The Hotel Hershey spa booklet calls this treatment "Whipped Cocoa Bath." Seriously? Will I be immersed in a huge mug of milky hot chocolate, with a saucer to catch the overflow?
When the attendant here in Hershey, Pennsylvania, beckons me to my deep, one-person hot tub, it's awash in creamy bubbles. "That's from the milk powder," she says. She sprinkles fragrant cocoa powder over the bubbles, explains how all the buttons work, notes the chocolate Kisses at shoulder level, and turns out the light.
Ahhh. Heaven—for at least four senses.
It's always chocolate time in Hershey, but never more than in "Chocolate-Covered February"—part tourist-attracting gambit, part celebration of America's favorite flavor in every imaginable form. Marylanders who adore the stuff can drive 80 miles north from I-695 for chocolate overload; those who merely enjoy it can relish a cold-weather getaway featuring fine food, chef demonstrations, an excellent spa, golf (for the brave), a glass-ceiling swimming pool, parades, and more.
This month, for the fifth year in a row, Chocolate-Covered February starts (a bit early, on Friday, January 30) with a Chocolate Dinner Extraordinaire at the 1933 Hotel Hershey's formal Circular Dining Room. For $75 a person plus tax and tip ($120 with wine), the recently renovated room with its murals, stained glass, and garden views serves up five multiple-choice courses—from "Fennel and Chocolate-Cured Salmon, White Chocolate-Scallion Cream Cheese on Lavash Crisp" and "Grilled Beef Filet With Black Truffles, Leek Whipped Potatoes, Bacon Braised Chard, and Dark Chocolate Port Wine Sauce" to "White Chocolate Pinnacle With Chocolate Mousse, Served With Fresh Berries and Balsamic Sauce." (Light sleepers might want to skip the coffee.)
Ten-person, chef's-table dinners throughout the month ($75, $110 with wine) take place in The Alcove, a private area in the same lovely room. These five-course meals, offered Fridays and Saturdays, allow enjoyable conversation among guests as well as with the evening's chef, who introduces each course and answers questions. (There are also chocolate-related events during the month at Hershey Lodge, a resort on the same property as Hotel Hershey.)
And if you're looking for a romantic escape, Hotel Hershey tempts couples with a getaway package through April 8 that includes room, rose-petal turndown service, champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, breakfast, and more from $349 (double occupancy).
Any stay at the hotel should include a visit to the marble-and-tile spa, which has its own menu of delights. It's hard to believe that it was just built in 2001. Its size doubled three years later—a good thing, as women took up every available relaxation space at my visit. (Men make up 10 percent of spa clients, and there are 14 services on the men's menu—plus a discounted package of massage, facial, pedicure, and lunch for $310 plus tax and tip.)
Besides the Whipped Cocoa Bath, the most popular offerings are the Chocolate Fondue Wrap and Cocoa Massage. I can vouch for the Chocolate Sugar Scrub—nothing like sugar for winter exfoliation. For those wanting a break from the local flavor, Cuban-inspired treatments include a mojito sugar scrub and a Green Coffee Body Wrap.
With any treatment comes use of the pool, sauna, and fitness center, and a choice of three relaxing salons, including the "silent room." ("It's so soothing!" one woman whispered outside its glass doors; inside, clients in luxurious white bathrobes were absorbed in magazines, glancing occasionally at the sun-splashed world beyond.) Up a curved staircase is a dimmer, but very cozy, salon modeled on the Hershey family library: deeper colors, a fireplace, upholstered chairs, lamps positioned for reading. A serving table holds hot and cold beverages, muffins, apples, and the ubiquitous Kisses in abundance.
Being rubbed, scrubbed, and soothed takes energy, and even woman cannot live on chocolate and muffins alone. If you haven't already busted your budget, the Oasis is a must for lunch—right in the spa, where no one will blink at your bathrobed, damp-haired self.
Though $24.80 was more than I'd expected to spend, it was worth it for quality, quantity, and tranquility: The Oasis boasts a sky-blue ceiling with Moroccan-style curtains and murals set off by a wall of windows overlooking a stone terrace. I feasted on perfectly seared tuna, three kinds of salad, cream-of-mushroom soup, and— ahem—most of the seven desserts, leaving aside the flank steak, chicken wraps, and fresh mozzarella/tomato wraps. This is a spa for indulgence, not weight loss.
A Monday-through-Thursday spa package February 2-26 bundles the cocoa bath, sugar scrub or Chocolate Bean Polish, a 50-minute massage, and lunch for $245 including tax and tip. Many clients—alone or in groups—drive in, sans hotel room, and spend the whole day.
Though it was tempting to spend that whole day at the spa, I'd come to Hershey in February for what I couldn't get the rest of the year: hands-on, how-to lessons. Hotel Hershey chefs offer demonstrations for visitors ages 15 and older each Saturday at 11, starting January 31; these are free, but reservations are required. This year's themes (in order) are chocolate hors d'oeuvres, breakfast dishes, chocolate-cherry scones, salad dressing and vinaigrettes, and fine dining (a scallop dish and parsnip soup).
On Saturday afternoons at 4, starting January 31, Hershey adds wine to the mix. These pairing seminars ($30; reservations required) cover wines that bring out the nuances of chocolate, and guests are encouraged to use all their senses. (Chocolate isn't called sensual for nothing.)
And then, in town, there's "Chocolate, the Experience," offered at least twice a day throughout February at Hershey's Chocolate World. (Though kids are welcome, families may enjoy a separate Chocolate Tasting 101 talk, geared to a younger audience.)
