Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Throw an Art Party for Kids

We're taking a little break from traveling today because we're in party mode in this house!  The Jersey Momma's Boy has a summer birthday, and every year I take extra care in planning it.

Throwing a Theme Party (at a glance!)

The parties usually have a theme.  His first birthday was a Yo Gabba Gabba motif and the whole family was invited.  I'm lucky to have a super talented sister who constructed this 4 foot tall Plex Robot to greet guests.  Here he is in her garage before the party:
Looks like Plex is just hangin' out and havin' a Coke!
Year 2 was a Robot party, complete with giant robot dude to greet family and friends:
robot cut-out
And of course the cake had to match...
robot cake

Year 3 was a Train theme, and we were so grateful that our friend Jelene let us use her adorable train graphic as the centerpiece of the party!

                                       I blurred out the Jersey Momma Boy's name, just in case you were wondering.

Year 4 was an Angry Birds party at a local bounce house place.  This was the first time I noticed that the Jersey Momma's Boy had a little bit of anxiety at public parties.

                 Angry Birds party favors
Angry Birds goodie bags and cupcakes were the highlight of the party!  The cupcake toppers were actually plastic rings that the kids could wear!  For more on how to dye cupcakes in bright colors, check out my entry on rainbow cupcakes from March.
Angry Birds cupcake toppers
And then year 5 arrived, and the Jersey Momma's Boy asked if he could have his party at home, old school style.  He really, really wanted an Art themed party.  And that's where this entry finally begins!

How to Throw an Art Party for Kids

The party was for 4-5 year olds with a couple of younger siblings thrown in the mix, so I had to come up with simple, quick projects that would keep everyone occupied.  The teacher in me went into organizing mode, so I created four centers (let's call them "stations" so we don't feel like we're in school) and figured I would divide the kids up into groups of 4 as they arrived.  The early birds could start at the coloring station so that they'd have something to do as others filtered in:
coloring station
Each station was decorated with bright colors and set up in advance with all of the necessary supplies.
art party games
 The first station was a bag decorating station (using stickers and construction paper crayons) so they would have somewhere to put all of their creations as they finished them:
The next station was a "Sand Art" creation.  It's not really sand.  I made each color using salt and chalk, which is much cheaper.  For more on how to make your own "Sand" Art, check out this entry:  DIY Sand Art, for Real!
art party
Our next station was for Home-made Spin Art.  This is soooo easy and you can find out how to do it by reading this entry:  Rainy Day Craft Break: DIY Spin Art
DIY spin art
The last station was a little rainbow craft using paper plates, markers and cotton balls.
Oh, and don't forget those little siblings I mentioned!  I had a few guests coming that were under the age of 4, and I knew they might not be able to do all of the art projects or stay focused on them.  So I set up a sensory table near the sofas, filled with rainbow rice.  Believe it or not, this actually occupied them for most of the party!  You can read about how to make Rainbow Rice here:  How to Make Rainbow Rice
art party rainbow rice

Goodie Bags

You have two options for goodie bags (well, you have as many options as you want but I chose from two options!).  My first thought was to have an Art Supply Bar, and fill bowls with different art supplies:  markers, crayons, erasers, pencils, play dough, etc.  But the Jersey Grandmomma argued that kids this age would not know to take one of each item and that they might fight over colors.  So I wound up just putting a handful of art supplies in little clear bags and tying it off with a ribbon.  This was relatively inexpensive, since you could split up one package of markers and crayons to get the supplies you wanted for each goodie bag.

Jersey Momma Tips:

  • I had "extra" time fillers planned since I knew the projects probably wouldn't take two hours.  So we also played COLOR BINGO, danced to some favorite hands-on tunes, and took turns hitting a rainbow colored star pinata (you could also play simon says or something simple to fill time)
  • We just had cupcakes for dessert and pizza as our main meal.  The cupcakes had rainbow sprinkles to keep the theme going
  • I had a station of extra supplies, scissors and glue handy in case I needed anything at the last minute
  • Be sure to label each child's project with their name before they start making it in case they leave it behind, or in case they need to come back and get it after it dries.
  • For the Spin Art, I ran and put each painted piece outside so it would be dry in time for them to take home
  • If you can get friends to help you, it helps to have someone "man" each station.  It helps to have an adult in charge at each station to help with craft creation!
Be sure to have sample projects done at each station so you know how to make each craft in advance and so the little ones know what the finished product will look like.  Have fun!!!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Hotel Hershey vs. The Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose? (part 2)

