Road tripping in America, part one

Our Crime Traveller takes "are we there yet?" to a sweet new level
Our Crime Traveller takes "are we there yet?" to a sweet new level

Two vans. Four parents. Six children. Seven days. Two thousand five hundred kilometres. No camp.

That was the plan when I assembled a crack team of daughters, nieces and nephews ranging in age from one-and-a-half to nine with the stated intention of taking a road trip to southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The 8.5-hour drive to our first stop in Hershey, Pennsylvania is a story probably best left untold but things began looking up very quickly when we arrived at the vast Hersheypark complex early the next morning. Spread out over several acres, Hersheypark intersperses thrilling roller coasters with toddler-friendly kiddie rides so that you’re never far from an age-appropriate attraction no matter what the demographic make-up of your group. After parking my kids at the impressive Boardwalk waterpark with The Crime Traveller’s Wife, I snuck away to experience the cherry that tops Hersheypark’s chocolate sundae — Fahrenheit.

I fancy myself a bit of a coaster connoisseur so I must confess that when my first glance at the ride on the park’s map revealed a steel track that was by no means the tallest, fastest, or longest roller coaster I have previously experienced, I shrugged my shoulders impassively and slid into the line with modest expectations. Thirty minutes later, my opinion was dramatically altered sitting in the front car, the weight of the shoulder restraint system reassuringly pressing into my chest, as I stared into nothing but blue sky. Fahrenheit’s shtick is in the angle of incline and descent for its first terrifying drop. The car climbs at a perfect 90 degree angle. As my lead car crested the hill the metallic clacking of the gears gave way to a serene moment of suspended silence. I threw my hands up into the air and gaped, slack jawed, at the 97 degree descent looming below. The downward angle is so extreme that it actually curls in slightly at the base resulting in a steeper descent than the already mathematically insane climb. It’s all (pardon the pun) downhill from there and with my ’coaster curiosity satiated, I reunited with the family and we spent the remainder of the day with “wild” attractions of a different sort by visiting the on-site ZooAmerica.

We followed up our day of thrill-seeking with a visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World across the street. Taking my diabetic wife to Chocolate World for the day was somewhat akin to inviting Superman on a tour of Kryptonite Land, but with the help of her trusty insulin pump, she persevered. We took in a chocolate tasting (eat your heart out Short Cellar columnist, Matthew Sullivan), watched the 3D movie, helped package Hershey’s Kisses on a miniature assembly line, and rode an old-fashioned trolley through town past rows of Hershey Kiss–shaped street lights to the famous factory.  But the star of Chocolate World is the Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction. After donning our hairnets and aprons, we shuffled through a series of stations, choosing between dark, milk or white chocolate and selecting from a long list of fillers before customizing our masterpieces’ packaging. We then watched in amazement as the automated assembly line put the entire delicious concoction together from chocolate mould to finished product, which we proudly carted home as a souvenir.

Switching gears from chocolate confections to crayon collections, we drove to nearby Easton for a day of play at the Crayola Factory. After watching a brief demonstration on marker and crayon manufacturing, the kids spent a delightful day in an environment where they were actually encouraged to colour on the walls (a habit I hope does not persist now that we’re back from vacation). After we had our fill of arts and crafts, we headed upstairs from Crayola where the National Canal Museum is housed. If this museum doesn’t already have an official motto I’m throwing in my pro bono suggestion of “Fun where you least expect it!” I confess to having low expectations for a series of interactive displays documenting America’s history of locks and waterways, but it turns out children can’t resist the urge to get wet in the hands-on exhibits.

Even though we’d already experienced an entire vacation’s worth of adventures, our trip was far from over. Next on our family road trip itinerary: a dip in a pool filled with sharks, but not before we stopped to hob-nob with Elmo, Cookie Monster and the gang at Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Read all about it in the next installment of The Crime Traveller.

When not jetting around the world as his alter ego, The Crime Traveller, Edward Prutschi is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or email ed@thecrimetraveller.com.