Is Boo at the Zoo Right for You?

If you’re looking for a merry, not-so-scary Halloween adventure, this event is spooktacular.

Last year, the Milwaukee County Zoo launched an unprecedented Halloween event called Boo at the Zoo. The drive-through holiday show was the first time in the zoo’s history that visitors were able to drive on zoo paths, an innovation that was brought on by the pandemic. The event was met with such enthusiasm in its first year that it’s now returned for a second. So naturally, it was time for us to review it – especially considering the $55 per car load ticket price.

“There’s going to be a ghostbuster up there, and he’ll direct you,” the zoo greeter told my husband and me as we rolled in for the event last Thursday. The fact that the parking attendants were dressed to impress let me know that we were off to a great start. Even on opening night, you could tell that the zoo runs this event like a well-oiled machine. There were winding lines set up for cars waiting to get in, a system that was clearly designed to move fast. Fortunately for us, there wasn’t a wait and we zoomed right through with directions from costumed helpers along the way. 

Driving into the zoo is much like walking into the zoo, in that the first thing you smell is the penguins. But this time we weren’t there to see the animals – we were there to see some family-friendly frights, most of which come in the forms of ghosts, scarecrows, spiders and characters from your favorite Halloween movies.

Photo by Evan Watters

We rolled down the windows to breathe in the fall air (and zoo smells) and were delighted to hear Halloween music playing through the zoo speakers. We sang along to “Thriller” and were thrilled to see they even had songs that matched up to specific scenes, like “Yo Ho (A Pirates Life For Me)” bumping near some sailing skeletons.

Early on, we came across the first of three food stops sprinkled along the way. The menu included snacking options like tater tot nachos, popcorn and ice cream sandwiches (missed opportunity: ice “scream” sandwiches). There were classic zoo toys for sale as well, but we passed on bringing home yet another neon stuffed snake. 

We drove through the “Spooky Hollow Graveyard” near the otter exhibit and past the Ghostbusters near where the bears usually hang out. This all led us to the highlight of the journey: “The Trick-or-Treat Trail.” On this path you are stopped multiple times by festive zoo workers who give out handfuls of candy. Surrounding the Treatsters are various Scooby Doo characters. 

While we munched on our sweets, we were directed to “Jack’s Path.” Here there were hundreds of pumpkins handcarved to look like all the animals you would usually visit at the zoo. Next to the pumpkin carvings were educational cards that told you more about the animal pictured. Even the fish from the aquarium got a shout out.

Photo by Evan Watters

Live musicians sang us out. First, in the form of a two-man band and further down the road, we heard from the talented folks working in the kid’s theater department. A character on stilts waved goodbye to us. But that wasn’t all. 

Any light show worth its salt has a grand finale, and Boo at the Zoo is no different. The parting gift of this Halloween spectacular is a light tunnel, my personal favorite.

Photo by Evan Watters

After we drove under the “Happy Halloween” sign I checked the clock. The whole experience took us 34 minutes. 

So, dear reader, is Boo at the Zoo right for you? It is if you love Halloween, enjoy family-friendly fun and can appreciate well-carved pumpkins. It’s not if you are looking for a scare, expecting to see animals or think $55 is too much for a holiday experience. 

Now that you’ve decided, here are a few tips to make the most of your experience: 

  • Roll down your windows. That way you’ll be able to hear the Halloween tunes they have playing and enjoy the crisp fall air. 
  • Go after dark. A lot of the appeal of this event comes from the light-up displays, so pick a time after sunset to make the drive. 
  • The later you go, the shorter the line. We got there at exactly 8 p.m. on a Thursday and had the place to ourselves. I thought maybe it was just a slow night, but the attendant assured me they had hundreds of people drive through before us. The last car of the night is admitted at 9 p.m.
  • Bring the Bingo sheetI didn’t realize there was a Bingo sheet until I was writing this review, and I don’t want you to suffer the same sorry fate we did. The game is based on the scarecrow decorations that are holding things like candy corn, cats and witch’s hats. See who in your car can get Bingo first. 
  • Pack your pumpkin. Not the fruit, the plastic one that you use to collect candy. You’ll be glad you have it when it’s time to trick-or-treat, otherwise you’ll be left shoving sweets in your cupholders. 

Many of the Halloween decorations are still out during regular hours at the zoo, though the lights are off, which makes it a lot more subtle. Money raised through Boo at the Zoo supports the Milwaukee County Zoo and the 2,200+ animals in its care.


Details

BOO AT THE ZOO
Runs through Sunday, Oct. 24

PRICE: $55, $50 with Zoo Pass
TICKETS: Must be bought online prior to arriving
ADDRESS: 10001 W Bluemound Rd
HOURS: 5:30-9 p.m.
MAP: Click here


Photos

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

Photo by Evan Watters

 

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Allison Garcia is the Digital Editor for Milwaukee Magazine.