Zoo hacks: 5 pro tips for a luminous ZooLights experience

November 13, 2017 - 10:26am

Zoo's popular light display is bigger than ever — here's how to make the most of it

ZooLights is back! The Oregon Zoo's walk-through winter wonderland of more than 1.6 million colored lights opens for its 30th season on Nov. 24 and it's more popular than ever.

Over the past five years, nearly a million visitors have strolled through the forests of lighted trees, been dazzled by life-size illuminated animal silhouettes and ridden the light-bedecked zoo trains.

"Attendance has been off the charts the past several years," said Ivan Ratcliff, the zoo's guest services manager.

This year marks the 30th ZooLights for Ratcliff, who started working at the zoo in 1982 and has been involved with the light display since its inception. We checked in with him and gleaned these five tips to save money, avoid lines and get the most enjoyment out of your ZooLights experience.

1. Start your festivities early in the season.

"Most ZooLights visitors come on weekends and the weeks when school's out," Ratcliff said. "But if you come on weeknights early in the season, you can avoid the crowds and save money." During this year's Value Nights — Monday through Thursday, through Dec. 15 — ZooLights visitors get a $5 discount on admission.

2. Ride MAX to the zoo.

Can't make it on a Value Night, but still want to save five bucks? Ride MAX. On non-Value Nights, the zoo offers a $5 admission discount for visitors who take TriMet (proof of ridership required). "MAX is a great way to get to the zoo," Ratcliff said. "I ride it to work every day — the Washington Park stop lets you off just in front of the zoo entrance. I highly recommend using this option whenever possible." For additional transportation and parking information, Ratcliff recommends the website gettingtozoolights.com. "It gives you a range of options and instructions about using Park & Ride, light rail, driving and even rideshare zones."

3. Show up fashionably late ... unless you're driving.

"The big rush at ZooLights is usually from 4 to 6 p.m.," Ratcliff said. "If you come after that, you can avoid some of the crowds. This strategy only works if you're taking MAX though. If you're driving, I recommend getting here by 4 p.m. or sooner. The main parking lot, and even the shuttle lots, fill up fast, especially on weekends."

4. Buy your tickets online.

"You can buy your admission tickets in advance and bypass the line at the front gate," Ratcliff said. "You can also buy train tickets ahead of time for scheduled 15-minute intervals — that way, you spend more time enjoying the lights and less time in line." Purchase online tickets here. *Member tickets are only available at the zoo the night of ZooLights. Pick up tickets at the membership office or from staff handing out tickets in the entry plaza.

5. It's not all about the train.

"A lot of people focus on the train, but really that's just one part of the ZooLights experience," Ratcliff said. "The ride itself is about eight minutes, and 90 percent of the lights are along the walking paths. I recommend scheduling your ride online before you visit — then you can stroll around the grounds and enjoy the lights until your appointed train time. Also, we'll be offering carousel rides during ZooLights, which is something new this year."