Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Review of Hershey Sweet Lights and Chocolate World (part 2)

If you haven't had a chance, please check out Part 1 of my two part blog series, Christmas in Hershey.  In Part 1 we talked about Hershey Park's Christmas Candy Lane, and The Hotel Hershey.  Here in Part 2, we'll talk about Hershey Sweet Lights and Chocolate World, both of which I love.  And please note, this is NOT a sponsored post.  I did not receive ANYTHING from Hershey, its parks or resorts.  I am just sharing my opinion with you, 'cause that's what I do!

What is Hershey Sweet Lights?

Hershey Sweet Lights is a drive-through light display, not far from Hershey Park itself.  If you decide to stay at the Hotel Hershey like we did, the display is located in the fields behind the hotel.  You can't walk there, but you can see parts of the display at night from certain rooms in the hotel, and it is a quick drive down the hill to attend.

The view of Sweet Lights from our hotel window at Hotel Hershey
What you'll see at Hershey Sweet Lights!  Count the Rudolphs!
Another shot of the displays at Hershey Sweet Lights

Your entrance fee ranges depending upon which evening you go, but it will cost you roughly $20-$25 per car.  You'll get a small discount if you stay in one of the Hershey hotels (Hershey Lodge or Hotel Hershey).  You can even purchase a package that includes popcorn.  They gave us free Hershey snowflake paper glasses, which we all thought were pretty cool.

They make lights turn into snowflakes when you look through them!

There are over 600 animated, lighted displays at Hershey Sweet Lights.  Some of them are grouped together in themes (such as a fairy tale theme or the 12 Days of Christmas).  If you visit the Hershey Sweet Lights web page, you can view a small preview video of the display.

Some of the displays at Hershey Sweet Lights appear to move, like this machine the elves are using!

You can make a fun evening of this- think pajamas, hot chocolate, cookies, Christmas carols!  You get the idea.

I have been to animated light displays before, but none quite like this one.  Hershey tops my list for best light display, hands down!  I remember going to the light display at New Jersey's "Garden State Arts Center" years ago (and as of the publication date of this blog entry, they are running it again, now the PNC Center).  I loved it and thought it was pretty cool back then.  Hershey is 100 times better than that one, for sure.

We have visited this display more than once, and one evening we had horrible rain and fog.  The display was still amazing, even in the rain, so never fear if the weather is refusing to cooperate.  Oh, and the whole thing took us roughly thirty or so minutes to drive through, but again, it all depends on how quickly you drive and how much you linger at each display.

Chocolate World

I love, love, love Chocolate World.  Can I say it enough?  I have been there many different times of the year and I just love everything about it.  First, let's just understand a few things:

  • Chocolate World and Hershey Park are two separate places but they stand next to each other.
  • Chocolate World is basically a representation of Hershey.  There is a "factory tour" (not the real factory, but shows you the basic premise), and other attractions inside (which we'll get to in a minute)
  • Chocolate World is free to enter, and free to ride the factory tour.  There are paid attractions inside, but you don't have to purchase anything if you don't want to (but I dare you to try!)
  • Chocolate World is open year round, whereas Hershey Park has seasonal hours.

Welcome to Chocolate World!

The Chocolate World Factory Tour is awesome.  You get inside a little brown car that takes you through a make-believe version of a Hershey Factory, complete with all of your favorite Hershey candies, music, and pumped in chocolate scent.

Let the journey into the 'factory' begin!
The Hershey cows (happy, sweet looking puppets) are your "tour guides."

This ride is completely free, and my son loves to get off the ride and get right back on to ride again when he is finished.  You can even purchase a photo of yourself at the end of the ride, just like in an amusement park.  If you're lucky, you'll also get a free sample when the ride is over.  Yummy!!

Be forewarned, the ride entrance is situated within the greatest souvenir shop (The Hershey Store) known to chocolate lovers.  It is one of my favorite souvenir shops (other than Disney World) and you'd best steer clear if you try to rush me through it (The Jersey Momma's Boy is not a shopper and hates souvenir shopping, and has thrown a few tantrums over my desire to peruse through this store, I assure you).

An Egyptian king made of Twizzlers!  I bow to you, my king!
The Amazing Candy Machine lets you create your own mix!

Beyond the Hershey Store is a food court.  You can get just about anything here- sandwiches, pizza, soup, chicken nuggets, etc. Also every dessert you can imagine, and ice cream, too.  Food is reasonably priced, and tastes just okay.  You know, it's food court food.

A house made entirely of candy! In the food court of Chocolate World.

