Dairy-Free in Hershey Park
Our girls are a bit ‘ride crazy’ and we’d heard Hershey Park was beautiful for Christmas so we planned a trip. Deciding to take your severely dairy-allergic daughter to a town, amusement park, and lodge devoted to celebrating all things milk chocolate may not be the right decision for every family. I get that. For us, we decided we could make it fun, safe, delicious, and down play the whole ‘Hershey’ aspect of Hershey so it wouldn’t be too weird. I think we succeeded on every front save for the weird. More on that below.
We decided to stay at the Hershey Lodge. Less fancy than the Hershey Hotel, but with a pool and close to all the action. The Lodge’s website has a great section on dietary restrictions. It lists major allergens in all the dishes at each of its restaurants (there are four) and has a good FAQ section. I was impressed. I called ahead of time and spoke with one of their chefs about allergy protocol. I was told we would be welcome to bring in outside food given Bubba’s extensive list of allergens and was encouraged to speak with a chef anywhere we dined. We also confirmed that our room would have a refrigerator which greatly expands the foods we can bring from home.
Our first day at Hershey we took the girls swimming at the Lodge. My big girl LOVED the pool but it was too cold for Bubba. After she got out of the water, the backs of her legs were covered in hives. I’m going to pull together my research about physical urticaria and post separately about it. We’re still trying to pinpoint why Bubba gets hives sometimes after swimming.
We ate twice at the Lodge. Once at the Cocoa Bakery (no online menu) which had chocolate soy milk and I supplied the snacks. We ate breakfast at Lebbie Lebkicher’s. Before breakfast, I called the restaurant to confirm that at the very least, bacon and fruit would be available for Bubba. Once there, I spoke with the chef in person and determined that would be all Bubba could eat off the menu. No surprise. We supplied our oatmeal packets to round out her meal.
Daddy’s Night Out
My Hubs is a beer guy. Drinks it, brews it, loves it. Turns out Hershey has a pretty amazing brewery and Hubs put the hard sell on us having dinner there. Troeges is over 90,000 square feet and has a killer menu. I called and spoke with a chef who seemed very knowledgable about allergies. He went over the ingredients with me and read a few box labels over the phone. It looked like the chicken tenders and fries would be safe for Bubba. So I was sold.
After waiting for a table (first come basis) I went up to order Bubba’s food. I explained that we had food allergies and that I had spoken to a chef about a few items, but wanted to confirm in person. Executive Chef Christian and I talked about the tenders and fries. No go. He said there was no way they could be fried safely given that they use the fryer for cheese curds (told you the menu was killer – pun unintended). Sigh. I was happy he was so knowledgeable but bummed. He offered to bake the tenders for us in the back if we could wait the extra time. He even comped them for us which was incredibly sweet. Bubba was exhausted and decided she’d rather sleep than wait.
The park and rides were awesome. Even with huge areas of the park closed there were hours and hours of rides to chose from for our 3yo and 5yo. We got to feed Santa’s reindeer and you can rent ice skates for $2 if you want to skate.
All menu items at all food locations in the park are online and ingredients and Top 8 allergens are listed. So cool. It makes planning your meals or making choices on the fly with a smart phone super easy. We opted for a Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand. The line was crazy (twice that of any ride in the park). After 45 minutes I got to the register, explained about our food allergies and asked for the ingredients to be checked. All clear, so I placed the order and moved over to wait. With a clear view of the kitchen it occurred to me that I hadn’t asked what they use on their grill. I approached the same employee who had told me everything was safe. “What do you use on your grill? I just want to make sure it’s not butter or something crazy like that. Ha!”
“Oh yeah, we use butter.”
If I wasn’t so relieved that we had so narrowly escaped a major reaction and hospital trip I would have been more angry. Lesson learned. The 1-2-3 of food ordering at a restaurant:
1. Explain that you have life-threatening food allergies. List all of them and their variations. We travel with a small laminated card to speed this up.
2. Ask open ended questions. Can you tell me all the ingredients in this dish?
3. Ask how the food is prepared. Discuss the risks of cross-contamination.
Nathan’s was able to cook the hot dog for us in a microwave instead. So Bubba got a safe meal after all.
In the winter Hershey Park doesn’t open until 12pm so we had some time to kill in the morning. Hubs found a great park called Cocoa Castle. Super close, fenced in, and very fun.
There is also a zoo, The Hershey Story (a museum) and Chocolate World. Chocolate World offers a tour (free), tastings, and you can also make your own chocolate bar. We skipped both the museum and Chocolate World to decrease the ‘weird’ factor for Bubba. I don’t really see the need to glamorize Milton Hershey (who does seem like a pretty great man) or milk chocolate for her. At night there is the most amazing drive-thru light show called Hershey Sweet Lights.
Safety and Weirdness
The lodge and park are VERY chocolate themed. Obviously. Costumed Reese’s and Kit Kat characters wander the hotel lobby and park entrance for photo ops, bedspreads and wallpaper are covered with Hershey kisses (tastefully – pun intended), the shampoo and soaps smell of cocoa, the kids’ rides are chocolate themed, there are chocolate clothing and toys to choose from at the gift shops. We expected this and yet were still weirded out occasionally. Like when Bubba kept hugging enormous stuffed Hershey Kisses in the gift shop. Or when she tried to pick out a Reese’s water bottle as her souvenir. Um, no.
Like I said, this trip wouldn’t be right for every food allergy family. In particular, because some folks are so contact allergic the risk would be too high of a reaction. Bubba is contact allergic to dairy but thus far we have been extremely lucky in that her only contact reactions are when she has literally pressed her skin against milk (counter spills). And her reactions are small – hives only and they go away immediately when her skin is washed off and cortisone is applied. So please evaluate your own food allergies before planning a trip.