WEST ORANGE, NJ - The Annual Holiday Lights Spectacular returns to Turtle Back Zoo on Friday, Nov. 28, and the County says it will be bigger and better than ever.

“We invite the public to make this Essex County holiday tradition your family tradition," said Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo.

"Turtle Back Zoo will be turned into a Winter Wonderland, with extraordinary seasonal lighting exhibits and costumed characters," he continued.

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Illuminated toy soliders and penguins will grace the Zoo landscape. "We are offering free admission to make this exciting attraction available to everyone. We also are encouraging our visitors to bring non-perishable food items, non-perishable pet food, new unwrapped toys, and new and gently used winter coats to help our families in need,” DiVincenzo said.

50 animal and holiday-themed figures featuring over 100,000 lights will adorn Turtle Back Zoo. Lions,tigers,bears elephants, and other animals, along with winter scenes, will light up the sky. Animal exhibits including the Sea Lion Sound, Essex Farm, Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve, Tropical Currents Aquarium and the Reptile Building will be open.

Photographs with Santa Claus will be available each night until December 23. Essex County publicist Anthony Puglisi said, "Holiday activities available at the event have been expanded this year to include themed weekends. Displays, popular films, holiday music, crafts and animal presentations will be offered. In addition, ice carving demonstrations will be presented on Saturdays. Movies will be shown at 5 p.m. and will run continuously in the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit."

The Holiday Schedule is as follows:

The Light Show is open from 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm on Nov. 28-30; Dec. 5-7; Daily, Dec. 12- January 4, but is closed  on Dec. 24 and 25.  

Special family activities are also planned:

 Friday, November 28, Saturday, November 29, and Sunday, November 30: “Tis’ the Season: Holiday Traditions” featuring the movie “The Polar Express.”

Friday, December 5, Saturday, December 6, and Sunday, December 7: “Frosty Friends: Celebrating our Cold Weather Residents” featuring the movie “Happy Feet.”

Friday, December 12, Saturday, December 13, and Sunday, December 14: “Merry ‘Grinch’mas” featuring “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.”

Friday, December 19, Saturday, December 20, and Sunday, December 21: “Welcome Winter: A ‘Frozen’ Celebration” featuring the movie “Frozen.” Princesses Elsa and Anna will be in attendance.

Last year the county food and toy drives collected 5.5 tons of non-perishable food, 5,984 toys and 1,778 winter coats.

During regular operating hours in the winter, Turtle Back Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.Regular admission is $8 for children and senior citizens, $11 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For additional information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org.

Turtle Back Zoo is located in the South Mountain Recreation Complex at 560 Northfield Avenue in West Orange.