Experience the sweet life in Hershey, Pa.

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Carol Sorgen

It should come as no surprise that a vacation to Hershey, Pa., will meet with an enthusiastic thumbs-up from your grandchildren. What you may not realize is that you can have a fantastic time without kids as well, as I did on a recent girlfriend getaway to the home of the chocolate bar.

My former college roommate and I were sorely in need of a little R&R. A stressful couple of years involving injuries and illnesses for both of us had left us a bit worn out. Our “prize,” we promised ourselves, would be a few days of pampering when we were both completely back on our feet.

That time finally came — yippee! — and our thoughts turned to spas, beautiful accommodations, and plenty of things to do without feeling like we had to turn into whirling dervishes to accomplish it all. And since she lives in New Jersey and I’m in Baltimore, we wanted a place that was easily accessible for both of us. Hello, Hershey!

There are a number of lodging choices in the chocolate-scented town, including the Hotel Hershey, the Hershey Lodge, Hershey Highmeadow Campground and a number of chain hotels.

Our choice was the brand new Woodside Cottages at the Hotel Hershey. When it first opened in the 1930s, the Hotel Hershey offered cottages behind its main building.

As part of the hotel’s expansion to mark its 75th anniversary, it built 10 new cottages — plus a new restaurant, recreation campus with aquatic facility, ice skating rink, newly renovated hotel lobby, and seven boutique shops.

The cottages, named for plants found throughout the hotel grounds — we stayed in Cherry — have either four or six bedrooms, and both an upper-level and lower-level great room. Guests can rent individual bedrooms or reserve the entire cottage.

A chocoholic’s dream

Since the rainy drive had slowed us both down, we had only a moment to check in, drop our bags in the cottage, grab the shuttle (the main hotel is within walking distance but the shuttle is a nice touch) and dash over to our spa appointment.

I decided to take advantage of “all things cocoa” that Hershey is famous for and had reserved a cocoa facial. The oh-so-relaxing, and yummy-smelling, treatment was preceded by a warming foot soak, and included not only the facial, but a hand and foot treatment, neck and shoulder massage, finished off by a scalp massage. The 75-minute treatment cost $165.

The next morning we decided to visit the Hershey Story, the Museum on Chocolate Avenue, a new project that honors Milton S. Hershey. After all, the Hershey empire, including the town, is the result of his vision and efforts.

On the second floor of this engaging, interactive museum are themed exhibits that focus on such topics as  Hershey’s rocky road to success, how Hershey revolutionized the production of milk chocolate, and how Hershey’s products were advertised before there were TV commercials.

I had also signed up for the chocolate lab and a chocolate tasting at the museum. The lab offers hands-on classes such as tempering, molding, dipping and making chocolate from scratch.

The class I took, the Art of Chocolate, didn’t reveal any hidden Picasso-esque talents on my part, but I was rather pleased with my swirly abstract creation that, yes, was edible and can be taken with you.

Following the lab, as if we hadn’t already had our chocolate fix — before noon yet — there was a chocolate tasting in the CafĂ© Zooka (named after Zooka Chocolate Sticks, penny candies that were one of Milton Hershey’s early chocolate novelties).

The Countries of Origin Chocolate Tasting featured exotic chocolate flavors from around the world. We sipped warm drinking samples made from cocoa beans from Africa to Indonesia and beyond. My favorite? The fruity Madagascar. I have to say, I’d much rather do a chocolate tasting than a wine tasting!

To walk off some of the calories — but who’s counting — we strolled through the Hershey Gardens, located just a short walk from the main entrance of the hotel.

The gardens opened to the public in 1937 with a 3 ½- acre rose garden. By 1942, the Gardens had expanded to the 23 acres visitors can enjoy today, with themed gardens, an outdoor butterfly house, a children’s garden, and 7,500 beautiful — and aromatic — roses.

Hersheypark for grownups

Despite the fact that we had no little ones with us, Nan and I decided you can’t really say you’ve been to Hershey until you’ve gone to Hersheypark, the resort’s 110-acre amusement park.

Hershey staff has nicknames for the rides, including the “howlers” and the “pukers.” We chose the “weenie” rides — Skyview, the monorail, and the Dry Gulch Steam Railroad. Just about our speed!

 While the latest addition to the park, called Boardwalk at Hersheypark: the SEAquel, is closed for the season, it should be a welcome haven during hot summer days. Features include the Shore, a 378,000-gallon wave pool, and the Intercoastal Waterway, a “lazy river” attraction that gives guests the opportunity to float along on individual rafts.

In November and December, Hersheypark gets all decked out for the holidays with more than 2 million twinkling lights. About 30 rides stay open, and nine real reindeer can be visited in the park’s pioneer frontier area. Single day passes are $10.95.

Each night, you can enjoy 600 illuminated and animated displays in a two-mile drive-through attraction called Hershey Sweet Lights. The price is $20 per car.

New this year is a holiday dinner musical called  Christmas in Chocolate Town at Hershey Lodge. The evening begins with caroling, punch and light hors d’oeuvres, and continues with a Christmas-inspired dinner and decadent dessert, followed by a 40-song show. The show and meal is $49.95 for adults and $24.95 for children.

Another dining option is the circular dining room at the Hotel Hershey. The room was built in a semi-circle without pillars or corners, so that each guest would have a view of the hotel’s formal gardens. The 13 windows are made of colored leaded glass and depict birds and blooms native to central Pennsylvania.

We ate Sunday brunch here ($39.95). It was so extensive that it wasn’t until we left that I realized I’d missed an entire table! Not that I went hungry, mind you.

And what’s a brunch without a chocolate fountain, with fruit and marshmallows on hand for dipping, leaving me with sweet memories as I departed for home.

If you go

Hershey, Pa. is about a 2 ½-hour drive from downtown Washington.

For more information on visiting Hershey, log on to www.hersheypa.com. You’ll find links to accommodations, restaurants, attractions, events and packages to help plan your trip. “Senior” discounts for Hersheypark admission start at age 55. Even larger “Senior Plus” discounts start at age 70.

Rooms at the Hotel Hershey start at $279; $189 for the Lodge at Hersheypark in November. For more information on these hotels, go to www.hersheypark.com/lodging.

If you stay at one of the official Hersheypark hotels, you can also purchase a “Sweet Access Pass,” which includes a number of VIP extras, such as personal concierge service, front-of-the-line ride access, a meal and other benefits.

Chain hotels abound in Hershey, including SpringHill Suites starting at $135 and Hampton Inn for $129.