Submitted by Dukester1007 t3_zwnarq in washingtondc

Maybe it's just me, but I seem to remember them having some of the animal exhibits open, most of the zoo was open, more lights throughout the park.. it just seemed like there was a lot less this year than in years past - is this just me? Always appreciative of the free zoo but just wanted to see if I'm crazy



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DCSubi t1_j1wfge6 wrote

It’s worse bc during CoVID the zoo got rid of the FONZ department and staff. FONZ oversaw events, education and the volunteer program. They zoo doesn’t know what to do without FONZ and can’t seem to admit it.


displacedredneck t1_j1wgp7z wrote

This is it right here. Without FONZ, events at the zoo have been complete misses. Looking at you, Brew at the Zoo.


Brainjacker t1_j1wn1r2 wrote

The 21+ late night Halloween party was always our favorite, it was the first thing we mourned when the FONZ news came out and of course there hasn’t been an attempt to revive it.


GreatStateOfSadness t1_j1xpubd wrote

My experiences at Brewlights at the ZooLights in previous years remain some of the best events I've been to in my adult life. It was awful to get the email about FONZ leaving, and even worse to see Brew at the Zoo fall apart and BrewLights not even happen.


Quelcris_Falconer13 t1_j1y2906 wrote

This sounds so much fun, I moved to DC during covid and this was one of things I wanted to, I wasn’t able to go and I was sad but reading this post made me feel better about missing the zoo lights


RallyPigeon t1_j1x7i57 wrote

Yes! It was a great time and reasonably priced too


rsplatpc t1_j1x2z0g wrote

> Without FONZ, events at the zoo have been complete misses.

just fyi the Zoo parted ways with FONZ because they could not afford to pay FONZ anymore after covid / not because they wanted to or thought they could do a better job or anything like that / FONZ people needed a salary and the zoo literally could not afford it / or come close to being able to afford it because their budget got decimated by covid and the lack of people coming to the zoo and spending money / the zoo is doing what it can with it's current budget and staff


GettysBede t1_j1x784q wrote

Is your period key broken? Why are you separating sentences with slashes?


[deleted] t1_j1x7xas wrote



Blametheorangejuice t1_j1x8jvc wrote

TIL mobile phones don't have periods


[deleted] t1_j1x932s wrote



Blametheorangejuice t1_j1x9867 wrote

I understood what you were trying to say?


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Blametheorangejuice t1_j1x9ivw wrote

...because I and others would have had a better chance of understanding what you said if you moved your thumb a millimeter to the right?


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Blametheorangejuice t1_j1x9y3p wrote

I REALLY could not tell what you were trying to say and I didn't feel like deciphering it. Lazy writing = lazy reading.


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Quelcris_Falconer13 t1_j1y2fh3 wrote

Don’t feel the trolls dudes people like this are the kids in elementary who remind the teacher they forgot to collect homework and always said “well ackshually” before going off on a completely pointless tangent.


catastrophized t1_j1wyp01 wrote

Big agree; not sure I’d go back for another zoo event after that. Would rather just go visit the zoo on a normal day.


DCSubi t1_j1x21cn wrote

FONZ had a small but mighty events team. Event planning is one of those thankless jobs that when you do it well, it seems easy and effortless. Everyone thinks they can be an event planner. And then, they eliminate the people who did it for 15-20-25-30 years and realize it’s not so easy. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes the zoo to fix their ways.


catastrophized t1_j1x5z4i wrote

I was really sad when the email came out that they were breaking up with FONZ :(


DCSubi t1_j1xstfh wrote

It's not that they "broke up" with FONZ. They dissolved FONZ. 100s of people lost their jobs.


displacedredneck t1_j1x03m9 wrote

September's Brew at the Zoo crushed any chance of me paying for another event there. Visit the zoo? Hell yeah.


annelmao t1_j1x8to9 wrote

What happened at this event?


displacedredneck t1_j1xaua5 wrote

They shoved all of the breweries, and thus all of the visitors, into this little clearing.

This was chosen instead of spreading the breweries along the paths/trails as they had done with Brew Lights in the past. It caused a major choke point, with a lot of crowding. Lines got pretty crappy with the crowding. The ground was already wet from an earlier rain, so when drinks started getting spilled and ice started melting, it became a soggy mess.

