HERSHEY, Pa. - I was still tired from the late-November Thanksgiving and feeling pressured by fast-approaching Christmas when I went to Hershey for more than just an eyeful of "the sweetest place on Earth" dressed up for the holidays.
I wanted to visit the Sweet Lights display, not to mention Chocolate World. I also planned to drop by the Hershey Hotel Spa.
Hershey Sweet Lights is a must-see if you're in the area. It's a 2.3-mile drive through a wooded hillside filled with light displays set to music on a radio station to which you tune. You even get 3-D glasses to view some of the displays, giving the effect that it's snowing.
The displays follow themes: "Hersheypark" has a roller coaster, log flume, and merry-go-round; it was great fun to remember the different gifts while driving through the "Twelve Days of Christmas"; there were "Enchanted Forest" and "Your Favorite Tales," where I could only guess a few; and "Victorian Village." These aren't the kinds of lights you'll see in the neighborhood. They're theatrical, and you become immersed in them.
The next morning I went to Chocolate World, the official visitor's center. Hershey's Holiday Chocolate House is located there, and you can take the Great American Chocolate Tour, a ride through the history of the company, with singing cows. I learned that Milton Hershey's first candy business was in Philadelphia, but it failed after six years. After another failure in New York, he returned home to Lancaster and established the Lancaster Caramel Co. in 1886.
He didn't get into the chocolate business until the Swiss treat came to the United States and he added milk. The Hershey's kiss was his first chocolate offering in 1907.
Also at Chocolate World, you can create your own candy bar - very cool. There's also a store selling all things Hershey. I couldn't resist the giant Twizzlers, and picked up a few oversize kisses for gifts.
As wonderful as all of the Hershey holiday magic may be, the highlight of my stay was the Spa at the Hershey Hotel. I've been to a lot of spas. This is among the best. From the moment you step in the door you are treated as a special guest. An escort takes you to the locker room, and once you've changed into your robe, she leads you to one of the two quiet rooms or the aromatherapy room to wait for your technician.
I started with a chocolate fondue wrap with Suzanne. First she scrubbed my skin with a brush to loosen dead cells, and painted me all over with a chocolaty mud. It smelled divine. Then she wrapped me in layers of plastic and warm towels up to my neck, like a swaddled baby.
Once I was wrapped, Suzanne gave me a facial massage with cocoa butter cream. I fell right asleep. Twenty minutes later, she unwrapped me and cleaned me off with a warm Vichy shower. Fantastic! The fondue finale: cocoa butter cream all over.
I had time before my next treatment, a massage, so I got a cup of hot chocolate and sat by the fireplace in a quiet room, a pampered lady of leisure.
Lisa came to find me for my cocoa massage. I was so relaxed from the fondue wrap that there was little tension for the masseuse to work through. Instead, she focused on my muscles and got rid of the kinks, especially in my neck and shoulders.
Afterward, I paused a while in the aromatherapy room, ate a few of the ubiquitous Hershey's kisses piled in bowls, and just sat in serenity.
If you are looking for a spa day or an overnight break from life's bustle, check out the Spa at Hershey. My services, at the Monday-to-Thursday rates, were about $260, not including tax and gratuity. A three-and-a-half-hour Chocolate Escape package, with four services and lunch, is $370, Monday to Thursday.
After two days in Hershey, I was rested, relaxed, and ready to decorate my own house. Despite the fog and rain, the beautiful lights, smiling characters, and sweet smells of Hershey put me in a Christmas state of mind.