Do you ever feel that the whole country is under construction? That was my general feeling on this annual trip to a national Buick car show in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Our frequent detours reminded me how, even with the best plans, travel plans often take new turns and interesting, unexplored additions. So was this case – a visit to one of the larger towns in Pennsylvania, in Lehigh Valley with its lush forests and hilly, and in many parts of the state, mountainous terrain. Driving on a mountain road under construction truly requires your undivided attention! Though our main destination was Allentown Buick nationals car show, we set our base in the nearby Bethlehem and took detours to the Dorney amusement park, Crayola experience in Easton and Hershey park in Hershey. Allentown is just an hour drive from Philadelphia but there is plenty to see here!
Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom
This large amusement park includes roller coasters for the family, thrill rides, Planet Snoopy for the little ones and the amazing Wildwater Kingdom Waterpark. I have to say that we can never pass on an amusement park with the water park ticket included! Print your tickets at home or hotel to get the best deal. On a hot summer day you’ll want to start at the amusement park, so you can get on the rides before it gets too hot, and later cool off at the waterpark. Dorney Park is easy to navigate. We started on the roller coasters, going everywhere from the seemingly innocent Wild Mouse with its unexpected twists and turns to spinning around outside the track on the Talon to the floorless upside down Hydra. This area is full of thrills and shrieks!
Speaking of thrills, there is no shortage of them at the Thrill Rides area. Revolution is one of the most popular with a sharp twist and rotation half way in the air. Going up and dropping down from the 10-story Demon Drop was too intimidating for my cautious kids. They loved the White Water Landing and, if not for the lines, would have gone on this ride several times. The boat essentially takes you up 80 feet and then plunges down the rails into the water with a giant splash. The bridge overhead gets soaked and, of course, those in the boat are too. My advice – get on the bridge after the ride, so you can experience the splash again. Another advice is to wear aqua shoes at the park – great for this kind of ride and also for anything at the waterpark.
One final dry area in the Dorney park is Planet Snoopy. In addition to characters and themed rides, this area of the Dorney Park has a nice mix for both little and not yet big kids. Woodstock Express, Whirlybirds and Linus Launcher were our favorites here.
As fun as Dorney Park is, you have to save some time for the Wildwater Kingdom! One of the best things about it is the wave pool with ocean-like waves up to 6 feet (much smaller at the entrance to the pool). This is a fun and relaxing area and we spent a lot of time there! I believe there were actually surfing competitions here a number of years ago. Right next to the wave pool is a fun slide ride that is perfect for siblings – go side by side (6 lanes next to each other) and compete for the best time, best of all face forward! There are numerous water rides – from unpredictable Patriot’s Plunge to easy for smaller kids Jumping Jack Splash to the speedy high Lightning Fall, there is something for everyone. This park has more water slides than I have seen at others. There is also a nice long lazy river with tunnels, water spraying mushrooms and much more. Little kids will love Splash Landing, Kids Cove and Lollipop lagoon with lots of smaller slides and activities.
There are many places to eat but our favorite was Coasters Drive In. Though overpriced, it was a fun 50s diner theme and close to the center of the park.
You can easily spend a day or more at the Dorney park and Wildwater Kingdom located right in Allentown, so if you have the time, I recommend you get the 2-day pass and come back for more thrills.
A short 20 minute drive from Allentown, Easton is located on the edge of Lehigh county, right on the border with New Jersey.
The town is beautiful and I wish we had more time to explore it, but a visit to the 4-floor Crayola experience took us most of the day. Everything about Crayola factory is fun, starting with the outside “crayon painted” wall to the crayon Abbey Road to the giant crayon sculptures outside the front entrance.
Most people suggest you start at the top floor and move down as you go through activities. Of course, this would vary depending on the age of your kids, as younger kids may prefer activities that would bore the older ones.
My recommendation is to start on the 2nd floor, as that seemed the most entertaining part of our day. Here you can make the dancing robots – creation and animation combined in the most entertaining way!
You can also paint with glow-in-the-dark crayons and try your hand at imitating real-looking crayon characters on the big screen that follow your moods and gestures – a nice way to blow off some steam. There is a big area for color dough creation, and though no different from other colored play dough, each color is individually packaged and you can buy it from the machine with a special coin. You get 2 free coins with your ticket and you can always buy more from the machine. Little kids will really love this area.
