PNC Festival of Lights opens at Cincinnati Zoo this weekend

Festival of lights returns to Cincinnati Zoo

AVONDALE, Ohio (FOX19) - The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s PNC Festival of Lights returns this weekend with three million lights and attractions galore.

The best-rated zoo lights display in the country according to a 2018 USA Today poll opens to zoo members Friday night and the general public Saturday. It runs through Jan. 4.

New features at Cincinnati Zoo's PNC Festival of Lights

Hours will be 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

Vote Now | The zoo needs you help to reclaim its top stop in USA Today’s Best Zoo Lights contest for 2019

PNC Festival of Lights is in its 37th year, having started as a way to increase visitors during winter months. The first displays included luminaries and some seasonal lighting.

Since then, the zoo has added train rides, costumed characters, a 35-foot tree covered in lights, giant animal lanterns, musical lights shows, black-light puppet theatre, a nativity scene, a reindeer village, a rainbow tunnel, Santa’s north pole village and more.

Festival-goers have also taken to the selection of hot chocolate, funnel cake, roasted almonds and s’mores.

Not all animal exhibits are closed for the event. Guests can see the animals in heated buildings, including World of the Insect, Manatee Springs, Night Hunters, Gorilla World and the recently renovated Wings of the World bird house.

Then, of course, there are the lights.

It reportedly takes 25 workers and 100 volunteers over 5,000 hours to install the show’s 120,000 strings of lights totaling 284 miles long.

Quite the electric bill, though it’s not as large as it once was. After switching to LED lights, officials say, the zoo has saved $50,000 annually, enough to power 30 homes throughout the year.

Additions to the 2019 PNC Festival of Lights include:

  • Fiona fairy statues in the new Fiona’s Fairyland;
  • Holiday photo ops in the Hippo Hut, which will be decorated to provide a festive backdrop;
  • Even more giant lanterns, including some that fit the soon-to-be-opened Roo Valley theme;
  • A new, immersive ‘Northern Lights’ light experience;
  • A new walk-in zoo entrance on Erkenbrecher Avenue;
  • More holiday-themed snacks, including waffle pops and funnel fries, and beverages including craft beer at the new “Hops” craft beer garden.
  • And back by popular demand, the zoo is hosting Happy Zoo Year on Monday, Dec. 31 from 5-9 p.m. for kids and families with an early ‘zoo’ year countdown starting at 8:55 p.m. and featuring party favors and fireworks.

Additionally, the zoo says 2019 will be the last year for the 4D Theater and The Polar Express. After Festival of Lights ends Jan. 4, 2020, the space will be transformed into a new food and retail space.

The zoo also announced plan-ahead pricing, allowing guests to save by purchasing tickets for select dates online in advance. Prices for traditionally lower-traffic nights, such as Mondays and Tuesdays, will be less expensive than those purchased for the popular nights, the zoo says.

Prices are based on demand, so buying early will net the best rate.

Discount tickets are available at any area Kroger, the zoo says, good for $2 off adult and $1 off child admission any night of the event.

Find out more information about the Festival of Lights on the zoo’s website.

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