For the past several years, the Zoological Society of San Diego has featured its main holiday events at the San Diego Zoo. This comes after years of hosting the Festival of Lights at the Wild Animal Park, as it was called at the time. Read on for tales of holiday cheer and extended hours.
Jungle Bells is not quite the same experience as the Festival of Lights, which was scuttled in part due to the destruction of decorations by the 2007 Witch Creek fire. The main draw of Festival of Lights were mirthful atmosphere of Nairobi Village and the cold, wintery feel of walking the Park’s secluded back trails. The layout of the Safari Park allowed the grounds crew to centralize their light displays and decorations, whereas to zoo leads to a more scatterbug approach.
Although Jungle Bells can’t quite live up to my fond memories of Festival of Lights, it is still something worth experiencing. Guests are greeted with light displays above the front entrance and immediately upon entering the grounds. On the right, the Conservation Tree towers above visitors on Front Street. It is lit daily at 4:55 pm. On the left, the Bell Ringer’s Welcome enlists a local youth hand-bell choir to receive guests at 5, 6 and 7 pm.
Elsewhere around the zoo, you can take the kids for a picture with Santa in front of the Reptile House, marvel at the acrobatic maneuvers of the Jumpin’ Jammin’ Elves in the Urban Jungle or listen to live violinists at the Angels with Strings show in Wegeforth’s Bowl.
So that takes care of most of the program information. Here are some of our experiences that may help you further enjoy your trip.
First, take the SkyFari Aerial Tram after dark. It will give you a great view of the downtown skyline, the festive Front Plaza and most especially, the illuminated California Tower rising out of the darkness. Take the aerial tram also allows you to easily get to Elephant Odyssey (those unfamiliar with the zoo are susceptible to getting lost in the dark), which is the best-suited major attraction for nighttime viewing…
Second, go to Elephant Odyssey. The area is fairly well-lit, so you can still see the elephants roam their giant yards and watch the African lions and jaguar prowl. In fact, you can often hear the African and Transylvanian lions communicating to each other at night. Their growls can be heard from most areas of the zoo.
Third, grab a hot chocolate with whipped cream. You know you want to. We got ours after exiting the aerial tram at Skyfari West.
Fourth, check out the Children’s Zoo. I’ve already been over this before, but lest I remind you, you don’t need to have kids to enjoy the CZ. Here you will have a good shot of seeing the nocturnal fennec fox––one of my favorite animals in the entire zoo. You can also visit the Insect House until 7 pm. You may also see the Southwest African meerkats and rock hyraxes in snuggle piles under the heat lamps in their warm dens. There is also the interactive “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” family show at the Clark Theater.
Fifth, if you have young kids, catch the Tinseltown Trolley. Pulled by a tractor covered in Christmas lights, the smallish tram tours the zoo’s light displays and gives riders the choice to sing along with Christmas carols. You can hop on the tram from Front Plaza––it’s pretty unmistakable.
Jungle Bells runs through January 1, with extended hours. The listed hours of operation are 9 am to 8 pm, but we left at 8:15 without hearing any announcements. That leads me to believe the gates close at 8, but grounds close at 8:30 or 9. Members received 10% gift store purchases throughout the month and at least one shop we browsed in, Treehouse Trader, had a sale advertised on all gifts.
A couple of side notes really quick. If you haven’t read my post about my plan to take a few needy local children (along with their parent or guardian) on a zoo adventure, please do so. Nominate someone you know and help me spread the word! Also, I still haven’t finished my series on the Children’s Zoo (parts One and Two here) but I will soon, hopefully.