The Giant Center is a newer arena, with ground being broken on November 8th, 2000 and seating around 10,500 for hockey. It is home to the Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. The Bears are a tradition rich team with 11 Calder Cup Championships to their credit. The team, along with the Giant Center is owned by the Hershey Chocolate Company and is located at the edge of Hershey Park, essentially across the parking lot from all of the other Hershey attractions. The Giant Center is a real nice facility, but read the review for a full look at the game day experience.
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The Giant Center has a wide array of standard stadium concessions such as hot dogs ($4.75), popcorn ($3-$5.50), pretzels ($3.50), cotton candy ($3.25), wings ($8) and French fries ($3-$6.50) to name a few. What stands out is the huge list of non-traditional foods such as Belgian waffles, pasta, soups, salads, wraps and Panini. Honesty, I could make a book out of the food options, I am going to do my best to highlight what I felt were the best options out of the non-traditional selections.
The Famiglia Pizzeria stand offered pasta, pizza and sandwiches, along with drinks. For pasta, options go with either marinara or Alfredo sauce ($7), and you could add meatballs or grilled chicken for an additional $2.75. They also offered a chicken parmesan meal for $10.50. Pizza was a six inch personal pizza in two varieties (cheese $6 and pepperoni $6.50). The sandwich options were chicken parmesan ($7.50) or meatball ($7). Drinks were $3.25 or $5 for soda, $3 for bottled water, $4 for a Gatorade and $5 for a draft beer.
Soup and Salads could be found in a few places. Some of the regular concession stands had a chef salad costing $7.50, a garden salad was $5.50 and Soup of the Day was $4. The Marketplace concession area also offered a more extensive list of salads along with wraps, Panini and wide range of desserts and a nice coffee and cappuccino menu. The Panini and salads seemed to be in the $7 to $8.50 range and the menu was fairly big so I can't list everything here.
Some other food highlights were the Belgian Waffle stand, where you could get a plain waffle for $3.50 or get it topped with fruit topping, chocolate or peanut butter for an extra $1. Other concession carts included Philly cheese steak nachos, Dippin Dots, Italian Ice, Ice Cream, Fresh Squeeze Lemonade and Glazed & Salted Peanuts to name a few.
Beer was offered at a few places, with the standard national brands such as Miller Lite available on draft for $5. There was also a Leinenkugel beer stand with a nice variety of their specialty brews such as the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the Sunset Wheat and the Berry Weiss among others.
One thing I did notice was the disparity in prices. For instance, nachos at the normal stand were $4.25, or $6.50 topped with BBQ pork, but the same size nachos at the "Nachos Grande" stand were $6.50 and $8 if topped with Philly Cheese steak. Now the Nachos Grande stand had a great toppings bar where you could add your own lettuce, tomato, jalapeno peppers, sour cream, etc. which I am sure is why they cost more. However, the topping bar was far enough away from the actual stand that people were buying the cheaper nachos at the regular concession stand and using the toppings meant for the Grande bar.
Another example of the price disparity was the popcorn, which was only one size at the regular concession stand for $3 but came in three sizes at the popcorn cart for $3.50, $4.50 and $5.50. I'm not sure why the same sized popcorn was $3 at one stand and $3.50 at another. One last example was the king size candy bars, which sold for $2 at the concession stand but only $1.25 at the souvenir stand.
Basically, while the food options were plentiful, you really had to shop around to find the food you wanted at the best available price. Not something you should have to do at an arena and something I hope management looks at before next season.
The Atmosphere at the Giant Center was average. It wasn't bad but for a team with such great tradition, there was no signature chant or action of any kind by the fans. Not the experience I expected. Attendance was listed at 10,435 but if the arena seats 10,500 as listed on their website, then as you can see in the photos, the attendance figure was inflated.
The night I was there was fan appreciation night and every guest received a scratch off ticket upon entering. However, the main "prize" was 15% off at the team store, something that I heard a few people mock. Basically it kind of felt like the team was just trying to move the leftover jerseys and practice pucks to make room to new stuff next year. I was really surprised they didn't have a bit better offer such as two-for-one amusement park tickets or a buy one get one free spa treatment or something.
But, to me, the most disappointing part of the atmosphere was the mascot, which made a cameo during intermission, but was nowhere to be found during the game. The kids beside me spent a good deal of time looking for Cocoa the Bear but never were able to locate him for a photo. Also, it is standard practice at hockey games for the ushers to hold people on the concourses or in their seats until a break in the action so all guests can see the game action. However, my view was interrupted multiple times by people leaving or coming back to their seats while the game was being played.
