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7 Tips on Planning a Trip to Hershey for Special Needs Parents

This article was written by one of our Sweetest Families brand ambassadors. Follow Nickida on social media and through her blog here:

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As a mother of a child with special needs, life can often be challenging.

When our son was diagnosed I immediately thought about all the ways our lives were about to change. The things we wouldn’t be able to do and how it would affect our other children. Travel was one of the first things I started to cross off our list until I was selected as a Sweetest Moms Ambassador for Hersheypark. It made me change my attitude towards travel with our son because he found joy. Travel with children is complicated and when you add in a special needs child it can add different challenges. We love Hersheypark, we try to visit at least once a year, it’s the one place I always recommend to parents in local Autism groups who are looking for summer trip ideas. With the summer season in full swing at Hersheypark I wanted to share some tips for planning a trip to Hersheypark for Special Needs Parents.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Planning is a very important step with traveling. It helps you to prepare for as much as possible prior to your trip. Even if you’re just visiting Hersheypark for a day, I highly recommend planning out details about the trip so it goes as smoothly as possible. Plan the timeframes you want to visit the park, how long you want to stay, do you need to break up the day, what to eat, rides you can’t miss, any and every detail you can think of to create a plan. Don’t let the plan leave you feeling overwhelmed or stressed. My tips below share valuable information that will make planning your trip much easier.

1. Stay at The Official Resorts of Hersheypark

If you’re planning to visit overnight, which I suggest to fully enjoy your time in Hershey, I recommend staying at The Official Resorts of Hersheypark. Check out the specials at the resorts for deals and opportunities to save on your visit. There are many benefits to staying at the Hershey properties. We are huge fans of the Hersheypark Camping Resort because of the cabin sizes. Our family of six can sleep comfortably with lots of space. The only set back is having to pack our own linens, so we have to travel with more luggage when we chose the camping resort. Hershey's Water Works at Hershey Lodge indoor pool complex is a huge family favorite. We sometimes skip The Boardwalk At Hersheypark and head to Hershey's Water Works instead because our son manages the noise levels there better. Hershey's Water Works is free for guests of the Hershey Lodge.

There are quite a few benefits to staying at the Hersheypark resorts which can help make your visit less stressful. Benefits include:

  • Free Front Gate Shuttle Service

  • Up to 4.5 hours of extra time with Preview Plan (Summer Season)

  • 1-hour early access in Summer Season

  • Indoor Pool Access

  • Save up to 45% on your stay during certain months

2. Take Advantage of the Freebies for Resort Guests

If you’re staying at The Official Resorts of Hersheypark be sure to take advantage of the freebies for resort guests. It’s a great way to add memories to your trip. Guests at The Hotel Hershey and Hershey Lodge receive free admission to Hershey Gardens, as well as the Butterfly Atrium and The Hershey Story Museum. Once you check out from the hotel extend your trip to include the two attractions in Hershey. We love visiting Hershey Gardens just to see the butterflies. If your child is a fan they could easily spend hours there seeing all it has to offer. Strollers are not permitted in the Butterfly Atrium so be sure to make a plan if your child requires a stroller for the park and other attractions. 

The Hershey Story Museum has lots of great options for families with children on the spectrum. The website has a section with social stories to prepare your child for a visit to the museum. The is an accessible entrance as well as manual wheelchairs on a first come, first serve basis. The museum recommends children with Autism and other developmental disabilities visit during the least crowded times from 9-10 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. for the best experience. They also have two sensory-friendly backpacks to use during the museum visit. The backpack includes noise reduction headphones, sunglasses, a small plush toy, fidget tools, and copies of the social stories. Backpacks can be signed out free of charge on a first come, first serve basis.

3. Sign Up For the Hersheypark  Accessibility Pass

The Hersheypark Accessibility Pass is super easy to sign up for and it’s a lifesaver for families with children with disabilities. Once you enter the park locate the Hospitality Services building at front of the Park. Fill out the short questionnaire about your child and receive the wristband and Ride Boarding Pass. It will indicate which rides are safe for your child based on their height and your answers from the questionnaire. We usually have them staple our wristband to the boarding pass since our son does not like having things on his wrist.

It’s worth learning all the rules associated with the pass. Each pass gives the pass holder and three family members a fast track to the rides listed on the boarding pass. For larger families you are required to split up the party. The pass holder must ride at all times. You must use the ride exit for attractions that do not have a fast track lane. If you are visiting more than once in a 30 day period the staff at Hospitality Services will save questionnaire information for faster processing on your next visit.

