Town built on chocolate now a 'suite' confection

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HERSHEY, Pa. -- Visit Hershey today and it's hard to overlook that sweet smell of chocolate and that even sweeter smell of success.

Both permeate this central Pennsylvania town and have for nearly a century since Milton Hershey opened the world's first modern chocolate factory in 1905 and built the model town that bears his name.

A theme park followed. Today, the theme park, the chocolate factory, a museum and lodging, meetings and recreational facilities fall under the umbrella of an enterprise called Hershey Entertainment and Resorts.

The Park

Those who don't live in the Middle Atlantic states know the Hershey name, certainly: Hershey's Milk Chocolate bars, Hershey's Kisses, Hershey's cocoa to name a few sweet examples; but how many have heard of Hersheypark?

Constructed in 1907 as a "picnic and pleasure grounds" for the families who lived and worked in this chocolate world, Hersheypark has 65 rides (10 roller coasters) and attractions. Historically, the park has driven the summer season here.

But Hershey isn't just a theme park, a chocolate factory and a town with street lights shaped like Hershey's Kisses anymore.

It's also the home of Hershey Resorts, the company's lodging arm, which is working to broaden its reach and build an identity as an upscale, year-round destination for people of all ages.

"When you ask, 'Have you been to Hershey?' the answer often is, 'When I was a kid,' " said R. Lynn Berkholder, director of marketing for Hershey Resorts. "So we give them the brochure on the spa, on the golf courses. If you haven't been to Hershey in the last five years, you haven't been to Hershey."

The resort now boasts the Hotel Hershey and a 17,000-square-foot spa now under expansion to nearly double its size; the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, with 100,000 square feet of meetings space; a sports and entertainment venue; and the Hershey Golf Club.

"We reacquired golf courses that were sold in the mid-'90s," Berkholder said. "Hershey has one of the best public courses in the state, and it has a course for children just learning to play."

Enter Southwest Airlines

Traditionally a drive destination, the resort's goal until recently was to sell beyond Philadelphia, a market it had cultivated with success, and extend its reach to Washington, 140 miles away, Berkholder said.

Today, the sky's the limit, with the coming expansion of Southwest Airlines into Philadelphia.

"We're thrilled," said Kim Schaller, chief marketing officer for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts. "We're 75 to 90 miles away from Philadelphia, with great access to the New Jersey Turnpike. We can see this making a big impact on Hershey. It's clearly a bonus for us."

Harrisburg Airport is 12 miles from the resort and is opening a new terminal, she said.

"As we grow, air travel will be very important for us," she said, adding that Southwest also flies into Baltimore. "We say, "Go Southwest!"

The Hotel Hershey

The hotel was built in the 1930s on a hilltop above the town. It's said that its Mediterranean design prompted the late world traveler, Lowell Thomas, to describe it as "a palace that out-palaces the palaces of the Maharajas of India."

The Fountain Lobby is a re-creation of a Spanish courtyard. The Mediterranean theme is carried into the 232 guest rooms and 25 suites. In the main building, 130 rooms just underwent a $2 million redo.

The Circular Dining Room was built to ensure unobstructed views of the gardens. There are cafes and coffee shops, and the Iberian Lounge offers live music and chocolate martinis.

The three-story, European-style Spa at the Hotel Hershey expects to grow to 30,000 square feet by December and add 23 treatment rooms, for a total of 53.

Spa packages include the Hershey Sweet Retreat, a one-night plan that ranges from $438 to $588, double; the Hershey Getaway, a two-night plan, $786 to $1,086; and Heavenly Hershey, a three-night plan, $1,134 to $1,584. Rates are per package, valid to Sept. 5.

All packages include the Hershey Rain Shower; a 20-minute massage; and a whirlpool tub experience with a choice of soaks, including whipped cocoa.

The Hershey Getaway offers a $75 spa credit per person. Heavenly Hershey includes a $150 credit.

For appointments, call (877) 772-9988. The spa is on the Web at www.spaathotelhershey.com.

Recreational facilities feature 72 holes of golf, including a nine-hole course at the hotel (packages are available); a fitness center; two swimming pools; and nature trails.

The Hershey Lodge

The Hershey Lodge and Convention Center is undergoing a $5 million refit set for completion in spring 2005. The majority of the rooms have been finished and are in use, according to a spokeswoman. The 665 guest rooms, including 28 suites, are appointed with regionally crafted furnishings and local artwork.

The lodge has three restaurants, two lounges, a sports bar and a coffee shop plus business, convention and concierge services. Amenities include a game room, an indoor pool, two outdoor pools, a fitness facility, a whirlpool and a sauna.

Room rates at the Hotel Hershey start at $329 from May 28 to Sept. 5, single or double. Rates at the Hershey Lodge begin at $229 per night, May 28 to Sept. 5. Children age 17 and under stay free at both hotels.

Hershey Resorts guests enjoy access to Hershey Golf Club courses, admission to Hershey Gardens and Hershey Museum and shuttle service to Hersheypark. Commission is 10%.

For reservations, call (800) 533-3131. Hershey Resorts is on the Web at www.hersheypa.com.

To contact Destinations editor Margaret Myre, send e-mail to [email protected].

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