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The 1,300 creatures living on the grounds of the nation’s oldest zoo are sharing their winter evenings with a sparkling holiday display.
Called LumiNature, the one-of-a-kind exhibition is back at the Philadelphia Zoo after a year off for the pandemic. Organizers say 1 million LEDs were used to create the light show, which is bigger and more expansive than the inaugural edition in 2019.
After you enter at the front gate, the path loops around nearly the entire 42-acre campus (here’s a PDF map). You don’t see any live animals, since the rest of the zoo is dark, but you will find a dozen themed sections, dotted by several spots to get a snack or sit down for a break.
Christmas trees figure prominently in this year’s exhibit. There’s one constructed entirely of pink flamingos, and another covered with hundreds of carved and painted butterflies. A grove of trees features decorations by different West Philly community groups (you can vote for your favorite), and another area is towered over by a “tree” topped with a giant illuminated octopus.
Many of the light installations change color, so it’s worth waiting at some of the more photogenic spots to capture the perfect mix. Music also plays at different points throughout.
Costumed actors enliven several stopping points. There seem to be fewer live performers than two years ago, but the talent on display is impressive, from sultry saxophone playing to giant bubble-making.
Overall, it’s one of those experiences that can be enjoyed by people of any age.
There’s enough space to allow everyone to have a good time — if you’re out on date night, you can easily bypass families with strollers — and the main pathway is ADA accessible.
LumiNature is open 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Sunday until Jan. 9, except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Timed tickets are required for entry: $25 for adults and $20 for kids 2 to 11.
Scroll down for a photo preview of what to expect when you go.
Depending when you arrive, you might have to wait in line to enter, but things move relatively quickly. Be sure to have your tickets ready with your phone screen on its brightest setting.
Trees covered in LEDs welcome you to the start of the path, fronted by a changing-color illustrated archway.
The giant snake sculpture curves 21 feet up, resting its head next to a stretch of the Zoo’s innovative Big Cat Crossing network.
Peppermint pink and white surround the next section, presaging the flamingos soon to come.
Before you get to them, the path takes you by a “The Winter of Love” selfie and portrait stop.
More than 500 plastic flamingos sacrificed themselves for this totally out-of-place, totally perfect treeform.
A performer on stilts with illuminated wings is the first live actor you’ll meet.
Food are available from a variety of vendors. There’s also hot chocolate — spiked if you want it — plus other drinks.
Heaters are placed around some of the picnic tables so you can stop to eat or sip without freezing.
A rotating globe of video screens is almost too bright, taking away from the impressive curtain of LED strands that ripple with different colors around it.
Colors pulse across the “aquarium” tunnel. Sculptures outside are meant to evoke jellyfish and seaweed.
In late November, the tunnel was still construction, but will eventually reach 100 feet.
Don’t forget to turn around periodically to find new angles of all the scenery.
Some of the areas have optional detours, like this wood-and-rope crossing bridge.
Staying with the nautical theme are rocks covered in glow-in-the-dark shapes that resemble plankton.
King Octopus on its tree throne.
A performer making truly giant bubbles turns a bend in the road into a miniature fantasyland.
The bubbles are just as much fun when they pop.
Some areas have a bit less going on, which is a nice visual respite from all the sparkle.
More than 200 penguin cut-outs line different parts of the trail.
A live saxophonist plays well despite the cold. By this time on the tour, your family or group may have the performer all to themselves.
Each tree in the “Our Neck of the Woods” display was decorated by a different group of students, families, or neighborhood partners throughout West Philadelphia, where the zoo makes its home.
Following the community trees is a 22-foot edition covered in butterflies. Holiday card photo, anyone?
An up-close look at the butterfly tree. Each piece is intricately designed and decorated.
The final section is a weird display of video projectors showing a movie that looks like it’s from the Discovery Channel. Per a press release, it’s supposed to highlight “the beauty and diversity of our planet, celebrating creatures, climates and cultures on seven continents.”
Still, it’s an experience you and the kids will remember.