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  • Richard Smith

Giant Center – Hershey Bears

Photos by Richard Smith, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.57

Giant Center 550 Hersheypark Dr Hershey, PA 17033

Year Opened: 2002

Capacity: 10,500


Hershey Kisses

The Hershey Bears have quite a bit of history to fall back on. Founded in 1932, the team is the oldest continuously operating professional ice hockey team in North America, outside of the “Original Six” of the National Hockey League. Originally known as the Hershey B’ars and once even as the Hershey Chocolate B’ars, the team is also the oldest member club of the American Hockey League.

The Hershey Bears Hockey Club is a wholly owned sub-division of the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company, an entity administered by the Hershey Trust Company. The Milton Hershey School is funded by that trust. The team has also won quite a lot during its history, having won 12 Calder Cups (most recently in 2023).  

The Milton Hershey School is a private boarding school that was originally opened to assist orphan students. The school is free for students and is funded by a trust containing most of Hershey's fortune, valued at about US$15 billion, making it the wealthiest U.S. private school.

The town of Hershey was started by Milton Hershey as a place for his employees to have comfortable homes, inexpensive public transportation, a quality public school system, and extensive recreational and cultural opportunities. The town is still a quaint and pleasant place.

On the outskirts of the town sits the area surrounding Hersheypark. For the sports fan, the Hersheypark Arena is a notable venue in this area, as well as Hersheypark Stadium (and, of course, the Giant Center). Originally known as the Hershey Sports Arena until 1972, the historic 7,286 arenas opened in 1936 and were home to the Bears until 2002. Lebanon Valley College ice hockey still uses the arena for home games, as well as being used as a public ice rink. A 2012 fire damaged parts of the arena’s roof, although luckily, no substantial damage occurred.

The Giant Center opened in 2002. Built by Populous, the same developers of the new Yankee Stadium in New York and Wembley Stadium in London, it is owned by the Derry Township Industrial and Commercial Development Authority. The arena also was the home of the Harrisburg Stampede indoor football team for one season in 2014 and is a major concert venue for the region.

Food & Beverage 5

There are many options scattered around the Giant Center concourse. One of my favorites is the Aroogas Wing Shack, where the chicken bites and the various flavors are a good option.

Soda is $3.50 and up around the arena. Hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, cotton candy, and French fries are some of the other options. I also like Uncle Andy’s pretzel stand, where you can get a very good pretzel.

There are a few beer stands, with a nice variety of specialty brews. Prices vary, depending on the standard or craft beer option. The variety of food around the arena is quite impressive. There is nothing minor about the Giant Center in this regard.

Atmosphere 5

The arena invokes memories of the old Hersheypark Arena. You can almost close your eyes and forget you are in a new arena. But even with your eyes open, you will witness a fantastic old hockey barn kind of arena. It takes the best of the old and mixes it with new, modern amenities.

The arena’s interior also feels light and bright compared to many darker arenas. The sightlines and sound are all just excellent. It is one of the best arenas built in decades. It just has that near-perfect “feel” to it.

Team mascot Coco the Bear roams some of the lower concourse engaging kids and adults alike. His presence works well and does not interfere with the game's action.

A few years back the arena got a new scoreboard, which fixed one of the few major complaints about this facility.

Neighborhood 5

There just happens to be a major amusement park located right next door to the arena. That makes this neighborhood different than the standard sports arena. It also means that you will not see the usual assortment of neighborhood bars and restaurants that an urban arena may have. But that does not mean this is still not a great neighborhood. It is, in fact, a great neighborhood.

Your first stop should be the Troegs Brewery on Hersheypark Drive. Offering guided and self-tours, as well as a great tasting and food room, the Troegs folks make you feel at home.

If you’re looking for more standard dining options, then you will find a Red Robin and Fuddruckers all in the area. I might suggest checking out a lesser-known option, the Parkside Bar and Grill (3 E Derry Rd Hershey, PA 17033), as they have some great burgers and other bar food options.

The Chocolatier Restaurant, located at the entrance of Hersheypark, is brand new and is a great option for dining all year round. The Bears' Den sports bar located in the Hershey Lodge is themed specifically to the Bears and is modeled after a hockey rink.

Fans 5

This is one of the most knowledgeable hockey fan bases I have ever witnessed. No matter the age or sex of the fans, they know the rules of the game and are loud at all times. This is a wonderful and intense place to watch a game.

Access 4

Hershey is located not too far from Interstate 81 and 83 via Route 322 and other smaller roads. This means that access is pretty good, although if numerous events are all happening in the area, one should expect some traffic. One should also expect that the traffic heading back towards Harrisburg will be heavier than in other directions.

Route 743 off of Route 322 turns onto Hersheypark Drive and is the main drag outside the arena and Hersheypark.

There is plenty of parking in the large lots between Giant Center and the amusement park. You will never have trouble finding a space, although it is not the cheapest parking option around.

There is not a lobby so on cold days you may have to wait out into the elements before going through security. Once inside the arena, the concourse can be pretty tight and crowded.

Return on Investment 4

The AHL is a high-quality league, so the price range that starts at mid-$20 and up for basic seats is pretty standard. Coupled with the parking fee, the game is a decent value.

Extras 4

Chocolate World is almost certainly a required stop before a game. Stop in and take the free ride that displays the processes involved in chocolate production. And you get a free candy sample afterward, so it is a win-win. Then try to tear yourself away from the food and souvenir options as you head to the game.

Of course, a chocolate shake handmade here is a no-risk proposition. Of course, if Hersheypark is open, it may be worth a trip to the amusement park before a night game. The historic park has numerous great rides and attractions that will suit a fan of any age. Sky Rush, The Great Bear, and Lightning Racer are amazing roller coasters.

If you can find a way into Hersheypark Arena, there is an amazing sense of history. Not only the former home of the Bears, but the arena was also the site of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. The arena is open for some public ice time, as well as the home of Lebanon Valley College ice hockey and Shippensburg University ice hockey, so look for those as ways into the venue.

I also like the Hershey Kisses used as part of the arena signage around the concourse of the Giant Center. That is something you don’t see everywhere.

Check around the arena for other displays and acknowledgments of the long and storied history of the Hershey Bears. Very few teams have the amount of history enjoyed by this team.

Final Thoughts

Giant Center is frankly one of the best sporting venues around. It takes the best looks and atmospheric elements of the past and adds the modern amenities expected by today’s audiences. This arena is a must-visit for a sports fan.

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