A section beyond the food court completely devoted to Hershey Kisses.  You can even package your own colors at their computerized machine:

Paid Attractions

Chocolate World offers paid attractions, too.  You can purchase packages of items or purchase tickets to each attraction individually.  Again, you don't have to purchase anything if you don't want to. You can walk straight ahead to the factory tour or the store, if you choose.  Check their website for a detailed list of all of the attractions that they offer.

Create Your Own Chocolate Bar

In the many times we have been there, we loved the "Create Your Own" chocolate bar attraction (worth waiting for- a bit pricey but you do walk away with a one-of-a-kind, delicious chocolate bar of your own making).  Just note that each person who enters the experience must pay for and create their own bar (meaning, you can't just accompany your child as he/she makes one, and not make one yourself.  If you go in, you create!  You pay!).

You use a computer screen to choose what you want to put in your bar, and then you watch the entire thing being created on an assembly line.  This is a working food processing line so you have to wear hair nets and aprons!

There's my chocolate!

Your name appears on a little screen by your bar so you can follow it the whole way.

There's mine!
Then you get to design the label for your chocolate bar on another computer.  You pick up your bar when it's all done and they package it in your special wrapper and a tin box.

I must say, it is totally beautiful when finished, and tastes amazing because it's so fresh.  The only down side is having to wait too long to make it (especially if you're there on a crowded day), but I suppose you can't rush greatness!

The Trolley Ride

In the summer, we took the Trolley Tour and we enjoyed it immensely.  We were really impressed with the actors who served as tour guides on the trolley.  The trolley drives you through the town of Hershey and shows you all of Milton Hershey's original landmarks and important locations.  The actors on board assume the role(s) of different characters in Hershey's life.  There is singing involved, and trivia.  Oh and lots of chocolate!

The 4D Movie

There is a 4D movie that you can see, and I really recommend this one, as it's soooo  cute!  4D means the movie is interactive- the characters on screen talk to the audience.  There are smells, vibrations and lights all pumped into the room during the movie to make for a really cool experience.  I won't give away the plot, but there are some colorful robots that my son loved.

We didn't find the movie scary or inappropriate at all, so as long as your little ones can sit through a 30 minute show and don't mind wearing 3D glasses, then you're set!

Important to note is that if you talk to some of the hosts while you are waiting in the lobby (i.e. answer their questions and give them your name), they may include you in the actual show.  Don't worry, they won't pull you up on stage or anything, but the characters might call out your name or talk to you individually during the actual movie!  So don't be afraid to participate.

Other Chocolate World Attractions

There are also other dessert experiences (such as the create your own dessert and the chocolate tasting experience) but we haven't tried them yet.  There is still so much to see and explore there!  We usually skip them because we are already consuming so much chocolate on this trip that I can't imagine sitting down and creating another full dessert to eat.  But, you know, to each his own!

If you're interested in any of the other Hershey properties, please check out my related Hershey articles:

Christmas in Hershey - Christmas Candy Lane
Hershey Gardens
Hershey Story Museum
Hotel Hershey vs. Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose?
Hotel Hershey vs. Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose? (part 2)

Jersey Momma Tips
  • It's okay to plan!  Check out the website in detail before you go so you know what to expect at Chocolate World.  It is easy to miss what's inside because it's a busy place.  There is a map on the website that you can go look at before you visit.
  • Check the website for discounts- sometimes they offer coupons for the store or food court
  • Chocolate World can be a little confusing inside.  When you walk in, the tour is straight ahead and to the right, as well as the store.  Tickets for different events can be purchased at the kiosks in the main lobby.  If you're confused, ask an employee for help- there are usually people walking around to assist you.
  • The Hershey characters do walk around for photo opportunities, so keep an eye out for them!
  • There are usually coupons on the Chocolate World website, but they can be hard to find.  Look for links that say 'Sweet Savings.' They change their coupons monthly, and can vary from souvenir discounts to food savings.
  • If you stay at one of the Hershey hotels, they usually offer you a free ticket to an attraction at Chocolate World, most likely the movie.
  • You do not have to pay to park at Chocolate World (if you are parking in the Hershey Park lot, you do pay a fee).  If you are a hotel guest, you can take a free shuttle to Hershey Park/Chocolate World and not have to worry about parking at all.
  • I implore you to eat what you like and sample everything.  If you go there worried about your weight or your figure or how many pounds you'll gain, you'll be missing out on the whole Hershey experience.  Just go and eat and enjoy!!!
  • Click here to visit the Chocolate World website, in case you missed our link above.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Review of Christmas in Hershey: Christmas Candy Lane (part 1)

Time for another excursion outside of Jersey!  This one is a two part series, so be sure to read my review of Hershey Sweet Lights.  First, let me start off by saying how much I love Hershey Park.  If you have never been there, I highly suggest it, and it's important to note that it's different for every season.  I have also been there in the Spring and Summer, and each trip has been significantly different.  Anyway, I decided to publish my review of Hershey Park at Christmas (known as Christmas Candy Lane) because I couldn't find out much about it when I was planning our own trip.  I hope this helps anyone out there who likes to plan as much as I do!

