Why we hated our trip to Oregon Zoo Lights

My family and I decided to become members of the Oregon Zoo and head off to Zoo Lights. We went, we saw, we had a horrible time, and we can't wait to go back again! The lights were beautiful. At first, everyone was so happy to be there. Millie's eyes lit up prettier than the lights at the Oregon Zoo! She was a 2 year old experiencing all of these beautiful lights! Will and Brina shared a sweet moment together looking over the lights. It was beautiful, it really was. It had the potential to be the perfect Christmas outing for the whole family. 

It wasn't a great family event. We hated it. 

The Calm Before the Freeze - Sabrina and Will

We froze, we paid $70 for hot chocolate, there was no parking available, and we hadn't come prepared to take the max. There wasn't even disability parking available. We stood in the longest of lines for the both the train, and that aforementioned $70 hot chocolate, and it was 28 degrees outside! To top it all off, we barely saw any of the lights!

There's a positive side to this story though! We made soooo many mistakes! Mistakes that after having read this, you won't have to make! Next year, we'll be warmer, we'll be prepared, and we'll bring our own hot chocolate. I can't wait to go again next year! So what could we have done to improve our end result? 

Visit ZooLights Early in the Season

According to Zoo staff, most people wait until school is out for Winter Break to visit the zoo for ZooLights, or they go on the weekend. So, if you want to beat those lines head to the zoo early in the season, before school is out, preferably on a weeknight. That's our plan for next for your sure! In fact, we can go right before our membership expires, this way, if a new membership isn't in the budget, we get that extra value! If it is in the budget, perfect time to renew! 

Bring Hand Warmers and Hot Chocolate to Oregon ZooLights!

It was cold! Like really really cold. The initial plan is to go on not so cold of a night next year... but... the colder nights usually are the dryer ones, so it can be a trade-off. One of our group really didn't dress for the cold and had a really terrible time. It's not a bad idea to pack a bag of 'extra's' just in case you have one of these in your group, it really changes the atmosphere to know someone's freezing. I felt terrible for him and wished I could have done something for him. I brought some leftover hand warmers my sister had, and they were a lifesaver. We only wished we had more!

We also waited a good 20 minutes in line for hot chocolate and pretzels. The pretzel machine had gone on the fritz, and instead of telling us all, we waited, and we waited. When we got to the front of the line, and ordered our 7 hot chocolates and 2 pretzels, for about $70 one girl made our hot chocolates, and the other... watched. Not the best part of the experience at all. Especially given the fact that we could have gone to Goodwill, or Dollar Tree, or ANYWHERE, and bought our own mugs, and brought our own hot chocolate. So that's the plan for next eyar. Bring own hot beverages, or chilled wine.. Hmm wonder if wine's an option!?

Plan to Ride the Max or Go VIP

We drove expecting to park at the Zoo. We were prepared to pay for that privilege, and even had a disabled parking permit.  There was NO parking available, even on the 29 degree night we went on. None. Zip Zero Zilch. So we drove to Sunset Transit Center and parked there. Then we bought the entire family day passes to ride Tri-Met.   For the most current Tri-Met fares, click HERE. It looks like we could have saved some time in the cold by buying our passes before we ever left our house.

The Washington Park stop is right underneath of the Zoo entrance inside a beautiful tunnel full of amazing art and interesting facts. If you're not a member of the Zoo, this year, you would have saved $5 per ticket by showing proof of fare (your max ticket). We, as you'll read below, found value in the membership. If the max isn't your thing, the Zoo has set up this handy page with a few other options.

There's Value for Big Families in Membership

If you've been reading the blog, you know we roll big. We're a big family, and we travel that way too. For this particular adventure, there were 5 adults, 1 teen, and a 2 year old in attendance. At peak rates, that would be 14.95 times the 4 adults, and the 1 teen. So 14.95x5. So that's $89.70 for the group. Next year, the 2 year old will be another $10 if the prices remain the same. So this year though, that's about $90 to get everyone into the Zoo for a few hours.

We opted to purchase a membership instead. Here's the option we chose:

Patron $169

  • Personalized cards for 2 named adults (The hubs and I). Both adults must reside at the same address.
  • Up to 6 children and or teens per visit (18 & under)
  • 2 guests per visit
  • Note there's an additional perk below that lets you have another guest pass if you take Max.

So we paid the $169, and one of our adults, my fantastic daughter in the National Guard, paid for herself. So the total for entry, $183.95. Which is About double what we could have gotten in for had we just paid the price of admission! Heck, if we'd gone on a value night, it probably would have been SOOO much more crowded, but we could have gotten in for a whopping $69.96.

Just for the record by the way, it might feel like I'm trying to sell you a Zoo membership here. This is not a sponsored post. This is simply my honest review of the package that we bought, and our ZooLights experience. We received nothing in exchange.

Now here's what we got with our Oregon Zoo membership:


  • Bi-weekly e-newsletter with latest Zoo news   ----- Hmm I must have these going to spam. Going to have to look them up.
  •  Purchase a Nanny Pass for $40 (admits one named adult on your membership) --- To be honest, we decided this wasn't an awesome deal, it would allow my daughter to take her own daughter for free though. We're the grandparents. Do you agree with our assessment?

Membership or No, buy your tickets to ZooLights in advance!

If you're not interested in spending an hour or so in line waiting to enter the Zoo, as much fun as I'm sure that is, you can buy your tickets to Oregon's ZooLights online and bypass the line. So that means you can buy your ZooLights tickets online, you can buy your Max tickets online, and if you're taking my advice, don't buy your train tickets online, seriously, skip the damn train.

Skip the Damn Oregon ZooLights Train

We probably waited a good half hour freezing in the cold with a restless and by then cranky 2 year old for what seemed like a 15 minute train ride, with a restless and cranky two year old. She wanted to reach out of the train, she wanted to jump from seat to seat. It was freezing outside, and the metal seats of the open-air train were freezing too. You can't even see most of the ZooLights from the train.

I mean if you happen into the Zoo, and by some miracle of fate there's no line for the train, well ALL-ABOARD! It wasn't a terrible ride, but if you buy a ticket for 7:15, do not get it into your head that the train is going to be boarding at 7:15. You'd be doing good to be aboard by 8:30. What would be wonderful is if the coffee shops, or restaurants were open, and they announced which train seating was scheduling, giving you about 5 minutes to get to the station.

We Can't Wait to Go Back to Zoolights in 2018!

So some of the mistakes we made were not bringing enough clothing to be warm. Not bringing enough hand-warmers to go around. We rented a stroller, it was a godsend, but bringing our own wagons would make things much easier, one for Millie, and one for things like, Hot Chocolate! We didn't plan to take the max, and we didn't spring for the VIP package.  One of those two is a must. We overpaid for hot coco, but at least we got cool collector cups. We spent to much time in the cold, waiting in lines, when we could have been on the move, looking at lights! Next year, I'll have collected cups from thrift shops, or perhaps gather some of last years. I'll buy at least one box of 40 hand warmers, I'll go on the perfect, day, a weeknight before school's out. We won't be taking the train, no we will not... and just in case, I'll grab a couple extra hoodies and a pair of sweat pants or two.

Posted in Fam Travels.