After the kids had solidly worn themselves out, we hopped back in the van. The plan was to find a place to stay the night before heading to Baltimore the following day. That's when I looked at a map and called an audible.
I noticed that Hershey, PA was an hour-and-a-half away. We called the Hershey factory to see A) if tours were still happening; and, B) how crowded it was. The answer: tours were still going, and the whole place was almost empty.
"You know, kids, if you're ok with an extra hour-and-a-half of driving, we could go to Hershey, PA today and head to Baltimore tomorrow."
You should know that, prior to this trip, I knew virtually nothing about Hershey, PA. I'd neither researched it online nor seen so much as a picture of the place. My knowledge was limited to the following facts: Hershey has a chocolate factory. Hershey has a chocolate tour. Chocolate tour-goers are given free samples. That's all I needed to know to justify changing our travel plans. As it turns out, that's all that my 8 children needed to know also.
Off we went.
Careese called back to reserve a tour spot. I overheard the conversation. Here are a few lines from their conversation and my internal dialogue.
Hershey employee: "If you stay on property, you can do the tour for free."
My thoughts: "Stay on property?! Like, there's a Hershey Hotel?! I thought this place was merely a factory that you walk through, and where they throw some chocolate at you at the end of the tour. What is this place, Chocolate Disney?!"
Hershey employee: "I should let you know that the amusement park is closed, but the chocolate world tour, botanical gardens, water park, and museum are still open."
My thoughts, out loud this time, interrupting my wife's phone conversation: "AMUSEMENT PARK?! There's a chocolate amusement park and chocolate botanical gardens?! IT IS CHOCOLATE DISNEY!"
Careese to me after putting the Hershey employee on hold: "Yes, there's an amusement park, but it's closed."
Me: "I know, I know. And, there's no way we would go today even if it was open, but still. You have no idea how happy I am right now!"
When we rolled into town (slightly sooner than the hour-and-a-half it should've taken to get there, I might add...because CHOCOLATE DISNEY), Hershey World blew my mind. It's a whole flippin' chocolate resort! There's a stadium, hotel & conference center, amusement park full of massive roller-coasters, botanical gardens, and a big ol' chocolate food court. I need to describe the food court to you now. One place served giant s'mores. Another, hot chocolate and coffee. Another, bowls of cookie dough and cookies. Another cupcakes. Another, milkshakes. Another, jolly rancher slushies. At the center of the food court: aisle after aisle of every kind of candy imaginable.
My mind kept thinking, "Pace yourself, Josh. This is a marathon, not a sprint." Unfortunately, my mouth kept saying "OMNOMNOMNOMNOMNOM." As you might imagine, this did not end well, gastrointestinally speaking. In every other conceivable way, the experience was glorious. Oh, and the kids loved it, too.
Oh, I almost forgot. The shampoo and conditioner at the Hershey Hotel are chocolate scented. Decidedly, this was the best I've ever personally smelled in my entire life. There was a downside to this shampoo and conditioner for my kids though. I kept sniffing my wife's hair, and it made them all very uncomfortable. "Ew, gross, Dad!"
Struggle Bus 2.0 rollin' on to the next stop: Baltimore, MD. Good luck topping Chocolate Disney, Baltimore.