And now, one of the highlights of the tour: Hershey Breakfast. In the grand Circular Dining Room is laid out one of the most spectacular buffets you could ever wish to see. Everything is here: Bacon, Turkey Bacon, Country Ham, Scrambled Eggs, Sausages, French Toast, Blintzes, Breakfast Potatoes, Muffins, Toast, Pastries, Pancakes, Fresh Fruit, Cereals (packets and homemade), Yoghurts, Whipped Cream, Jams, Butters, Jellies and Chocolate Bread Pudding. There is an omelette station with an extraordinary array of peppers, chillis and onions on display.
I am greeted at the top of the steps to the dining room, checked in, then handed over to another member of staff who leads me to my table and seats me before a server comes to offer me juice and coffee. 3 members of staff just for me in the space of 30 seconds. A fourth appears to fill my water glass.
My seat is by the window and although it is not snowing anymore, the ground is still covered. There is a low mist over the grounds making the landscape look very mysterious and exciting.
I make my first visit to the buffet and have a lovely creamy bowl of porridge, with brown sugar sprinkled over it. Back at my table a Grapefruit juice and coffee has arrived. After the porridge come the French Toast, bacon and eggs. More coffee. Mmmmmmm Heavenly.
The only breakfast that rivals this is at The Williamsburg Inn. I will be there next week and then can judge who wins the award for this year.
I go back to my room with nothing to do until 3 today, so having written the blog I decide to go out for a walk in the hotel grounds. I wrap up in my coat, hat and gloves and head out with my camera. The paths are very icy and on more than one occasion my feet go from beneath me. It would not be good if I were to break a leg, although I suppose that it would make my performance of Tiny Tim more convincing.
I walk to the swimming pool, the tennis courts, through wooded pathways, across to the Hershey Gardens, although they are all locked up. In the mist I can just see the outline of the old, historic Wildcat rollercoaster at Hershey Park. Through the gloom comes the mournful hoot of a slow train: it is a sound that you only hear in America and is so evocative.
After an enjoyable hour or so I go back to the room and the phone is ringing. It is David Keltz, my good friend, an actor who performs a one man show based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Each year David and his wife Teresa come to Hershey to see me and to catch up and I’m looking forward to having dinner with them this evening. However, straight away I realise that all is not well. A family medical emergency means that David and Teresa must fly to Florida and will not after all be able to come to Hershey. Their voices tell their own story and I wish them well and send my thoughts with them.
I decide to have a bite of lunch in my room, before changing and heading to the Fountain Lobby for the tea performance. There is a superb crowd in but I am feeling tired, my limbs feel heavy and I have one of those moments when I seriously doubt if I can do this today.
As I’m standing there, waiting to go on, a Grandmother brings her grandson to me. He is shy but smartly dressed in shirt and tie. Hair beautifully combed. He has a photograph in his hand of him and me. The grandmother says that he had come for his birthday last year and would I sign the picture for him? He says quietly: ‘I love your story and I’m looking forward to you telling it again.’
OK, it is a bit Hallmark but any thoughts of doubt leave me there and then. If he wants to hear the story, then the story he will hear in the best way I can possibly tell it.
The show is fabulous! I give it everything I can. When Scrooge calls out on Christmas Morning from his window, I deliver the line directly to the boy and his eyes light up and face breaks into a huge smile.
I even get a standing ovation which, in the Fountain Lobby, is almost unheard of.
Wonderful. I’m sure that young Dennis won’t be reading this but I say to you: ‘Thank You’
Back in my room I have a bath, followed by a shower and lay on the bed playing Backgammon, and watching the TV. I have a little afternoon nap and when I wake I’m feeling a bit jaded, so have another shower. I must be the cleanest person in this hotel.
Back to the Castilian Room for the dinner show. Of course I was supposed to be sharing a table with David and Teresa and as they are not coming I have not been assigned a seat. I chat with Jim, who is running tonight’s event and come to the decision that I won’t dine with the guests tonight. If I join a table I will sort of be ‘on show’ all evening and need to chat and answer questions. My voice is feeling a little rough (probably after the exertions of teatime), and this is an opportunity to take things a little easy without actually compromising the performance itself.
There is a good crowd and many of them are returning for the umpteenth time and I greet them, chat with them and laugh with them. But for dinner itself I just stand at the back of the room and watch.
It is fascinating to see how the waiting staff operates. When you are sat at a table enjoying the beautiful food and wine, you have no idea how carefully you are being scrutinised. They are a truly professional crew, knowing the situation at every one of their tables, knowing when to refill water glasses, replenish wine, when to chat and share a joke, when to hold back and leave alone. There is a sense of perpetual motion as they sweep through the room silently.
I have always introduced the dinner show by stating that we are celebrating Christmas in 3 ways: a rendition of A Christmas Carol, wonderful food and spectacular service and now I see how true the latter part of that is. They are an astounding bunch.
The show is good, a little strained perhaps, but powerful and emotional. Every ‘victim’ plays their part well and there is much laughter throughout.
At the end there is a great deal of photographing and it is a lovely thing when people who have never met before this evening are all offering to take pictures for each other. I stay at my place by the Christmas Tree in the corner as one group after another take positions on either side. Everyone is chatting and happy.
I make sure I say ‘thank you’ to the waiting staff and then go to the bar where I order a Pizza for my late night dinner.
As I’m sitting there one of my favourite songs starts to play: Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’
And, you know what? It is.