A Pennsylvania Family Road trip:
All Roads Lead to Chocolate and Coasters
by Karin Leperi

with audio by Karson Leperi and video by and Kosette Leperi

The Leperi crew embarks on that quintessential American way-of-life and summer ritual: the Great American Road trip. The only thing that is different this time is that we have planned our travels exclusively within the state of Pennsylvania. With over 6058 square miles of geography in the “Quaker” or “Key” state, we’re not likely to run out of things to do.

Our itinerary is both mouth-watering (Chocolate!) and stomach unsettling (Roller Coasters!) at the same time. While our first destination is that great American chocolate town Hershey, Pennsylvania, our family of three — Mom, Karson (14), and Kosette (13) — intend to sample regional specialties while experiencing the thrills, and gravity-defying feats of Pennsylvania’s legendary roller coasters.

With only four days to accomplish the impossible, we settle on a road itinerary that focuses on three amusement parks: Hershey Park, Knoebels, and Dorney Park.


The year 2006 marked the opening of Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge, the first interactive dark ride to pit car against car. However, everyone is a winner at the end, with sweet treats for all.

This event has been planned as a preamble to gearing up for Hershey's 100th anniversary celebration in 2007, a celebration during which will debut the “Boardwalk.” According to Mindy Bianca, Director of Public Relations, the $20 million attraction will be the largest interactive water playing structure in the world, with rides from mild to wild.

As for roller coasters, Hersheypark has 10, including Storm Runner which tied for #34 in the category of Top 50 Steel Roller Coasters in the World. Wildcat was voted #32 for Top 50 Wooden Roller Coasters. And based on comments heard from kids in the Park (ages 8-12 years old), Great Bear is a definite favorite with many in this age group.

Rating Hersheypark

Karson: “Lots of chocolate with 3 really great coasters”
Kosette: “Chocolate everywhere – even the smell is in the air. Many different fun rides such as Storm Runner and Reese’s Cup Challenge”


With free admission, free parking, free entertainment, and free picnic facilities, this is a bargain family destination that can’t be beat. The park contains two world-acclaimed roller coasters, authentic bumper cars, a grand carousel with a brass ring pull, and an award-winning haunted mansion which offers options for families of all sizes and ages. Knoebels received Golden Tickets for Best Food, Best Carousel, and Best Souvenirs and was named Best Park for Families.

“Forget what you know about other amusement parks,” says Joe Moscato, Director of Marketing for Knoebels, “because Knoebel’s is a completely different type of experience.”

The Amusement Today publication has bestowed all types of awards on this family-owned, family-friendly park in the mountains, including:

#1 Best Food
#2 Best Dark Ride
#2 Best Souvenirs
#3 Friendliest Park Staff (tie with Cedar Point, Ohio)
#4 Best Park (tie with Europa Park, Germany)
#4 Phoenix - Top 50 Wooden Roller Coasters
#25 Twister – Top 50 Wooden Roller Coasters

Rating Knoebels

Karson: “Only two roller coasters, but both are superb.”
Kosette: “Many hard-working people. It's amazing how quickly Knoebels recovered from the spring flooding — in a matter of days! Though different from big theme parks, this is nice for big families and large groups because it’s so affordable and you pay by the ride. I loved the carousel with the brass ring.”

For other views on the Phoenix and Twister, we caught up with Cody and Carson Franklin from Belair, Maryland.

“The Twister is fast with secure seating; longer bumps and good drops,” says Cody, who is 14. He adds that the Phoenix had a “really nice” drop. And his 8 year-old brother Carson says he’ll be coming back, even though he admits to be scared in the beginning.

Dorney Park

Dorney Park boasts eight roller coasters including world-class Hydra The Revenge, Pennsylvania’s first and only floorless coaster with a zero gravity experience. Unfortunately, several hours of torrential rain and ensuing thunder busters severely limited our ride time at Dorney. Otherwise, Talon – the longest, tallest inverted coaster in the Northeast, would have been rated.