If you're planning a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania and you're not sure which hotel to stay at, The Jersey Momma is here to help!  Part 1 of my blog series was a review on The Hershey Lodge.  If you haven't read that yet, be sure to check it out here:  The Hotel Hershey vs. The Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose? (part 1)  Now, on to the Hotel Hershey!
Whenever I mention the Hotel Hershey to someone, the first thing they say is, "Oh, it's so expensive!" And it is.  But it's also awesome.  And beautiful.  I've been there Spring, Winter and Summer, and I haven't been disappointed yet.  They do offer deals on their website, especially some money saving packages, and rates vary based on which nights you stay (weekends are more expensive), so do your research for your best price!

Check-in has always been fast, easy and friendly for us.  They give you a choice of a free Hershey's milk or dark chocolate bar (which I allow myself to eat immediately).  At the Lodge they gave us a free bar, too, but not a choice of milk or dark (just milk!).

The Hotel Hershey

The Hotel Hershey is located on top of a hill overlooking Hershey Gardens and pretty much all of Hershey itself.

If you walk down the hill to the Gardens, you can view all of Hershey Park.  During the winter time, you can see parts of Hershey Sweet Lights from different parts of the hotel (you can read my review of Hershey Sweet Lights here).  The Hotel Hershey is a gorgeous, old hotel, rich in history and beauty.

The Grounds

I didn't write too much about the grounds of the Hershey Lodge because there wasn't much to see.  But here, you can spend some time walking around and see some beautiful sights.  As I mentioned before, Hershey Gardens sit at the foot of its entrance (but you can take a shuttle or drive if you don't want to walk).  If you walk behind the hotel you'll find beautifully manicured decorative gardens and lawns, as well as giant koi ponds FULL of fish (and I mean FULL, they practically flop all over each other).
Can you spot the duck in there?

Head down the stone staircase and you'll find the year-round "ice" rink (not really ice but synthetic), which is available to guests year round.  It's equally pretty at night, especially at Christmas:
You'll find their kids' club and their amazingly awesome outdoor pool (but more on that later).  The grounds are just beautiful.  But I said that already, didn't I?
Harvest restaurant sits in its own building near the pool, and beyond that, even more!  The Hershey Hotel cottages (I have always wanted to stay in one of these!  Can you imagine the fun with family members?), tennis courts and volleyball courts lie beyond that.  All peaceful, quiet, well-manicured.  The fire pits for s'mores roasting sit behind Harvest, with cozy rocking chairs to chill out in.

The Rooms at The Hotel Hershey

Every time we have stayed at The Hotel Hershey, we've stayed in their west wing.  The rooms are beautiful.  Newly updated, sparkling clean, spacious.  I love the personal touches from the cleaning staff.  They leave Hershey Kisses by your bed and little fact cards about Milton Hershey or quotes from the man himself.

(Look at how they folded the Jersey Momma's Boy's blankies!)

I even love the amenities, which come from the Hershey Spa (the Hershey Lodge also has "chocolate" amenities, like cocoa scrub soaps and shampoos, but they are slightly different at The Hotel Hershey).

They also leave this amazingly soft robe for you to use (which you can also purchase).  

Activities at The Hotel Hershey

Both Hershey hotels go out of their way to make your stay special.  They have lots of activities for families and children, including s'mores roasting, chocolate bingo, games and more.  The concierge is also very helpful in planning activities.

The Hotel Hershey has a kids club and outdoor playground, as well.

Pools at The Hotel Hershey

There is an indoor pool and an outdoor pool at The Hotel Hershey.  The indoor pool was recently remodeled and I have not seen it since its refurbishment.  If you have any comments to add about the new remodeling for 2014, please add them below!  Before the refurbishment, the indoor pool looked like this, and you could even reserve a room that had indoor pool access (a door leading right into the indoor pool area):
(Notice I'm wearing that awesome robe I mentioned?)
The outdoor pool is incredible.  It boasts a GIANT waterslide for kids Reeses height and up (Hershey Park bases their rides on a height system- kids 42" and taller are considered Reeses).
It has zero entry, fountains, and a mushroom water umbrella.  Towards the deep end there are water "cannons" for the kids to play with (like water guns mounted on the side of the pool)
Beside the pool you'll find a sprayground with fountains to play in for the little ones:
You can rent a cabana here for a sum, and poolside bar service is always available for all patrons. 

