Every kiss has a story - and it's a tale that starts in the rain forests of Africa and Latin America and ends in a factory about two hours west of Philadelphia.
At least that's what you learn on the newly renovated Great American Chocolate Tour Ride at Hershey's Chocolate World. Here visitors slip into the role of cocoa beans and are shipped, sorted and roasted through the attraction, which explains the origin of Hershey's chocolate bars, syrup, Kisses and other products.
"We're in the business of captivating children and those who are a child at heart," said Don Papson, vice president of The Hershey Experience.
"If, at the end, we haven't told children of all ages, from 4 to 444, that the three principal ingredients in milk chocolate are sugar, cocoa beans and milk, then we've really failed," Papson said.
The Great American Chocolate Tour Ride, which opened in 1973, has just undergone its third major renovation - a $5 million update to ensure scenes along the ride reflect the latest chocolate-making technology. Brighter colors, more multimedia entertainment and a hip new soundtrack will also greet the public when the attraction officially reopens April 1.
Now drawing about 3 million visitors a year, the Great American Chocolate Tour Ride opened when growing interest in touring Hershey's factory (and concerns about how rising temperatures from body heat was affecting the chocolate) made it impossible for the company to continue offering tours of its working facilities.
The ride is meant to simulate the experience of being in a chocolate factory, while educating visitors about the chocolate-making process, from bean to candy.
Passengers wait to board the ride among broad-leafed plants typical of the tropical rain forest 10 degrees north and south of the equator where cocoa beans flourish.
They then hop into cars reminiscent of the conveyor belt that would transport those beans into the factory, only to find themselves confronted by three rhythm-and-blues singing cows. In their ditty, "It's the Milk Chocolate," the cows take all the credit for chocolate's creamy consistency.
Coasting through the pasture and into the factory, riders learn how cocoa beans are sorted and blended on their way to a giant revolving roaster, which heats them up and spits them out ready to be powdered, pressed and combined with milk and sugar in what Papson calls "the real dramatic moment" of the ride.
Cars pass through a maze of moving belts, where confectionaries in a cacophony of colors whiz by, from Kit Kats and PayDay bars to Reese's peanut butter cups, before letting guests out into a store where they may satisfy their pent-up cocoa cravings.
If you go:
: Hershey's Chocolate World, 800 Hershey Park Drive, Hershey, Pa.; (717) 534-4900. Reopening April 1; free admission. Hours for April: Sunday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Check schedule if visiting after April.
GETTING THERE: Hershey, Pa., is about 145 miles from New York City, 130 miles from Newark, N.J., 200 miles from Pittsburgh, 90 miles from Philadelphia, 90 miles from Baltimore, and 140 miles from Washington.
OTHER HERSHEY'S CHOCOLATE WORLD ATTRACTIONS: Hershey's Really Big 3-D Show; Hershey's Trolley Works; Hershey's Factory Works Experience.
AREA ATTRACTIONS: Gettysburg National Military Park; Lancaster, Pa., the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country; and HersheyPark amusement park, open April 14-16 and for long weekends in May, then daily for the season beginning May 24. Links to these sites and other regional tourism information at http://www.hersheypa.com (click on "Regional Attractions") or (800) 437-7439.