And this is at the bottom of the hill, which sucks for anyone that has difficulty with that walk. There was no signage or messages that informed guests of the location. Just random workers yelling "Keep walking! Keep moving! You're not there yet!"

That crappy beer fest at Nats Park is a comparable event.


annelmao t1_j1xh9xf wrote

I am such a hater I’ll admit, but I didn’t buy tickets to Brew or attempt ZooLights because I knew it would be a catastrophe! Sad to hear the Nats Park one sucks too. What are the good crowd-controlled events in DC, man? Clockout does such a good job finding the best out there, but I’d love a good beer festival or light park without insane crowds! I guess we’re lucky to have the Mall


Chunkerschunk t1_j1xkf67 wrote

This is right. The zoo thought they could do things on their own. Not great.


Direct_Crab6651 t1_j1zcwcv wrote

This is so correct and frankly does not go far enough. Everyday at the zoo is a shell of its former self without Fonz. So many stands and booths are never open without Fonz. There are so few volunteers at the animal exhibits to share knowledge. The worker quality of effort has fallen off a cliff.

Honestly it seems like the zoo admin thought they did not have to share revenue anymore with Fonz and could do what they did so easily without them. At first I thought, well give it time and it will get better, but now years in it is still a mess and I debate even keeping zoo membership. Don’t get me wrong, the zoo keepers, vets, and animal care is still clearly first class, but everything not animals has been a disaster since Fonz left.

If the zoo was smart in this post lockdown world they should reach out and try to bring back Fonz and as many people who were involved as possible. Come to a new agreement and make it work because it really is a shame how all the extras around the zoo that made it the best (imo) has totally collapsed and for locals who would go a dozen or so times a year it really is a shell of its former self


ActuaryPersonal2378 t1_j20inxy wrote

The zoo didn’t have exhibit interpreters due to the pandemic but they recreated the program and it’s set to start back up soon


Direct_Crab6651 t1_j21efzo wrote

Thanks ….. loved hearing the deeper knowledge these people brought to the table. Few things better then going to the zoo off peak time and getting to let these knowledgeable people tell you all sorts of stuff they want to share.


ActuaryPersonal2378 t1_j21f8xv wrote

A lot of exhibits have brought back their demos/keeper talks now too! Those daily schedules are usually on the website


ActuaryPersonal2378 t1_j1xn1jz wrote

Part of this is because events are hosted by the zoo and not FONZ, the zoo has to go with companies approved by the federal government to contract with and many of those companies from previous years did not have relationships established with the federal government


DCSubi t1_j1xsl8j wrote

There is no more FONZ. Previously, FONZ acted as a fundraising arm for the national zoo. The events FONZ previously executed raised funds for the zoo.


ActuaryPersonal2378 t1_j1y6jrl wrote

I know that. What I’m saying is that because FONZ dissolved, that messed with who the zoo was allowed to contract with. They have to go through a whole different, more complex process through the federal government that FONZ didn’t have to do with outside event companies (like light companies). That greatly impacted events like Zoolights. So if FONZ contracted with Joe Schmoe for light decorations for zoo lights in 2019, but the federal government didn’t have a working relationship with Joe Schmoe in 2022, they couldn’t be used for the 2022 zoo lights. That greatly impacted it this year since the zoo couldn’t go with most of the purveyors from previous years (on top of a slashed budget).


SteamPunkTomCat6913 t1_j1zzvnf wrote

And just to add on to this all, FONZ dissolved for its own reasons not because of any malfeasance on the Zoo's part. And as others have stated that left the Zoo with very little to no education or events staff. The Zoo is hiring to make these departments more robust. Combine that with the aforementioned issues with hiring contractors and COVID, events aren't going to be what they were like in years past right now. And they'll probably be different in the future too as the Zoo assesses the effect of these late-night events on the animals themselves. Remember that the Zoo exists for the welfare of the animals and their wild cousins not for our amusement--it's not a circus.