Beyond the main pool there is an adults only pool, as well (you can guess that I didn't get to use that one, being the Jersey Momma and everything).

There is a large locker room with attendants to help you as needed.  There is also a locker room at The Hershey Lodge but it is smaller.

In my humble opinion, this incredible pool is one of the main draws of The Hotel Hershey.  This is a 5-star pool and is part of what you pay for with your room rate.  You can spend all day in this pool and then some.  Relaxing, comfortable, fun- I can't say enough good things about it!

Dining at The Hotel Hershey

The Hotel Hershey has five restaurants.  The Cocoa Beanery (a small coffee shop serving coffee, light breakfasts, sandwiches and beverages), Trevi 5 (an italian restaurant with outstanding thin crust pizza), The Iberian Lounge (not quite as kid-friendly, a bar atmosphere serving food and drinks), Harvest (the restaurant outside the hotel serving local fare and fresh food- delicious!), and The Circular (which boasts an outstanding breakfast buffet, or try their Hershey Kiss shaped waffles with chocolate butter-YUM!).
(outside view of The Circular- see it?  It's circular!  lol)

Shopping at The Hotel Hershey

There are six shops at The Hotel Hershey.  You can find them all listed here.  I'm a souvenir shopper, so I LOVE this about the hotel.  If you have some leisure time, it's nice to sneak down to the lobby and check out the shops.  It's one of my favorite things to do if I get a moment to myself.  The Lodge has one souvenir shop, which suited my husband and son just fine.

The Spa at The Hotel Hershey

Would you believe in all of my visits to the hotel, I have never been to their world famous chocolate spa?  Yes, -insert tiny violin playing here- I have walked past it, peeked in, read all about it, watched documentaries about it, but never set foot in there myself!  I have friends who have gone and they say it's amazing.  I'll have to take their word for it.

Shuttles and Transportation at The Hotel Hershey

As I've said before, one of the best things about staying at the Hershey hotels is their transportation system.  Shuttles run constantly throughout the day and into the night.  They literally take you right up to the entrance of Hershey Park/Chocolate World.  The shuttles are air-conditioned and comfortable.

The shuttle ride to the park from the Hotel Hershey (and back) is significantly shorter than the ride from the Lodge to the park.  The Hershey Hotel sits right above the park and is a quick drive up the hill, whereas the drive to the Lodge can take more than ten-fifteen minutes, depending upon traffic and season.  This might not seem like a big deal, but when you are tired and hot, or toting little ones around, sometimes you just want to get back to that hotel ASAP!  It's also nice if you want to take a "quick" trip down to Chocolate World to do some last minute shopping at night, like my mom did.  She was there and back in less than an hour.

You can also take the shuttle to the gardens and other attractions at Hershey, right from the hotel.  Check with the front desk about which shuttles to take and when.

Off-season the shuttle schedules vary, so always ask ahead about when to catch your ride.

Other Jersey Momma Tips

*Guests of the Hershey hotels receive perks at Hershey Park.  Check with concierge at check-in, but some guests are able to have early access to the park or can select a free preview of the park after a certain hour.  On our last visit we were able to preview the park for free after 6:30pm, then use our regular ticket the next day.  It was almost like being able to visit the park twice for one price!

*I once visited the Hershey Hotel off-season, in April.  Hershey Park was not yet open for the season, but lucky me, a private group had rented the park out for the weekend, thereby entitling hotel guests to visit the park as well.  I will never forget the sheer excitement of this, and how empty the park was, and how amazing it felt to ride the roller coasters practically all alone!

*You can also read my review of Hershey at Christmas: Candy Lane (part one)  and my review of Hershey at Christmas:  Hershey Sweet Lights (part two).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Review of Northlandz Train Museum in Flemington: All Aboard?

This is an updated post from last year.  I added some thoughts from my most recent visit to Northlandz (if you have a chance, please check them out at the bottom of this entry, under "Added Thoughts."  Great title, right?)

I used to drive past Northlandz in Flemington every day when I was a teacher.  And I would always think, "I wonder what it's like in there?"  Hard to tell from the outside- all you see is a big gray building and a small sign announcing it as home of the "Worlds Largest Model RR, Great American Railway and Doll Museum."  I thought there was a real train track outside of it, but I wasn't sure.  So you know I had to find out!

