With the exception of beaches, Pennsylvania Dutch Country has everything for families, including rainy-day entertainment. In addition to the suggestions below and the above-mentioned Julius Sturgis Pretzel House in Lititz and the various railroad attractions in Strasburg, try the Lancaster Science Factory, 454 New Holland Ave., Lancaster (tel. 717/509-6363; www.lancastersciencefactory.com). Dozens of farm activities, numerous special events, and an incredible, seasonal 5-acre corn maze make Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, 150 Cherry Hill Rd., Ronks (tel. 866/546-1799 or 717/687-6843; www.cherrycrestadventurefarm.com), fun for both kids and adults.
Driving along a country lane in a horse-drawn carriage not only sounds irresistible but fits right in with the speed of Amish life. Ed's Buggy Rides (tel. 717/687-0360; www.edsbuggyrides.com) on Route 896, 1 1/2 miles south of Route 30 in Strasburg, operates two different tours daily from 9am until dusk. Allow at least a half-hour for the 3 1/2-mile ride in the back country -- no main roads -- ($10 for adults and $5 for children). Its hour-long tour, which costs a bit more ($13 for adults, $16 for children, free for children 2 and under), is a road tour that stops at a working Amish dairy farm.
Amish Country looks spectacular from the air, with its rural landscapes and generally clear weather. It's undeniably pricey at $174 per person minimum for a 1-hour flight, but Balloon Rides Across America (tel. 800/592-1525; www.balloonflights.com) lifts off for the first and last 2-hour stretches of daylight: sunrise and sunset flights. The local departure pad is across the street from the Bird-in-Hand Village & Suites in Bird-in-Hand.
Turkey Hill Ice Cream: Lancaster's Dairy Heaven -- Ice-cream lovers will want to take part in the Turkey Hill Experience, 301 Linden St., Columbia, PA (tel. 888/986-8784; www.turkeyhillexperience.com), when it opens in spring 2011. Dedicated to sharing the delicious dairy history of Lancaster County, the Experience will provide 20,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, a cafe, and retail space in downtown Columbia. Visitors can even create -- and eat -- their own flavor. Admission $14 ages 14 to 61, $11 children 3 to 13, $13 seniors 62 and up.
Hershey is technically outside the county, 30 minutes northwest of Lancaster on Route 422, but the assembly of amusements in a storybook setting makes the sweetest town on earth worth the trip. Milton Hershey set up his town at the turn of the 20th century to reflect his business and philanthropy, and it is a magical spot for kids (and for adults, since there is excellent golf and a wonderful spa here at the luxe Hotel Hershey). Start with the website (www.hersheypa.com), or just head for Hershey's Chocolate World, Park Boulevard (tel. 717/534-4900; www.hersheyschocolateworld.com), where an array of diversions can easily fill an afternoon, including the special effects-filled Great American Chocolate Tour ride, the interactive Factory Works Experience, the Really Big 3D Show, and an entertaining guided trolley tour through Chocolate Town. A huge new immersive environment museum, the Hershey Story, 111 W. Chocolate Ave. (tel. 717/534-3439; www.hersheystory.org), illustrates the rags-to-riches story of philanthropist and innovator Milton Hershey. Along with interactive exhibits, a hands-on Chocolate Lab offers classes on tempering, molding, or making chocolate from scratch, and an international Chocolate Tasting is available at the Café Zooka.
Hersheypark, a huge 110-acre theme park at the junction of Route 743 and Route 422 (tel. 800/HERSHEY [437-7439] or 717/534-3090; www.hersheypark.com), offers more than 65 rides and attractions including water rides, 11 roller coasters, more than 20 kiddie rides, and music theaters. The Boardwalk is a nostalgic nod to the old-fashioned pleasures of Coney Island, Atlantic City, and other seaside towns. Its popular water park destination includes the Shore, a nearly 378,000-gallon wave pool, and the Intercoastal Waterway, a relaxing individual raft float down a "lazy river." Also on-site is the 11-acre ZooAmerica, with more than 200 animals native to this continent and an education building for special programs. Hersheypark is open weekends in early May and daily from late May to Labor Day and select weekends in the fall; call for operating hours for the date you want to visit. ZooAmerica is open year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Tentative daily admission prices for 2011: $54 for ages 9 to 54; $33 for ages 3 to 8 as well as seniors 55 to 69; $21 for seniors 70 and older; and free for ages 2 and under. Value-priced season passes range from $132 to $142.
The logical place to stay is the Hershey Lodge, West Chocolate Avenue and University Drive (tel. 717/533-3311; www.hersheylodge.com), with miniature golf and tennis courts. And if you're tempted to sneak away without the kids, Hershey does have superb gardens and 72 holes of championship golf, and the palacelike Hotel Hershey (tel. 717/533-2171; www.thehotelhershey.com) up the mountain offers an extensive array of signature chocolate and Cuban-themed treatments at their luxurious, splurge-worthy spa. Its "grand expansion" includes a new restaurant, a year-round ice skating rink, boutique shops, and 10 premium multibedroom guest cottages in the woods behind the hotel.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.