Over the holidays, families come together in the spirit of the season. Whether you are the one traveling or playing host, you might be looking for something to do that the whole family can enjoy. This year, we invite you to consider spending quality family time together, supporting a local organization and experiencing holiday magic all at the same time—by visiting your local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium!
From Breakfast With Santa events to spectacular holiday light displays, the 223 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are all celebrating in their own ways.
To find the contact information for your local accredited zoo or aquarium, please visit http://www.aza.org/findzooaquarium/
Be sure to visit the zoo or aquarium’s website or call ahead for information about holiday events and hours.
Here are some examples of the festivities taking place:
Denver Zoo: Zoo Lights
Guests of Denver Zoo’s Zoo Lights, Presented By Your Neighborhood Toyota Stores, will experience the event in a whole new light this year. In addition to featuring a brand new layout, the 22nd annual celebration, running nightly November 30, 2012-January 2, 2013, from 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., will celebrate cultural traditions, introduce a special train ride and illuminate the Zoo’s newest exhibit, Toyota Elephant Passage, with lanterns.
Denver Zoo will be transformed to a wild winter wonderland as guests wander under the canopy of lights throughout themed regions at this year’s Zoo Lights. Families can journey to the North Pole region to visit with Santa, enjoy tasty treats at Ms. Claus’ Sweet Shop and take a spin on the carousel. In this region kids can also take Denver Zoo’s historic train ride, revamped this year with a special theme. Kids can help spot animals from long ago at the Yesterday’s Zoo Train Experience. During the ride they will hear the story of Yesterday’s Zoo, a place where now extinct animals roam, while learning why it’s important to help today’s animals and seeing characters from the book.
Also new this year is the Festival of Lanterns illuminating Denver Zoo’s new award-winning exhibit Toyota Elephant Passage. More than 200 Asian lanterns of various shapes, colors and sizes will shine above the exhibit’s walkways with LED light, while guests can get warm and see elephants, fishing cats and small-clawed otters in the indoor buildings. The Celebration! Pavilion will also celebrate cultural traditions from around the world through dance, music and storytelling every evening of the event. Entertainment will include African storytellers and mariachi bands.
The holiday tradition is made complete with 40 brilliantly-illuminated acres of lights, featuring more than 150 animated animal sculptures that swing through trees, jump across lawns, hide in bushes and appear in places where they’re least expected. Numerous Denver Zoo animals also can be seen throughout the experience including polar bears, sea lions, arctic foxes, Komodo dragons, giraffes, hippos and rhinos. Penguins can also be seen at a nightly demonstration.
Festivities also will include live animal demonstrations, carolers, instrumental groups, ice carvers, delicious holiday treats at warming stations throughout the Zoo and the ever-popular Zoo Year’s Eve party. For more information, please visit www.denverzoo.org.
Mystic Aquarium: Winter Waterland
Mystic Aquarium’s Winter Waterland holiday celebration returns Saturdays and Sundays in December and Thursday, December 27 – Tuesday, January 1 with festive entertainment for all to enjoy. This month-long series of events features visits from Santa, elves diving among fish, live music by local artists, seasonal crafts and scavenger hunts–all against a backdrop of fascinating marine animals and holiday décor.
This year’s holiday décor reflects the native habitats of aquarium animals. The Arctic Coast, home to four beluga whales, glimmers with a cluster of trees covered in snowflakes, icicles and silver ornaments. The Pacific Northwest, home to sea lions and seals, features trees with pine cones, bird nests and berries, while trees at the Roger Tory Peterson Penguin Pavilion celebrate resident African penguins. Additional festive décor throughout the aquarium is inspired by Hanukah, Kwanzaa and Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below, the aquarium’s exhibit dedicated to the historic ship.
Guests can also enjoy The Polar Express 4-D Experience, a holiday favorite brought to life with the visual drama of a 3-D film and a variety of sensory effects, including wind, snow and scents. The Polar Express 4-D Experience is included with Mystic Aquarium membership and the value ticket option, or tickets may be purchased inside the aquarium for $6 each.
For more information, please visit www.mysticaquarium.org
Nashville Zoo: Historic Home Christmas Tours
This holiday season, celebrate a traditional Victorian Christmas by touring the Nashville Zoo’s Historic Croft Home! Yuletide tours will be held December 15-16.
The home is decked for the holiday season with greenery, ribbon and vintage decorations that had been collected over the years by Margaret and Elise Croft, the former tenants of the Grassmere property whose family owned the land and home for five generations. The tour not only highlights these items but also explains how some Christmas traditions that started during that time period are still honored today.
Tours start daily at 10 a.m. and run on the half hour, with the last tour beginning at 3 p.m. The tour is included with Zoo admission. Private tours are also available on weekdays. To book a private tour, please complete an online reservation request, or contact Tori Mason, historic Croft House manager, at or 615-833-1534 ext. 316.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: “Noon Year”
The entire family can celebrate the New Year a little early at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s annual Noon Year’s Eve party from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, December 31 featuring kid-friendly versions of year-end traditions.
The seventh annual Noon Year’s Eve will ring in 2013 with a dance party hosted by Radio Disney, a countdown to noon complete with a ball drop on the Welcome Plaza, crafts, Get Close animal encounters, “Safe Rides for All Kids” activities and plenty of photo opportunities with the Zoo’s costumed characters.
Visitors also can make their New Year’s ReZOOlutions and see a special holiday performance of Professor Wylde’s Live Animal Show.
Visitors to Noon Year’s Eve are encouraged to arrive early as traffic delays around the Zoo may occur before the noontime countdown and ball drop.
For more information, visit www.clemetzoo.com