What is Northlandz?

Northlandz is a miniature train museum located right on Rt. 202 in Flemington.  Even if you don't have a little train enthusiast in your house like I do, it is still a point of interest.  Read on!

What Will I See There?

Northlandz is basically a walk-through model train display- over 8 miles to be exact (think giant train display, not so much a 'museum').  You peruse through at your own pace and peer into or over each display.  It's basically a spiraling effect as you walk up and up into the building.  You are viewing all of the incredible train tracks and landscapes at different angles.  The added little stories about Grandma and why certain scenes look the way they do is a cute added touch. There are also dollhouses, dolls and doll displays to view, too (you can view a video clip on their website).  The Jersey Momma's boy just skipped past those with a definitive, "Yuck!"

The Train Ride

When we first visited, there was also an outdoor working train ride (a real one), that drove us through a small area behind the museum and back.  I could not find much about this on their website, so I can't guarantee the ride is still available.  I also recall there being a small fee to ride the train (at the time it was $2.75 with ticket purchase).  If it is still running, I do recommend the train ride.  Although the area around the track was in a bit of disarray and there were not many sights to see, my son still enjoyed the ride and was excited to be on a real, colorful working train.

What Do I Need To Know?

Northlandz is old.  I'm not going to lie.  When you walk in, it is kind of dark and smells like your grandfather's basement.  Many of the displays are dusty or in need of minor repairs.  Some of the doll displays had spider webs on them.  But you know what?  It was still pretty darned amazing.  My son did not seem to notice any of the things I just mentioned.  So sometimes you have to ask yourself, "Will my child like this?"  and not, "Will I like this?"  (that basically sums up parenthood, right?).

Jersey Momma Tips

*If you have time, please read my 'Added Thoughts' after my tip section, below.

*There is a cafe inside but it did not seem very enticing to us so we skipped it.  If you drive further South on Rt 202 into Flemington, you will find plenty of shops and places to eat if you are interested in traveling outside of Northlandz.  There is also a small brick-oven pizzeria/restaurant just past Northlandz on the Northbound side of Rt. 202 called Alfonso's that is delicious!

*Admission is pricey, so be on the lookout for discount coupons (kids under 2 are free).  There is one coupon in the KidStuff coupon booklet, sold through fundraisers in most schools.

*There is no restroom to use once you start your journey into Northlandz, so be sure to use the lobby restroom before you venture into the museum.  And unless they have done a complete makeover, this is not the nicest bathroom you'll ever visit, so be forewarned!

*We once visited Northlandz in the winter time and it was a bit chilly in the museum.  For some unknown reason I had decided to leave my own coat in the car, which was not a wise decision!  Hey, at least The Jersey Momma's boy had his coat.

*If you will be visiting with very young ones, consider bringing a stroller, as there is a lot of walking and winding through the museum.

*Visit their website for more details, hours and admission info.

*They suggest bringing binoculars, which we did not do.  But a camera is a must, for sure!

*Like always, I suggest you give it a chance.  It is not Disney World.  It DOES need some updating and repairs, but it has an amazing history behind it, and I truly feel it is worth seeing at least once in your life, especially if you have a train enthusiast in your house.

Added Thoughts

We have been to Northlandz at least four times with my son, starting at the age of two (he's now almost six).  He still loves it.  It's a special trip to take for a boy, especially with daddy, or maybe grammy and poppy.  But like I said, it's not cheap ($33.00 for two adults and one child and that includes a coupon).  And I have to be honest here again.  There are some glowing reviews of Northlandz out there.  Just do a search on "Northlandz reviews" or "What is Northlandz?" and see what you find.  But I think giving them a glowing review is also doing them a disservice.  Because they need to know that their amazing display is going downhill.  Northlandz, I love you.  You know I love you.  I can see the incredible amount of heart and work that you have put into this train display in your lifetime.  But you need to know this:  your place needs help.  The carpets are dirty.  The walls need painting.  The displays are dusty and some are falling apart.  The last time we were there, on a 91 degree day, the air conditioning was "broken."  "On the top floor only," you told us, but that was not true, and we spent 30+ minutes along with other babies, small children and elderly people, walking through a stuffy, sweltering display at full cost.  We ran into another patron who told us she visited last year and the same thing happened.  So is your air conditioner really being repaired?  Or is it just constantly broken?  It's okay if it is, but you need to own up to the problem and not keep lying to your customers.

