Zoo hacks: 6 pro tips for a luminous ZooLights experience

November 12, 2019 - 10:26am
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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 1.5 million colored lights opens Nov. 29 and it's more popular than ever.

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

"The past couple of years have been our biggest ever," said Ivan Ratcliff, the zoo's guest services manager. "Attendance has been off the charts."

This year marks the 32nd 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 six tips to save money, avoid lines and get the most enjoyment out of your ZooLights experience.

1. Buy your tickets online.


"The best way to save time and money is to pre-purchase your ZooLights tickets online," Ratcliff said. "You'll save $2 per ticket and be able to skip the lines at the front gate."
To purchase online tickets, go to oregonzoo.org/zoolights.

2. Ride MAX to the zoo.


"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. Start your festivities early in the season.


"Most ZooLights visitors come on weekends and on 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 — see schedule at oregonzoo.org/zoolights — ZooLights visitors get a $5 discount on admission.

4. 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 and allowing an extra 30 minutes for traffic and parking. The main parking lot, and even the shuttle lots, fill up fast, especially on weekends." Visitor can check real time on-site parking availability at gettingtozoolights.com/drive.

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. "Around 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." To purchase online tickets, go to oregonzoo.org/zoolights.

For further information and illumination, visit bit.ly/ZooLightsFAQ.