The Cincinnati Zoo's Festival of Lights will begin Nov. 16, 2019, featuring 3 million lights. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: MARK DUMONT
Photo: MARK DUMONT

WORTH THE DRIVE: Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights is back and this year there’s a new Fiona Fairyland

Cincinnati Zoo’s PNC Festival of Lights opens Nov. 16

Are you prepared to be dazzled? The PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo returns for its 37th season this weekend.

Visitors can admire three million LED lights and larger-than-life animal lanterns as they light up the zoo creating this year’s theme, “Wild Wonderland.” 

This event was voted the No. 1 zoo lights in the nation by USA Today in 2018.

>> Countdown to Christmas: Tree lighting celebrations across Dayton

The brilliant lights aren’t the only draw. Families can take a ride on the Toyland Express train and carousel (starts at 4 p.m.), watch the Wild Lights show on Swan Lake, see a black-light puppet show, search for Fiona fairies in Fiona’s Fairyland and have photos taken with Santa Claus and meet his reindeer. See animals inside 12 indoor heated buildings.

Warm up with s’mores with a s’mores kit and roast them over an open fire (at three stations).

The PNC Festival of Lights begins Nov. 17 and runs through Jan. 1, 2019. CONTRIBUTED

NEW THIS YEAR

• Search for Fiona fairy statues in Fiona’s Fairyland

• Take holiday photos in the Hippo Hut, which will be decorated to provide a festive backdrop. 

• See more giant lanterns, including some that fit the soon-to-be-open Roo Valley theme. 

• See the stars in immersive “Northern Lights” light experience. 

• New walk-in entrance on Erkenbrecher Avenue.

LAST CHANCE

For the last time, a special viewing of The Polar Express 4-D Experience will be played in the FX4-D theater. Tickets for show time can be purchased in advance and shows begin at 4 p.m. That space will be transformed into a new food and retail space in 2020.

>> SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP: A preview of holiday offerings in charming downtown Tipp City

INSIDER TIPS

• To make your visit easier, and save money, plan-ahead pricing is available. Tickets can be purchased for select dates online in advance. Prices for traditionally lower traffic nights, such as Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, will be as much as half less than those purchased for the most popular nights. 

• Arrive early. Arrive anytime after 10 a.m. and stay for the lights. You can beat the traffic this way. Admission is the same whether you arrive before or after 4 p.m.

• Plan your route in advance with the help of map and guide.

>> 7 of our favorite holiday traditions

WHAT TO EAT/DRINK

• NEW Hops: Waffle pops with flavors like cookies and cream, cinnamon toast crunch or funfetti; funnel fries with chocolate sauce; cinnamon sugar pretzels. 

• Sweet Retreat: Seasonal doughnut flavors: toasted marshmallow with chocolate sauce, apple pie doughnuts with whipped topping and granola or cinnamon sugar doughnuts. Cinnamon sugar pretzels are also available. 

• The Coop: Smoked chicken grilled cheese with tomato soup

• Taco Caja: Dessert nachos, fried cinnamon sugar pita with caramel, whipped cream and crushed M&Ms, fried Oreo’s, or fried Snickers. 

• Wild Burger: Burgers, hot dogs, and corn dogs. Loaded fried are also available with toppings of bacon, cheddar, ranch, chili cheese or philly cheese.

• Outpost: Hot chocolate, domestic and craft beers, soft pretzels, popcorn, caramel corn, cinnamon roasted almonds and unnel cake. Counter service and outdoor seating available. 

• Smores N’ More: Feel the warmth over an open fire while roasting marshmallows. Purchase a single s’more or a family pack of s’mores (feeds a family of 4), hot chocolate, and caramel corn. Counter service and outdoor seating available. 

• LaRosas: Cheese or pepperoni pizza, garlic & cheese breadsticks, fountain soda and hot chocolate. Outdoor seating available. 

• Graeter’s: Choose from 12 of Graeter’s most popular flavors and plenty of toppings to go along with it. Hot chocolate, cinnamon roasted almonds, caramel corn or cookies. Indoor and outdoor seating available. 

• Roasted Almonds: Cinnamon almonds straight from the roaster. Hot chocolate, caramel corn and popcorn. Outdoor seating available.

• Tuskers: Cinnamon sugar pretzels, funnel cake, or hot chocolate. Six different types of domestic and craft beers, and bottled beverages. 

• Base Camp Café: Gourmet burgers, chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches, fresh french fries and homemade kettle chips, fresh salads, LaRosa’s pizza. Indoor and outdoor seating available. 

• Snack Shack: Located next to Historic Vine Street Village. Serving Almonds, Churros, Fresh Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts, Single and Family S’mores, Hot Chocolate, Pepsi Drinks 

• Candy Cane Cottage: Gourmet hot chocolates (Pumpkin Spice, Chocolate Covered Strawberry, or Candy Cane), caramel corn and cinnamon roasted almonds. Hot coffee or lattes available.

The PNC Festival of Lights begins Nov. 17 and runs through Jan. 1, 2019. CONTRIBUTED

WANT TO GO? 

WHAT: 37th Annual PNC Festival of Lights 

WHERE: The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati

WHEN: Nov. 16, 2019 to Jan. 4, 2020. Open Sundays through Thursdays from 5-9 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 5-10 p.m. Visits with Santa begin at 4 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving (open during the day), Christmas Eve (open during the day) and Christmas Day.

ADMISSION: Event is included with zoo admission. Admission varies for dates and times. Discount tickets available at Kroger. Plan-ahead pricing can be found at https://ticketstore.cincinnatizoo.org/ 

MORE INFO: Website 

X