As we walked through, I thought, "Why not ask some local boy scout troops to help?  I'm sure they would paint some of these walls free of charge, as long as they could leave a little plaque there with their names on it?"  or, "Why not get some local businesses to see if they can donate some new carpeting in exchange for free advertising?" or "I wonder if any local train enthusiast groups would be willing to donate some time to help dust and clean the displays?"  "I know the good people of Flemington might even be willing to donate money to help restore the outer grounds, if you would only ask.  Somerset County 4H has a train group- could they help you just to clean and repair some of your incredible work?"  Every train display needs maintenance.  My dad is a train enthusiast, so I know this.

The Jersey Momma's Momma (The Jersey Grandmomma?) is a little more outspoken than I am, so when we finished our last visit at Northlandz and the owner asked us how the Jersey Momma's boy liked the displays (he ALWAYS loves the displays, he could care less if anything is dirty or old or broken!), the Jersey Grandmomma smiled and suggested some of the things that I just mentioned, about the boy scouts and the air conditioning.  The owner seemed thoroughly offended by everything, and was very snippy.  "What needs to be worked on?!" he snapped, "I work in there every day!  And the air conditioner is broken, I told you they are fixing it."  His tone made me cringe.  I quickly maneuvered my son away and got that icky feeling in my stomach that comes from confrontation.  I was sad because it suddenly made me feel like not going back there anymore.  I just wish that every business owner would realize that you have to be courteous to your customers, even if you feel insulted, even if your feelings get hurt.  Find a nice way to accept what they are saying and call it a day.

As we walked out of the museum that day, with my son all smiles, I heard the owner turn to someone he was sitting with and say, "There's always one," and my heart just broke.  What an absolute shame, and what a terrible thing to say, loud enough for a grandma and her little grandson and his mommy to hear.

I am not saying never to go to Northlandz, because the kids love it.  I've already said that.  and I've already shown you how amazing it is.  But I thought this side of the story needed to be told, too, instead of just adding another glowing review to the internet.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Hotel Hershey vs. The Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose? (Part 1)

If you're thinking of planning a trip to Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania but you're not sure where to stay, The Jersey Momma is here to help!  Here's my honest review of the Hershey Hotels.  It's a little long but I've tried to bullet the important points for you, and I broke it into two parts.

Now maybe I'm a snob, but I highly recommend staying at one of the Hershey hotels- either the Hotel Hershey or the Hershey Lodge.  I know it is more expensive, but I truly feel like you get the full "park experience" if you stay at one of the park's hotels as opposed to its competitors.

We just returned from a super fun night at Hershey.  And NO I was not compensated for my stay or asked to review the hotel in exchange for anything (although I would be happy to oblige if you want me to give you an honest review of your establishment!  Hint, hint!).  Also keep in mind that my review is of the Hershey Lodge during the month of June, so experiences may differ for you during different seasons.

The Hershey Lodge

I stayed at The Hershey Lodge when I was a kid in the 1970's, but things are very different there now.  I remember the Lodge out in an open field with a large lake and sprawling land.  The lake, Swan Lake, is still there, but there is a lot built up around it, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers and office buildings.  If you're thinking it's going to look like a log cabin or a ski lodge, think again.  It's more along the lines of motor lodge, with some of the rooms actually at parking lot level.
The lobby has a bit of a lodge feel to it with a stone fireplace and leather chairs, but that's about all I can say as far as "lodginess."  Check-in was super fast and friendly.  They presented us each with a milk chocolate Hershey bar.  I was disappointed that the advertised Kids' Check-in Desk was not going to be open till 5pm.

The Rooms at The Lodge

The rooms are situated in buildings named after Hershey candies:  Reeses, Peppermint Patty, Kisses, etc.  Each building has a letter.  We stayed in the I- Reeses building adjacent to the mini golf course and small outdoor pool.

Here is what I noted about our room and stay in general:

-If you want to get from place to place, it feels like you have to do a lot of walking from building to building.  If you're walking outside, you are walking through parking lots.

-Not exceptionally pretty, but well kept grounds.

-Some of the hallways of the other buildings smelled a little musty, like an old basement (but ours in Reeses smelled ok).  When we passed staff in the hallway, most of them did not acknowledge us or even smile, though a few did.  We stopped and asked one attendant where the ice machine was and he apologetically said that he did not know, since it was his first day on the job.

