TACOMA, Wash. – In 1988, Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. A gallon of gasoline cost about a buck. A dozen eggs was only 65 cents and a first class stamp was just 24 cents.
And in Tacoma, Washington, a glow-rious tradition was born at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Zoolights began that holiday season with a big dream, a spark of ingenuity and several thousand clunky, old incandescent lights. Fast-forward 30 years and Zoolights – with more than 700,000 brilliantly colorful, energy-efficient LEDs – is the Puget Sound region’s longest-running, best-loved holiday lights extravaganza. Zoolights begins Nov. 23 (the day after Thanksgiving) and runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. nightly, with a one-night closure on Dec. 24.
Tickets are just $10 per person when purchased online at www.pdza.org/zoolights or at the Customer Service counter of any Puget Sound-area Fred Meyer store. General Admission tickets are $12 each at the zoo’s ticket windows. But guests who want the very best of both worlds will likely want to buy a Day/Night Combo Pass, which is available only at the Zoo’s front gate. Each Combo ticket includes a daytime visit to see hundreds of animals at the zoo, including those in the stunning new Pacific Seas Aquarium. Plus a night at Zoolights.
The Pacific Seas Aquarium is open during the day but closed during Zoolights. Daytime hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Zoolights runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Combo Pass guests may stay on grounds during the interim. Day/Night Combo prices are just $17 for 3- and 4-year-olds; $21 for youths 5 to 12; $24 for seniors; and $25 for adults. And, boy, do the nights come alive with lights.
Dozens of animal figurines in stunningly beautiful tableaus and whimsical scenes welcome visitors all around the zoo. There are majestic polar bears and walruses on ice floes; sledding penguins; ice-skating puffins; a 100-foot-wide octopus; a 3-D sea turtle; a howling red wolf; a carnivorous plant; and nursery rhyme figures like Humpty-Dumpty and the Cheshire Cat. Made-to-scale replicas of Mount Rainier and the twin Tacoma Narrows bridges (complete with traffic) tower over the landscape. And even Sasquatch will pop up on the zoo grounds.
Where else can you see lighted tiger figurines come to life, leaping through a bamboo forest, then see a real, endangered Sumatran tiger a few steps away in the Asian Forest Sanctuary? Or walk through a wonderland of holiday-season lights and then warm up in a steamy aquarium that’s home to 16 large sharks? The popular South Pacific Aquarium will be open and those sharks are ready for their close-ups. Plus, visitors can check out real marvelous meerkats in Kids’ Zone and drop by to feed a Nigerian dwarf goat. Across the zoo, there will be camels to ride. This is a zoo, after all. And guests can take a spin on an antique carousel populated with wonderfully carved animals.
It’s all happening at Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. And the 30th anniversary edition is a family night, date night, bring-the-out-of-town-guests experience that is not to be missed. Zoolights is sponsored by Fred Meyer. For more information, go to www.pdza.org/zoolights.