Columnist reviews the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Wildlights.

BY BROOKE MASON, ’22. PHOTO BY BELLA VANMETER , ’22.

Mesmerizing and seemingly magical, the Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium attract thousands of Central Ohio residents every year. As a kid, walking through the gates of the Zoo was like walking into a winter wonderland. I revisited the Wildlights this year in search of nostalgia and the holiday spirit. 

The Wildlights are open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Nov. 19, 2021, to Jan. 2, 2022. I visited on opening night, yet the line to enter the Zoo was short, and the Zoo was not overly crowded. 

Upon entering the Zoo, I was immersed in a scene from a Hallmark Christmas movie with classic Christmas songs and a variety of colorful, twinkling lights in every tree. 

Sacrificing ambiance for comfort, the Wildlights has several trashcan bonfires surrounded by fences that are intended to warm guests. I thought the fires give off minimal heat; however, it was around 40 degrees Fahrenheit when I visited the Zoo, and the fires are likely more effective in colder weather. 

I was impressed and surprised by the variety of lights throughout the Zoo. Along with classic lights, there were lights decorating the roofs of tunnels, icicle-looking lights seemingly falling from trees and animal-shaped lights. Near most exhibits, I noticed the lights would show what is typically seen in that exhibit, such as flamingos made up of pink lights outside the flamingo exhibit.

I had not visited the Wildlights since middle school and was pleasantly surprised when I realized some animal exhibits are open to the public; I loved seeing two baby Tasmanian devils, the elephants and all of the marine animals in Manatee Coast. While not all animals–such as the gorillas and polar bears—can be viewed during the Wildlights, guests can still see these animals before 4 p.m.

There is a decent range of food and drinks offered at the Wildlights. I was compelled to try the hot chocolate and admittedly, my expectations were low, but I was pleased with both the taste and price. It was fairly rich and flavorful and did not taste watered-down. Other food options included gingerbread cookies, soft pretzels and the S’mores Experience—guests can make s’mores for $3.99 plus tax. I would not plan on eating a full meal at the Zoo; instead, try the specialty snacks exclusive to the Wildlights. 

When I was leaving the Wildlights, an employee asked me if I had seen the grand Christmas tree; I had not. Likely overlooked due to its separation from the main area of the Zoo, a Christmas tree with lights synchronized to Christmas classics is seen. I loved the tree, and it was magical watching portions light up in sync with the music. 

All in all, I had a wonderful time at the Wildlights and would encourage you to visit with family or friends. I have two recommendations: bundle up and find the photo booth near Asia Quest for a one-of-a-kind souvenir.