If you like your holidays on the wild side, you may want to check out Jungle Bells, the San Diego Zoo’s fourth annual holiday celebration beginning Saturday.
The three-week festival will have lighted displays, live animal shows, tree-lighting ceremonies, animal encounters, storytelling, holiday décor, food specials, Santa Claus, live music, a holiday 4-D movie and extended hours.
Jungle Bells kicks off Saturday and runs daily through Jan. 6. During the festival, the zoo will stay open until 8 p.m. (except on Christmas Eve, when the park will close at 5 p.m.). The park is open on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The park will be illuminated nightly with more than 50,000 lights, including the new “Twelve Days of Christmas” display. More than 40 light displays in the shapes of animals will be spread around the park. The “Tinseltown Trolley Light Tour” will give park visitors a mobile tour of the lights, and riders can sing carols as they travel. The trolley will leave every 20 minutes from 4:30 to 8 p.m. ($1-$2).
New to this year’s festival is Chocolate Town, where park visitors can learn all about the sweet treat, see a holiday tree made up of chocolate-colored plants, sample treats from a chocolate food truck and more. Chocolate Town will be set up in the Zoofari party area.
At the park’s 4-D theater near the Polar Bear Plunge exhibit, “Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas” will be screening daily. The 50-seat theater shows 3-D animal-themed films enhanced with special effects including water mist, wind blasts, snowfall, bubbles, scents and vibrating seats (film tickets are $6).
Dr. Zoolittle will read “The Night Before Christmas” (adapted in zoo style) at 4, 5, 6 and 7 p.m. in the Children’s Zoo, and “Animal Magic for the Holidays” show will be presented at 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. in the Clark Theater.
Just outside the zoo, the ride-on miniature train has been re-christened the North Pole Elf Express and is ferrying passengers continuously from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (except Dec. 17-21, when the train runs from 3 to 8 p.m. only).
Santa’s workshop will be set up near the Skyfari East station, and there will be live entertainment throughout the park, including an English Handbell choir (5, 6 and 7 p.m. nightly), acrobatic elves (hourly, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.), holiday lighting, “snowfall” and close-up animal encounters (4 to 8 p.m.), and the Treehouse Blitzen holiday light show in Treehouse Plaza (every 15 minutes after dark).
The park’s Skyfari aerial ride and its wheeled tram ride will be decorated for the holidays as well.
Gift shops will be open late for holiday shopping and restaurants will be offering holiday specials (including a $6-$7 happy hour special at Albert’s from 3 to 5 p.m. daily). The zoo is offering an “Adopt an Animal” gift program, where for $20, buyers get an adoption certificate, fact sheet, plush toy and photo of their animal.
Most holiday activities are free with paid admission to the zoo, 2920 Zoo Drive in San Diego. Admission (including Skyfari aerial tram and guided bus tour) is $44 for adults and $34 for children (ages 3-11). Visit sandiegozoo.org or call (619) 234-3153.
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