Managing Hersheypark as a Single Parent

Should a temporarily single mom with a 7 and 4 year old take on a theme-park vacation or is she better off at home? One writer put this high-maintenance vacation to the test for three days in Hershey, PA.

I curse my husband under my breath, knowing full well that 200 miles is too far to be heard. Do I walk my 4-year-old son, who has to pee now, over to the women’s bathroom and wait in the line that stretches out the door – or do I send him into the men’s bathroom, a place that must certainly be crawling with creeps with pedophiliac tendencies? #%#@!$, honey! Why aren’t you here to take him into the men’s room yourself?!?

… even with my fatigue and severe craving for even an hour of alone-time, I actually feel pretty good.

This is one of the times when I miss the comfort of having another set of adult hands/eyes/legs while traveling with kids. Normally, my family travels in even numbers. It’s typically the four of us – two adults, two kids – and less frequently, it’s a pair, like when I took my daughter for a girls’ overnight in the mountains or when my husband took our son to the beach. At home, I’ve become adept at juggling two-on-one during routine daily stuff, including school-related activities, mall stops, swim practice and even the occasional day trip into New York City. But in a hotel in uncharted territory, not so much. At a theme park, never.

So when my husband alerted me to the fact that a work emergency would necessitate his staying home during our upcoming trip to Hersheypark, Penn., I was positively appalled. How the [bleep] did he think I could manage the logistics of two children at an amusement park filled with about a hundred rides and scores of sugar-loaded attractions?  I would just have to postpone the trip!

Unfortunately, that didn’t work – the Hershey Lodge was fully booked by then. I knew that I had to either a) cause major disappointment for my kids or b) step up to the plate and take one for the team. After I’d given the decision due diligence, I felt slightly embarrassed that I was so turned off by the idea. After all, don’t single parents do these things all the time? How wimpy and, let’s be honest, spoiled I must be if I can’t deal with three days at a theme park with my generally mild-mannered offspring. Pathetic!

So I kept our reservations and, after an extra strong cup of coffee, took off with a full tank of gas, a couple of brown bag lunches, and a quest to share with my loyal readers the bottom line on amusement-park road trips with one only adult. Here’s what I found…

By the end of the first day, I was pretty amazed by how smoothly it was going. In just one day, we had successfully:
1.    lunched at the Cocoa Grill (a diner so greasy and dirty that it could easily have sent me over the edge),
2.    sharked for a parking spot at both the Lodge and the Hershey attractions lot,
3.    walked hand in hand in hand through the mobbed Chocolate World mega-store filled with people, tempting treats and souvenirs big and small that practically reached out and touched my kids as they wooed them,
4.    been herded through a 3-D movie theatre with a few hundred of our closest (and smelliest) friends,
5.    listened to cornball jokes from trolley-tour narrators who also yammered endlessly about the town’s hero, Milton Hershey (yawn), and
6.    managed to take advantage of three major hotel offerings: the indoor pool, outdoor pool No. 1 and on-site miniature golf. (Did I mention that only one of my kids is a full-blown swimmer? The other needs to be constantly supervised in a pool.)

So what if we didn’t sit down to dinner until 9:30, by which time I’m usually in my pj’s, camped out in my bed doing a crossword puzzle, reading up on the latest health news or devouring a mug of Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream while fast-forwarding through the commercials of  “The New Adventures of Old Christine”? We had a full and exciting day, our bellies were full (we even gobbled down celery and carrot sticks before topping it off with a handful of Hershey’s kisses!), and our hotel room was full of the kind of laughter and sillies that come with the realization that we’d all be sharing a bedroom. Just look at me, I thought. I can do it after all!

Day 2 was a bigger challenge as I took them through Hersheypark, the enormous amusement park filled with major roller coasters, an over-the-top water park and dozens of rides. The rides were actually pretty manageable, particularly because there was a big clump of kiddie-level rides right at the entrance to the park. And I even managed to rein in the kids’ demands for treats despite the sweet scent of kettle corn or the compelling image of Dippin’ Dots around every bend.

But the Boardwalk, the park’s water-ride area, was another thing entirely. Strike one: Every one of the park’s beach chairs had been “claimed” with towels and beach bags despite the fact that nobody was in them. Strike two: Even while standing, the crowds made it nearly impossible to simultaneously track my daughter in the wave pool and my son in the spray fountains. (I have one thing to say to women holding infants: DOWN IN FRONT!) Strike three: I had only one pair of eyes, which was no match for two kids who always wanted to be in separate places.

As if three strikes weren’t enough, I continued to bat by getting takeout at Nathan’s Famous. Not only was the line slow as molasses (an urban girl at heart, I have a tough time tolerating anything less than New York-metropolitan speed) but as we waited, my innocent offspring and I were subjected to two teenage boys competing to see who had better nipple muscles. While we were deciding what to eat. I became so frazzled – not to mention skeeved out – by this scene that I decided then and there that our adventures in the water-zone had just come to an end. After the corn dogs, we’d head back to the hotel, like it or not.

There were a few more challenges along the way (more on that below) and I couldn’t wait to call my husband to vent. But I also couldn’t help but wonder if I’d feel any less exhausted after a day at a theme park even with his company. These outings are tiring. I don’t know if it’s the heat, the lines, the overstimulation or what. All I know is that even if I weren’t solo, I’d probably be just as grouchy by the time the shuttle reached the hotel.

And now, a few hours after the sun has set, they’re both fast asleep, a day of adventure behind them. Truth be told, even with my fatigue and severe craving for even an hour of alone-time, I actually feel pretty good. Yes, I thought I might pass out from heat and emotional exhaustion around midday, and yes, I almost fell asleep at the pool, neglecting my role as lifeguard. But all in all, I’m glad I took it on. Thing is, as we sat at Papa John’s, eating a low-key (and cheap) pizza for dinner, I asked my son and my daughter which of our most recent vacations was their favorite. Not only was Hershey the big winner; it even beat out Disney.

Back to that sports metaphor I’ve been using…

It was a tough game, but there’s reason to celebrate: I took a chance, gave it my all and when the game was over, I had a victory on my hands. It turns out that a single mom can go it alone. But that doesn’t mean I’m not counting the days until the off-season.

Kara Mayer Robinson is a freelance writer who would rather be packing suitcases than lunchboxes.

Click here for a sweet sample of Hersheypark you can make at home.
Before you go, read Hershey Travel Tips.