More than 50 larger-than-life animal and holiday-themed figures light up the night at the annual Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ.
My family took a stroll through the zoo on a recent Sunday evening to see the animals illuminated with more than 100,000 lights, listen to Christmas music, enjoy hot cocoa, and celebrate the season. It was our second time attending the event (we went when the girls were much younger and the zoo was much smaller) and I’ve come away with 5 things you should know before you take the kids to the Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo:
1) It’s a popular event so expect crowds. So popular, in fact, that they now have police officers managing the traffic going into the parking complex. Plan to get there at 5 pm when it opens to get a parking space and enjoy the zoo before it gets packed and you start saying “Bah Humbug!”
2) While many parents take their babies and toddlers, I would recommend families wait until their kids can walk independently. Strollers are the worst in crowds and toddler tend to: a) tire quickly; b) run off often; and/or c) be afraid of the dark. I think ages 5 and up would enjoy the event the most…or at least make your visit more enjoyable. And speaking of the dark, if you do choose to wait on the LONG line to take the train ride, know that it is through a very dark forest area, which may be scary for some kids.
3) Bundle up. Even with the mild temps we’ve been having in the area, you’ll get cold walking around the hilly lanes of the zoo located in the South Mountain Reservation Complex. Hats and mittens are a must, especially for little ones.
4) Warn your kids that they won’t see many real animals. It’s cold, it’s dark, and many of the animals are either inside or hiding. The real sights are the lights and special guests, like Santa, Rudolph, and the Frozen princesses. We did get to see the penguins (my favorite), a couple of llamas, and cute gibbons, but that was all, and my animal-loving 8 year old was a bit disappointed.
5) The admission is free for the special holiday event, but bring money for extras. A great addition this year are fire pits where you can make S’mores. You can buy a kit (marshmallows, Hershey chocolate, and graham crackers, plus a stick for roasting) at the kiosk for $4. It has enough ingredients for four S’mores, so one kit can definitely be shared. Other items for sale are hot cocoa, hot dogs, pizza, and beverages. Some special events, like the “Storytime with Ms. Claus,” carry an additional fee as well.
In addition to being a fun holiday event for families, Holiday Lights Spectacular collects non-perishable food items; new, unwrapped toys; and new or gently used winter coats for those in need every year. Last year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, about 16.6 tons of non-perishable food, 7,780 toys and 3,671 winter coats were collected for the less fortunate. That alone makes it a “feel good” holiday event.
Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo
560 Northfield Avenue, West Orange, NJ
November through January 3 from 5 pm – 9 pm