Review: ZooLights 2013

Review by Debbie Tofte

Since 1988, a favored holiday tradition has dazzled Portland families. Initially started grassroots, volunteers built the displays and worked the event. Today, the Oregon Zoo’s Zoolights Winter Festival is a must-do on many people’s December itinerary.

We ventured to Zoolights on one of our chilliest nights in December. Sipping hot cocoa, bundled up in our coats, hats, and gloves, viewing the beautiful lights, it was perfect to put us in the holiday frame of mind. We were thrilled to see some of our favorite displays: the brilliant red and green walk-thru wreath, trees strung with thousands of lights from trunk to branch tip, and animals of the every color and shape glowing bright on a clear Portland night.

There are some big changes as well. Most importantly, the train isn’t running this season. Yikes! Rest assured, this isn’t a permanent change. The zoo has lifted the tracks, but will soon re-lay them on a new route, allowing space for new animal areas and we’re promised to gain more spectacular views.

A pleasant surprise was the extended walking route. More frequently used as an employee path, the zoo has designed a delightfully longer walking loop that runs through Africa. One highlight of this new part is a walk-through holiday light tunnel that sets the night ablaze with color. There were lots of “oohs” and “aahhs” as my family strolled through.

We were amazed at the lack of crowds on the evening we went. We parked right up front, there were no lines, and it felt very intimate to be in areas of the zoo alone, seeing things probably overlooked when it’s more busy. We went on a Wednesday evening, arriving right at dusk, around 4:45. I inquired at the front office when the best times to visit would be this time of year. It was suggested to come earlier in the evening and the first two weeks of December is always less busy. So, we hit it just right.

If you’re hoping to see copious amounts of our beautiful zoo animals bedecked with lights, you’ll be disappointed. Zoolights is primarily a light exhibit, but you can peek in on a few of the more nocturnal animals. The cheetah was lingering near the viewing window, the bats were especially entertaining, and what is a visit to the zoo without stopping in to see now one-year-old Lily with her mom in the elephant house.

Zoolights is free to all Oregon Zoo members. However, an average cost of an evening at Zoolights for a family of four non-members would cost approximately $48. That would include admission for two adults and two children, hot cocoa for four, and parking. Hungry? If so, there are also a few food vendors open, including the delicious elephant ear kiosk by the lawn. The Zoolights map given to us at the information booth included a coupon for a free kid’s meal with the purchase of one entrée at the Cascade Grill. If you’re interested in that bargain, make sure and ask for the Food Specials flier!

My family can’t imagine the holidays passing by without a trip to Zoolights and of course, this year’s exhibit did not disappoint us. Despite the train not running, it was a delightful family outing. Lots of beautiful things to see, making family memories that will last a lifetime.

ZooLights at the Oregon Zoo are on November 29 – January 5, 2014.

Debbie and her family were given tickets to visit ZooLights on behalf of PDX Kids Calendar for review. She was in no way compensated for her opinions.

Debbie Tofte

Debbie Tofte

Like so many people, I traveled here to the Pacific Northwest as a tourist and fell in love with it. I’ve lived in the Portland area since 1998 and treasure Oregon’s natural beauty, eclectic style, and the down to earth brilliant people who live here. An educator, I teach in a middle school in Newberg and am passionate about kids’ learning and having fun in the process. My son helps me experience life through an exciting lens and as all parents know, each day offers something new.
Debbie Tofte

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