The Return of Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

It’s beginning to look a lot like Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium! One of Central Ohio’s most cherished holiday traditions, Wildlights, efficiently powered by AEP Ohio, opened on Friday, November 19. This ever-popular, family-friendly event will run through Sunday, January 2, 2022.

It’s been an exciting year at the zoo for annual passholders like myself, with major new additions including the Tidal Twist roller coaster and the debut of the awesome Zombiezi Bay Halloween event. Tidal Twist is even included in our 2022 Calendar on sale now and benefiting Give Kids the World.

This year marks the 33rd Wildlights season and offers more holiday cheer than ever before. The entire Zoo has been transformed into a winter wonderland covered in millions of LED lights. Guests can also look forward to the following main Wildlights attractions:

  • Sparkling Spruce, presented by Diamond Cellar, featuring two animated light displays, “Candela: The Evolution of Light” and “Holiday Cheer,” located in Adventure Cove
  • Animated Light Displaysincluding “Holiday Rhythms Around the Watering Hole” at Conservation Lake, and “Jingle Ball,” presented by Nationwide, at the Shores Play Park
  • Wildlights Rides, including the Polar Bear Express, a train ride through the North America Winter Wonderland; Camel Rides, located in the North America region; and the 1914 Mangels-Illions Carousel, a historic Central Ohio treasure located near the Columbus Dispatch Charities Grand Pavilion. Additional fees may apply.
  • S’mores Experience – New last year and back by popular demand, this socially-distanced activity provides guests with the opportunity to gather around a glowing fire to roast their own giant marshmallow. Additional fees apply.
  • Santa Experience at Polar Frontier, located in the North America Region at the Battelle Ice Bear Outpost. Enjoy the ability to speak with Santa, as well as take part in a safe and fun photo opportunity. Please see the “Know Before You Go” section below for more information. Additional fees may apply. Please note that Santa will not be available after December 23 due to other obligations.
  • The Polar Express™ 4D Experience® – Guests are invited on an extraordinary 4D adventure this holiday season on THE POLAR EXPRESS™! When a doubting young boy takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe. THE POLAR EXPRESS™ 4D Experience® is based on the inspiring and beloved Caldecott Medal winning children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. Additional fees may apply.
  • And, of course, amazing animals! While some animals may be able to be seen in their outdoor habitats, other animals will be visible from the comfort of heated, indoor viewing areas, including Manatee Coast, Discovery Reef, the Naomi Coyle Dempsey Quest for Enlightenment Interpretive Center, Vanishing Giants, Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village, the Reptile Building, and Bob & Evelyn’s Roadhouse Nocturnal Building. Others—including the sea lions at Adventure Cove and, of course, the reindeer—will be outside during the festivities. Please note that some animals settle in early (such as the gorillas, bonobos and polar bears) and will not be available to view after 4 p.m.

See many of the highlights mentioned above in this short walk-around video we took during a member preview event:

Regular Zoo hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily while Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo activities take place Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Please note he Zoo will be closed Thanksgiving Day (November 25) and Christmas Day (December 25), as well as for Wildlights on Christmas Eve (December 24). Wildlights is included with Zoo admission. Regular admission rates apply to all guests, and admission is free for Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Members.
wildlights at the columbus zoo

For this year’s Santa experience, guests are encouraged to make reservations online for this experience to help regulate the number of guests at the activity. Guests will have the ability to speak with Santa, as well as get a photo near Santa while he is in his sleigh and a few of his reindeer adorn the “housetop.” Strollers will be permitted inside the building but not near the photo set. Guests are also permitted to take their own photos but only at a designated location after the professional photograph is taken. There is no cost to see Santa, and guests who would like to purchase photos taken during the experience may do so for an additional fee. Parking and Wildlights admission are not included with this experience.

Learn more about Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on their website.