ZooPerson163 t1_j1wxcia wrote

Zoo employee here and throw away account for obvious reasons. Separating from FONZ means the zoo lost our entire events team. We basically have two people doing the work of 25, without the help of volunteers. The company who used to install all of the lights went out of business this year and we had difficulty finding another contractor so we did the best we could. The zoo also doesn’t have a ton of money to run these events - we took a big financial hit during the pandemic. Also, animal houses are closed because we did stress studies on the animals over previous years and found their stress levels were higher when lights were on longer and when they were exposed to guests for longer hours. Believe it or not, most animals sleep a lot during the day and the disruption to their normal quiet hours was detrimental to their well being. It’s a welfare decision to close animal houses - one all of the zookeepers adamantly support. We also have less vendors this year, no snow tubing, minimal entertainment. Sorry - we know it’s not as good, but appreciate you coming! We’re doing nightly evaluations and taking suggestions from guests in an effort to improve it for next year.


Pipes_of_Pan t1_j1zfvq5 wrote

Thanks for the thorough answer - we love the zoo and appreciate you!


InvisibleBuilding t1_j201hd7 wrote

Thank you.

Out of curiosity - why did the zoo take a big financial hit? It’s free (except parking) and taxpayer funded. Was the parking revenue a big amount?

It feels to me often like the zoo doesn’t really want people there. It built the ticket booths and has been more closed off. The wayfinding isn’t great. And there’s the constant debate about whether to allow people to use the part of the walk/bike trail that goes technically through zoo property (outside the fence, but between the main zoo and the research facility).

I’d love to know the zoo people actually do want to make a great zoo people love to go to, but compared to other zoos sometimes it feels like the attitude is “we get our funding whether or not you come and so we’d just as soon you not.” But it’s be great to hear that’s not the case.


DCSubi t1_j20kduz wrote

It is free bc it is partially funded by the gov but it needs to fundraise the difference. Memberships and parking is/was one of the fundraising streams. The large events raise money through corporate sponsorships (for instance you might remember seeing Pepco’s name at zoo lights) and some of the evens (like the Halloween event) raised money through ticket sales. 3rd party/outside vendors set up along the main walk prob shared their profits as another revenue stream for the zoo. So, it makes sense that it all took a hit during peak SAH COVID. But the Smithsonian is not doing itself any favors with the way it handled dissolving FONZ - in terms of how it treated the FONZ employees and the visitor experience.


InvisibleBuilding t1_j20muue wrote

Yeah, I think the zoo would find a lot of enthusiasm from the community to support it, if it acted like it wanted the community to be there.


bubbabubba345 t1_j1vr392 wrote

Yes, it was certainly worse. I went in 2017 and 2018 and even the handful of photos I have are way better than anything I saw. My girlfriend and I didn’t even walk all the way up from the Rock Creek Park entrance, we stopped maybe halfway to Connecticut Ave because there was barely any lights and of course nothing else to see.


irishguy617 t1_j1vqso5 wrote

Way worse. They really skimped on the lights and it shows.The limited capacity is also a complete mess because it feels kind of empty and sad. Lastly people desperately looking for last minute tickets is such a bad look for the Zoo and they should scrap that completely.


rsplatpc t1_j1x3aj0 wrote

> The limited capacity is also a complete mess because it feels kind of empty and sad.

The amount of people they can afford to pay currently vs pre-covid is DRASTICALLY different so you can expect that for the next 2-3 years while the budget evens out


imTony t1_j1x3owe wrote

Pay for what?


rsplatpc t1_j1x3vpo wrote

> Pay for what?

People to put up lights or anything extra, do security, sell things, take decorations down, do PR, etc

They are on a shoestring budget since the pandemic just to keep everything running with NO special events.


embracethepale t1_j1x4jdh wrote

I’m sorry but no, the Smithsonian had plenty of money, volunteers, and underpaid contractors to cover this. They eliminated their VOLUNTEER branch because ??? The Smithsonian is massively mishandle. People literally die in their offices after collecting 60 years of paychecks doing NOTHING.


rsplatpc t1_j1x5z27 wrote

> I’m sorry but no, the Smithsonian had plenty of money, volunteers, and underpaid contractors to cover this.

