Built as a leisure park for employees of the Hershey chocolate company back in 1905, nowadays Hersheypark is a top 20 rated US theme park with ambitious expansion plans.
It might be affiliated to one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world, yet Hersheypark is the only venue in the AECOM/TEA Theme Index Top 20 North American theme/amusement parks not to be part of a corporate chain. Ranked last year at number 18 with over 3.2 million guests, it is owned by the privately held Hershey Entertainment & Resorts. Sister firm to the publicly traded Hershey Company, the operator also boasts interests including various stadiums, arenas, theatres and lodging facilities in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It does not, however, have any other parks in its portfolio.
Hershey – the Sweetest place on earth
Kevin Stumpf is General Manager and leads the Attractions & Entertainment division of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts. He says, “We did own Dutch Wonderland from 2001 to 2010. This smaller park in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was sold to Palace Entertainment. We were approached with an offer that was too good to pass up”.
Stumpf says the company wasn’t looking to sell Dutch Wonderland. He says the same about Hersheypark now. Though other operators would surely like to get their hands on this popular park in rural Pennsylvania, it would doubtless provoke local outrage if they ever did. Only a fool would ever rebrand it.
“We know the park would not be the destination it is without the Hershey name to it,” says Stumpf.
Founded in 1907, Hersheypark is just three years younger than the town of Hershey in which it resides. “The sweetest place on earth” or “Chocolatetown, USA” was famously established as a company town by Milton S Hershey. And when they weren’t making chocolate, those factory workers needed somewhere to play. The Hershey Zoo was founded nextdoor to Hersheypark back in the early 1900s, but now trades as Zoo America. Hershey’s Chocolate World, a visitor centre featuring a 4D dark ride and other immersive experiences, is run separately by The Hershey Company.
Hersheypark has room to grow
The iconic Hershey factory towers continue to compete with Hersheypark’s rides and attractions on the local skyline. Today, however, The Hershey Company has 20 manufacturing plants around the world, including seven in the US. Yet the town of Hershey itself is still small, home to only around 15,000 inhabitants. Thankfully, many big population bases lie within its 300-mile catchment area. These include New York, both city and state, New Jersey, all of Pennsylvania, Maryland including Baltimore, Washington DC and Delaware.
“Today we are a regional park and a tourist destination for millions of families,” says Stumpf. “And we think there’s still room for us to continue growing here in Hershey, Pennsylvania.”
A veteran of Hershey Entertainment with over 20 years’ service, Kevin Stumpf has served in many roles. “It’s a tremendous business to be in,” he says. “I have been able to see both sides of the company, entertainment and resorts, during different operational as well as financial roles. I just enjoy seeing guests coming into our properties and having a great time.”
Stumpf was pleased to see his colleague John K Lawn, a former Hersheypark Assistant General Manager, appointed at Hershey Entertainment CEO in June of this year. “We get along tremendously well. I have known John since they day that he started at the company back in 2004. He is a great leader who is going to position this company on track to continue the year-on-year growth we’ve enjoyed now for many years.”
Halloween at Hersheypark
The park has just finished its annual Hersheypark In The Dark season. Eschewing the more extreme Halloween entertainment provided at some other amusement parks, it offers nine nights of family-friendly thrills and chills.
The celebration comprises three key components. The Trick or Treat Trail features 13 stops through both Hersheypark and Zoo America. What better way for young guests to collect Hershey’s chocolate? Open throughout are all 13 of the park’s rollercoasters, or The Thrilling Thirteen as they are packaged for the season. Creatures of the Night at Zoo America, from which the Halloween event was born, offers visitors a chance to see some of the animal park’s inhabitants by flashlight.
After a rather wet summer, Stumpf is hoping seasonal events such as this will help Hersheypark claw back attendance.
“Both Halloween and Christmas continue to do very well for us,” he says. “We had a tremendous spring too. For the first time we opened our major new attraction, Hershey Triple Tower, for our Springtime in the Park event. The summer was a little challenging. We had too much rain on the weekends. So we’re now expecting great outcomes for both Halloween in the Park and Christmas Candylane.”
Laff Trakk – technology and tradition
Starting in November and running right through until January 1, the winter event has grown in recent years. Guests might not be able to enjoy all 13 rollercoasters over the festive season, but a wide range of rides and attractions are at their disposal. One of the key attractions now on offer each Christmas is Laff Trakk in the Midway America section of the park. The Maurer spinning coaster, built around around a theme and concept from Raven Sun Creative, was added in 2015 as a ride for all seasons.
“It’s our first completely enclosed coaster,” says Stumpf. “As we continue to look expand the length of our season, it just seemed like a natural fit. Raven Sun were a great partner when it came to researching the history of the park and coming up with the theme. Hersheypark previously had a number of Fun Houses and Haunted Houses. Laff Trakk celebrates that tradition and marries it with some great new technology and black light effects to give people the nostalgia of those old walk-throughs but in a safe and enjoyable manner.”
