Sugar, Sugar Everywhere: Hersheypark, Fun, Even For Diabetics


Twelve miles outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania, also known as the sweetest place on earth, I called out to my family from the backseat of our rented minivan.  “Who can smell the chocolate?” I asked.

“Meeee,” my sons Tom and Guy answered in unison.

“Even though I really can’t,” Guy said.  “Open the windows.”

I could smell the chocolate through the closed windows.  I could have smelled it through a sealed  bomb shelter. I grew up loving Hershey’s chocolate, and I knew I still loved it, even though I’d sworn it off forever after my type 1 diabetes diagnosis in 2008.  Overall, resisting my favorite candy hadn’t been difficult.  I didn’t buy it, so it wasn’t around.  But knowing that within a few minutes I’d be in a place where chocolate would be everywhere, I couldn’t stop myself from wanting it.  I was putting myself in a situation that required maximum self-control, though not without purpose.  I was doing this in the name of good for the diabetics of the world.  I was on my way to Hersheypark to write a guide on how to survive an amusement park with diabetes, and I would have plenty of material to draw from.  My husband has type 1 diabetes, too.

With the best of intentions, a notebook and a voice recorder in my bag, and several interviews set up, I began a working/family vacation.   Despite all of my preparation, however,  things were off to a bad start since road trips with small children can unsettle even the toughest, most organized adult, and I am neither of those.  Tom and Guy had done a fair share of whining in the minivan and Adam, my youngest son, was quiet only if we listened to Ernie and Elmo.  To make it worse, before we left home I’d been so busy making sandwiches for the kids to eat along the way, I hadn’t managed to eat anything myself.  I was hungry, and my blood sugar was slightly low.

We checked into the Hershey Lodge and each of us and each received a large chocolate bar with our room key.   Tom and Guy were begging to eat it.  “Just wait until we get into the room,” I said.

“Pleeeeease,” they said.

“Okay, okay, okay.”  I told myself I wouldn’t ask for a piece.  I told myself I really didn’t care about chocolate anymore.  I told myself I prefer snacking on natural almonds and flax meal crackers.  And then I began to feel resentful and mutter those famous lines from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Sugar, sugar everywhere, nor any bite  to eat.

In the hotel room, Hershey’s Kisses waited for us on the pillows.  I ignored them long enough to change Adam’s diaper and organize our belongings.  But then I broke down.  I blamed low blood sugar, but I wasn’t even kidding myself.  It had been nearly two years since I’d eaten anything like a Hershey’s Kiss.  I made sure no one was looking and popped a Kiss into my mouth.  Then I had a second one.  After fewer than 30 minutes in Hershey, I was ruined.

My husband, Mike, had no problem resisting the candy.  “I don’t care about it,” he said.  He was busy trying to make sure our sons didn’t overdo it with the chocolate so they would save their appetites for lunch at our first stop in Hershey: the food court located in the Chocolate World Visitor’s Center.

In full disclosure: I don’t like food courts and I went in with a negative attitude.  The overwhelming crowds didn’t make it any better.  It was almost impossible to find a place to sit down, and when we did finally get a table, it was dirty.  The lines were long, and on the matter of food, I feel it is best to let Hershey speak for itself.  I’ll quote from the website and let you count the carbs:

“The large a la carte menu features savory soups, fresh salads, zesty pizzas and pastas, loaded baked potatoes, hearty sandwiches, baked chicken fingers and nuggets, potato wedges, and macaroni and cheese.”

We got pizza for the kids and Mike and I each took a salad, which seemed fresh enough, though the vegetables were flavorless.  The dressing came in a packet and contained sugar.  We didn’t use it.  I hadn’t been expecting much, so I wasn’t disappointed.  This seemed like the standard inexpensive fast food anywhere in America.  Although I was hungry, when I looked around and saw people eating shoe box sized portions of ice cream, I felt a bit of relief that I had a very good reason not to have some, too.  I had the very rare thought of thank goodness for diabetes.

Dinner was different.  We ate in Hershey Lodge’s Hershey Grill, a fine restaurant with plenty of choices for everyone including vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.  The atmosphere was lively, the service was excellent, and the kids received coloring pages and small games to keep them busy while they waited for the food.  No one frowned at the mess Adam made.  It was as close to perfect as a restaurant dinner with little kids can be.  Tom and Guy ate a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup pie for dessert and Mike and I shared a chocolate martini.  When I think back on our trip to Hershey, I focus on that dinner, as it was (from a diabetic adult’s point of view), the highlight of the trip.  My sons think otherwise.

Day 2: Hershey Park

It had been a long time since I’d visited an amusement park, but it was easy for me to recall my childhood enthusiasm over the local amusement park, Astroworld, in Houston, where I grew up.  For a few summers in the mid-80s I had a season pass to Astroworld and as often as possible I dressed up as an unfortunate cross between Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, with a dash of cowgirl mixed in and went to ride roller coasters in 95 degree weather.  Because so much of my daily life involves diabetes, in recent years I had forgotten that a roller coaster means something other than a day of terrible fluctuating blood sugar levels.  In Hersheypark, however, thanks to my sons’ joy, I was able to bring my old childhood associations of fun back to roller coaster.  Tom and Guy weren’t tall enough to ride the scariest rides, but they rode Wildcat several times, a wooden roller coaster that “sends people barreling over hills and bumps at speeds of 45 miles per hour.”  As they sped, I crept along at a snail’s pace with Adam, trying to find a shady place to wait.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the park earlier than planned because it really isn’t a suitable place for a one-year-old, especially one who doesn’t want to sit in his stroller, but isn’t old enough to walk more than a few steps.  Tom and Guy, however, stayed all day with Mike and had a fantastic time.  It couldn’t have been better.  As I walked away from them carrying Adam with one arm, pushing a stroller with the other, sweating, and craving candy, I felt grateful.  My children were happy, and it’s a good feeling to be able to put your own discomfort aside and rejoice in the pleasure of others.

Whether or not you have diabetes, the following list should help you plan a summertime visit to Hersheypark.

1. Eat breakfast before you go.  Hershey does not allow visitors to bring their own food into the park, so…

2.Plan ahead.  If you’re going to have lunch in the park, visit this site first.  Hershey makes an effort to accommodate everyone’s dietary needs.   Whether you’re gluten free, nut free, dairy free, Kosher, or just looking for a healthier option, you can find out what’s available before you go.

3. Drink a lot of water (and bring a hat and sunscreen).  There are surprisingly few shady places to sit down.

4. Don’t drink anything except water.  (Note: We gave into the kids’ requests and bought them sugary iced drinks.)

5. If you need a snack (and you’re not allergic to nuts), look for the stand selling peanuts and cashews.  It was the only low-carb snack I found in the park.

*Cover photo, character photo, and Hershey’s Kiss photo courtesy of Hershey PR.

*The author and her family were guests of Hershey PR.

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