Oh, you know what the zoos budget was before the pandemic and post?

You know what the ENTIRE Smithsonian's budget is also, after people stopped going to all the museums during the pandemic?

Cool, what is it?


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rsplatpc t1_j1x6me2 wrote

> I made the massive mistake of working for a Smithsonian institute early in my career. The best I can hope is someone will see this comment and RUN in the opposite direction with their career.

Ah gotcha, so you are just some jaded employee with zero knowledge of the zoo and how it runs, just checking thanks!


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rsplatpc t1_j1x75ag wrote

> Mkay well zoo still sucked this year, enjoy your unpaid shilling?

"I know the zoo can afford to make it better"


"I worked at another Smithsonian building that is not related to the zoo at all and they fired me so I'm mad at them"

"Ok, what does that have to do with the zoo?"

"Enjoy your unpaid shilling"

Yeah, you come off great.


embracethepale t1_j1x7ft3 wrote

I don’t understand this. Something is bad how dare you suggest it’s run badly!


rsplatpc t1_j1x7rmj wrote

> I don’t understand this.

That is something we can agree on.


mycevicheaddiction t1_j1vqnk1 wrote

I can see the zoo from my apartment and while I haven't been to this year's zoo lights display I will say that the number of visible lights is much lower than it was in pre-covid years. Used to be the whole center path decked out in holiday lights, bright with lots of colors; now it looks like a few twinkling lights at best (from a half mile away).


Oogaman00 t1_j1vndyt wrote

I wouldn't know because it's impossible to get in with their stupid ass ticketing system that lets people reserve six tickets not use them and block everyone else, while only releasing a small subset at exactly specific intervals ahead of time.

It's stupid in general that the zoo now requires reservations for literally an outdoor activity with almost unlimited space.


Dukester1007 OP t1_j1vpbes wrote

Fully agree space was such a non-issue in other years I have no idea why they created the system


rsplatpc t1_j1x3e8z wrote

> I have no idea why they created the system

Limited staff = limited visitors / no people going to the zoo during covid = limited staff = why the system was created


Joshottas t1_j1w6wgx wrote

No one was checking tickets to get in (at the bottom of the hill by Amazonia.)


Oogaman00 t1_j1xht0c wrote

How do you even get there lol. Only know the main entrance


fvb955cd t1_j1xjx8v wrote

Metro to Columbia heights, walk down Harvard Street til you're in the zoo. If you reach the hospital you went the wrong direction


Oogaman00 t1_j1xnqbs wrote

Well I live at Cleveland park so not doing that


Joshottas t1_j1xj1gc wrote

There was a footbridge from a neighborhood that led directly into the zoo at the bottom of the hill. Never noticed it before until the other night. Im assuming folks found street parking and just walked in.


AnnaPhor t1_j1ws7au wrote

I've been a regular at this for years.

I couldn't figure out if it wasn't as good or if I was having pre-COVID nostalgia and was just sad that it wasn't the *same*. They've refreshed some of the lights and replaced the old animal-shaped wire light displays with animal shapes with plastic skins and internal glowing lights. They aren't not nice, but they aren't the same.

We missed the eagle that flies overhead, and some of our other favorites had retired, but those displays were many years old. We REALLY missed the dancing trees, where the lights went on and off in time to the music. Turns out I really like those.

Also miss going on a quiet cold weeknight.

My guess is that the real limiting factor here is lack of staff.


The_Sauce_DC t1_j1whdzi wrote

Does this have anything to do with the zoo stopping the affiliation with FONZ?


SpencerTheGreater t1_j1wuipn wrote

Nah. It has to do with them trying to minimize impact to the animals. Bright lights at night, tons of visitors, and indoor areas being lit and trafficked when animals are trying to sleep can be distressing to animals.


rsplatpc t1_j1x3lq1 wrote

> Nah. It has to do with them trying to minimize impact to the animals

Nope, it's 100% because they don't have the budget to pay people and can't even afford to pay a trainer to train volunteers to put up lights.

Source = good friend works at the zoo in the budget department, their entire budget got totally annihilated during the pandemic and they have been scraping by since.


