Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Hotel Hershey

Dave blames Samantha Brown and the golden age of the The Travel Channel (back when shows were about destinations and not men eating big sandwiches) for his interest in iconic hotels. When we visited Peru in 2012 his only mandate to the travel agent was our stay must include a night at Sanctuary Lodge near the entrance to Machu Pichu. A number of travel show piqued his interest in visiting Pennsylvania's Hotel Hershey.

One good thing about The Hotel Hershey is it's very close to where Holly's family lives so at least once a year we are within an hour's drive. Dave has inquired about a visit in past years, but time with family is short around the holidays so we never made it. This year, Holly decided to surprise Dave for Christmas and booked a one night stay. On the agenda was a visit to the spa for a chocolate (scented) massage and dinner in The Circular Room.

The quick history of the hotel is Milton Hershey went to Cairo, Egypt and had a great hotel stay. He came back home with postcards of the hotel and told his men to build something inspired by the images. All this was in 1933, during the Great Depression.

Our visit to Hershey, PA that day started at Tröegs Brewery for a few drinks and lunch. We lingered a bit longer than planned (mainly because it took a while to eat through the massive portions of great food) and had a rushed visit to Chocolate World.

Chocolate World is a big Hershey store outside the gates of Hershey Park that contains several interactive add-on experiences such as create your own chocolate bar. The best feature of this location is the free Disney-style dark ride that gives visitors a tour of how chocolate is made. There were no lines at the time we visited so we rode it twice.

After visiting Chocolate World we headed over the hill, passed the Milton Hershey School, and reached the entrance to the hotel. With the slight rain occurring we took advantage of the free valet parking.

The check-in lobby was on the lowest level of the hotel. This area was nicely decorated, but nothing over-the-top. The shops of the hotel were located on this level along with the cafe/bakery. After checking in we browsed the shops and met the Hershey characters in the lobby.

The spa section of the hotel was very large and could accommodate a lot of guests at any given time (you could tell it was an addition to the original building). The locker rooms were well appointed and we were provided very plush Hershey Hotel robes. After slipping into our robes we were told we could visit three different waiting rooms before our therapists would retrieve us. They had a silent room (we didn't visit it), an aromatherapy room which was a smallish room encased in glass (the scent that day was some form of Christmas meets burnt cinnamon. Yuck!), and the third room was the quiet room. It was a very masculine room with dark paneling, club chairs, and a fireplace. The best part about the room: the snacks! Coffee, hot cocoa, muffins, snack mix, fruit, etc. there seemed to be a lot of people just lingering in this room, with some even in their street clothes. A lot of women were reading Kindles which seemed to indicate they were making a day of their visit to the spa. Our massages were in separate rooms. When we've seen travel shows featuring the spa they've always displayed a woman getting painted with chocolate and this was our original vision of the treatment, however it was actually just chocolate scented massage oil. Still very nice.

We were allowed to walk back (quite a distance) to our room in our robes. By all calculations we determined no one would know if the robes came home with us. But being honest people we left the spa robes in our room.

We dressed for dinner and headed to the Fountain Lobby. This is one area where the hotel took its Moorish inspiration from the Cairo hotel. Since it was Christmas a giant tree stood at one end of the hall with a vacant chair for Santa. Two restaurants and one lounge were directly off the lobby, with a third restaurant across the garden in another building.

This is a good time to point out that the hotel brands EVERYTHING! Soap, napkins, pancake syrup, loofahs, door knobs, valet tickets. Hershey Kisses and minis are available at every restaurant and bar. There is no chance you will forget you are at The Hotel Hershey.

Each restaurant had a small bar with some good local beer options as well as Hershey candy inspired drinks. We had pre-and-post dinner drinks in the Iberian Lounge, which was just off the Fountain Lobby.

Dinner was in The Circular, the hotel's iconic dining room. We had an excellent table but some spotty service. The food was fantastic. We started out with scallops and popcorn shrimp, and then moved onto excellent filet mignon with demi-glacé, truffle mac & cheese, and heirloom carrots. Dave was also happy to find DuClaw Brewing's Sweet Baby Jesus peanut butter/chocolate porter on tap. We returned to The Circular for breakfast the next morning where Dave had the Hershey Kiss Waffles (no chocolate inside) accompanied with chocolate butter.

