The weekends leading up to Christmas can become so chaotic but we happened to have a free evening. One of the events we’d had in mind this year was to visit the Zoo Lights at Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. With relatively mild temperatures one evening last weekend, we decided it was now or never, given what Wisconsin weather can do.
Beginning the day after Thanksgiving and running every Thursday-Sunday until December 29th this year, this is a unique event here in Madison during the holidays. Henry Vilas Zoo is located downtown Madison and is a great place year-round, with it’s free admission and variety of events throughout the year. Katie had visited the Zoo Lights a couple years ago but Sara and another family had wanted to see it as well.
The admission is $7 per person or a family 4-pack for $25 that can be purchased in advance online or at the gate. (Carousel rides are included in this price!) All proceeds go directly towards supporting the zoo animals as well. You can spend as much time as you’d like during the hours of 5:30-9pm. It was quite the mix of aged groups – some extended families, parents and young kids, and many young adult couples and groups as well. Earlier in the week, an adult-friendly event called Brew Lights was held here and looked appealing for the parents next year!
We had an early dinner at Waypoint Public House – good food and cocktails. It was chosen since it’s a pretty open and loud dining room, which is actually ideal when dining out with four young kids on a Friday night 🙂 We sat down for dinner around 4:45pm and had no trouble getting a large table. We had dinner and arrived to the zoo around 6pm.
After getting everyone’s tickets, our first stop was the little glowing hut that said “Bar” 🙂 Here, they sold both hot cocoa and apple cider…including the spiked versions for us adults. Throughout the zoo, there were a couple smaller snack stands with ice cream (brrr!) and treats, as well as souvenirs. All the people working were so friendly, and we learned that, at least everyone we had talked to, was a volunteer for the event.
(Note: some pretty poor photography ahead!)
From here, we strolled a bit more leisurely than usual with a total of 7 young kids in tow. The biggest challenge was keeping them all together and constantly yelling at them to not run off into the dark! Because the lights are the display, the rest of the grounds are kept very dark. Strollers and wagons were helpful for the younger ones, despite them refusing to ride in them most of the time! Honestly, a flashlight would’ve been a good idea too for navigating the dark parking lots with no lighting.
The zoo animals weren’t on display, except for the seals that everyone enjoyed watching swimming around on that chilly evening. We thought we may catch sight of the polar bears, but the lights were out for the night.
After some strolling around, pausing during spots to let the kids play in the various tunnels and structures on the grounds, we made it to everyone’s favorite – the carousel. The rides were free with the entry cost so everyone could ride as many times they wanted and the lines weren’t too bad.
After a couple carousel rides, we made our way back to the parking lots and separated for the evening. Nearby, the Olin Park “Fantasy in Lights” display is set up so we did our annual drive through there as well. The strobe-light color-changing tunnel at the entrance is our favorite part! This is a free light display that you circle through the park in your vehicle, although donations are collected at the end. Plus, the kids look forward to getting a candy cane on the way out 🙂
We’ve got a few other holiday events in mind for the couple remaining weekends before Christmas, but happy to cross this one off the list. We’d recommend – just plan to DRESS WARM, hit up the bar for some spiked hot cocoa, glowstick bracelets, and bring a wagon or stroller with blankets.
Any other events or outings you look forward to each year around the holidays? The Madison area has a lot to offer, including a lot of the smaller hometown parades and festivals.