What better way to usher out 2016 and welcome 2017 than chocolate, bowling, and laser tag? I spent my December 31, 2016 with three friends in Hershey, PA, the sweetest place on Earth. The itinerary was simple: a 6 hot chocolate flight tasting, tour of Hershey World, and then on to Laser Alley in York, PA for 3 hours of unlimited bowling, hot dogs, soft drinks, and 1 game of laser tag. It was the best New Years Eve I’ve had in a long time.
Let’s all agree that Milton Hershey is in the top 20 Americans of all time. First he started a caramel company in the late 1800s before realizing that chocolate is where it’s at. Sure everyone likes a caramel sundae once in a while, but who wouldn’t eat a hot fudge sundae after every dinner? Hershey knew what was up. In 1900 he sold his caramel business and began his experiments with cocoa. He was not one to rest on his laurels, he continued to experiment and alter his recipe over years until he felt he got it right. For those of us who have eaten a Hershey bar, we know he got it right.
The second reason he is awesome is the long lasting philanthropic work he did during his life. I’m not sure where he got it, his father once bankrupted him by forcing Milton to buy a box for $350. In late 1800s money, that’s a pretty significant sum. By all accounts, his father seems to have been a flim-flam man. The result of his father’s get-rich quick schemes kept Milton moving around a lot. He attended 7 schools in his life but never got beyond 5th grade.
Hershey decided that children shouldn’t have to experience such instability and started the Milton Hershey School for orphans. His extremely happy marriage did not produce any biological children, so at his wife’s prodding they adopted…and adopted…and adopted. As she stated “If we had helped a hundred children it would have all been worthwhile.” Awesome people! The school is still operating and is considered one of the wealthiest schools in the world. With such a great boss, why did his employees look so cantankerous?
A while back I bought a Groupon deal for 4 people to have a hot chocolate tasting. Having a good friend living right around the corner from Hershey we made plans! We would hit up the museum, zip over to Hershey World for the Hershey ride (and smashed pennies!), back to his house to play Telestrations After Dark, and then off to our reservation at the bowling alley.
Our tasting consisted of 6 tiny glasses of hot chocolate in a little wire basket. This may sound lame but we held a short conspiratorial conversation on how we could sneak a set out. Ultimately we were too nice and figured we’d be found out so we returned all our baskets after the tasting.
Each little glass had a small globe on it. Each globe was a different color to mark the “flavor.” Each flavor was made from cacao beans from one of 6 different countries and brewed in different purity levels.. It was recommended that we start at the purest (75% cacao) and work our way down (33% cacao).
While we each had our favorites, the general consensus was the purer the better. To me the Venezuelan had the best flavor. I may have liked the Tanzanian more had it been properly mixed, my first swallow was akin to inhaling powder. Maybe I was swayed by all the good vibes from Milton’s empire, but I also liked the creamy Hershey’s Milk Chocolate as well.
After our delicious tasting we poked around the museum and experimented with the different jobs people held at the factory. We pushed heavy carts, knocked bars out of molds, and turned the roasting beans. We didn’t try the wrapping, it meant dealing with children and I always avoid them when I can. At each job station there was an embossing stamp to mark on a training card. On the way out we picked our job and the teen working the door let us know our pay. As a wrapper I would be paid $.10 for every 5lb box of kisses I wrapped. A hardy wage.
We left the museum and scurried over to the Hershey World! It’s adjacent to Hershey park and seems little more than a giant gift shop with a food court. The two things it had going for it were 1) a free ride through a faux factory with sub-par animatronics teaching how kisses are made and 2) penny machines! Three fantastic specimens for the collection.
At 10:30pm we arrived for our reservation at the alley. We bowled several games…frames…rounds…?…until they kicked us out at 1:30am. Actually 3 of us did, one member of the party conked out shortly after midnight. While I suck at bowling, I did kick butt at laser tag! Third place out of twenty! Recognize! The alley provided us with a champagne toast a midnight, and the quality of the drink is what you’d expect from a bowling alley. At 1:30am I dropped my friends off, drove home, and made it into bed around 3:00am. Happy New Year to all! May 2017 kick 2016’s ass!