There are quite a few areas at the Crayola Factory where kids can animate their crayon inspired creations. It’s amazing to see such a great environment for creativity. Movie theater with a crayonologist taking you through the crayon factory building experience is interesting for both kids and adults. Surprisingly, many of the old processes are still in place for making the millions of crayons made each day. Any kid 5 and over, as long as they can sit for 15-20 minutes, will enjoy this demonstration. The 4th floor is an area for making your own objects out of melted crayons – unique, which explains the line. I loved this teachable recycling moment. You can also make your own crayon wrapper – custom designed by you – on the lower level.
Don’t forget to make a stop at the floor with a big climbing structure – a nice way for kids to blow off some steam after patiently waiting/sitting in other areas.
You can also stop in the cafe and shop on the first floor, but my advice is to eat before or after the museum or bring your own lunch, since there are not a lot of healthy food choices and the lines can get long. I’ve only covered some of the activities at the Crayola Factory. This creative and entertaining kids land should not be missed!
Hershey’s Chocolate World
You can smell the chocolate as you approach this tourist-friendly town. The factory tours and experiences are a demonstration only facility. The real chocolate factory where chocolate has been made for the last 200 years with the same formula sourcing locally farmed cows’ milk, is also located in town but that’s not the place you’re allowed visit. Chocolate is the center of the town – streets are named Cocoa Avenue, Goodbar Court, Bittersweet Court and Chocolate Avenue. Many local restaurants offer amazing desserts but you have to look no further than Hershey factory for the largest chocolate bar, only $40!
The best thing about visiting the Hershey’s Chocolate World is that the chocolate tour – very reminiscent of the “It’s a small world” Disney ride – is free and you can go as often as you like. The parking is free for 3 hours. So if you want to simply stop by, take the tour and experience the place, you can do it free. You can spend the money on the plenty of chocolate offerings at the gift shop. Yes, it’s the same chocolate as sold at the stores but packaged in fun ways and lots of variety! I would say that whatever other activities you plan at the factory, start with the tour. The line moves quickly and you learn a little bit of Hershey’s company history as you move along.
The ride is in a 2-row open car that moves along the rails as you hear the catchy Hershey chocolate song (it will stay with you for a while just like the ‘small world’ ride) and watch the animated figures, animations and other props tell the story of how chocolate is made – a pretend factory. My kids were thoroughly entertained. After the ride, you also get a free chocolate – a nice touch.
There are many other things to do at the Hershey Factory – one of which is making your own chocolate bar, tasting of hot chocolate around the world, and learning how chocolate is made in detail. Take a look at Groupon and LivingSocial – they often have great deals for these activities available and you can get a nice bundle and save. Another big attraction in Hershey is the Hershey theme park, but we decided to simply end this visit on a sweet note.
Lil-Le-hi Trout Nursery
This was a quick and fun stop during our Allentown visit. Having been to the fish hatchery in Portland, my kids were looking forward to feeding the fish, while my husband and I anticipated the peace and quiet that is typical of these locations. Surrounded by a thick forest, this Pennsylvania trout nursery is a good place for kids to learn about the fish growth cycle and almost meditative in its quiet setting.
Lil-Le-hi is one of the oldest, not just in the state but in the country, operating since 1883. Kids can get a bag of food in the shop – from the little pellets for the “baby fish” called the fingerlings to the bigger food for the bigger trout. The nursery is open year round and nearby creek is great for fishing.
Nicola Bulgari Allentown Complex (NB Center)
The stunning Nicola Bulgari Allentown complex (NB Center for Automotive Heritage) hosting the Buick Club of America’s 50th anniversary meet was our main reason for coming to Allentown. The European jeweler’s estate features a massive collection of American classic cars, with outstanding mechanical, body and upholstery shops.
Mr. Bulgari turned an abandoned drive-in theater into a perfect ground to display his spectacular car collection. This was one of the oldest drive-in theaters, and it’s nice to see it still in use for special events. The Buick show was an impressive meet with over 600 cars from different eras, including 100 from Mr. Bulgari. Here are a few of my favorites.