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Hershey's Sugar High

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Julia McGill of Keswick, Va., is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: Long weekend in Hershey, Pa.

WHO WENT? Myself, my husband, our two sons (ages 8 and 6) and my mother-in-law. Yes, I said my mother-in-law.

WHEN? June 2005.

WHY? For years I've been telling my sons that Oompa Loompas make chocolate bars. My 8-year-old was beginning to have doubts and said he wanted to tour a chocolate factory and see for himself.

GETTING THERE WAS: "Are we there yet?" "Are we there yet?" "Are we --"

I CAN'T BELIEVE I . . . successfully kept alive the legendary Oompa Loompas. The Hershey Factory is closed to visitors, so you go on a "simulated" factory tour ride at the Chocolate World Visitors Center. This enabled me to tell my sons that the Oompa Loompas were working too hard at the factory to be visiting with tourists like us.

BEST/WORST THING ABOUT MY HOTEL: Being budget-minded, we opted for the Hershey Econo Lodge. The worst thing about it would be its lack of decor, but that's only a negative if you're seeking decor in a lodging; all we wanted was a cartoon network for the kids and a soft landing when we collapsed. The best thing about the hotel was its surprisingly generous and fresh continental breakfast, included in the room price.

FAVORITE MEAL: The chocolate pastries at Hershey. They were the best I've tasted, outside of France.

COOLEST ATTRACTION: The chocolate tour ride. It was Willy Wonka come alive, and only plexiglass prevented us from diving en masse into the swimming-pool-sized vat of liquid chocolate.

THING I WISH I'D BROUGHT WITH ME: An extra cooler, for all the chocolate goodies I bought. We did have one cooler, which I promptly emptied to fill with chocolate -- and then had to listen to complaints about warm juice boxes and tepid soda. What are those compared with chocolate?

BIGGEST SPLURGE: A musical candy jar for Chocolate Kisses, with an Anti-Kiss Theft Device so co-workers won't steal your chocolate. Unless you know how to disable it, the candy jar blares loud music when the lid is opened (a repertory including Hall & Oates, "Because your kiss, your kiss, is on my lips . . . ").

BIGGEST RIP-OFF: The high parking fees at Hershey's Chocolate World.

BIGGEST CULTURE SHOCK: Founder Milton Hershey came from a Mennonite family, and visitors to Hershey attractions can be asked to leave if they are not attired in a "family friendly" manner, including "inappropriate" words or pictures on T-shirts, as judged by staff.

ONE THING I'D DO DIFFERENTLY: We learned the hard way that Hershey Gardens is hilly and does not have refreshment stands. If you're hiking in the gardens with young children, carry a backpack with snacks and drinks. Finding yourself way out in the gardens in the hot sun, with no food or drink, made everyone--even the grownups--unhappy campers.

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: During the Butterfly Show at Hershey Gardens, the emcee asked for a child volunteer from the audience--and our 6-year old son was chosen. As he gleefully "assisted" in front of the audience, our 8-year old began wailing, "But why didn't he pick me?" He eventually spiraled into a Category 5 tantrum, sending visitors and staff fleeing. It was in the aftershocks of this tantrum that I made him pose with his father in the Butterfly Garden -- proving that you can lead a child to cute photo boards, but you can't make him smile.

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Rates at the Hershey Econo Lodge (115 Lucy Ave., 717-533-2515, http://www.choicehotels.com/ ) start at $69.99 per night for a family of four. Breakfast is included. For more information on Hershey: 800-HERSHEY, http://www.hersheypa.com/ .

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Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report, along with a photo from the trip, on the last Sunday of the month. To enter, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own; for a complete list, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/vacationinlights) and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; fax it to 202- 912-3609; or e-mail vacationinlights@washpost.com.

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