I arrived at Hersheypark three quarters of an hour before opening, and was promptly relieved of $20 for the privilege of parking roughly 750 metres away from the main entrance gate. A brisk ten minute walk brought me to the back of a huge queue, where I stood and listened to a PA system blasting a number of different messages on loop – not least a spiel for Candymonium, now into its fourth season but apparently still more important to promote than the new-for-2023 coaster.
I found myself pondering a rather more interesting announcement that stated that “in an effort to create a more convenient guest experience Hersheypark is cashless”. Refusal to accept cash payment has been a noticeable feature of the big parks on my trip this year, though I’ve yet to hear marketing try to spin this into something more convenient for guests; instead, the messaging tends to focus on the availability of cash-to-card machines inside park boundaries. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I’d have thought that the most convenient option for guests would be to accept whatever form of payment the guest wishes to use? The policy didn’t appear to have a measurable effect on food lines anyway; I stood in one for five minutes without moving before deciding to bail.
While I’m riffing on park policies, Hersheypark has adopted what is now a standard American announcement of a “smoke-free park”, a turn-of-phrase that has come to mean that smoking is permitted in designated areas. I happened to notice one of these while exploring, and was quite amused at it being decorated with posters offering advice on how to quit. That said, I wonder about the corruption of language; tax-free shops don’t have a subset of items that include tax; gluten-free meals don’t have specific gluten-containing side dishes; sugar-free sweets don't have the occasional hidden sugar bomb. Why is smoke-free not in fact smoke-free? Am I asking the wrong questions?
When the gate opened I power-walked a further kilometre back to Wildcat’s Revenge (#3080), the fourth Rocky Mountain coaster of my trip and the one I was looking forward to the most. The new ride has four inversions and a solid layout that is thrilling and aggressive without crossing into painful territory, and I have to say that I enjoyed it immensely. The ride was being run efficiently, helped by the presence of free lockers in the queue – though I didn't actually have to use one; a crew member told me that I could leave my car keys and phone in a zipped pocket if I wanted to. The contrast over my experience at Pantheon could not have been more pronounced.
For my visit a recording was playing in the station asking guests to buckle their seatbelts and pull down on their lap bars, but an operator was shouting over that saying “do not pull down your bars” so that a visual check of the seatbelts could be performed. My guess is that an operational change was made after the station audio was finalised; perhaps it will be re-recorded in due time. Either way, the mixed messaging was having a predictable effect; I saw entire trains being unlocked more than once so that the required checks could be completed.
The ride has been designed to run three trains, and while there is no mid-course brake capacity is kept as high as possible using separate load and unload stations. The initial climb up the chain lift is very slow to give the train in front time to clear the brake run; once it has the chain accelerates to a normal speed. (In an ideal world I’d have liked to have seen the chain programmed to run at a speed where the train reaches the top about 2-3 seconds after the brake is clear in normal operation, but that’s a very minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things.)
By the time I’d disembarked from my third ride the wait had reached an hour, so I decided to look elsewhere. Unfortunately queues had built to this level more or less everywhere, with some of the bigger rides (such as Candymonium) running at two hours and beyond. There is obviously a certain amount of inevitability in queue length at a big park on a Saturday, but it was definitely being exacerbated here by people using Fast Track wristbands. I had a look at what these cost on a whim, but balked at the prices; one shot per ride was $120, and unlimited was $165 – or two and a half times the cost of single day admission.
I’m not sure if Hersheypark limits fast-track sales, but it didn’t look like it today, and the resulting experience for those without was definitely suboptimal. I waited an hour for an enjoyable back seat lap on Great Bear before deciding to relocate to somewhere less crowded for the afternoon.