Amusement Today awarded Steel Force a ranking of #14 in the Top 50 Steel Roller Coasters for 2005. However, according to Heather Kramer, Public Relations Manager, the Talon is an easy favorite with many coaster fans, Every year in June, Dorney Park hosts “Coaster Madness” for coaster clubs, giving them exclusive ride time access.

Rating Dorney Park

Karson: “All the roller coasters are great but I really loved the Meteor — the best ride with loads of splashes.”
Kosette: “Dorney Park has my favorite roller coaster – the Hydra. And there are lots of shows, games and other rides to keep you busy.”

Teen Roller Coaster Ratings

Hershey Park
Storm Runner
Lightning start; thrill a minute
Great Bear
Fast-paced; lots of loops and turns
Fast both forward and backwards
Nice speed but jerky
Sooper Dooper Looper
Fast and fun; but we expected more loops
Wild Cat
A definite hit with the younger kids
Best post-lunch ride
A smooth woodie; great “out-of-your-seat” ride
Fast turns with longer bumps
Dorney Park      
Hydra, the Revenge
Upside down, sideways, upright – awesome
Steel Force
Smooth but big drop!
Thunder Hawk
Fast wooden without jerks


Mom’s Favorites

While my teens cavort with coasters, I am busy checking out shows, shopping for souvenirs, and savoring sweets. Some of my favorites include:

Hershey’s Breakfast in the Park
Hershey’s Chapters of Love Show
Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour
Hershey Gardens
Knoebel’s Grand Carousel and Brass Ring Pull
Knoebel’s International Food Court
Knoebel’s Carousel Museum
Knoebel’s Train Ride
Dorney’s Game Day Grille
Dorney’s Historic Fishpond


Best All Around Dorney's Hydra
Fastest Hershey's Storm Runner
Best Thrill

Karson: Knoebels' Phoenix

Kosette: Dorney's Steel Force

Best Ride After Lunch Hershey's Trail Blazer

No matter what coaster you ride, or what park you visit, a Pennsylvania road trip incorporating chocolate and coasters is a winning combination for kids, teens, and adults alike. It brought out the “child” in all of us.

To Plan Your Pennsylvania Chocolate and Coasters Road Trip

Hershey Entertainment & Resorts
1-800-HERSHEY (1-800-437-7439)

Susquehanna Valley Visitors Bureau (Knoebels)
81 Hafer Road
Lewisburg, PA 17837
1-800-525-7320 or (570) 524-7234

Lehigh Valley CVB (Dorney Park)
P.O. Box 20785
Lehigh Valley, PA 18002-0785
(800) 747-0561 or (610) 882-9200

Pennsylvania Tourism Office
Department of Community and Economic Development
4th Floor, Commonwealth Keystone Building
400 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120-0225
1-800-VISIT-PA (847-4872)

Amusement Parks and More

Hershey Park
1-800-HERSHEY (1-800-437-7439)

Hersheypark, a 110-acre theme park, takes great pride in being known as “clean and green” family fun. It features 10 roller coasters, six water rides, and 24 kiddies rides, with entrance to ZOOAMERICA North American Wildlife Park included.

Featuring some of the best shows and entertainment around, my personal favorite is “The Chapters of Love.” In fact, I admit to seeing it twice. Produced by Allan Albert Productions, an extremely talented cast of four singers and four dancers are accompanied by a live six-piece band that is as much a part of the show. The stirring performances of “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love” and “The Winner Takes it All” literally left me with goose bumps. Don’t miss the excellent staging and choreography of “The Call.”

The park is gearing up big time to celebrate its 100th year anniversary in 2007 with the debut of the BOARDWALK – with rides from mild to wild. A $20 million attraction, it is billed as the largest interactive water playing structure in the world.

