• Benji Sills

Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Light Spectacular

Updated: Feb 25

As New York based explorers, Paige and I have a wealth of options open to us during the holiday season. Spectacles such as the Rockefeller Center Tree and Radio City Christmas Spectacular draw thousands of visitors from around the world, so naturally we decided to spend our evening off at the random Turtle Back Zoo’s holiday lights showcase. Turtle Back is a mid-size New Jersey zoo and they celebrate the holidays with a free lights display spread throughout. Coated in a blanket of warm twinkling lights, the area is pretty enough to wander around but is made all the better by the confusing array of holiday decorations. They have a number of 3D light sculptures from the standard Rudolph with brightly colored nose bulb to a more artistic one that appeared to be either a gorilla tap dancing very fast or a Satanic beaked demon with a number of quick wiggly tentacles. We posted a picture on our Instagram and were delighted to find that nobody else could figure it out either. Other inexplicable decorative choices included a cardboard telephone booth, a single Star Wars character cutout (a quote bubble saying “These are not the droids you’re looking for” appeared to be spoken by a nearby tree) and also a snowman who looked to be on the verge of ending it all.



Another fun feature of the display was that multiple exhibits were left open for viewing. We saw a sleeping pheasant in a tree and watched the giraffes bumble around their indoor enclosure as well. The touch tank was also open and Paige insisted we detour inside (it has long been her life’s goal to experience as many touch tanks as possible). She gave the stingray a brief pat and then returned. “It felt like a wet pancake” she said, smiling from ear to ear.



We next explored the sea turtle rehabilitation center, where the zoo cares for a number of injured turtles. The pool itself was closed for the evening, but a number of security cameras allowed us to see inside. Several white orbs drifted lazily back and forth across the monitors, which was presumably a reflection, although Paige suggested it might be the souls of turtles that didn’t make it.



We also went into the reptile house but were distracted from the animals by a table of volunteers selling original animal artwork. We pawed through the buckets of paintings, each done by a different animal accidentally waddling across a canvas. A pleasant volunteer stood by, chatting about her experience helping the bison with its painting. I asked what her favorite painting was and she pointed out a scaly picture done by either a snake or a frenzied volunteer with a sponge - either way, we promptly bought it. Maybe the centerpiece of the evening was a brief sea lion show which I’m sure was good, but I was mostly focused on making a number of ‘otter’ puns. Paige eventually reminded me that otters and sea lions are not the same animal, at which point I had to compensate by doubling my volume of ‘otter’ puns. The Turtle Back Zoo’s holiday lights showcase is festive and features a surprising volume of activities. If you live locally and haven’t had a chance to visit yet, you really ‘otter’.



The exhibit is throughout the Turtle Back Zoo, which can easily be located on Google Maps, and it is open every day through December 31st.


Admission is free.


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