I needed more time with my girl. It’s been such a busy summer, and she was away at camps for several weeks, so when our friends from Massachusetts called and asked if there was any chance we might meet them someplace for a couple of days, despite work and a busy calendar, I said yes. And I’m so glad I did! With school around the corner and all the extracurricular activities about to explode, a couple of days to connect sounded wonderful, and we decided to meet someplace in the middle of Massachusetts and Virginia for a quick girl’s trip. Hershey, Pennsylvania seemed to be ideal as it’s situated almost in the middle of our states and offers to much to do.

My daughter was off enjoying a 2-week river adventure camping, so this was a complete surprise for her. We picked her up from camp and left the very next morning to squeeze this in! She slept most of the easy 5-hour drive, waking up when we stopped in Shippensburg, PA to visit a roadside attraction called Tiny World we never seem to have time to stop each time we drive home to New England. This is a yard full of miniature houses builder Earnest Helm originally created for his cats, then went on to decorate inside elaborately and they are amazing. Since he’s passed away they are in need of maintenance and good cleaning but were still so interesting to see. If you like dollhouses and miniatures, next time you’re on 81 in PA, make a quick stop to check them out!

If you go: Tiny World’s exhibit is self-guided with a donation box at the entrance.

We continued to Hershey, PA where we had rented a hotel room with a kitchen so we could prepare most of our food. Not only was this more economical than eating out, but my friend Sharon is currently doing the Whole 30 eating program and wanted to stay on the diet. I don’t know where she gets the will power, but we sat at Hershey’s Chocolate World eating amazing Hershey S’mores Milkshakes while she snacked on a bag of carrots and cashews.

Hershey’s Chocolate World is a visitor center that serves as a hub for a variety of activities including a ride that shows you how Hershey chocolate is made, a 3D movie, tasting event and more. You can design your own candy bar and wrapper, and dine on pretty much anything Hershey related you can think of. It made the perfect first stop. Chocolate World is free to attend with various prices for activities and home to a huge candy store with interesting options you might not find in stores.

Chocolate World starts with a free ride to learn how Hershey Chocolate is made.

A highlight for us was the historic trolley tour, which taught us about Milton Hershey’s fascinating life as we drive through town to see the Hershey-related highlights, past and present. We visited the famous Hershey Hotel and downtown to see the chocolate kiss lights.

Below is the Hershey mansion HighPoint, which was built in 1908 and now serves as the office of the Hershey Trust, which runs the numerous charities supported by the Hershey company. Among them in the Milton Hershey School, also included in the tour. The Hershey School started as a home for orphans and is now the largest private philanthropic boarding school for children in need serving about 1900 students. It’s also the richest school in the world- Milton Hershey left his entire estate to the trust ensuring the ongoing success of a number of charities including the school, a zoo, botanical gardens and more. I loved learning we can feel good about Hershey purchases and that they support numerous charities. The teens enjoyed the tour of the town just as much as the adults in part to two terrific guides leading the tour, which included acting, singing, and plenty of chocolate samples!

If you go: Hershey Chocolate World is free to attend and parking is free for the first 3 hours. The Trolley Tour was $15.95 /children $12.95 and 2 and under free.

We spent the afternoon at Hershey Gardens which were simply lovely. There are over 20 acres to explore including a children’s garden, rose garden, Japanese garden, rock garden, herb garden and more. Guests are invited to borrow an umbrella to shade themselves and tour the grounds at leisure. We loved the Hoop House, which offered clever examples of how you don’t need a large space to grow vegetables and plants.

Inside the conservatory, you’ll find an arboretum and a butterfly atrium with over 20 varieties of butterflies. While we were there a few lucky butterflies were ready to be released into the atrium, and a volunteer let the girls help them started in their gorgeous new home. Hershey Gardens is also home to a great gift shop and hosts events. I can’t help but wonder how dazzling private events here must be.

If you go: Hershey Gardens are open all year and you can learn about what’s in bloom here. Admission ranges from $9.50 to $13.50 with ages 2 and under free. They offer special programs for homeschool families a few times a year.

The next day, we headed to HersheyPark for a full day. Hershey Park is home to over 70 attractions with something for guests of all ages. It houses ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo which is home to over 200 animals, and Hershey Boardwalk, a water park filled with action rides and more. Everything is included in your admission ticket, or guests can also choose to visit just the zoo if they wish.

We spent the earlier part of the day on rides and walking around this expansive park which includes over 40 family-friendly rides. These girls are rollercoaster fanatics, and with 14 coasters to choose from, were in their glory. Sharon’s favorite is always the bumper cars, and Fender Bender delivered. I enjoyed riding the monorail which gave us a bird’s eye view of the park, zoo and even a bit of downtown. We all enjoyed the newest ride, an interactive gaming ride called Cupfusion. That little red gumdrop character below may look adorable, but he’s a bad guy from Cupfusion! We saw a number of Hershey characters roaming the park and taking photos with guests.

In the afternoon we headed to the air-conditioned Magic Box Theatre to take in a broadway-style show which was a most enjoyable way to cool off and we were impressed at the show quality. We then headed to the Boardwalk area to splash around a bit. The Boardwalk rents lockers that give you a bracelet to open and close your locker as much as you like which was helpful, and you’ll find plenty of changing rooms and showers. My daughter and I were excited to see Rita’s Frozen Custard and we enjoyed a Swedish Fish frozen ice, while Sharon munched on cucumbers. The girls headed to the thrill rides and water coasters, while I found the lazy river was just my thing.

As the sun began to set, and the lights came on, the entire park and especially the coasters took on a whole new look. Our coaster fans decided they needed to ride as many coasters as possible lit up at night, and they did.

Hersheypark is a large park, and even in our 10+ hour day, we did not see it all! We left the park at closing with the girls asking when we can visit again so they can complete all 14 coasters, and were happy to learn a 15th coaster- Candymonium- will open in 2020! Now that we know what an easy drive this is, we’ll be back and next time will check out the zoo and some other attractions in the area and in nearby Harrisburg, which is Pennsylvania’s capital and home to an impressive Capitol Building and State Museum. The Hersheypark Stadium is also worth checking out if you’re planning a visit-it’s home to major acts and sporting events.

I’m thankful for being able to squeeze in a couple of days of quality time with my daughter and our friends and know this is a memory we’ll all treasure. My amazing friend made it the entire trip staying on her eating plan! As much as I felt she was missing out, seeing her eating zucchini all day helped keep us away from some of the things we might have tried in the park (fried KitKats, anyone?) and we were pretty healthy for vacation mode. Sharon’s always been a source of inspiration, but this really wowed me and we’ll definitely meet her again here so she can taste why they call Hershey, PA the sweetest place on earth!

If you go: Single Day ticket prices range from $48.95 to $70.95 but you can save 15% if you purchase tickets online ($59.95). 2-day tickets average about $45 and would be ideal if you hope to see all the park. Children 2 and under are free. There are a number of attractions in the area and plenty of affordable and family-friendly accommodations. For more information on planning your own trip to the Hershey area, visit HERE.