Monday, October 24, 2011

Giant Center, Hershey PA

Basic Information
Team: Hershey Bears (American Hockey League)
Game: Bears vs Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins-10/22/2011
Team Website: http://www.hersheybears.com/
Ticket Information: (717) 505-BEAR or http://www.hersheybears.com/
Tourism Information: (877) 727-8573 or http://www.visithersheyharrisburg.org/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.whp580.com/
Local Newspaper: Harrisburg Patriot www.pennlive.com/patriotnews

Team History: Formed as the Hershey B'ars (yes, you read that right) in 1932, the Bears are the longest continuously operating hockey team in the American Hockey League. Renamed the Bears in 1936, the Chocolate Town's team joined the new AHL as one of it's founding members in 1938. From 1936 until the end of the 2001-02 season, the Bears played at the venerable Hersheypark Arena, which is located less than a mine from the team's state of the art new home, the Giant Center. In addition to being one of the oldest professional hockey teams in North America, the Bears are one of the most successful, winning seven AHL regular season championships and eleven Calder Cup titles, awarded to the AHL's playoff champion.

Team Affiliation: The Bears are the top minor league affiliate of the NHL's Washington Capitals.

Arena Capacity: For hockey, the Giant Center seats 10,500.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened on October 15, 2002, the Giant Center is now in its tenth season as the home of the Hershey Bears. Built at a cost of $65 million, the arena's naming rights are owned by the Giant supermarket chain, which is based in nearby Carlisle, PA. In early 2012, the Bears will be joined at the Giant Center by the Hershey Haymakers indoor lacrosse team, which will play in the North American Lacrosse League.

On The Town: Located less than fifteen miles from the Pennsylvania state capital in Harrisburg, the city of Hershey has a population of just over twelve thousand, and is a part of the town of Derry Township, which provides all of it's services. It is serviced by three major highways: Interstates 81 and 83, and US Route 322.
Milton S. Hershey was born in that small community of Derry Township, and it seemed that even at a young age, was determined to make a name for himself in the world. He left the farm town in order to try and become a success in the candy business. He tried in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, but all of these efforts left Milton bankrupt. and he returned to his childhood home. In 1888, he started the Lancaster Caramel Company, and his business boomed. After twelve years, he sold Lancaster Caramel for a million dollars! With his hard-won experience and influx of capital, Milton turned to a new confection. Utilizing the many dairy farms in the area, he began making milk chocolate, and this was the beginning of what we know today as Hershey's milk chocolate.

Milton was also a visionary for the people who would work for him. After buying his ancestral home, he hired architects to design a town for the people who would work in his chocolate factory. In 1927, the state of Pennsylvania allowed Hershey to incorporate into it's own town. Not only did Milton Hershey just build homes for his people, he also looked out for their interests, building schools, an amusement park, a zoo, and an ice arena.
Getting There: From the Pennsylvania Turnpike, exit at I-283 north (exit 247). Take I-283 north to US 322 east towards Hershey for seven miles. Exit at PA Route 39 west/Hersheypark Drive (the signs are marked Hershey Attractions). Follow for two and a half miles and the Giant Center will be on your right.

Nearby Airport: Harrisburg International Airport is approximately ten miles southwest of the Giant Center.

What To Do: No trip to Hershey would be complete without a trip to the world-famous Hershey's Chocolate World. Hershey's Chocolate World features three basic attractions: the Chocolate World Visitors Center, the HersheyPark amusement park, and ZooAmerica.
The visitors center allows chocolate lovers to take a simulated  tour showing how the Hershey's product is made from the cocoa plantations of South America to all facets of the production at the Hershey factory. In addition, there are several other attractions in the visitors center, a food court, and of course, a large factory store which sells not only all types of Hershey candy, but all manner of logoed merchandise.

Just on the other side of the visitors center is the famous HersheyPark amusement park. The park has some of the most well known roller coasters and thrill rides in the area. ZooAmerica, also located just adjacent to the visitors center, has large displays of wild animals from around the world.

For more information, call (800) HERSHEY or visit www.hersheys.com/chocolateworld.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several chain restaurants and diners on Hersheypark Drive (PA-39) just before entering the Hershey property.