“Our first goal in creating Laff Trakk was that riders would feel the excitement and the energy of those legendary Fun Houses that are so much a part of the history of American amusement parks,” says Louis Alfieri, Chief Creative Officer at Raven Sun Creative. “We knew the attraction needed to be bright, zany and memorable. Black lights, special effects and strobe lighting offered the perfect way to create optical illusions. We also wanted some surprise moments, sort of like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Our designs, combined with the spinning rollercoaster, accomplished those goals.”
Raven Sun a great partner
Raven Sun is now collaborating with the Hershey team on various new developments for the park. Details of these will be revealed in due course.
To ride Laff Trakk, guests must be at least 42 inches (1.1m) tall, or a “Reese” and above. Hersheypark has six different height categories, each named after a different confectionery product line. The smallest guests, 36” (0.9m) and under, are categorised as Hershey’s Miniatures. The tallest, 60” (1.5m) and above, are Jolly Ranchers. This is one of several ways in which Hershey branding is used in the park. Not all of the park’s ride and attractions have chocolate-related names, but a handful do.
“I would say over the years the branding has come and gone,” says Stumpf. “Those attractions we have branded have been very well received by our guests. Our new attraction for this year, Hershey Chocolate Tower, features three separate drop towers. Each is themed to one of the major Hershey brands.”
Located on Kissing Tower Hill, all three towers were supplied by S&S-Sansei. Hershey’s Tower is the tallest. Standing 189 feet (57.5m) high, it features both a Space Shot & Turbo Drop ride sequence. The 131ft (40m) Reese’s Tower delivers two cycles of positive and negative G-forces. Finally there’s the 80m (24.5m) Hershey’s Kisses Tower.
As well as Laff Trakk, Stumpf singles out Lightning Racer, a Great Coaster duelling wooden coaster from 2000 and Fahrenheit, an Intamin ride with a 90º lift and 97º drop, as particularly Hersheypark attractions. Other highlights in that 13-strong rollercoaster line-up include the 1946 PTC woodie Comet, the B&M inverted coaster Great Bear, Storm Runner (Xcelerator) by Intamin and Sky Rush, a wing coaster added in 2012 by the same manufacturer. Schwarzkopf fans in particular will welcome the wonderfully-named sooperdooperLooper, which enjoyed its 40th anniversary in 2017.
Non-coaster highlights include the Coal Cracker flume, Kissing Tower observation ride and The Claw (KMG Afterburner). Taking guests on a steam-powered trip through the Frontier area of the park is the Dry Gulch railroad. As well as those already mentioned, other areas include Founder’s Way and The Hollow. The latter is one of the oldest parts of the park.
Broadway comes to Hersheypark
A new show was provided this summer by RWS Live Entertainment Group. The New York City based company is now in its fourth season of producing shows for the Pennsylvania park.
The Dance, Dance, Dance: Heartbeat production has been nominated for an IAAPA Brass Ring Award. It “celebrates the power of love and how it brings all of us together.” Director Chip Abbott has worked on Broadway as a choreographer and performer in shows such as On the Town and Cinderella and can currently be seen in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The creative teams assembled for the Hersheypark shows also include Broadway directors, choreographers, scenic designers, lighting designers etc. Furthermore, many Hersheypark Entertainment alumni have gone on to performing Broadway productions including Hamilton, Aladdin, Radio City Christmas Spectacular and more.
For the park’s upcoming Christmas Candylane season, RWS has also produced a new show called The Enchanted Journey. Featuring many familiar holiday songs, it comes complete with an all-new storyline and debuts on November 10.
Water coasters from ProSlide
Hersheypark’s 14th “coaster”, opening in 2018, will be Breakers Edge. It might not be a rollercoaster in the purest sense, but this HydroMagnetic water coaster from ProSlide should be a lot of fun. Linear Induction Motors will provide a smooth ride experience as 4-person inline rafts are propelled through splash-filled hills, tight turns and signature flying saucer turns and the attraction will also be the first of its kind in the region. Both it and Whitecap Racer, a 6-lane mat racer by ProSlide with looping tunnels, will be featured in The Boardwalk. This waterpark area is included in the cost of Hersheypark admission.
“We did look at adding a second gate back in the early 2000s,” says Stumpf. “We considered a waterpark as part of those plans. Instead we decided to create an area inside the park and make a small increase to ticket prices. Now guests don’t have to decide ‘Do I want to go to the waterpark or Hersheypark?’ You get both! That was for 100th anniversary season in 2007, and it’s done fantastically well for us.”
Growth and resilience
When it comes future growth, Stumpf says, “we think that we can continue to grow the attendance as well as the per caps [in-park spending]. We have done a great job of adding food and beverage locations that continue to extend the length of stay. By constantly adding to both the park and the waterpark, we think we can continue to add to the number of days that guests come and enjoy the park too. And I think we are well positioned to absorb no matter what happens to the economy.”