It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the valley with lights going up everywhere from Mesa to Peoria. I’m not really sure how this tradition of driving to see other people’s lights started, but it’s only growing in popularity as the pandemic is continuing to keep people separated.
There are dozens of places around Phoenix to check out some gorgeous holiday lights. So far, I’ve made it to one! Traditionally, the Zoolights at Phoenix Zoo is a walk-thru event but to accommodate safety, they revamped the idea this year and converted it to an optional drive-thru experience. When I go to something knowing it’s the first time for the event, I have the expectation of their being some hiccups. I’m happy to report that Phoenix Zoo did a phenomenal job getting the Zoolights set-up. If there were any hiccups, I didn’t notice them.
Here is a little bit about what you can expect when you Cruise the Zoolights this year…
Before you go, there are some things you should know! First, Zoolights are happening now through January 31st. Some nights are still walk-thru nights while others are designated only for cruising. The walk-thru nights are nights where they typically have lower volume, so if everyone is respectful, social distancing is possible. On their website you will find a calendar that has those nights marked for you, or check out what I have below.
Walk-thru nights are purchased per person at $20 and cruise tickets are per car at $75 (these are non-members prices.) I highly recommend the cruise experience, personally! You can sit back in the car if you’re a passenger, have a blanket on your lap, and if you have kids, you won’t lose them int the dark! Not to mention the added safety of no contact with strangers (and their germs)
When you cruise, you need to purchase the extras in advance. Extras include, a commemorative photo, light up necklace/wand/sword, hot cocoa, kettle corn and cookies. You do this when you buy your tickets. Prices for each are clearly listed HERE. Towards the beginning of the lights there is a stopping point where you will pick that up! At the beginning they will ask if you want these glasses… Say yes purely for the couple of seconds they provide! (They are free and kids will go wild.) Here are two pictures of what the glasses do!
The cars got lined up early to Cruise the Zoolights! I arrived around 6:15p, (cars line up as early at 5:15 for the event that starts at 5:30p.) While there was a line, it wasn’t slow. You get funneled through the lot with a couple chances to talk to staff as they remind you of the rules, scan tickets, etc. It only took about 10 minutes to get into the actual drive-thru.
You first pull through a giant archway of lights, indicating that it’s beginning. You’ll have your radio turned into 1680 FM for Christmas music to really set the mood in your car. Now depending who you have in front of you, you might be a little stop n’ go. My husband and I were lucky, we had a pretty steady pace, only realllyyyy slowing down when there was a big turn. If you are stop n’ go, I wouldn’t worry though. There is plenty to admire while you wait a little. Maybe let the next car get a little ahead so you can set a pace for everyone else.
At one point, it was my car’s fault we stopped. Apologies, but you see, towards the beginning you are right next to the elephant enclosure, and an Ellie was still out to play. How could we not stop and get googley over the cutest large animal of the safari?! Here is a screen cap from a video I took of the cute-big guy just being himself. It doesn’t take much to amuse me when it comes to animals.
You’ll drive thru several enclosures during the trip. Some include “quiet zones.” Be respectful! Some animals are sensitive to activity and all the lights. You don’t want to disturb them by blasting “Carol of the Bells” with your windows down. The poor Rhinos just want to sleep off the day. If you look carefully though, some of the areas are lit enough that you will catch some animals! I’m not sure what time some of the bigger ones go in their special habitats for overnights- or even if they do? But when we were driving by the big cats we got a good look at a beautiful female lion on top of the rocks in her enclosure. The flamingoes also said, “hello.”
Before I went, I had read reviews online complaining that the light walk isn’t long enough in past years… I’m not sure what they are talking about. Even in a car, it took 30 or more minutes to make it through! That’s A LOT of lights. Maybe they added a lot this year? I really can’t vouch for the past because this was my first time. I was amazed how many they fit into the experience. As you can see from the photos throughout this article they had all sorts of lights from traditional to glow animals to moving light exhibits.
It ended up being just the date night that my husband and I needed! It has been SO long since we had gotten to leave the house and do anything fun.
I would absolutely recommend checking out the Zoolights at the Phoenix Zoo this year! It set the perfect tone as we move into the holidays. Whether you also need a date night or you need something fun to do with the family, it’s worth shelling out ticket money for. If the holiday spirit just isn’t finding you like it has in year’s past, maybe all you need a little light-up magic.
These photos really don’t do it justice. I was too busy enjoying myself to take some from every spot, so there are still plenty of surprises waiting for you at the Phoenix Zoo! Be sure to buy your tickets for the day you want ASAP because it is selling out as time goes by.
Wishing you the best holiday experience during a strange year!