If historical sites, culture, beautiful scenery, fun and excitement are what you’re looking for in a family vacation, then you’re in for a treat in South Central Pennsylvania. I had been to Philadelphia before Reagan was born, visited the Liberty Bell and taste-tested both Pat and Geno’s Philly cheesesteaks. I thought I had done Pennsylvania. I never pictured it as a family travel destination with little ones. Then Harrisburg International Airport PR invited us to come visit and see all there is for families to do just a short drive outside of Harrisburg. They are very excited about Frontier Airlines new direct service from Denver to Harrisburg, which makes exploring South Central Pennsylvania even more affordable for Denver-area families than ever. Starting in June, 2014, there will be five weekly non-stop flights out of Denver! This is good news for both cities!
HIA (Harrisburg International Airport) created an itinerary for us to make the most of our time in South Central Pennsylvania, with something for everyone. For Danny, the history buff, there was Gettysburg. For Reagan, the thrills and candy lover, there was Hersheypark and Chocolate World in Hershey. And for me, Lancaster County – PA Dutch country. I’ve always wanted to visit Amish country and learn more about the Amish way of life. I also love handmade quilts, canned preserves, arts and crafts… and barns. I have a whole book of photography of barns. I think I may have been meant to be born Amish.
Here was our exact 3-day itinerary (plus 2 travel days) to give you an idea of how much you can do in just three days and plan your own visit. And if you like Harleys and wine, be sure to add another day to visit York where they manufacture both.
Arrival Day in Harrisburg
Frontier Airlines flight direct from Denver to Harrisburg arriving in the evening. Pick-up rental car and drive downtown to the Harrisburg Hilton for the night, just 15 minutes from the airport.
Day One in Gettysburg
Rise early and depart for Gettysburg, a 45-minute drive from downtown Harrisburg. Arrive at the Gettysburg Foundation’s Visitor Center around 9:30am.
10:00 am: See the Cyclorama show and accompanying History Channel film on Gettysburg. A must do for an overview of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Cyclorama (first shown in Boston in 1884) itself is a part of Gettysburg history.
1:00 pm: Take an hour-and-a-half guided car tour of the battlefield with our very own tour guide. This part was not for Reagan, which is why taking the tour in our rental car after lunch worked out perfectly – she took a nap in her car seat while Danny and I enjoyed touring the battlefield and asking lots of questions of our guide.
3:00 pm: Check-in at the historic Gettysburg Hotel, located on the square, which is actually a circle, right next to the historic David Will’s house where President Lincoln spent the night before giving the Gettysburg Address.
3:30 – 7:00 pm: Explore downtown Gettysburg’s historic buildings, museums, shops and restaurants. We toured Seminary Ridge Museum, recommended by our Battlefield tour guide. We took pictures with the bronze sculpture of President Lincoln outside David Will’s house. And we had ice cream.
7:00 pm: Enjoy a period dinner at Historic Farnsworth House, which included game pie and meatloaf.
Day Two in Hershey
Another early morning start to depart for Hersheypark, about an hours drive from Gettysburg. The park opens at 10:00 am and those staying at a Hershey Resort can take advantage of early admission at 9:00 am via Sweet Start.
8:00 am: Arrive at Hershey Lodge and Convention Center. Check-in is at 4:00 p.m, but our room is ready and we’re able to unload our car before taking the complimentary shuttle to Hersheypark and Chocolate World, located next door to each other.
9:00 am: Arrive at Hersheypark and Chocolate World. We decided to visit Chocolate World first and leave the rest of our day open for Hersheypark which closes at 10:00 pm.
12:00 pm – 10:00 pm: Spend the day and evening at Hersheypark. Be sure to bring swimsuits and towels for the Boardwalk water park area inside Hersheypark. Rental lockers are available. In truth, you could spend two whole days between Chocolate World and Hersheypark to really do and see it all, but it’s possible to do both in one day if you narrow down ahead of time what your priority rides and experiences will be.
Day Three in Lancaster
Depart for Lancaster, PA Dutch Country and the PA Dutch Visitors Center, about 40 minutes from Hershey.
10:00 am: Arrive at PA Dutch Visitors Center. Enjoy some Sticky Buns from the food cart in the parking lot before proceeding inside. Watch a film about the PA Dutch and chat with the travel consultants about what to do and see for the day.
11:00 am: Arrive at Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides for a horse and buggy ride and Amish farm tour. Tour lasts about an hour and is just one of several tours offered.
12:30 pm: Lunch and shopping at Kitchen Kettle Village with 42 shops and small restaurants featuring homemade food and crafts, plus a petting zoo and playground for the kids.
Remainder of the day open to continue shopping at the outlets in Lancaster or Hershey, or visit the Hotel Hershey and Chocolate Spa, Hershey Gardens or Hershey Story Museum. We chose to return to Hershey and visit the Hershey Gardens and Hershey Hotel. Both were amazingly beautiful with fantastic views of the park from atop a hill. Admission to the Hershey Gardens is included with your stay at the Hershey Lodge, as is admission the Hershey Story Museum.
Departure Day from Harrisburg
Depart for Harrisburg International Airport, about 15 minutes from Hershey. Make plans to return.
To read more details about our trip, visit TravelingMom.com and search “Pennsylvania.” DISCLOSURE: ALL OR PART OF THIS TRIP WAS PROVIDED FREE OR AT A REDUCED COST FOR REVIEW PURPOSES. BUT, ALL OPINIONS EXPRESSED ARE SOLELY MY OWN.