10 great places to vacation close to home
With gas prices continuing to skyrocket, many families may be reconsidering that long drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for vacation. Thankfully, Central Pennsylvanians have many fun destinations to consider that may not put as big of a dent in this year’s gas budget.
1. Crayola Crayon Factory
Have you ever wondered how crayons and markers are made? At the Crayola Crayon Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania, you can find out through live demonstrations.
Also, their new “Go Green” campaign will show kids how they can reuse, recycle and recreate artwork. Many of the art projects will focus on promoting and protecting the environment.
Since 2008 is a leap year, the factory is celebrating in a creative way. Frog stickers are hidden throughout the factory, and those willing to “leap” to the challenge of finding them can win prizes from the gift shop.
“The frogs are numerous,” says public relations representative Sue Kitchner, “and have been well received by all of our guests. It’s a very fun activity.”
2. Curiosity Connection at the State Museum in Harrisburg
The Curiosity Connection is a hands-on play environment with play zones for kids ages 7 and under to discover and learn. The adventure begins in a child’s magical bedroom and continues through secret portals to a living forest, construction site, transportation hub, farmland and art zone.
Jen Danczyk, a mother of two from Springettsbury Township, says, “My little one really enjoyed the farming area. She could ‘grow’ fruits on trees, plant cabbage and other vegetables, and then harvest it all. One of her favorite things to do was to ‘drive’ the truck to market.”
Located right inside the door of the state museum, Curiosity Connection is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
3. Dutch Wonderland
Dutch Wonderland Family amusement park is gearing up to celebrate its 45th year. Founded in 1963 by the Clark family, it has grown to encompass 48 acres and more than 30 rides.
“Dutch Wonderland prides itself on making firsts happen,” says marketing director Bethany Alwan, “whether that be a first roller coaster ride or a first taste of cotton candy.”
This year brings two new live stage shows to the park, Thomas and Friends and Beyond the Castle Walls. Photo opportunities with Thomas and his conductors will be available following each of the four daily shows. Beyond the Castle Walls will highlight the travels and adventures of Princess Brooke and her many friends.
The site of one of the most famous battles in the Civil War, Gettysburg has implemented a preservation project that has resulted in the restoration of architecture, public lands and historical sites.
The $103 million Gettysburg Museum and visitors’ center will open in April. The center will feature plenty of galleries, a film and an education room. The David Wills House, where Lincoln stayed the night before his famous address, will open as a museum in November.
Families with older children might enjoy a “ghost walk” through town. Pick one of several spooky tours offered year-round.
5. Hershey Park
Nothing screams summer vacation like a roller coaster. With 60 rides — 11 of which are coasters — everyone, no matter what height, will be able to find something to do at this amusement park.
The Boardwalk at Hershey opened last season and features five new areas: East Coast Waterworks, Coastline Plunge, Sandcastle Cove, the WaveRider and the Bayside Pier. Boasting more than 10 water slides, crawl tunnels and hundreds of interactive water activities, Hershey’s boardwalk is a soakin’ good time.
If you’re looking to make a weekend of it, why not stay at the Hershey Hotel? Currently celebrating its 75th anniversary, the hotel offers its guests the best prices on park tickets, complimentary shuttle bus service, access to golf at the country club and admission to Hershey Gardens and Hershey Museum.
6. Knoebels Amusement Park
Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, claims to be America’s largest free-admission amusement park. From carousels to coasters, Knoebels has something for everyone.
Public relations director Joe Muscato says the park expects to open its new wooden roller coaster, Flying Turns, sometime this season. On this ride, you sit in a train and roll down a wood track, much like a bobsled run.
Jean Leisher of Mt. Wolf, who has four kids ranging in age from 9 to 4, says, “What I like the most is that there is enough variety at the park for all ages. It’s almost like a traveling carnival that just decided to stay there.”
That “traveling carnival” has much to be proud of. Knoebels was voted the second best overall park, just under Cedar Point, by Amusement Today magazine readers.
7. Maryland Science Center
Since re-opening in May 2004, the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests into its new exhibit halls and theaters.
Tickets are now on sale for the center’s exhibition of Body Worlds2 & The Brain — Our Three Pound Gem. The largest exhibition in the history of the Maryland Science Center, it has already sold more than 10,000 advance tickets.
The exhibit shows how the body works and what effects lifestyle choices can make on a person’s health. On display are actual human bodies that are examples of a technique called Plastination, a method of stopping decomposition to preserve specimens for educational purposes.
This exhibit is open through September and is recommended for
children ages 8 and up.
Because of the subject matter, this exhibit may not be suitable for very young children.
8. Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
Formerly known as the Baltimore Zoo, this zoo is the third oldest in the country and home to more than 1,500 birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
The zoo offers numerous monthly events, including a fun-filled family breakfast this month at the Mansion House with the zoo’s own BonanZOO Bunny. The event includes a picture with the bunny, live animal encounters and numerous crafts and games. Reservations are required and can be made online.
Don’t miss breakfast with the giraffes and the large underwater window to watch swimming polar bears.
9. Sesame Place
Like Dutch Wonderland, Sesame Place is an amusement park geared toward younger children, ages 2-7. Near Philadelphia, it’s the nation’s only theme park based entirely on the Sesame Street television show.
This year, a Sunny Day Carousel has been added, featuring “muppetized” horses and two benches that resemble everyone’s favorite: Snuffleupagus.
Other attractions include thrill rides such as Blast Off in Elmo’s World, water rides like Sky Splash in Twiddlebug Land and play activities including the three-stories-high Nets n’ Climbs in Big Bird’s Court. The Rock Around the Block parade features all of your Sesame Street favorites. Opening day is May 3.
10. Strasburg Rail Road
The Strasburg rail station gives train enthusiasts the opportunity to explore engines and rail cars up-close and a chance to ride beautifully restored trains.
Offering unique events throughout the year, the rail road will provide an opportunity later this month to travel by vintage steam train with Peter Cottontail as the conductor.
Public relations representative Hope Banner says, “This is always one of the more popular events, along with Thomas.”
That’s right, Thomas train rides will be back this year for dates in June, September and December.
From a first taste of cotton candy to a unique look at the human body, Central Pennsylvania residents have a variety of great close-to-home vacation destinations sure to satisfy every member of the family. Now, all you have to do is map out your trip!
Wendy Garman is a stay-at-home mother of three who lives in York County with her husband, Tom.