Welcome back to the Blog! Hope all of you who celebrated in North America enjoyed your holidays! I'm here to tell you I did, FOR THE MOST PART! The one part I didn't happened in Harrisburg, PA when I was just taking my evening constitutional, and a man who, let's just say, didn't look like Brad Pitt any more than I look like Lindsay Vonn (I think I look a little more like a slightly older Leo DiCaprio, but I digress.)
asked me, out of the blue, if I could help him get on a bus to Wilkes-Barre, which, for those of you non-US
readers,especially those who haven't seen our version of THE OFFICE, is, like Scranton, an anchor of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area and one of the top twenty cities in Pennsylvania. Now, like my namesake Stefon on SNL, I like to help people find great New York restaurants, even if some of them are at Citi Field, home of the last-place New York Mets, (For example, Shake Shack, but there are a LOT of 'em all over NYC and even in a few international spots!) but, although my Mom and a lot of my relatives hail from Wilkes-Barre (which, for all you high-rollers, now has its own Mohegan Sun race-ino at the Pocono Downs track), I don't believe in funding the escape plans of strangers, particularly those who are unlikely to own residences.
Despite running into that particular gentleman (?), and passing others who looked like they were about to confuse me with the Ford Foundation and ask me to fund their important expeditions in search of the elusive "something-to-eat,"(But they didn't ask in so many words.), and ANOTHER unfortunate incident, it was smooth sailing all the way. My time in Central Pennsylvania, comprised of Lancaster, York, Lebanon, Harrisburg, and surrounding areas, began on July 1 when I visited the State Capitol and saw a veritable plethora of exhibits on Pennsylvania state history and the inner workings of Pennsylvania state government., all for the amazing low price of FREE! It wasn't the Smithsonian, but, hey, it was fun and informative. (The closest thing Harrisburg has to the Smithsonian is the State Museum, but I didn't get to see it this trip.)
The following day I visited the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, which is kinda like a cross between the American Museum of Natural History and Lincoln Center. One of the current exhibits on display is the Carnival of Health presented by Capital Blue Cross, featuring rides and games of chance (and even a fun house mirror) all themed around health and nutrition. (Interested? Visited http://www.whitakercenter.org.) Also at the Whitaker is Dino Adventure, the closest thing to Jurassic Park, only the animatronic dinosaurs have no appetite for humans, thank goodness! What Dino Adventure DOES have, in addition to the animatronic dinos, is a game that lets you channel your inner dinosaur.(How would Tempe Brennan handle THIS one? Hmmmm.) There's also a hurricane simulator, and about the only thing wrong with THAT, and this is a VERY big "only", is that it brings back memories of a certain Sandy. But at least it gives you incentive to prepare for the next big one! I also saw not one, but TWO IMAX 3D documentaries, DINOSAURS ALIVE, produced by my hometown American Museum of Natural History and narrated by Michael Douglas, and a very beautiful Canada-Mexico-UK coproduction, FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES. (Dinosaurs and butterflies. Now THAT'S an odd couple!)
After a workout at an impressive local gym, I returned to the Whitaker for a very special jazz concert performed by the US Army Field Band, which ran the gamut from Dixieland to big band, but the highlight of the evening was a stunning performance of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA," followed by "America The Beautiful" as arranged by Ray Charles. If that wouldn't make you proud to be an American, I don't know what would!
However, the other unfortunate incident I referred to earlier happened when I returned to my room. I told the desk, in no uncertain terms, that I wanted Housekeeping to make up my room, but when I returned, the first things I said were, and I quote...
"OH, MY. GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
My abode looked like a tsunami hit it! Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, came in and did anything about it! The manager sent me a goodbye basket, along with a note asking me to call her if I had any problems. I told her that not even PIGS would want to stay in a room like that, but other than that, I had a great time. (At least my hotel was in the same neighborhood as WGAL News 8,the Hearst-owned NBC affiliate.)
