ZooLights 2020 FAQs: What you need to know

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo will still celebrate its beloved ZooLights, but the event is going to look a lot different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to COVID and our COVID restrictions, it just isn’t possible to have people on-site. So we had to bring a little twinkling joy to the neighborhoods,” zoo spokesperson Pamela Baker-Masson told WTOP.

“We want people to know in our community that we’re thinking of them, the zoo is thinking of them, and they’re important to us, and we just like to spread a little holiday cheer,” she added.

Check out the routes of the truck (see below) so that you can estimate when the truck will roll by so you don’t have to wait outside all night.

“Wave to Panda Claws when the truck goes by,” she said. “The truck will be visiting one ward per night and just driving around, bringing a little bit of holiday joy to everybody at home.”

If you miss the zoo, visit the animal cams online, especially the Panda Cam, “because that cub is so cute and growing, and we don’t want anybody to miss a minute of it,” Baker-Masson added.

WTOP has everything you need to know about ZooLights Express below.

  • Q: Will there be ZooLights at the National Zoo this year?
  • No; ZooLights will not be at the Zoo.

    Instead, the Smithsonian is rolling out the ZooLights Express, powered by Pepco.

  • Q: What is the ZooLights Express?
  • ZooLights Express is a 24-foot truck — specifically, an International M2SK — decked out with lights that will be touring all eight wards in D.C. so that residents can still get some holiday cheer.

    The wards will each be visited on different days.

  • Q: How many lights are we talking about here?
  • Lots.

    There’s no specific count right now, but, “Our plan is to go overboard with the number of lights … All lights are LED and energy efficient!” the Smithsonian said.

  • Q: What is the ZooLights Express schedule?
  • The ZooLights Express rolls out each Friday and Saturday, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., starting Friday, Nov. 27.

    Below are the days for each ward:

    • Friday, Nov. 27 | Ward 1
    • Saturday, Nov. 28 | Ward 2
    • Friday, Dec. 4 | Ward 3
    • Saturday, Dec. 5 | Ward 4
    • Friday, Dec. 11| Ward 5
    • Saturday, Dec. 12 | Ward 6
    • Friday, Dec. 18 | Ward 7
    • Saturday, Dec. 19 | Ward 8
  • Q: Are there specific routes for the ZooLights Express?
  • Yep! See the routes below, thanks to the Smithsonian:

  • Q: Will Santa be driving the ZooLights Express?
  • Unfortunately, no … but Panda Claws will be riding on the ZooLights Express!

    And there will be a snow machine making snow for Panda Claws on the truck.

  • Q: Will the Express be playing music as it makes its way through the wards?
  • Yes. The ZooLights Express will be playing festive music during its routes.

  • Q: Will there be handouts/freebies for kids?
  • No. The Smithsonian says that in order to make this a safe holiday experience, there will be no handouts.

    There is a coloring sheet online for kids to fill in though.

  • Q: Should residents wave from their homes, or will the Express be making any stops?
  • The ZooLights Express will not be making any stops.

    The Smithsonian said the ZooLights Express is “holiday magic on the move,” so waving from your home or yard is the way to go.

    WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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