwhelmed by my visit to Cadbury’s. I will admit I am rather cynical about these things. You essentially hand over money to be advertised at, like voluntarily sitting through relentless commercials for the same product. I am also not very taken with Hershey chocolate. It lacks the creamy texture and taste of European chocolate. Belgian chocolate is simply amazing. I actually needed to pause while typing that just to daydream about Belgian chocolate truffles. I would have to give best runner up to Swiss chocolate. I don’t even care why that cow is lilac. I would sup the chocolate straight from its udders. Yum. And then, not out of some patriotic dweebiness but probably because my tastebuds developed on the stuff, I would have to give third place to British chocolate. Yes, it may be so lacking in cocoa content that the EU tried to have it reclassified as “vegelate”, but the velvety smooth texture and creamy richness of decent British chocolate is delectable. I find Hershey’s, by comparison, to be oddly solid, with a texture that reminds me of crayons. It’s not offensive to my palate at all but America offers me so many opportunities to eat empty calories that I can probably do without the chocolate. Which might well be good news for my butt and thighs. In short: I am not a Hershey’s zealot and visiting Hershey World was not a pilgrimage for me in the way it clearly was for many visitors.
We did the free stuff first which meant sitting in a barrel while a trio of Motown cows sang to us about the way Hershey process cocoa beans into chocolate. It was more fun than that sounds but not as much fun as you would hope for. The mini-Picts liked it though, enough to do the ride twice, so that was a win. Then we split up as three boys went to do chocolate creating with Daddy while I took our 8 year old, who is not that into chocolate, to watch a 4D movie. Those who made the chocolate got to wear pinnies (aprons) and hairnets while pushing buttons and making selections to create a chocolate bar of their own devising which was then presented to them in a personalised tin. Way too classy and educational for Hershey World, right? My 8 year old and I got to do the cheesy thing by opting for the 4D movie. What was impressive was it was fully interactive, with the animated Hershey bar conversing with individual audience members and ad-libbing appropriately. The story was naff so I shall spare you the details but it concluded with the audience being asked how we wanted to discipline the baddie. We chose to eat him. The stricken look on the Hershey bar’s face was hilarious. Hershey Bar then tried to reason with us, asking us to contemplate giving the bad guy a second chance. No compassion to be found, however: we all still voted to eat him. Some more ad-libbing happened while they tried, I assume, to figure out which scenario for the ending they could show that could possibly conform as closely as possible to our chosen ending: cannibalism. So that bad guy got covered in chocolate which solidified and then cracked into shards. Alas, he survived beneath the coating but we got to eat chocolate representing his body to make us feel better about the fact they partly reneged on our judgement. My 8 year old loved it. The perils and joys of audience participation.
So that was our day of having fun and frolics while being constantly advertised at. I am sure we will return to Hershey (the town where even the street lights are shaped like chocolate kisses) to explore and experience more but that was quite enough for one day.