Lancaster, Pennsylvania as well as Harrisburg make for great vacation for younger children. Our family went when our oldest was about six years old, but there’s plenty to do for up to about maybe a 12 year old. Further, the more rural Pennsylvanians tend to be polite, and the mix of Amish in the backdrop (and sometimes driving carriages on the road) with the influx of Torah Observant Jews each summer (in droves) makes for a generally very refined atmosphere. On the rural open roads, I also clocked my land-speed record, according to my GPS.
(Do a search for the word ‘kosher’ in your web browser to jump to kosher food at each place.)
First, there’s Dutch Wonderland, an amusement park geared towards younger children. Contrary to my per-conceived notion, it has nothing to do with the Pennsylvania Deutsch, aka. the Amish. It’s themed around kings, queens, and knights with live performances about same. Most of the park, however, are rides which do things like spin you in circles, or spin your in circles was rotating you around a bigger circle. However, unlike most amusement parks, a three year old can go on 80% of the rides. In our case, the three year old even went on the flume gorge … one of those floating logs in water that eventually takes you down a steep descent. There is a roller coaster geared towards older children, but by older, I am talking about my, at the time, six year old. Other features include a ski lift and trolley to get from one side to the other, and lots of rides that don’t spin you in circles so much as they drive you nicely down per-configured paths. (It really is a nice place and we’d go back, despite my overarching description of amusement park rides.) There are also a few small water rides and slides…
For food, they have kosher food available at the park for sale. There used to be an entire restaurant, but it’s been reduced to pre-packaged foods available for pickup at another store.
Hershey Park runs Chol HaMoed events each year where they open the roller coasters and the like. This is an “older kid” park, but still, plenty of rides for even small children. The best part by far, which is not open during Chol HaMoed, is the water park. Unfortunately, due to Jewish standards of modesty versus secular standards, it’s not an appropriate place for a Torah observant Jew to go. We happened to hit it first thing in the morning when it was supposed to thunder and lightning and went in as soon as they decided they were, in fact, going to open the water park that day. No one was there but us for a good while. (As a side note, I collect pictures of my car at the best parking spots, right in front of the gate. Nothing like getting there early … no lines and a longer time until the kids and adults get cranky.) Hershey Park, like Dutch Wonderland, is classier than most amusement parks I’ve been to and well designed.
Since, as mentioned above, we were there early … there is a free Hersey advertisement ride right next to the park. You sit in a car-thing that drives you through singing cows and that sort of thing, and are then left off at a gift shop full of every imaginable Hershey product. It’s all kosher, too … if you don’t hold of Cholov Yisroel for chocolate.
For food, the Hershey Kosher Mart has been operating for quite some time. It’s a fast food restaurant with burgers and that type of thing. For being the only kosher restaurant for miles and miles around, it’s certainly welcome and kids like it.
This was both a fun and tiring day. The amazing maize maze @ Cherry Crest Farms is the largest and best corn maze I’ve been to. (Okay, I’ve been to three in my life.) It’s huge and they change it every year, with different color coded sections and each party carrying a large flag on a pole so they can spot you and make sure you still have energy to find your way out. For those of us who played video games like this and wanted to experience the real life version of finding your way out of a huge maze, here’s your chance.
One of the most striking things to me was when I went to buy tickets the lady at the counter said, “your prayer time is 2pm over here on the map” … and washing cups were at the sinks outside the basement. Not only was my “prayer time” at 2pm, but there about 80 people there, including one of my former Shabbos meal hosts from Jerusalem who had since moved to New York. Much of the packaged food sold is also kosher.
Also on site are some farm animals and small cart ride to the part of the family entertained that had enough of viewing identical looking corn stalks from all angles.
As an adult, I enjoyed this ride. The kids loved it. It is, they claim, the only working steam railroad in the country. It’s not fast, but the train has … character. Nice cloth seats and thick wood. You can see similar trains at the New York City Subway museum, but these actually move. There are two stops: Strasburg and the corn maze (see above). On your way, you’ll path through farm after farm owned by the Amish. We were able to see husband and wife teams farming fairly close to the train. At Strasburg, they also have quite a large collection of trains in a large hanger (you pay separately for this versus the actual train ride). It’s interesting, but probably not worth more than about an hour’s time, if that, for most people. The train ride itself and watching the stream escape in a huge cloud is the more exciting, if not fairly restful, part and you can take it to the corn maze and back.
We stayed in a no longer functioning bed-and-breakfast in Harrisburg, PA. We had two kosher meals a day, but alas, this is no more. Still, if you stay in nearby Harrisburg, you can find regular minyanim at Kesher Israel synagogue as well as some minyanim in people’s homes in other areas of town, including at a Chabad run out of the Rabbi’s house.
In Lancaster, you have Degel Israel Synagogue which does not seem to have a website, and we haven’t been there so we don’t much about it, but the PA Kosher Mart at Hershey Park has information about davening times and location on it’s website: Minyan times and locations in Lancaster.
The Amish have a reproduction of the Mishkan. I drove past it but didn’t make it in. A friend who has visited told me that it’s mostly accurate.
Then there are formal Amish tours. The same friend who did this thought it was great and learned a lot about the Amish way of life.
If you have more things to do in the area, feel free to drop a note in the comments.
On a side note, Ludwig Christophel Franciscus was a German immigrant to colonial Pennsylvania in 1710 and one of the founders of the Amish. His kids reported that, even when Amish, he didn’t eat pig. He also told his children he was Jewish and here’s the fun part … his descendants share a nearly identical are fairly rare Y-chromosome with me. That is (and I’m very roughly estimating here based on the data I have), about 10% of today’s Amish are probably my 10th cousins or less.