Coyote with cactus at the Phoenix Zoo Lights

Each year, The Phoenix Zoo is transformed into a winter wonderland with millions of colorful lights. This year, the zoo sparkles with over 4 million colorful lights and 700 unique themed displays. Other holiday events include ice sculpting demonstrators (unfortunately only on Thursdays), a synchronized light and music show featuring songs from The Polar Express and the Trans Siberian Orchestra, various 3D themed displays, and a special 4D Polar Express show.

Walking through the synchronized light show at the Phoenix Zoo.
Walking through the synchronized light show at the Phoenix Zoo.

The Phoenix Zoo Lights is one of the biggest light displays in the country. As there is not an abundance of holiday activities in the Phoenix area, a winter visit to the zoo is a must. As Winter Lights is crowded and a bit pricey, a daytime visit to the zoo may be a great alternative for those who wish to avoid crowds. The zoo is beautifully landscaped with natural animal enclosures and great views of the surrounding desert flora and fauna. It doesn’t get overly crowded and it’s a great way to spend some of your time outside in Phoenix as opposed to walking around endless malls.

A quick tour of some of the zoo’s best exhibits

Monkey at the Phoenix Zoo
Flamingos at the Phoenix Zoo
A beautiful lion at the Phoenix Zoo
Beautiful views on a daytime visit to the Phoenix Zoo.
Beautiful views on a daytime visit to the Phoenix Zoo.

While you will get to enjoy many colorful lights at this event, be aware that it is not as extravagant as some other big city zoo lights. In my opinion, a bit of disorganization esp with the parking, too many crowds, and too little effort put into the overall design of the event. There was also nothing Christmassy about it – no Christmas tree, no Christmas or winter themed displays, no candy cane themed lights, etc. The only Christmas themed display was a tree made out of water jugs to show how much water an average resident of the Valley uses in a single day.

Trees made out of water jugs Phoenix Zoo

For starters, only a small section of the zoo was open for the event. The crowds were on par with a trip to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. If they had opened up the entire zoo for this event (as has been the case in every other Zoo Lights event I have attended), then the crowds would have been more dispersed and guests would have enjoyed a much more pleasant holiday experience. Zoo Lights should be a quiet event where you take in beautiful lights and enjoy a nice night stroll around the zoo, not a noisy Disney-like experience!

I also recommend they offer an Adult’s only night as Lincoln Park Zoo successfully started this year. This would enable couples to enjoy a date night destination without so many loud kids and strollers to navigate around. Also, a local’s only night would be a great idea as Phoenix gets so many visitors during the mild winter months and locals should have an opportunity to visit the zoo without so many tourists.

In addition, because the event was so busy, the main parking lot was completely full. Thus, guests had to walk several blocks from another parking lot. Very inconvenient, especially for the high prices everyone was paying.

Not one animal was seen during our visit, probably because the majority of the sections of the zoo with animal enclosures were completely closed off. The few animal enclosures we passed were dark and empty. Unfortunately, Phoenix Zoo has no indoor enclosures, so do not expect to see many at this time. It would have been nice to see a few animals while strolling around, unfortunately, the event was basically narrowed down to just the small section around the pond. In fact, we had to walk around 3 times just to feel like we got our money’s worth!

Another downside was the light display itself. Yes, there are a ton of lights: 4 million to be exact. However, millions of lights doesn’t equal a great display! It simply was not attractively designed. In addition, I wish they would have decorated more cactuses and palm trees to make it more unique to the area. For a smaller, yet much more organized and attractive display, check out Bearizona in Northern Arizona. They also have a much nicer synchronized light show with better music!