Speaking of planning, knowing we were heading here in December, I tried to prepare for anything I could imagine- snow, blizzards, ice, whatever.  I bought my giant Lands End puffy coat for the occasion, as well as snow boots, thermal underwear, earmuffs, arctic GPS (just kidding on that one).  What I did not prepare for was the RAIN and FOG that we experienced while we were there.  Oh well.  Ya can't win 'em all.

What is Christmas Candy Lane?

Hershey Park remains open for part of the winter season.  Check their website calendar for exact dates and times.  Only some of their rides are operational, so don't expect to be hitting up your favorite roller coaster in the winter weather.  Most of their 30 kiddie rides are open, as well as their indoor rides, souvenir shops, etc. The park is decorated to a tee, and you'll find a plethora of photo ops!  Someone once said to me, 'Who wants to go to a theme park in the winter?' Many of the rides were small or  indoors, but it was still kind of fun to ride the mini roller coasters (like the Cocoa Cruiser) in the winter weather.  So don't let the season stop you!

Christmas in Hershey - kind of fun to ride a roller coaster in the winter!

It looks a lot nicer when it's not raining.  But somehow even the rain did not dampen our moods!  We left by evening, but if you stay past dark, you can view all of their lights on display.  The neon characters are throughout the park.  There are also Christmas shows you can attend, but at the time, the Jersey Momma's Boy was only 4, so he wasn't too keen on sitting through Christmas musicals.

The characters also walk throughout the park and they are adorable, but of course we don't have a single shot of them either because the Jersey Momma's boy doesn't like posing with characters.  We DID, however, get to meet Santa and his reindeer.  

Santa was in an adorable workshop area and we didn't even have to wait in a line.  You have to pay for your photos, but what's new about that?  The picture below was not Santa's house, but an example of how they transform the shops at holiday time.

The park was super clean as always, but we did notice a difference between the winter staff and the summer staff.  The winter staff, although friendly, was not as helpful or professional as the summer staff.  I think this holds true for most theme parks, so I will cut them some slack there. After dark you will see certain areas of the park all lit up (we didn't stay due to the rain but we could see some of the cute attractions already lit):

Most of the food stands were open, but not all.  We felt a little cheated because of the rain, so many of their food carts were closed, including the hot chocolate and s'mores carts!!  What's up with that?!  We had even bought our refillable Christmas Candy Lane mug for that purpose, so we were bummed.

Never fear, the dessert stands that were open were kind enough to give us double slices of Hershey's pie as compensation.  I thought I was pretty swift in sending Mr. Jersey Momma to get the pie and wrap it up to take back to the hotel.  I was so excited to get back to the room to enjoy my peanut butter chocolate silk dreaminess.  Lo and behold. Mr. Jersey Momma forgot the forks!  Doh!

What Else Can I Do Here?

ZooAmerica is actually part of Hershey Park and is open year round.  You can visit the zoo while you are inside the park as part of your admission fee.  You can also take a ride on the park monorail.  The Jersey Momma's boy had no interest, but you can plan a meal with Santa at the park or the local hotels.  You need to check the website for this info, since this is clearly an added cost and must be scheduled in advance.  Also around the area are Chocolate World (which I talk about in part 2 of my blog!) and Hershey Gardens.  We were unable to go to Hershey Gardens because of the rain, but they do offer  Christmas activities for kids, so be sure to check out their website.  We also love The Hershey Story Museum, which we visited in the summer time.  They have wonderful activities for kids during the holiday season, too.

Equally spectacular is Hershey Sweet Lights, a drive through display of lights and wonder (also discussed in part 2 of my Hershey blog).  We LOVED it!

Where to Stay

In all honesty, you don't have to stay at all.  For us, Hershey Park is about a two hour ride, so you could essentially get to the park early on and then drive home.  But I wanted the whole package, so we stayed at the stunning Hotel Hershey.  It is truly a beautiful place, and we stay there every time we visit, basically now because we're spoiled and can't imagine staying anywhere else!  But you can also stay at the Hershey Lodge and the local hotels nearby.  The Hotel Hershey offers free shuttle service to the park and Chocolate World, and is also within walking distance to Hershey Gardens.  Plus, they give you a free chocolate bar when you arrive and they leave Hershey Kisses for you at bedtime!  Sigh.  The hotel was decorated beautifully for Christmas.  The service is always top notch here.  If you go, I highly suggest staying in the west wing, and the breakfast buffet at The Circular is fantastic (try the Hershey Kiss shaped waffles!).  For an in-depth comparison of both hotels, please check out my blog entry on this subject!