-Our room was updated and clean.  We only stayed one night, but I was disappointed and surprised that there was no turn down service.  It was a little deflating to come back from the park and have our room still be in disarray with no new amenities added (and no Hershey Kisses on our pillows- boo!).  Was this an oversight or do they really not offer turn-down service?  I don't know.

-For whatever reason, it was very noisy at night, at least until 11:00pm.  There was a lot of banging in the walls which I can't place (staff closets nearby?  Clunking of doors within rooms?  Not sure) and my husband snored ALL NIGHT LONG (but this is no fault of the Lodge.  Ha!)

Dining at the Hershey Lodge

Friends have told me that the food at The Hershey Lodge is more "kid friendly" as opposed to the Hotel Hershey.  This is sort of true.  There are several dining options at the Lodge.  There is a coffee shop called The Cocoa Beanery that offers coffee (duh) and some quick breakfasts and sandwiches.  There is the Hershey Grill and The Forebay, both of which we skipped because we came upon the other restaurants first.  There is Lebbie Lebkicher's named after Milton Hershey's childhood friend, which served a breakfast buffet.  There is The Bear's Den, which we ate dinner at.  It's kind of like a sports bar named after the Hershey Bears hockey team. The food was pretty good here, with kid-friendly choices like hot dogs, chicken nuggets and mac and cheese.
Lebbie Lebkicher's breakfast was good, but not terribly inexpensive.  The dining room had no character whatsoever.  It was just a big room akin to a dining area in a Holiday Inn.  I think Lebbie himself might have been a little disappointed.  I was also a little sad that they did not offer the Hershey Kiss shaped waffles that the Hotel Hershey does.  That was a bummer.  For a few bucks more, I think the Hotel Hershey's breakfast buffet at the Circular has them beat.  Sorry, Lebbie.

We did not eat at the other restaurants at The Lodge so I can't attest to them.  If you have any input about them, please feel free to leave it in the comments section below.

Activities at The Hershey Lodge

Much like The Hotel Hershey, there's plenty to do here if you have kids.  They go out of their way to entertain the young ones, with s'mores roasting, chocolate bingo, and the kids' check-in (which we did visit after 5pm).  They gave our son a lanyard with his name on it, let him sign the guest book, grab a piece of free chocolate, and take a guess at the candy jar giveaway.
There's a Wii room (which we did not use, just peeked in), a game room and mini golf, all free with your room stay.  We did play mini golf, and it was a well-kept, cute little course.
But something made me feel that the buildings needed renovation.  The Wii building was small and looked a little old to me inside, as did the game room.  I suppose this is not something that would bother kids at all, so you have to decide what matters to you as a family.

Oh, another neat tidbit is that you can see the Hershey Kiss factory from the mini golf course.  We spotted the Hershey Kiss Mobile parked outside.  So cool!

Pools at The Hershey Lodge

-There are two outdoor pools and one indoor pool.

-The outdoor pool next to the mini golf course was small but looked clean.  However, it also appeared to be closed.  When we inquired about it at the mini golf stand the girl working there said, "No, it's open.  Is it closed?  It's not supposed to be closed.  Is there a lifeguard there?  We can call someone if you want to use it and they can come down."  That all seems well and good, but it just seemed odd to me that the pool was locked and closed when it was supposed to be open?

-The larger outdoor pool nearby is connected to the indoor pool, which is kind of neat.  The indoor pool has doors that open to the outdoor patio (sort of like a giant garage door) so you can actually go back and forth between the two.  The kids seemed to love this, going back and forth between the pools.
There was a small playground right next to the pool in a shaded area.  But if your kid gets cranky like mine, you might get this instead of a kid who wants to play:
You can order food at these outdoor/indoor pools at Ripples which, again, is in need of renovation.  It was cute but reminded me of something at a gym or YMCA, with painted cinder block walls, and expensive, mediocre food.  I had pretzels with cheese which was just 'meh' for the price.  There was no outdoor waitress to take my order but the server inside did bring my pretzels out to me when they were ready.

Transportation Shuttles from The Hershey Lodge

-Guests of the Lodge can take a complimentary shuttle to and from Hershey Park and Chocolate World.  If you want to go to Hershey Gardens or the Hershey Hotel, you have to pick up another shuttle once you get to the park.