There is not too much of a neighborhood right around the Giant Center since it is located on the same land as the amusement park. You need to drive a few miles down highway 39 to get to the normal corporate shops. However, this is one arena where you can make an entire vacation out of your trip for a hockey game. You could fill an entire week by spending a day or two at the amusement park, a day at the chocolate world, a day at the spa (complete with cocoa baths) and an evening at a Bears hockey game.
If you want to get away from the park owned food options, a real nice place to try is The Chocolate Avenue Grill. It is a little pricier than the options that I usually offer, but it is extremely good and worth the visit. For an old school option, try the Soda Jerk Diner & Dairy Bar and relive the glory days. The food is average but the atmosphere is a lot of fun.
The fans were polite and knew the rules of the game and when to cheer. This would normally get them a better score but some of the negatives really ruined the experience.
For example, things were extremely quiet during some portions of the gameplay. In fact, so quiet that at times I could hear the players directing teammates during play from my seat in the top row of the upper deck. Also, despite the home team playing one of their worst games of the year, the fans never really voiced their displeasure. Sure, it is maybe a good thing that they didn't boo their own players, but I was looking for a little emotion like groans or a few people yelling.
A few times throughout the night some of the kids in attendance would play some vuvuzelas, but it wasn't very consistent and didn't seem to get the crowd very fired up. The only cheer I heard was a generic "let's go bears" a few times when the team was on offense.
I was also surprised at the number of people who left with more than five minutes to play and the team down only two goals. Of the four hockey games I have attended in the past two weeks, the Hershey fans were by far the least involved and dare I say, the most "fair weather."
The Hershey Park area is easy to get off of from Interstate 81 and since the Giant Center shares parking and access roads with the other Hershey attractions, traffic flows better at Bears games than any other arena I have ever attended. My gripe is that it cost $7 to park, which was a bit steep in my opinion. One other minor note is that they don't have signs marking which lane to be in upon exit to access I-81, so make sure you are in the right hand lanes, it is about 10 minutes quicker to access the Interstate that way.
Inside the arena, moving around was a bit difficult on the concourse due to all of the food carts. It took me 20 minutes to make one loop around the building and I didn't stop to eat. Getting to my seat wasn't too hard, but it was odd. I had to go up to the top of the building, around a spotlight lamp, then back down some stairs to access my row. The rows between seats were fairly tight as well.
Bathrooms were clean, had plenty of room and the automatic paper towel dispensers actually worked. Much better than your average arena bathroom experience.
The suites looked really nice, but I was not granted access to get inside of one. The private center ice area had a food buffet in it and a private bar area with an outstanding view of the game right at center ice.
My ticket cost $18 face value. The problem was Ticketmaster added on $5.25 for "convenience" and the arena added another $2.05 for a "transaction fee" bringing the real total to $25.30. I find it egregious that an $18 ticket really costs me an additional 41% in hidden charges! Couple that with the parking fee and the passive fan base and the experience was only average. Really quite a disappointment for such a beautiful building with great food options.
I really liked that the Ticketmaster site was using test software that showed you every available seat in the arena and you could select the exact seat you wanted. Oddly though, by game day, the Ticketmaster site only showed 13 available seats, all in the upper level, but people were buying lower seats at the box office at the arena when I picked up my ticket. I'm not sure if the arena was holding tickets or if there was an issue with the Ticketmaster software, but it would have been nice to have an option for lower level seats online.
I also enjoyed being able to use my camera without being harassed by the ushers. For some reason, very few arenas these days allow DSLR cameras and it gets quite ridiculous trying to take a simple photo.
Don't know what game you were at, but I had the opportunity to go to a playoff game and the crowd was into the game (be it was a first-round game). I loved going to the Old Hershey Park Arena and Hershey has some of, if not the best, hockey fans in minor league hockey.
Was surprised to see such a modern place. I was expecting to see the old Hersheypark Arena just with a new name but this place is a great new arena. Parking is easy and I enjoyed our afternoon rooting on the Bears.
Hershey fans are great. The only thing that is lacking is the neighborhood. Unless you're going to an amusement park, their is nothing.
If you ever want to truly attend a special place for minor league hockey, then Hershey, Pa., is a must for any traveler. In the AHL where many arenas are built for NBA teams, the Giant Center is the perfect setting for the game of hockey. The crowd is a dedicated brass who have been supporting the team since 1937 and the focus here is hockey. If the fans do not agree with a call, they will let the refs know about it. The Bears are among the tops of hockey attendance in all of minor league hockey year after year. Also, if you have a little extra time, visit their former home the Hersheypark Arena that is the Fenway Park, Lambeau Field and Wrigley Field of hockey.
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