Our family just returned from a quick trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of The Hershey Company, Chocolate World, and the very fun amusement park bearing its name: Hershey Park.
Although this amusement park is within a couple hours driving distance from our home in Northern Virginia -- a suburb of Washington, DC -- we hadn't been there for almost 5 years. Since we last visited, Hershey Park has added a great water park that promises fun for all ages. There's a large wave pool surrounded by a lazy river. Admission is included with general park admission, so you can enjoy both rides AND the water park all in the same day -- and all for the same price. In fact, we found their rates to be quite reasonable, considering all the park offers: tons of rollercoasters (12 in all), other rides, kiddie rides, shows, and the waterpark's wave pool, lazy river and numerous water slides. In fact, a 2-day pass to Hershey for any two days during the seaons (they don't need to be consecutive) is $75, less than the price of ONE day at any of Disney's parks in Orlando. Daily admission at Hershey Park is $56.95, with substantial discounts available to kids under 9, seniors, and visitors aged 70+. You can also get savings coupons through AAA and certain grocery stores to save even more.
We paid extra to rent a cabana by the pool, which was, frankly, a bit expensive ($300 for five people, which includes a nice new souvenir swim towel for each person, large nylon pool bag, sunscreen, reusable plastic souvenir cups, a locker, unlimited fountain drinks, and a refrigerator stocked with bottled water). But given that we were traveling there on a day with temperatures topping 100 degrees -- and had our two young kids and my mother-in-law with us, it seemed like a good idea. A cabana, which is essentially a shaded and spacious tent situated around the lazy river, gives you a place to rest and some much-needed escape from the heat and scorching sun. You can come and go as you please, and although you are given a locker for any valuables, you don't need to worry about leaving things like towels, beverages, and suntan lotion out in your cabana. The only people that have access to this area are staff and other groups renting cabanas. You can go back and forth from the rides to the water park, and folks renting cabanas have private access to the lazy river, without any wait (lines just to get in the lazy river could get quite long). There was also the Cabana Grill which serviced the cabana area, and they had a nice selection of food, including gluten free options (like quesadillas) they were happy to prepare. Which finally brings me to the gluten free food available in the park...
Most every restaurant in the park had gluten free options available. The thing to do -- as we found out upon buying admission tickets -- is to purchase a Special Dietary Meal Ticket Voucher for $13.50 (this can be done at Guest Services near the park's entrance and certain other locations in the park). All gluten free (and dairy free, nut free, and vegetarian) options at each restaurant are listed right on the ticket, so you can see what your options are. They are also good about pointing out the efforts staff go to in avoiding cross contamination in preparing meals for guests with special dietary needs (changing gloves and utensils). One meal ticket gives you an entree, side, and a 32 oz. drink in a souvenir cup.
Gluten Free options included burgers and chicken sandwiches (WITH gluten free buns!), salads, tacos, nachos, pizza, rotisserie chicken, wraps and sandwiches, chicken tenders, and even GF quesadillas offered at the Cabana Grill. We did not find anywhere where the FRIES were gluten free, probably becuase they share a fryer with chicken nuggets and other gluten-containing fried foods. We enjoyed the tacos and rice bowl (minus the beans, which contained gluten) at Tumbleweed's Tacos -- as well as various burgers, chicken sandwiches, and grilled chicken salads purchased at various food stands and restaurants throughout the day.
The Cabana Grill also told us they had gluten free brownie bites and gluten free cookies (tasty specialties made by Cookies for Me), and we promptly ordered some for there -- and some to take home (it was the first time we'd encountered GF brownie bites!).
The food wasn't what I'd call gourmet, but certainly better than most other theme parks -- and in some respects even better (or at least equal to) what you'd find at Disney's parks. The staff were all very friendly, too, and didn't seem inconvenienced with our "special requests." There are also "branded" concessions like ICEE (gluten free) and Cold Stone Creamery (the only place where we received a quizzical look about our gluten free inquiry)...we ended up confirming that the chocolate ice cream was GF and requested a scoop with a clean scooper from a fresh tub.
All in all, a good gluten free experience with no apparent glutening. And all in all, a great summer day at a unique theme park (don't miss the free tour of Chocolate World, just outside the theme park). Thanks, Hershey Park, for giving gluten free kids (and kids with other dietary restrictions) a place where they can enjoy plenty of treats -- and plenty of fun!