WEST ORANGE, NJ — After reaching its 12th-consecutive attendance milestone in 2016 with 795,558 visitors, the Turtle Back Zoo invites the public to the 11th annual Holiday Lights Spectacular, featuring 50 figures illuminated by one million lights both at the zoo and the surrounding Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex.
Officially opened on Friday, the Holiday Lights Spectacular offers free admission from 5 to 9 p.m. each night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26; Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1, 2 and 3; and daily from Friday, Dec. 8 to Monday, Jan. 1. The Holiday Lights Spectacular will be closed on Dec. 24 and 25.
“We invite the public to make this Essex County holiday tradition your family tradition,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. “Turtle Back Zoo will be turned into a Winter Wonderland, with extraordinary seasonal lighting exhibits and costumed characters. Stroll the landscaped paths of our zoo and admire the illuminated images of everything from toy soldiers to penguins.”
The zoo is also encouraging visitors to bring non-perishable food items, new unwrapped toys, and new and gently used winter coats to help local families in need. Items will be donated to several organizations that provide assistance to the needy. Last year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, about 18 tons of non-perishable food, 3,600 toys and 4,600 winter coats were collected for the less fortunate.
More than one million lights will illuminate figures of bears, tigers and elephants, along with holiday lights designed to look like wooden soldiers, stars and winter scenes. Several animal exhibits will be open, including the Sea Lion Sound, Essex Farm, Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve, Tropical Currents Aquarium and the Reptile Building.
Myrtle the Turtle, the mascot of Turtle Back Zoo, and several of his winter friends will be on hand to greet visitors at the zoo.
In addition, special activities have been scheduled as follows:
Ice Carving: An ice carver will create a masterpiece on the amphitheater stage on Fridays, Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22. Come watch his progress.
Meet and Greet Santa: The most popular man of the season will visit Turtle Back Zoo on Saturdays, Nov. 25 and Dec. 2 and 9; Sundays, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3 and 10; and every night from Saturday, Dec. 16 through Saturday, Dec. 23.
Storytime with Ms. Claus: Ms. Claus will read popular holiday stories on Fridays, Dec.15 and 22 at 6 and 7 p.m.; Saturdays, Dec. 16, 17 and 23 at 3:30, 6 and 7 p.m.; and Monday, Dec. 18 through Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. There is an additional charge for this program.
Themed weekends: Costumed characters will join Myrtle at the zoo to greet, mingle and take pictures with our guests. Visitors are encouraged to wear costumes to match the weekend’s theme.
· Dec. 1, 2 & 3 – Classic Holiday Weekend
· Dec. 8, 9 & 10 – Superhero Weekend
· Dec. 15, 16 & 17 – Royal Princess Weekend
The Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular is sponsored by PSE&G, Covanta Energy, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation. Hot chocolate and other refreshments will be available for purchase. For more information, call Essex County Turtle Back Zoo at 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org.
Turtle Back Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Through Nov. 30, regular admission is $12 for children and senior citizens, $15 for adults and free for children under 2 years. Beginning Dec. 1, admission is $10 for children and senior citizens, $12 for adults and free for children under two years. For additional information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org.