ActuaryPersonal2378 t1_j1xne8o wrote

This and it’s an issue with government contracts. Since everything is run by the Zoo (instead of FONZ), they have to use companies approved by the federal government to run programs (I/e vendors for zoo lights)


DCSubi t1_j20l8ug wrote

Not sure how accurate this is since the company/staff that FONZ contracted for zoo lights works in government buildings all over the city and just did the lighting at the White House holiday events. Presumably if the vendor and their staff are in the gov’s system to work in the White House, they’d be in the procurement system for the zoo.


DCSubi t1_j20kues wrote

Volunteers didn’t put up the lights. A large lighting company would begin installing the holiday lights shortly after Halloween. The zoo owned some of the animal-themed light displays. But the 3rd party vendor installed everything. The vendor worked with FONZ staff. Source - a former event contractor involved with the event


SpencerTheGreater t1_j1x7qxh wrote

I also have a source. It's because of the animals.

Why would they spend thousands of dollars on brand new lights instead of simply using the ones they already had?


rsplatpc t1_j1x82r0 wrote

> Why would they spend thousands of dollars on brand new lights instead of simply using the ones they already had?



SpencerTheGreater t1_j1xbc2c wrote

They bought new lights to replace the old ones. Because the old ones were problematic for animals.


rsplatpc t1_j1xbomu wrote

> They bought new lights to replace the old ones. Because the old ones were problematic for animals.

You know that is a FRACTION of the zoos budget right?


SpencerTheGreater t1_j1xemw9 wrote

I mean, so is putting up the lights.

The largest problem was that it was causing issues for the animals. Especially the animal houses being open.


Joshottas t1_j1w6t13 wrote

It was LAME. My first time going, and I was extremely underwhelmed. Definitely expected more...My kids were ready to go within 5 min of being there. We were in/out within 30 min.


CantThinkofAgoodI t1_j1xn2dx wrote

Yes I too get disappointed with free events at a free zoo. And yes your $30 parking did help pay for the free zoo so I have to thank you for the donation.


AlanWahn t1_j1xodsd wrote

Wow, you're like twenty times more annoying than the person above you could ever be. Who talks or types like this?

Go touch grass (maybe not at the zoo).


Quelcris_Falconer13 t1_j1y2lp0 wrote

Bahahaahahahaaaaaaaaaaa thank you I’m fucking dying reading your comment good god I thought I was the only person left in the DC subreddit who didn’t behave like these clowns.


IndependentYam3227 t1_j1w07yv wrote

Worse. We loved seeing the Small Mammal house at night, because so many animals that aren't active were out and moving around. Seems like there were a lot fewer lights. We were done in 25 minutes.


NoGovernment8587 t1_j1vqi5m wrote

Yes the animal exhibits used to be open and they seem to have switched lighting up trees and exhibits with those dumb 3D animals many of which were broken or off when we went through. If it’s like this next year I probably will skip it even though it’s always been a nice fun and free activity with friends.


CantThinkofAgoodI t1_j1xndee wrote

In the 3 times I went in the past the animal exhibits were closed. Maybe two of the animal houses were open until like 7 or 8 but it’s not like those had lights in them. What animal are you taking about open actually at night?


NoGovernment8587 t1_j1yx3bd wrote

The ones inside were open like the reptile house. But yeah no Christmas lights in there.


Avocadofarmer32 t1_j1vp5np wrote

I’ve been two or three times and maybe I’ve missed it but I don’t remember any animal exhibits being opened. It was always super crowded (pre covid) and just a fun thing to do. A million people and takes over an hour to park. I still had fun lol


SaaSMonster t1_j1wczxw wrote

It was the small reptile and small mammal house. It was 2017 or 2018 I went last and those buildings were open to walk through.


SabbathRulez t1_j1w7e9d wrote

Definitely not nearly as extensive as in years past, both in terms of lighting and music. But they certainly made sure all the money-making ventures (the trailer selling terrible $15 cocktails, all the gift shops/concession stands, stands selling light-up crap for kids) were open. In fact, I think that part has expanded.

