We went to ZooLights at the Oregon Zoo on Sunday night. Honestly, the first time Jeremy and I attended ZooLights, it was miserable. We didn't have kids at the time and went along with my sister and my niece. There were so many people there that we had to park in a remote lot and be shuttled over, the line for the zoo train was hours long, and it was freezing cold. That was about five years ago and I didn't ever want to go back to Zoolights after that night.
Pearl loves animals and all things Christmas-y so I knew she would think it was magical. We decided to give it another shot with our own kids this year. I read the FAQ page on the Oregon Zoo website to find out tips on how to not relive that same experience. I learned that it isn't as busy early in the season and weeknights are ideal if you have toddlers. I also found out that although ZooLights technically "starts" at 5:00, they turn most of the lights on around 4:00. You can buy ZooLights admission as early as 4:00 as well.
We decided to go on a Sunday night and arrived well before 5:00. It was a really cold evening, but it was totally worth braving the weather. The parking lot was barely half full. We received our tickets (with no wait) and headed straight to the zoo train. We only had to wait 15 minutes until we were on the train. Both kids actually seemed to love the train experience. I was a bit surprised by how quick the train ride was since I know people are willing to wait hours for it and you pay an extra $4 per person to take the train. It was the highlight of the night for our kids though.
There are tons of booths where you can buy hot chocolate and other treats. Carrying around a hot chocolate adds a bit to the magical experience and nearly everyone at the park had one in hand.
There are many more lights than I recall seeing five years ago as well. The whole experience was much more fun seeing it through Pearl's eyes instead of our own grown up eyes the first time around. I was also surprised by how many animals we were able to see because I don't recall any being out on our first visit. Both kids enjoyed seeing the elephants.
We lasted for about an hour and a half. We made it through the majority of the zoo and we stopped to see most of the animals that were available for viewing. Axel was starting to get really upset about the cold weather though so we decided to call it a night. On the way out of the park, one kid was crying because he was cold, and the other was crying because she was desperate to stay. Pearl would have braved the weather for much longer to stick around if she could. I bet Axel will enjoy it more next year, but we will definitely leave the baby with grandparents.
Recommendations I have for those thinking of visiting ZooLights with toddlers include going as close to 4:00 as you can, not going on a Friday or Saturday night, attending early in December, and immediately getting in line for the train once you arrive. I also strongly recommend over bundling yourself and your kids as the cold can get pretty difficult to overlook, especially for the youngest visitors.