Wanting to know more about this substance I was inhaling (literally—the air around the factory smells luscious), I joined about two dozen people as a guide explained how chocolate is made and where the ingredients come from. This $9.95 ($5.95 for children) event is a lecture and tasting of six types of chocolate, from a Mayan-blend drinking cocoa ("thin, not too sweet," I wrote on the "flavor notes" chart provided) to the artisan Scharffen Berger bittersweet, a multi-bean blend ("fruit and citrus notes"). The guide had us examine our samples' color, scent, and snap as we broke them before tasting. After much palate-cleansing and discussion of aftertastes, we each were sent on our way with a large milk-chocolate bar.
What next: Chocolate Cooking School (seafood, pasta, meat, or cheesecake)? Cognac pairings? The hotel's Afternoon Chocolate Tea? A chocolate-martini mixology class? Suddenly, a nap before dinner seemed necessary.
It was tough to pry myself away from the warm hotel—especially when the nightly dessert buffet was on—but the Depression-era Hershey Theatre was well worth the quick trip to town. Second-run films, such as The Princess Bride on February 14, are $7, preceded by half an hour of live music from the historic concert organ; Avenue Q, the Dublin Philharmonic, and the Hershey Symphony also play this month in the magnificently renovated building, where golden mosaic tiles gleam beside electric sconces and necks crane to take in sweeping arches, murals, and a bas-relief ceiling. Tours ($7; ages 3-12, $5.50) are given Fridays at 11 a.m.
Nearby are the 11-acre ZooAmerica (free February 14 and 15), a children's botanical garden, shopping, a classic-car museum, and minor-league hockey—all refreshingly free of anything to do with chocolate.
There are also hour-long Hershey Trolley Works historical tours of campus and town, narrated by goofy but informative guides; tokens ($12.95; ages 3-12, $5.95) are available inside Chocolate World. The free ersatz factory tour and Really Big 3D Show ($5.95; ages 3-12, $4.95), also inside, are fun for those more interested in a theme-park advertising extravaganza. This is also the site of weekend-afternoon parades.
The old-fashioned Hershey Museum has given way to the Hershey Story, new last month ($10 adults; $7.50 ages 3-12). More integrated and interactive, it explores the world of Milton Hershey, the oft-failed businessman who finally hit it big, and his company, the town he built, his school for orphans, and his continued influence. Its Chocolate Lab participatory workshops ($10, $4.50 with museum entrance; ages 4-12, $7.50, $4.50 with museum entrance) sound fun for young and old, and visitors can follow up by sipping drinking chocolates from around the world.
So much chocolate, so little time. Luckily, it's possible to eat, drink, and even bathe in the stuff all month long.
WHERE TO STAY
The four-star, four-diamond Hotel Hershey (717-533-2171, thehotelhershey.com) is historic and stately, though some original rooms are small. Its 230 rooms and suites start at $229 in February; history and architecture buffs enjoy the free tours available at 10 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. (The hotel is undergoing a $67 million upgrade. When it wraps up this summer, guests will find adult, kiddie, and mixed pools; year-round ice skating; 48 new luxury rooms and a restaurant, and more recreation options.)
At the less-ritzy Hershey Lodge (717-533-3311; hersheylodge.com), 665 rooms and suites start at $159. Until renovations at Hotel Hershey are complete, families often prefer the lodge; its pool and game room are there, plus larger guest rooms, weekend bingo nights, and finger painting for kids.
A stay at either site includes free admission to Hershey Gardens and the Hershey Story. Staying "on campus" ensures that you can reach many events and activities easily, though you may still need a car. Nearby choices include a Days Inn, Rodeway Inn, and Springhill Suites. These and other hotels can be booked at 800-533-3131.
WHERE TO EAT
The Circular Dining Room at the Mediterranean-style Hotel Hershey is the well-dressed connoisseur's place to be—and it sells out fast. For reservations, call 717-534-8800. Also in the hotel are The Fountain Café (Mediterranean fare, sweeping views), a coffee shop, and a lounge. At Hershey Lodge, choose from the Hershey Grill (reservations, 717-520-5656) and Lebbie Lebkicher's (breakfast only), a sports grill, coffee shop, and lounge.
WHERE TO SHOP
For every type of Hershey product you've heard of (and some you haven't), visit the store at Chocolate World. On the Hershey campus are several boutiques common to resorts; the Jeweler, in the hotel, sells Chocolate Diamonds—diamonds with a pale-brown cast. A trunk show is scheduled for February 6-8.
The Outlets at Hershey, less than a mile away, has more than 60 discount stores from Polo Ralph Lauren to White House/Black Market to Bath & Body Works. At Routes 743 and 322, Crossroads Antiques Mall brings dozens of dealers together in a former barn; February 8 is its annual Valentine Tea sale with refreshments and door prizes.
WHAT TO DO
At the resort hotels, guests can dine, get a massage, stroll manicured grounds, lounge by the pool, take a fitness class, play golf, and do falconry in season. Nearby, visitors can also shop, ice skate, take in a concert or hockey game, get a history tour by trolley, or visit the new Chocolate Story museum or the older Chocolate World quasi-factory tour.
Additionally, in February, explore the history of chocolate, watch a cooking demonstration, enjoy a tasting or chocolate-pairing talk, kick back at a chocolate-themed happy hour, and more.
For a spa appointment, call 877-772-9988 or visit hersheypa.com. For more on what's playing at the Hershey Theatre, call 717-534-3405 or seehersheytheatre.com. For trolley-tour information, call 717-533-3000 or see hersheytrolleyworks.com. For details on Hershey's Chocolate World visitors center, including its tastings and animated "factory" tour, call 717-534-4900 or see hersheys.com/chocolateworld. For details on the Hershey Story, call 717-534-3439 or see hersheystory.org.