Last weekend we hit up the Zoo Lights at Portland’s Oregon Zoo, an attraction that attracts thousands of families every year. It was our first time going, and I’d looked forward to it since we became zoo members in the summer.
Going with a toddler presented its own challenges, though. Peeper hasn’t cultivated the Christmas spirit and wonder yet, and she’s more interested in pushing her stroller than gazing at million-watt displays.
Despite the tears and the frustrations, I’m glad we went, and we’ll for sure go again next year—when Peeper will probably appreciate it more. If you’re still planning a trip to Zoo Lights with your toddler (and the event runs until January 4, so you have plenty of time), here are a few tidbits of advice to make the process a little smoother. Enjoy!
Go early. The zoo’s web site says the festivities don’t start til 5, but most lights are turned on closer to 4. It’ll take you a while to get through the lines anyway, and you’ll want to make it home before your tot has a too-close-to-bedtime meltdown in front of the penguin lights.
Do the train first. If you do get train tickets, get in line immediately. The queue soon becomes never-ending, and I wish you all the luck in the world if you try to get a squirmy toddler to be patient in those conditions.
Beware the train. Peeper is extremely sensitive to noise—the blender, the vacuum, even an electric razor. We didn’t scoot past the train quickly enough and when it blasted its choo-choo (no doubt delighting 99% of the other children), Peeper lost it. So if your little isn’t a fan of loud sounds, either, dart past the train as fast as you possibly can.
Reconsider your group plans. We had originally invited a few other families to join us at Zoo Lights, but in retrospect I’m glad they couldn’t make it. Peeper wandered in little circles in the middle of the pathway, and it would have been stressful to shepherd her to what everyone else wanted to see.
Find the Fragile Forest. There’s only so many lights a toddler’s attention span can handle. When you’ve passed that threshold, go to the Fragile Forest. When we went, we saw monkeys, giant fish, turtles and even a huge snake.
Bundle up. This is a tad obvious, but dress your toddler in lots of layers. Peeper wore fleece leggings beneath her pants and legwarmers; she wore a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater and a coat; and a hat and mittens. She stayed pretty toasty under all that and didn’t even look like Randy from A Christmas Story. Well, not too much, anyway.
Abandon all your expectations. My Facebook and Instagram feeds have been sparkly with friends’ family photos at Zoo Lights. I had my sights set on a Ryan Gregory family picture in the lights tunnel (wouldn’t that make a great Christmas card photo?). Yet when we got there, Peeper was in no mood to tolerate standing still, let alone smiling at a stranger. After a few attempts by a well-meaning gentleman, I gave up. We moved on, and despite not getting any decent photos of all of us together, we were all happier for it.
Of course this last piece of advice could be my parenting advice tattoo (or a bumper sticker that makes me millions!), it holds up especially well with toddlers at Zoo Lights. You don’t really know what they’ll be into and what they’ll completely ignore, so just roll with it.
Did you go to Zoo Lights? Any advice you’d share?