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Staycation: ZooLights

December 9, 2011

Welcome to a Washington holiday tradition.

ZooLights at the National Zoo turns 5 this year and is free, making it the perfect December evening activity.

You may not see many actual lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) but there are plenty of illuminated replicas scattered around the park.

ZooLights is definitely geared more toward 5-year-olds than 25-year-olds — a dancing, costumed polar bear sings and dances at regular intervals — but the crowd was a perfect mix of families with kids and millennials who wish they were kids. Area school choruses perform most nights and the audience clustered around an adorable group from Parklawn Elementary got just as excited for classic Christmas carols as Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin” (yep, every since ‘Glee’ brought it to the nation’s TV screens, ‘Don’t Stop Believin” has pretty much become our national anthem).

Can’t see the tiger cubs because it’s too late? Oh wait, yes you can:

And nevermind that there isn’t a baby panda at the zoo these days. There is one during ZooLights!

If walking around and looking at fun Christmas lights isn’t your thing — aka you don’t have any Christmas spirit — there’s still plenty to do at ZooLights. And everything, even staring at flashing lights, is more fun with adult beverages like mulled wine and hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps.

After indulging, take a spin on a non-ice ice skating rink. (It looks like ice… skaters wear ice skates… yet the ZooLights website tells me it’s ‘world’s best eco-friendly synthetic ice skating surface.’)

This is an expensive time of year — we can all acknowledge that. It’s also a beautiful time of year. I’m all in favor of finding fun, free things to do over the holidays and ZooLights tops the list. (But take the Metro or walk if you can — parking is $20-$30!)

Do you have lights events like ZooLights in your community? Growing up, we always drove through Seneca Creek State Park’s Winter Lights display, Christmas music playing on the radio, in awe at the incredible things people can do with a few (thousand) light bulbs.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2011 10:29 am

    That looks awesome – and so pretty! I wish our zoo did something similar!

    (Also: love your scarf!)

  2. December 19, 2011 10:34 am

    We went to Zoo Lights last night and had a lot of fun. But I took a look at the rink, and as a former figure skater and skating coach, I have to tell you that there’s no way the synthetic ice is the same experience as really skating. It looks like there’s so much more friction, you can’t glide the same way. And while some people may not believe me, that actually makes falling hurt worse. It is an interesting concept, though. And I’m SO glad they made Zoo Lights free. The first time we went, we had to pay (I think that was 3 years ago), but after your first trip, I’m not sure it’s worth paying for (then again, I think I’m spoiled by the Smithsonians :)).

    • December 19, 2011 5:47 pm

      Interesting! It looked like regular ice skating to me but I’m curious — is it still cold? Are you still wearing normal skates?

      • December 19, 2011 8:56 pm

        You wear normal skates (in fact they say you can bring your own if you have a pair…but it didn’t look like it would be too great for your blades). I don’t think the material itself is cold. It was kind of weird. Interesting, but not the same. I don’t think there’s any way you could spin or jump on it. And it’s REALLY small!

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