PALM DESERT — WildLights is a holiday staple in the Coachella Valley.
This year is no different as more than one million holiday lights greet guests at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens as the zoo hosts the ever-popular holiday light extravaganza.
Now celebrating its 26th year, WildLights will entertain visitors with a holiday spectacular from 6 to 9 p.m. on select nights through Dec. 24.
This year’s light extravaganza will include fan favorites including the sparkling tunnel of lights synchronized to holiday music, life-sized, illuminated animal lanterns, and the holiday-themed edition of the G-scale model train display.
Newly expanded this year, the Polar Express train will take guests on a ride through a snowy, sparkling wonderland. Guests will be greeted by new pathways and light displays throughout the African section of the park and meet many of the Zoo’s African animals including cheetah, zebra, and giraffe. Guests can also experience the nightly animal encounters and keeper chats.
Children of all ages will not want to miss making s’mores and take-home ornament crafts. Carousel and camel rides are also available nightly, as well as live entertainment and Christmas caroling. And of course, a special visit from Santa Claus, who will host guests for photos in his jolly village nightly. Food and beverages will also be available for purchase.
“The holidays are a festive time of year at The Living Desert as we transform the zoo and gardens into a special winter wonderland for all of our guests,” Allen Monroe, President/CEO of The Living Desert, said in a prepared statement. “In addition to making wonderful family memories, guests will know that they have helped The Living Desert with our mission to save endangered species.”
WildLights is presented by the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, with supporting sponsor HiTech Lights.
WildLights will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 23-24 and 30; and Dec. 1, 7-8, 14-15, 19-24. Last admission is 8:30 p.m. nightly. Admission to WildLights is $12 for non-members; $10 for members, military (with ID) and children (ages 3-12). Children under age 3 are free. Some attractions and features require additional fees. Tickets are on sale now and available at LivingDesert.org or at the zoo. For more information visit the website or call (760) 346-5694.
In addition to new features at WildLights, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens has unveiled its new entrance plaza.
Attendees will be welcomed into the Patti and Jack Grundhofer Plaza with palm-lined walkways and new guest service amenities. This complex completes the first of a three-phase construction project funded through The Living Desert’s Pride of the Desert capital campaign.
Known as Grundhofer Plaza, the entrance includes a variety of features to enhance the visitor’s experience, including self-service kiosks for ticket and membership purchases. Zoo members and online ticket purchasers can take advantage of the new scan-and-go entry system. For those interested in membership, train and animal adoptions, private and group tours, or private parties, a dedicated guest relations office will be open during regular park hours.
“Our beautiful, new Grundhofer Plaza will provide guests a seamless and convenient gateway into The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. It is designed to immerse visitors in the beauty of the desert and provide an exceptional guest service experience from the start,” Dawn Petrick, director of Park Services and Guest Relations, said in a prepared statement.
The new Welcome Center serves as a pivotal stop where guests can discover the activities happening throughout the day and plan their visit by watching the state-of-the- art video wall. They can also relax under 50-foot fever trees in the Living Legacy Endowment Garden. This Garden recognizes the generosity of donors who have made gifts to The Living Desert’s endowment fund, which provides a continuing and growing base of financial support, ensuring this treasured resource will continue for generations to come. The new Suzan and Bill Appel Gift Shop gives attendees the opportunity to purchase from a unique collection of souvenirs, Zoo-branded merchandise, gifts, books, as well as timeless memorabilia.
The completion of the plaza, gift shop, and endowment garden is the culmination of the first phase of The Living Desert’s Crossroads of Conservation, a $30 million capital improvement and park expansion that provides visitors the opportunity to interact with and learn about the world’s desert wildlife. Future plans include new animal habitats to tell the conservation stories of lions, rhinoceros and hyena, plus a modern, indoor event space.
“As we complete the first phase of our expansion, our mission of desert conservation through preservation, education, and appreciation remains at the heart of what we do, drives our current operations, and guides our future plans,” said Allen Monroe, president and CEO.
The Living Desert, home to WildLights, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information: (760) 346- 5694 or visit LivingDesert.org.