A Family Weekend Away: Amish Country & Hershey — by Robin Gorman Newman
My family just returned from Willow Valley Resort & Conference Center (http://www.willowvalley.com/) for a three night stay this past weekend, and we had a lovely time. We had stayed there previously when we visited Hershey, but this time we took in other attractions, both at Willow Valley itself and beyond.
To quote my six year old son, the indoor water park at Willow Valley is “awesome.” It stays open late, and we were there one night after dinner from 9 – 10PM, and Seth didn’t want to leave. Who could blame him?! Whether sliding through the mouth of the huge grinning frog or going down the huge, winding slide, he loved it.
Sunday morning, we visited the farm at Willow Valley, and both Seth and I fell in love with the cutest five month old pot belly pig named Pansy. Anyone who knows me, knows I’ve been a collector of pig items for years, and my son has grown to love them as well. But, it’s not too often that we get to pet a real life, adorable, baby pig. We didn’t want to leave the barnyard. And, the staff was very warm ‘n friendly, as they introduced us to the array of animals and gave us the opportunity to personally spend time with them.
Outside of Willow Valley, in neighboring towns, there is much to do in the area that is kid friendly…and fun for adults too.
We paid a visit to and took a ride on the Strasburg Rail Road. Located in Strasburg, PA, the Strasburg Rail Road holds the unique distinction as America’s oldest short line railroad. A real working railroad, it’s known for its picturesque ride through the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The 45-minute narrated train ride departs daily from Strasburg station. Guests board a restored Victorian wooden passenger car pulled by a steam locomotive on a journey through the beautiful Amish countryside to Paradise, Pa. and back. http://www.strasburgrailroad.com/. It was a lot of fun, and I was grateful for the opportunity to rest my feet for a bit from all the walking we were doing.
While waiting for our Rail Road ride, we took in a visit to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania across the road. It is quite a spectacle with amazing history. http://www.rrmuseumpa.org/. At the museum, you’ll learn about the heritage and technology of railroading. You can board some of the trains, and take a step back in time as you envision what it might have been like to travel during a different era. They have lots of special events that make it a worthwhile year round destination.
Another of our stops was the Toy Train Museum in Lancaster. http://www.nttmuseum.org/. It features hundreds of toy trains in a modern museum built like a historic train station. My son was like a kid in a candy store here. He didn’t know where to look first, as he ran back in forth pushng various buttons and switches to make things go and light up . Very cool place, as he would put it!
Downtown Lancaster offers a bunch of good shopping opportunities…whether clothing, gift items, toys or pieces of art. While my husband wasn’t thrilled I did some spending “damage,” I was pleased with my unexpected purchases. There’s also a wide array of dining options, whether ethnic or casual American.
While we didn’t get to Choo Choo Barn — Traintown U.S.A.®, this trip, we have in the past, and kids enjoy it. Also located in Strasburg, it features more than 1,700 square feet of model train displays with more than 150 hand-built animated figures & vehicles, and 22 operating trains. http://www.choochoobarn.com/.
We took a short drive to the charming town of Lititz, PA. We had never gone there before. The main drag featured quaint country shops, antiques, clothing and more. And, we went to the Wilbur Chocolate Candy Americana Museum/Factory Store, and bought Seth a box of dark chocolate mint marshmallows (which of course I had to sample). Really good! Admission was free, and they ship. http://www.wilburbuds.com/.
We took in a guided tour of the historical Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. Established in 1861, you get a hands-on lesson in pretzel twisting and learn about the art/evolution of pretzel baking, including free samples. http://www.juliussturgis.com/. We are now all certified pretzel twisters (yes….they give you a certificate)!
My son also had a blast at Dutch Wonderland Family Amusement Park in Lancaster. “A Kingdom for Kids,” it features rides, entertainment, etc., complete with Halloween decorations (for now), and kids parading about in their costumes. http://www.dutchwonderland.com/. If you have young children, this is the perfect theme park for them.
We dined one evening at Hershey Farm Restaurant & Inn in Ronks, right near Strasburg. http://www.hersheyfarm.com/ You can order off the menu or sample their various offerings on the smorgasboard, which is what we did. It was a good way to experience PA Dutch recipes ranging from BBQ chicken to chicken pot pie to ham balls to pecan pie. It was time to hit the gym at Willow Valley after this meal.
PS: Many thanks to Willow Valley and some of the various attractions for hosting our visits. For general information on the area, visit http://www.padutchcountry.com/.
PPS: We look forward to returning one day, and enjoyed spending time with the other families from MotherhoodLater.com and beyond who joined us. This was the first group getaway we planned, and if you were unable to attend, we hope you’ll vacation with us in the future, whether here or another destination. Be sure to sign up for our monthly email newsletter to hear of our activities. Visit http://www.motherhoodlater.com/.