Beautiful Christmas decorations at Christmas at the Hotel Hershey

One of our favorite things about visiting Hotel Hershey in the winter was being able to swim in their indoor pool.  Plus we got to wear cool robes!

The indoor pool at the Hotel Hershey

The Hotel Hershey has so many other enticing features.  It is famous for its spa (which I have sadly never been to) and plenty of outdoor activities.  I don't usually order room service, but The Jersey Momma's Boy started to come down with a cold on the last night of our trip (major bummer) so we ordered room service and stayed in.  What a treat!

Room service at the Hotel Hershey was divine!

And just for the record, they used to have an "ice" rink open year round but recently removed it.  Here's what it used to look like:

The former ice rink at the Hotel Hershey, no longer there.

Jersey Momma Tips:

  • I was not able to find many discounts for Hershey at Christmas.  We purchased our tickets through the hotel concierge, so that was the biggest discount I could find.  The hotels also offer packages based on how many nights you stay, so look into that if you want to plan a package deal.
  • Even in the rain we had a great time, so don't fret the weather and just take whatever comes.  There is always something to do!
  • Plan, plan, plan!  Look at the websites, view all that Hershey has to offer.  I've had friends who visited and missed half the attractions simply because they didn't realize the attractions were there.
  • Wear good walking shoes.  Hershey is large and there is even some uphill walking.  If you have little ones, bring a stroller to help out.
  • I often say that Hershey is a nice alternative to Disney, especially if Disney is temporarily beyond your budget.  Check out my friend's blog over at MousePlanning for a comparison of Hershey and Disney.  But keep in mind that he is not comparing them during the winter season.
Don't forget to check out Part 2 of my Hershey experience.  You can read all about Hershey Sweet Lights and Chocolate World (one of my favorite places on Earth!).

Thursday, November 19, 2015

5 Fun Christmas Attractions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania

The holiday season is upon us, and if you're anything like me, you're itching to do some 'holiday stuff' with your family.  And I'm not talking crafts or baking- I mean, cool trips that you can take for some holiday themed fun! So here are 5 of my favorite must-visit holiday locations in the tri-state area.  And would you believe some of them cost less than $5 per person (and some are FREE)?

Jersey Momma Disclaimer:  I know there are hundreds of amazing Christmas and holiday-themed places to visit in and around New Jersey, but I picked some of my favorite, and even some lesser-known attractions. I mentioned a few more at the end of the post, but feel free to leave some more suggestions in the comment boxes below!

1. Christmas Ice Caverns - Fairfield, NJ

If you grew up in Northern New Jersey during the 1970's, then chances are you've been to the Christmas Ice Caverns in Fairfield.  Now part of Jody's Silk Florist (it was formerly known as Fairfield Home and Garden), the Christmas Ice Caverns feature a walk-through animated Christmas display that has been a family classic for decades.  Click here to see photos and read all about one of our favorite family spots during the holidays. You can also see Santa at the ice caverns on certain days of the week!

The Christmas Ice Caverns from The Jersey Momma  - Fairfield, NJ
Making wishes in the fountains at Christmas Ice Caverns - Fairfield, NJ

2.  Gingerbread Wonderland (Frelinghuysen Arboretum) - Morristown, NJ

Gingerbread Wonderland is always fun to see (and fun to participate in, if you're creative!) at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum. View dozens of hand-made, decorated gingerbread houses and displays while supporting the arboretum with your small admission fee.  Certain weekends there is even a craft fair to accompany the display.  Click here for photos and a walk-through of past events.

Gingerbread Wonderland - Frelinghuysen Arboretum:  artist unknown (sorry!)

3.  Santa's Fly-In at Solberg Airport - Readington, NJ

This event is completely free (but there are added fees for food and other activities if you wish to participate in them).  You'll feel just like Buddy the Elf as you watch Santa fly in at the Solberg Airport (where the NJ Festival of Ballooning is held).  Even adults get giddy at the sight of Santa in his little yellow plane (It's Santa!  I know him!).  Visit their Facebook page for more information, dates and photos of Santa's Fly-In.

