Our take on Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo!

On December 8th, my family of four visited the Portland Oregon Zoo for their annual Zoo Lights event! This was our very first time visiting and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. But we knew it’d be a lot of fun because the Zoo has a friendly staff and are always always putting on such exciting events that are  fun for those of all ages!

Since this was a family affair, I am having my husband share some thoughts on our experience traveling to and from Zoo Lights

 Dad’s Thoughts :  I’ll give an account of our travel tale to and from Zoo Lights, and a few hints to make your journey there better, and so you can get to the good stuff faster, and with less unwanted excitement.

We got to the 1-5/405 split around 430pm Saturday evening. There was some traffic before the tunnel, but that cleared up after all the merging was done. Then the real slowdown happened.

On the Zoo exit, it was backed up almost to the point of being on the freeway still. It moved slowly along, so it wasn’t a standstill. Then we got to the parking lot after some time, and it was marked full. There was signage to the overflow lot. I followed it, then got confused.

It would be great if there was better signs on the way. I thought I had gotten lost, but hadn’t. One sign would solve the issue, telling me to go towards Sylvan. Parking to wait for the buses was kind of a mess, it was undirected. More on that later.

 We got parked, and hauled all our stuff onto the bus. We had planned to park and go to zoo, not park, get on a buss, and go to zoo. The bus was nice though, and it had informational tips by various local radio hosts. That was a nice touch so it wasn’t the same voice over and over, and it let you know what to do when you got to the zoo.

On the way back, no issues. We were surprised, however, at the length of the line waiting to get into the buses around 7:30pm. It was 3 or 4 buses long itself! Getting out of the lot was scary. As I said, no one was directing the parking, so it was a little haphazard. I had to have my wife get out and direct me so I didn’t hit the tightly packed cars. Even 2 or 3 people directing the cars in would solve a lot of the problems.

Tips on travel from Dad:

If you have the ability, get there early, park, and just stay at the zoo and see the animals, then when the lights go on, take a look at those. Getting to the zoo when it was already lit up was nice, though.

If you can’t arrive early, arrive early anyways. Even if you can’t get into the parking lot, the sooner you get there, the sooner you get onto a bus.
Park somewhere in the lot you can’t get boxed in. I have a small car, so I got out. Something larger might have been a problem.

Buy tickets in advance. This will let you avoid all manner of lines and waiting.

 Pack and prepare to ride the bus to the zoo. Make sure your items are sealed and locked down so you don’t lose anything on the bus (we nearly did).

Don’t let the drive there, if it gets hectic, ruin the evening. Once we got in, the zoo lights were fun to look at and walking around, while a bit crowded, was enjoyable. The bus drive back had a distinct difference in tone. While the bus in seemed to have an air of ‘what the heck just happened to us?’ while the ride back had a light tone of joviality.

Inside the Zoo from Mom…

 My family was in total awe of Zoo Lights and there’s a good chance we’ll go again next year. Our son whom turns two years old a month from today got super excited when he saw the train. He adores trains and talked about it the entire time we were there. It was really neat to see it all lit up and hearing it huff and puff  while walking about the zoo just added even more magic to the experience.

My four year old daughter said she thinks we should go back everyday. She really enjoyed seeing the lights shaped like flowers, butterflies, inch worm, and the the Caterpillar light that transformed into a butterfly!

 The lights were amazing and I was really impressed thinking about all the planning it must have taken to create something such as this! Some of the lights were shaped like animals that moved, others looked like scenic murals, the lights in the trees looked as if beams of colors were dripping down from them. We were constantly pointing out so many different decorations around the zoo to each other.

There were live shows that featured performances by local musicians and dancers that we stopped and watched for a bit. It was nice that even though there was lots of people there, that it never got too tight or hard to move around even with our kids in their double stroller. Everyone (staff & visitors) at the Zoo were super polite and nice which was great!

 Overall, I would highly recommend Zoo Lights to anyone looking for something fun to enjoy with family and friends during this time of the year. Memories will be made from just one visit and I can see starting a family holiday tradition to go every year from here on out.

ZooLights Schedule:

  • Sunday-Thursday hours: ZooLights gates are open from 5-8 p.m. Guests may stay on grounds until 9 p.m.
  • Friday-Saturday hours: ZooLights gates are open from 5-8:30 p.m. Guests may stay on grounds until 9:30 p.m.
  • Train: Train will begin running around 5:15 p.m.
  • There will be no ZooLights on Monday, Dec. 24. The Zoo is closed on Tuesday, Dec. 25.
ZooLights Special Offers

Second Tuesday, Dec. 11
  • Enjoy the zoo during the day for only $4 per person (until 4 p.m.)
  • Enjoy ZooLights (after 4 p.m.) with a buy-one-get-one special
  • Second ticket must be equal or lesser value
  • Not valid with any other discounts or promotions

TriMet Discounts

  • From Nov. 23 – Dec. 13, receive a $1.50 discount by showing a proof of Trimet ridership
  • From Dec. 14 – Dec. 31, receive a $3 discount by showing a proof of Trimet ridership

Food Specials

  • 2 hot chocolates + 2 giant chocolate chip cookies OR 2 crispy marshmallow bars for $9
  • At the Cascade Grill or AfriCafe: for each adult entrée purchased (valued at $5.95 or greater) receive $3.50 off one kid’s meal from our kid menu. Valid Nov. 26 through Dec. 31, 2012, not valid with any other discounts or special offers

ZooLights Admission

Package (admission & Train)
Admission only
Train price if package not purchased
Adults (12-64)
Seniors (65 +)
Children (3-11)
Infant (2 & under)
Zoo members at Plus levels and above receive free admission to ZooLights and a 50 cent discount on the train ride.
Groups of 20 or more get a 20% discount. Reservations are not required. Find more special offers.
Transit discount
$1.50 on admission (proof of MAX/ bus fare required). Find morespecial offers.

DISCLAIMER: Through the Cascadia Connect group of bloggers I became aware of this event and was given free tickets for my family to go.  Thanks to the zoo and others involved for this opportunity. My thoughts are mine and my family’s own opinion and have not been altered by anyone else. I did not receive any other compensation for this promotion.