The next day I boarded the Capitol Area Transit bus, or the CAT for short,for Hershey. Only problem was, the bus stopped in the Cast Member (Walt Disney liked to think of his theme park employees as members of a cast of a live show, and the term has stuck, not just at Disney parks, but at many others.) Entrance to Hersheypark and much as I loved it, I didn't plan on going there until the Fourth of July when I was all settle in, so I got the number of Sweet Ride, (Sweet? Chocolate? Get it?) a local taxi service, and within a half-hour, a driver came and took me to Hershey Lodge, a beautiful country estate which has everything from a sports bar to live appearances from Hershey Candy Ambassadors, which is what they're now calling their product characters. I then visited the all-new Butterfly House at Hershey Gardens, which started as M.S. Hershey's personal rose garden and has become a full-on tourist attraction, and Tanger Outlets, which includes such prestigious brands as Famous Footwear, Reebok, Champion, Starbucks Coffee, and, although
they are in a town famous for its own world-class theme park, DISNEY. (I know what you're thinking, coals
to Newcastle, right? Actually, they love Mickey and company. The Giant Center,formerly the Hersheypark Arena,hosts "Disney Junior Live!," starring Sofia the First, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and other beloved characters, including, of course, the Mouse himself later this month. All the details await on
July 4th came around, and my celebration of America's birthday began at Hersheypark Place, formerly the Tudor Inn, now a family-oriented restaurant in Tudor Square, outside the Main Gate area of Hersheypark.
I met the three most-popular Ambassadors, Hershey, Reese, and Kiss, posed for photos, and even got a rubdown from Reese!(A giant package of two peanut butter cups giving me a rubdown. I can die now.KIDDING!) There was also a strolling troubador and jugglers, and, of course,a breakfast buffet. (I opted for Cheerios,skim milk, Equal, OJ, Yoplait, and watermelon slices.) I proceeded to go on the rides, but I'm more of an "It's a small world" guy, so I stuck with low-thrill rides such as the carousel, the monorail,and the Hersheypark Two-Lane Turnpike.(One lane is for classic cars, the other is for sports cars.)
I also saw a lot of live shows, both around the park and at their Chevrolet Music Box Theatre.
I also had fun on Hersheypark's own Boardwalk,a faithful tribute to the great beaches on Coney Island, in Atlantic City, and at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware which boasts a public pool and water rides for all ages, and the largest Nathan's Famous outside Coney Island, which happens to be the only Nathan's my trainer will let me eat at, EVER! My trainer's name is Julie, I love her like the sister I wish I had, but she CAN be tough!
Then, I went to Hershey's Chocolate World, one of many such worldwide attractions,(Another one is on Times Square.)and saw the new 4-D spectacular, "The Great Chocolate Factory Mystery!" (A complete review coming up in the next blog.)
A few hours and a meeting with Hershey Candy Ambassadors P.D. (short for Pay Day),Symphony,and Pattie (as in York Peppermint Pattie, originally made by the York Candy Company in nearby York,PA)later,
we (as in everybody in the park, not just in the editorial sense) headed out to the parking lot for the fireworks
show, which wasn't as big as Macy*s extravaganza, but it was still a great way to end a Fourth of July.
The next day, I visited The Hershey Story, a museum honoring Milton S. Hershey, a man of few words who
let his actions speak for him, and his long road from failed businessman to chocolate king and the beginnings of The Hershey Company and the town that bears his name, which, by the way, is still very much an idyllic small town where people look out for you and say Hello instead of "Excuse me," and where there are no people like the guy in Harrisburg who wanted me to help him skip town. But, I digress. The Hershey Story is also the story of Milton Hershey School,his way of giving back to the community in that it helps disadvantaged children of all grade levels, and the Hershey Theatre, (which I visited on my last trip) a showcase for traveling Broadway shows such as DISNEY'S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT, and the Blue Man Group, to name but a few of the many things that set Hershey apart.
After a light, but satisfying lunch, the next stop was the AACA (American Antique Car Association) Museum, where I took a trip from the Big Apple to San Francisco without ever leaving Hershey thanks to the best of an automotive century, then off to City Island where I saw the Harrisburg Senators (Washington Nationals Eastern League Affiliates) sweep the visiting Bowie BaySox (Baltimore Orioles Affiliates) in a doubleheader.
Even now, I'm trying to think of a way to top this particular vacation, but before I return to the real world, don't touch that "off" button, 'cause a review of "The Great Chocolate Factory Mystery" starts RIGHT NOW!