Santa's Fly-In Solberg Airport, Readington (photo property of Solberg Airport website)

4.  Moostletoe at the Mayo Center for Performing Arts - Morristown, NJ

I am a huge supporter of the Mayo Center.  It's such a nice little theater for New Jersey residents, and they have some wonderful shows throughout the year.  I particularly love their shows for kids, and we have seen many!  Moostletoe is a fun Christmas show for kids, all about a moose who wants to fly.  It's a great diversion from the typical Nutcracker shows around this time of year, or if your child is not quite ready for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.  Click here to read a review of the show and see if it's right for your child.

Moostletoe at the Mayo Arts Center - Morristown, NJ

5.  Hershey Sweet Lights and Christmas Candy Lane - Hershey, PA

If you're willing to take a ride or even spend the night, Hershey's Christmas events are truly memorable and fun. Hershey Sweet Lights is a fantastic drive-through, animated light display (one of the best I've ever seen) and Christmas Candy Lane is what Hershey Park offers during the holiday season.  You'd be surprised how many rides you can still go on in the winter time!  Click here to read about Hershey Sweet Lights and Chocolate World during the holidays.  Click here to read about Christmas Candy Lane at Hershey Park.

Hershey Sweet Lights - Hershey, PA
Christmas Candy Lane at Hershey Park - Hershey, PA
Life-size candy house at Hershey's Chocolate World - Hershey, PA

For more ideas on local travel, or other holiday related day trips, check out my travel links page (located in the tabs on my home site).

Other fun travel places to note for the holiday season:

Clinton's Dickens Days

4-H Festival of Trees in Somerset County

Christmas Festival at the Morristown Green

The Alien Who Stole Christmas - Planetarium Show at RVCC in Branchburg

The Polar Express Train Ride in Phillipsburg 

The Santa Claus Special (train ride) in Whippany

Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Light Spectacular

Lehigh Valley Zoo Winter Light Spectacular

Grounds for Sculpture Ice Carving Demonstration (January)

Do you have a fun holiday attraction that you like to visit in or around New Jersey?  Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Picture Book Month: Making Pupcakes for A Dog is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan

Did you know that November is Picture Book Month?  Here in The Jersey Momma household, we're picture book enthusiasts.  I have so many picture books that they're overflowing down the stairs (and some are even stored in boxes in the basement!).  So I am more than excited to join my fellow bloggers in celebrating this fantastic event.  Many thanks to Krystal of Healthy Happy Thrifty Family for inviting me to participate!

Today we celebrate the adorable book A Dog is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan.  Can you hear me squealing over the absolute cuteness of the illustrations?  O-M-G!  We loved watching the funny things the dog was doing in the story, especially ice skating on a kiddie pool.  The drawings were bright and colorful, and the text was bouncy and rhyming.  Kids love to anticipate what's coming next and try to finish the sentence for you.  There is a wonderful preview video of the book on Stephen Shaskan's Amazon page where you can see some kids doing just that.

A Dog is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan, available on Amazon

In honor of Picture Book Month and this super cute story, we decided to make some 'pupcakes' to enjoy after the book.  It was so much fun baking, decorating and eating them!

Stephen Shaskan's A Dog is a Dog (from Amazon.com)

How to Make Your Own Pupcakes

You can make your pupcakes before the story to enjoy while you're reading, or use the story as design inspiration and create them afterwards!  

You Will Need:

-boxed cake mix (or a cake mix recipe of your choice)
-cupcake liners
-frosting flavor of  your choice (we used chocolate)
-decorating items: sprinkles, M&M's, decorator icing, small cookies, candy eyes, etc.
*we used Bel-Vita chocolate cookie bites for the pup's ears, but you can use any combination of cookies that works for you.

Gather your ingredients.
We had an assortment of decorations for our pupcakes- sprinkles, candy eyes, m&ms, candy hearts...

Bake your cupcakes and allow them to cool.  Then, frost them!

We chose to use a frosting gun, but you can use just a regular spatula to spread your frosting, too.

The frosting gun gave our pupcakes a 'furry' look!

Create your pupcakes!  Use cookies, candies and sprinkles to make your cupcakes look like puppies.

We found that each one had its own personality.  The Jersey Momma's Boy helped to create the orange one.  It was his idea to use different colored M&M's for the noses.

You can participate in Picture Book Month, too.  Visit their website for more information, or check out their calendar of books that you can read and share each day of the month:

You can purchase Stephen Shaskan's books through my Amazon affiliate link below, or you can find them at your local library.

You can also see some of my fellow blogger's projects and ideas for Picture Book Month here.

I'm so honored to be a Picture Book Month Ambassador!  I wear this badge with pride:

Happy reading!