This past Saturday we traded our snugly PJs for a night out on the town. Our destination? The Holiday Lights at Essex County’s Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ. Was it worth it? Yes! The Turtle Back Zoo is offering free admission to the Holiday Lights every night until January 4th from 5-9 pm. What a wonderful way to spend some quality family time together and get into the holiday spirit!
We had a great visit to the Turtle Back Zoo this past summer, but there was something really special about going at night and seeing the beautiful twinkling lights brightening up each pathway.
We arrived to the zoo last Saturday night around 4:45 pm. We thought we were arriving early, but it seemed to be the busiest time. We waited in a long line of cars approaching the zoo, and just as we pulled in, we were turned away from the zoo’s parking garage with a “lot full” sign. Luckily, directly across the street there was a restaurant parking lot that was large and offered additional zoo parking. It was actually more convenient than the parking garage. I would also suggest parking in the McLoone’s Boathouse/Safari Golf parking lot. It’s just a short walk away from the zoo entrance, and will save you time waiting in a line of cars.
The entrance of the Holiday Lights at the Zoo had several photo ops. There was someone dressed as Rudolph, a large bright LED Christmas tree with a real-looking sculpture of Santa sitting on a bench in front of the tree, and a countdown to Christmas calendar. We snapped a quick family picture in front of Frosty and made our way inside the gates. Speaking of Frosty, it was cold! I was really glad we layered and bundled up. I even put G in her snow suit. John teased me and said I was being like Ralphie’s mom in A Christmas Story, but I was glad I ignored him!
Although the parking issue was a bit of a frenzy, the zoo itself was expansive and didn’t feel too crowded. There were many people visiting, but there was room to stroll around and enjoy the sights. G has been boycotting her stroller lately, so she actually walked a decent part of the zoo herself. I’m pretty sure she was propelled by her excitement because there were a lot of steep hills! I should have just brought my umbrella stroller so she could hop in and out.
There was holiday music playing throughout the zoo and beautiful lights everywhere. One of the parts that we enjoyed the most was the fact that you could still see the animals-after all we were at the zoo! The llamas were hanging out in their homes, the buffalo were strolling around, the peacocks were loose and roaming, and the swans were swimming…actually I think there were seven swans a swimming…The barn was open to see the sheep, horses, pigs, and donkeys. The Touch Tank and Reptile House were open as well. G loves animals and really enjoyed the thrill of seeing them at night with all the other excitement around.
There was an opportunity for pictures with real Santa in Santa’s Workshop. We didn’t opt to do that, but I took a quick peak inside and there was not a long line at all. There were pretty long lines however for the carousel ride $2 and free train ride. There was also a Make Your Own Smores Station ($3 each). The zoo cafeteria was open as well if you wanted to warm up with some hot chocolate or snacks.
We ended the night with a visit to Santa’s sled. This is on the way in/out of the zoo. G was really excited to see the reindeer and wanted to climb into the sled. To bad when she got up there and saw fake Santa, she was not thrilled…Mom to the rescue-although I thought fake Santa was pretty unsettling too!
We had such a great night at the Holiday Lights at the Zoo! It was so nice to be outside strolling to Christmas music at such a wonderful free event; if you’re in the spirit of giving, donations of canned food and toys are accepted. Visiting the zoo was a great way to get into the holiday spirit, and slow down and enjoy the magic of the season.