-The shuttles arrived and departed quickly, and the drivers were super friendly.  They even offered up some Hershey trivia during the drive.  Buses were clean, comfy and air conditioned.

-The drive from The Lodge to the park (and vice versa) is significantly longer than it is from the Hotel Hershey.  It took us a little over ten minutes to get to the park in the morning from The Hershey Lodge, but the return ride took about 15 minutes or a little more.  The Hotel Hershey is a lot closer to the parks so you can get in/out a little quicker.  The Hotel Hershey is also right across from Hershey Gardens, so you don't have to change any shuttles, and you can even walk to the Gardens if you desired.

- The shuttle drops you off right at the entrance to Hershey Park.  You can't beat that!  The park and Chocolate World are right across from each other, so you can walk to either quite easily and quickly.  The shuttles run consistently throughout the day, as well as at night so you never have to worry about being left behind.  That is one of the biggest perks about staying at the Hershey Hotels.  Off-season, the shuttle service varies, so be sure to ask ahead if you'll be staying off-season.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my blog review, where I compare the Lodge to the Hotel Hershey.  Which one is better?  Which one is worth the price?  You'll soon find out!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cabela's: What's Inside? It's Not Just for Hunters!

Time for another out-of-Jersey experience!  Let's head over to Pennsylvania and visit Cabela's Outfitter's Store!  If you're rolling your eyes, cut it out.  Seriously, I am the farthest thing from an outdoor enthusiast.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE nature.  I love hiking and visiting state parks.  I love animals and trees and flowers.  But I am no camper, and I certainly don't like hunting.

Now, a word of warning here.  If you are totally, 100% against hunting and take offense to it, then maybe Cabela's is not the place for you.  Although I am not a hunter and can't imagine killing an innocent creature, I understand that hunting has been in some families for generations, and it is a way of life for them.  I understand that most hunters take their sport seriously and are respectful of the craft.  That being said, let me tell you about Cabela's.

What is Cabela's?

Cabela's is a giant sporting/hunting/fishing/outdoor store located in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, with super-easy accessibility right off of Rt 78.  They carry everything and anything you can think of for hunting, camping, fishing, hiking, and general outdoor activities.  But it's not just a store.  You can spend the whole day there, really, because there is so much to see and do.
This amazing sculpture stands outside of Cabela's.  My photo doesn't even capture the size or beauty of it.

What Can I Do at Cabela's?

Besides shopping, Cabela's also offers some other neat things.  They have a restaurant inside (they offer a variety of hot and cold dishes, sandwiches, soups, and unusual deli meats- like boar).  They have a shooting gallery (not with real guns- these are the kind that shoot with laser, like they have in Disney World, the old saloon style).  You put a coin in, and then aim your light at the targets to make the characters in the display move.  I am not very good at it.
There's a massive display when you enter the building of taxidermy animals (now, if this bothers you, then like I said, maybe Cabela's isn't for you).  The animals are beautifully displayed on a giant "mountain" in the store.  It's really a sight to see.

You can walk around the entire display and read about each of the animals.  You'll find others scattered throughout the store, too, like this moose:

The moose stands in an actual fish pond.  You can put money into a little machine to feed the fish, too.  My son really enjoyed that.

Speaking of fish, there is an actual walk-through aquarium in Cabela's.

There is a room of wild taxidermy animals, too.  I felt bad for them.  I don't know how they all died but there is something sad about seeing them frozen in there.
And there is an entire room full of taxidermy deer.  I call it "The Hall of Dead Deer," although I am sure they have a better name for it.
If you don't like the idea of viewing the animals like this, you don't have to go into the deer hall or the wild animal hall, but you can't really avoid the animal mountain in the middle of the store.

There is also a candy shoppe inside with homemade fudge and other goodies.  I actually love the Cabela's brand of candy- they sell bags of flavored licorice and other old-fashioned sweets that I always bring back home with me.

Jersey Momma Tips

*You can make souvenir pennies here (one of our favorite things to collect on trips!) because the machines are scattered throughout the store.

*If you don't want to eat at the Cabela's restaurant, there are tons of other restaurants to choose from outside of Cabela's, including a Cracker Barrel and Red Robin, just to name a few.

*There is a lot to do in Hamburg.  Check out their website if you want to visit some other attractions, too.