4. Visit ZooAmerica

One of the best kept secrets of Hersheypark is the food area in ZooAmerica. It’s my favorite place to grab a quick snack and a drink refill when we are visiting the park because the lines are usually much shorter than other areas in the park. ZooAmerica is free with your paid admission to Hersheypark. If you can be sure to save some time to visit the Zoo, it’s perfect for kids that love animals. There are five regions to explore when visiting the Zoo; Southern Swamps, Great Southwest, Eastern Woodlands, Big Sky Country, and Northlands.

You can often find parents and strollers lined up around the Zoo during hot summer months under the shade of the trees. If you’re traveling for a young child, it’s a nice quiet spot to take a few moments to relax before continuing in the Park.

5. Save On Admission

If you’re planning to visit Hersheypark but don’t plan to stay at one of their resorts, there are lots of different ways to save on admission to the park. Always check the Hersheypark website for current specials and offers. It’s best to purchase your tickets early in the year before the park opens for Springtime In The Park or Summer Season.

  • Visit in the offseason: seasonal pricing includes Springtime In The Park, Hersheypark In The Dark and Hersheypark Christmas Candylane.

  • Buy online and save: check the website for the special sale offered that month. Save even more by purchasing the two day passes.

  • Sunset Pack: Visit Hersheypark later in the day and save big on admission. The sunset pack is only available online and costs $33 per regular admission ticket (kids and senior tickets also available).

  • Hersheypark Event Special: Going to a concert at Giant Center? Present your concert ticket at the gate the day before or the day after your concert and receive a special discount. 

  • Purchase a Season Pass: If you know you’re going to Hersheypark more than three times during the year, I suggest a Season Pass. Pass holders enjoy unlimited visits, free parking, discounts on food and other purchases, passholder events, and more.

6. Save On Dining Options

If you’re planning to eat at the park be sure to check out all the dining specials before arriving at the park. When purchasing tickets you can also add on special dining packages at a discount to help you save even more on your trip.

  • All-Day Drink Deal: Enjoy a 2019 Souvenir Cup and save with FREE refills on fountain drinks and ICEE® all day! Plus, get $1 refills on future visits!

  • All-Day Dining Deal: Dine all day for one low price! Includes 1 entree and 1 side at more than 10 locations throughout Hersheypark!

  • Meal ticket: Choose from 14 food locations and enjoy an entree, side, and drink.

Hersheypark also offers allergen-friendly dining options, and they updated their dining facilities to ensure no cross-contamination of foods. While at the Park visit The Outpost to try their allergen-friendly food items. To learn more about the allergen-friendly menu visit the website and rest assured your family will be taken care of when dining at Hersheypark.

7. Can’t Miss Rides, Attractions, and Shopping

When you’re visiting the Hershey area there are so many cool things to see and do. When we plan our trips to the park we make sure to add certain rides, attractions, and shopping to our list. When visiting the park keep an eye out for Hershey Characters for fun photo opportunities Hersheypark has various types of rides for Park visitors, some of our favorites are Dry Gulch Railroad, Kissing Tower, Monorail, Tea Cups, and Wave Swinger.

Chocolate World is the perfect way to end any trip to Hershey or Hersheypark. Stock up on your favorite Hershey candies or even snag some new exclusives that haven’t hit stores yet. Chocolate World has a free ride attraction that shows the chocolate-making process from start to finish and it even ends with a complimentary piece of chocolate. There are also four paid attractions at Chocolate World. Bundling is the best way to save when purchasing any of the Chocolate World Attractions.

Bonus Tip: Sign Up for Family Finder

Hersheypark teamed up with PennState Health to offer the Family Finder Wristbands as an easy alternative to locating parents in the event of separation. Each child has a wristband with the parent’s names and a phone number to call in case you get separated. It is an extra layer of protection in case of an emergency, especially for parents who have elopers. 

Bonus Tip: Find the Quiet Areas

Our son gets overstimulated at times, so our first visit to the Park was hard for him and we weren’t aware of the quiet spaces for families like ours. If your child needs a break while at the Park, find one of the designated quiet areas located at Pioneer Frontier Guest Services inside the Family Health & Services Center and Kissing Tower Hill Guest Services.

It’s my hope that these tips help you when planning and visiting Hershey. If you even have any problems when visiting the Park, be sure to locate a Hersheypark team member for assistance. See you in the Park!