review by Olivia Pflanz – local mom and PDX Kids Calendar reader
Kids and adults alike will be mesmerized by the beautiful and sometimes whimsical light displays at the Oregon Zoo. Even if light displays aren’t quite your thing, you can’t help but marvel at the artistry these displays require (the zoo website advises they use more than a million lights). My husband, a working artist, was skeptical but even he was impressed with the quality and amount of the displays. We took our 6 1/2-year-old daughter (who admittedly already loves holiday light displays of any kind) and she thoroughly enjoyed herself the entire time (in other words, no whining, complaining, etc.).
We decided to enjoy the displays with a combination of walking and riding the train and I would recommend this method. There are some displays that you can only see from the zoo train and if you purchase the combo (admission and train) you save a dollar per purchase (and ride MAX to the zoo to save an additional $1.50 on admission). Some tips about riding the zoo train:
- The earlier the better: we rode around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday and there wasn’t a line (although it could have just been a lull).
- Try for a car in the middle or back if exhaust bothers you (we were in one of the front cars and the steam/exhaust was a little unpleasant, but bearable).
- The cars have open windows, so rain will possibly come in (we went on a rainy night but stayed relatively dry on the train).
- Small children might not like the loud train whistle but they only do it a few times during the train ride.
We rode the train first and then did the rest of the zoo walking, but the best way will vary with each family. It could work out better to walk around first and then take a rest on the train. Because our daughter is older, walking wasn’t much of a problem. But for families with small children, I suggest you don’t leave home without the stroller. Navigating the displays is pretty easy, but you might want to take advantage of the map offered to you at admission in case you won’t be able to do the entire zoo or if there are specific displays you want to see. And don’t forget to dress for the weather — it rained during most of our time there and was a bit chilly because of the elevation, but nothing that warm coats, gloves, hats, boots and umbrellas didn’t solve.
All of the displays are worth seeing, but the most comprehensive is between Asia and Africa, transforming the concert lawn into a river teeming with wildlife. As with all of the ZooLights displays, some are static, while others “move.” The ones that appear to move are a delight, because they sometimes span trees or cross over a walkway.
Food and animal exhibits: We did not purchase any food while we were there, but certain vendors were open. The zoo website offers more information on specific vendors and hours. Most of the animal exhibits were closed, but we did see a few elephants out.
Overall, this was a great family outing that had something for everyone. Even if you’ve been to the zoo countless times, this is a unique way to experience it. And there’s just something about walking through twinkling lights on a winter evening that’s just the thing to put you in a festive mood.
posted by Tabitha Rhodes