Where To Stay: While there are several chain hotels in Hershey proper, these can be a bit pricey, especially during peak tourist season. On this trip, I stayed at the Red Roof Inn/Harrisburg-Hershey location, which is located on the east side of Harrisburg, approximately fifteen minutes from the Giant Center. For more information, call (800) THEROOF or visit http://www.redroof.com/.
Ticket Prices: Bears tickets are priced as follows: $23.50 (lower level) and $17.50 (upper level). Note that there is a $2.00 surcharge for tickets purchased on game day. The Bears are usually one of the better drawing teams in the AHL, so purchasing tickets prior to your visit is recommended. However, this brings me to another subject: the ludicrous surcharges placed on ticket sales from our friends at Ticketmaster. When I bought my tickets online about a week before my visit, each ticket was accompanied by a outstanding $7.50 in surcharges! The moral of this story basically is, you're damned if you do, and damned if your don't.

Parking: There is a large lot which surrounds the Giant Center with more than adequate parking spaces. I was a little surprised when the sign said $12.00 for car parking, but the lady at the ticket booth said that was for "seasonal" parking, and it would only cost $8.00.
The Good Seats: The lower level of the Giant Center completely surrounds the rink, and is where most of the arena's seating is. The upper level has perhaps a third of the seating that the lower level does, and surrounds perhaps three quarters of the rink. With the exception of the club seating, all of the remaining seats are hard plastic, but aren't too uncomfortable. Each seat has it's own drink holder, and gives a good view of the action.

Getting In: The main entrance to the Giant Center is located in the front of the building, with the box offices located immediately inside.

Arena Food: As you might expect with a newer arena, the concession selections are numerous and wide ranging. Located throughout the main concourse there are not only the arena standards, but some specialty stands as well. These specialty stands include Famiglia's Pizza, Arooga's Wings, sub sandwiches featuring Hatfield's meats, Dippin' Dots, Uncle Andy's pretzels, and that French Canadian standard, poutine.
My friend Jen and I sampled the fare from the Famiglia's pizza stand. I had a meatball sandwich and she had a personal pizza. My meatball sandwich was fairly tasty and of an agreeable size. My only complaint was that the provolone cheese was just slapped on, and not melted into the sandwich. Jen said her pizza was quite good. I wasn't too unhappy with the cost, as the sandwich and a souvenir Diet Pepsi cost $12.00.

Here is a selection of the concession prices at the Giant Center:

Hot Dog: $4.75   Hamburger: $8.00   Nachos: $5.50   Draft Beer: $5.00   Pretzel: $4.00   Large Soda: $5.00   Ice Cream (Dippin Dots): $5.00   French Fries: $4.00   Personal Pizza: $6.00

Soft Drinks: Pepsi-Cola products are served at the Giant Center.

ATM: A PNC Bank ATM is located in the concourse next to the Hershey Sports souvenir store.

Souvenirs: There is a moderately sized retail store just next to the main entrance of the arena. This store sells an average sized line of merchandise, and, to no one's general surprise, Hershey's candy products. The main store is supplanted by several smaller concession stands located throughout the concourse.
Restrooms: There is a sufficient number of mens' and womens' facilities all around the main concourse. While they are clean and well stocked, they seemed on the small side, so be prepared for a wait if you need to heed the call of nature between periods!
Mascot: Cocoa the Bear made a few appearances on the ice in between periods, but didn't spend too much time interacting with the fans.

Dance Team: None

Program: The Bears' full-color program, called "No Rest" cost $3.00, and came complete with updated game notes for that evening's event.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Giant Center has a sufficiently sized center-hanging scoreboard which gives all the pertinent game information, as well as a good quality video screen. The main scoreboard is assisted by a large, high-quality video screen which is mounted on the far wall of the arena. This board is used strictly for game statistics and out-of-town scores.
The acoustics are fairly good at the Giant Center, and the music played was of your standard arena type, and were played at an appropriate level. The PA announcer was hard to hear at times, and could have been a bit more enthusiastic.

Arena Staff: All of the people I encountered were pleasant and smiling.

Atmosphere: Having a long history with the game of hockey, Bears fans are discriminating. They don't need a lot of amping up to get in the right frame of mind. The promotions were low-key in keeping with the traditional hockey night vibe. I'm sure the crowd of eight thousand plus would have been more of a factor if the Bears were playing a higher level of hockey.

Overall Rating: While I felt that some of the prices for my visit to the Giant Center were on the high side, the arena itself and the game presentation were of a good quality. If you keep that in mind, taking in a Hershey Bears game is a great way to spend a Saturday night in Chocolate Town, USA.