I seem to recall at least some of the indoor exhibit buildings being open in past years but nothing was open this year.


embracethepale t1_j1x4bju wrote

I know the ticket checkers laughed in our face when we didn’t have the right tickets, then got pissy when the next people said they’d reserved enough to cover us.


ChubsBronco t1_j1vzlzg wrote

I think it was better than in previous years. A number of the lights were updated and new.

And there was no sad panda dancing on a broken flatbed that had been zooming through the District.


GEV46 t1_j1wh2i0 wrote

Somedays I remember that panda, and I laugh -- a lot.


Tater428 t1_j1x3tvb wrote

I was never impressed with ZooLights.

Then I went to GardenFest of Lights at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, which puts ZooLights to shame.


SpencerTheGreater t1_j1wuba3 wrote

Some of the exhibits used to be open, but they changed that because having guests in the exhibits at night was messing with the animals' well-being.

I also know that they stopped using a certain type of light and instead did another type of light (not sure of which specific lights). Again, due to the previous ones causing problems for the animals' well-being.

The Zoo is trying to basically do what they can to make it enjoyable without compromising their primary goal: preserving the well-being of their animals.

It might be a bit disappointing for visitors, but I'm glad they're prioritizing the zoo animals, personally.


[deleted] t1_j1x4ppl wrote

This was my first time there and I really enjoyed it. Obviously I can't make a comparison though.


clockoutdc t1_j1z5836 wrote

I remember in 2011 they used to have the various animal houses open and they also used to have a light show that played regularly on the elephant house as well. I feel like if I recall correctly for a few years they also would instead just have one or two animal houses open and then rotate which ones every few weeks. That being said, back then they didn’t have the nicer lantern-like lights.


turtyurt t1_j1wqt7u wrote

I got covid and had to give up my tickets this year but it sounds like I didn’t miss much


slyfox1908 t1_j1x9fio wrote

I thought all the new lanterns were beautiful (in particular there was one phoenix lantern that was a stunning piece of art) but I can see them not being as interesting for the kiddies. I did miss some of the older lights.


ruskiytroll t1_j1ze7y7 wrote

It was much worse because the only time I've seen the sand cats up and about was when the small mammal house was open during zoo lights. Maybe we got there too late, but it was closed when we went last week.


EternalMoonChild t1_j1xekbc wrote

Well, this makes me feel slightly better about not being able to go because I got COVID.


nachoslove t1_j1xhxc1 wrote

I go every year and love it. This year I got tickets and paid for the parking in advance. Drove to DC and the entrance was closed and couldn’t find an entrance. Maybe it was my GPS but couldn’t find an entrance. After driving for more than 30 mins in circles trying to find the entrance I headed back home. It was one of the days that we had heavy fog, so maybe it was canceled but nothing was posted on their social media or website.


Late_Operation1692 t1_j1zdf9l wrote

I went and was underwhelmed. But it was free, so all I’m out for is a couple hours of my time. Wouldn’t go back though


bluethecat12 t1_j2ac8dw wrote

I went before Covid and remember being dazzled. My mom has been dying to go so went this year. Personally, I didn’t care about not seeing animals but it was dark for something that’s supposed to be lights focused. We only stayed for 15-20 minutes. My heart kind of broke when she said the best part was the sign coming in. We speculated that FONZ not being affiliated with the zoo anymore had something to do with. I still give a huge credit and thanks to the people who still made it come together.


night-born t1_j1xli48 wrote

Am I the only one who thinks it has always kind of sucked? It’s cold and most animals weren’t out even in the before times…


Direct_Crab6651 t1_j1zegm4 wrote

You posted to complain it is cold, in winter, at night ? Ok then ….🙄. So you want the zoo to build a dome or something so you can be warm at night in winter ?


night-born t1_j20xcve wrote

I never complained or said I thought it should be warmer? You just made a gigantic leap.

I just said I personally found the whole experience kind of miserable - wandering through a semi-dark, cold zoo with no animals. Clearly some people used to think the cold was worth it.


Smarty-Pants65 t1_j1xtjik wrote

It seemed pretty half-assed also pretty sure there wasnt any booze in my cider drink either


LazyPasse t1_j1xgv3w wrote

Last time I went was in 2018, and it sucked then, too.