We both really enjoyed our stay at The Hotel Hershey and would like to visit again. Perhaps our next visit should be in the spring or summer when the gardens are open. The hotel's amenities are available even if you are not a guest. It's very easy to self-park, walk around, and have a drink or meal without the overnight stay.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January Charity of the Month Update

We've been a little slow on the updates this year.  So slow that we did not pick a January Charity of the Month.  Let's stick with Heifer International for one more month and add some more animals to our order.  Here's what we posted before about Heifer International:  

December's Charity And January's Charity:

Heifer International

Who doesn't want to give someone a baby goat? For over 70 years Heifer International has given people the gift of livestock that puts them on the road of long-term financial independence.

From Heifer's website:

We empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market.

When many families gain this new sustainable income, it brings new opportunities for building schools, creating agricultural cooperatives, forming community savings and funding small businesses.

At first the idea of giving people animals sounds like a joke, but it all makes sense when you learn about how a flock of ducks or a pig can really impact someone's like. It's fun to browse the catalog and look at the animals. Click the picture below to go to their catalog and consider making a donation:

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Christmas Experiences: Breweries

Holly and Dave packed up the car and headed from Illinois to the east coast to visit their families over Christmas week in New York and Pennsylvania. While there they had a few new brewery experiences.

Photos found on the Internet
Two of the breweries were repeat visits: Rushing Duck in Chester, NY and Tröegs in Hershey, PA. Both breweries are great, but almost complete opposites of each other. Tröeg's is a showplace brewery in the heart of a tourist area that also serves excellent food. Rushing Duck is in a dank basement in a small-town downtown building with seating for maybe 15 and their food offering is free (delicious house made) potato chips. Duck's taproom fits in Tröegs restrooms. The beer at both locations is excellent and that's all that matters.

We sampled many beers at both and found a few new favorites from each.
After visiting Rushing Duck we headed across the street for the best wings ever at Touch Base. We were disappointed to find they took the bourbon brown sugar sauce off the menu. Fortunately we received a Christmas Miracle and the chef made us a special batch. Excellent!

Newburgh Brewing Company was the first new brewery we visited during the trip. NBC was running a beer sampling at the craft beer store in Dave's hometown and after having 4 unique samples we decided a 45 minute trip to Newburgh (New York) was in order.

Newburgh Brewing's location is in an old warehouse/factory building with a wonderful view of the Hudson River. Across the street is George Washington's Headquarters (1782-1783). The rehab in the taproom was excellent. They had a beautiful open area complete with foos ball, pool tables, baggo's, etc. There were 16 beers on tap and a nice menu of locally sourced items. The food was also very tasty.

In Pennsylvania we visited two new (to us) breweries. Our first stop was to the Lititz location of the Appalachian Brewing Company. ABC was in a refurbished factory just off the main drag. The entire bar/restaurant was wood paneled for that cabin feel. There are 5 other Appalachian locations across Pennsylvania, and it did feel a bit chainish. The beer menu featured 12+ items with 7 year-round offerings. Dave's flight included the year-round beers plus the December beer - a porter. The beers were all very neutral for the styles: not over-hopped or heavy on the malt. They seemed designed to appeal to those starting out with craft beers. However, their food was excellent. We'd definitely go back for the burger, turkey sandwich, and pulled pork.

The last brewery we visited was Columbia Kettle Works in Columbia, PA. This downtown location featured 8 house made beers, several local wines, and easy food items like sandwiches, cheese plates, and popcorn. We tried the brewer's popcorn, which was flavored with brewer's yeast and other spices, and it was quite good. All the beers were good representatives of their styles (we tried all 8) and of course we loved the chocolate porter. The taproom was comfortable with several bar seats and quite a few tables.

Overall we had a successful week of brewery visits. Our trip included visits to locations ranging from recent start-ups to full-blown production houses. We had excellent food at each brewery, even if it was house made potato chips. If beer is not your thing chances are your local brewpub will offer great food worth checking out.