Hershey’s Chocolate World
(717) 534-4900

Hershey’s Chocolate World began as the official visitors’ center of The Hershey Company in 1973. Today, it is the most visited corporate attraction in the United States. One of my favorites, the free Chocolate Making Tour Ride, is a chocolate-learning immersion experience that is educational and tasty — and it ends with a sample! The Courtyard Café Food Court and KIT KAT “Gimme A Break” Café offers an assortment of sandwiches, salads, pizza, and chocolate.

Hershey Trolley Works
(717) 533-6299

Be sure to reserve your space early on the Hershey Trolley Works — an historic tour through chocolate town — as tickets sell out quickly. My teens were fascinated with the “quick change” costumed conductors. And even though the Leperi clan lacks a musical gene, we found the old-time singing loads of fun.

Hershey Gardens
(717) 534-3492

Hershey Gardens is a 23-acre botanical gem that includes themed gardens, seasonal displays, rare trees, a rose garden, and my favorite — a Butterfly House. For 2006, the Big Bugs exhibit of bug sculptures that are bigger than life, is interspersed throughout the gardens.

Knoebels Amusement Resort & Campground
Route 487
Elysburg, PA 17824
Phone: 1-800-487-4386
Campground: (570) 672-9555

Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, Knoebels is America’s largest free-admission amusement park. Family-friendly with tons of fun, this northeastern Pennsylvania destination features more than 50 rides and two world-class roller coasters — the Phoenix and the Twister. It also has two campgrounds onsite with over 500 campsites and dozens of log cabins set in pine and hardwood forest.

Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom
3830 Dorney Park Road
Allentown, Pa 18104
Phone: (610) 395-3724

With an amusement and a waterpark at one location, Dorney Park offers two parks on 200 acres for the price of one admission. The Wildwater Kingdom is ranked the third best waterpark in the world.

Where to Stay

Hershey Lodge
100 West Hersheypark Drive
Hershey, PA 17033

Service, value and convenience define the Hershey Lodge, where the three of us spent two very comfortable nights. With 665 rooms that include 15 suites, the property is also Pennsylvania’s largest convention resort. Rooms have special chocolate touches that remind you of being at “The Sweetest Place on Earth.”

It’s the special service and all the extras that make this such a deal. Included in the rate is free seasonal shuttle bus transportation to Hersheypark and other area attractions along with free admission to Hershey Museum and Hershey Gardens. For those with energy left to burn after a day at the park, Hershey Lodge has three swimming pools, a health and fitness center, basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, and a complimentary 18-hole miniature golf course on site. Though my teens were a tad too old to take advantage of the chocolate-themed recreational activities, younger children should enjoy this. For me, I really appreciated the high-speed Internet access from my room.

Quality Inn & Suites
15 Valley West Road
Danville, PA 17821
Phone: (570) 275-5100

Located only 10 minutes from Knoebels Amusement Park, this property is a popular choice with tourists and travelers because of its central location for surrounding attractions and shopping. A complimentary hot breakfast buffet is included and served at the on-site Country Kitchen restaurant.

Wingate Inn
4325 Hamilton Blvd.
Allentown, PA 18103
Phone: (610) 366-1600

Only 1/8 of a mile from Dorney Park, this hotel redefines the term “location.” Spacious lobby hosts a deluxe continental breakfast that includes a waffle-making machine. Rooms are big and bright, with all the amenities: microwave, refrigerator, coffee maker, hair dryer, premier movie channels, and Nintendo 64.

Amusement Today Inc.
Independent monthly newspaper
P.O. Box 5427
Arlington, Texas 76005
(817) 460-7220

A Pennsylvania Family Road Trip: All Roads Lead to Chocolate and Coasters is written, photographed, and produced by the Leperi Team: Karin Leperi, travel journalist and photographer (the mother); Karson (the 14-year-old son who is a roller coaster aficionado and audio content specialist), and Kosette Leperi (the 13-year-old daughter who lives for excitement and is the family video expert).