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A CityPASS guide to the best holiday happenings

Christmas Around the World at Museum of Science and Indusry, Chicago features a Grand Tree surrounded by more than 50 trees decorated from volunteers from Chicago's ethnic communities. Photo credit: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! If traveling this month, vacation memories can become great holiday traditions. Here’s a look at some signatures holiday happenings in great CityPASS destination cities.


For some, Coca-Cola comes to mind when getting into the holiday spirit. At World of Coca-Cola, guests can meet the friendly polar bear, taste holiday inspired beverages such as Gingerbread Coke or Chocolate Cherry Coke, and take a look at timeless artifacts and historic Santa artwork.

Christmas decorations outside World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

At Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the Winter Wonderland features trees and other displays decorated by local cultural partners recognizing celebrations including Christmas, Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights, as well as traditions and practices like origami, indigenous art and national symbols.

Photo credit: Fernbank Museum of Natural History


Have a holiday adventure in 4D on The Polar Express at the Museum of Science Boston. Based on the inspiring and beloved Caldecott Medal children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, it's featured in digital 3-D and brought to life with 4-D multisensory effects This is an immersive experience for the whole family to enjoy.

Photo credit: Museum of Science Boston


There’s a good chance for a white Christmas in Chicago, but even if the fluffy stuff doesn’t fly, step inside the World’s Largest Snow Globe at the Adler Planetarium Grainger Sky Theater. After enjoying an original Adler sky show, stick around to tour the city from inside a magical snow globe.

Photo credit: Adler Planetarium

A beloved decorating tradition continues at the Art Institute of Chicago, as the Thorne Mini Rooms are decked out in their holiday finery. Plus, don’t miss the iconic guardian lions wearing their traditional evergreen wreaths.

A miniature menorah is placed in Mrs. James Ward Thorne’s California Hallway, about 1940. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Photo credit: Art Institute of Chicago.

Explore rich holiday traditions from around the globe at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. Beginning in 1942 with a single tree. Today, the Museum’s beloved annual celebration features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the world.


Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas at Dallas Arboretum's outdoor exhibit with an elaborate collection of 25-foot Victorian style gazebos filled with the charming costumed characters, whimsical animals and music made famous by the beloved carol.

Photo credit: Dallas Arboretum.

The George w. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is bringing back to life “A Season of Merriment and Melody,” the theme First Lady Laura Bush selected as the White House holiday message in 2004. Visitors will enjoy classic holiday music, experience the original 2004 White House decorations, and have the opportunity to take a family photo in front of the Blue Room Christmas tree, an 18-foot recreation of the White House Christmas Tree.”

Photo credit: George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum


Get in the spirit of the holiday with carolers, Santa, a snowball play area, holiday treats, art-making activities, and--on eight nights--a live reindeer, all amidst Bayou Bend's 14 acres of gardens and art at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston .

Photo credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

New York

What’s more brilliant in December than the Rockefeller Christmas Tree? 2016’s version could be the best one yet, so whether you’re stopping by for the ice-skating or heading to Top of the Rock to see more city lights from above, you’ll feel the magic of the season.

Rockefeller Center at Christmas.

Celebrate the turn of the year in style with a New Year’s Eve cruise around New York City with Circle Line Cruises. You’ll have the Manhattan skyline as a beautiful backdrop and a spectacular view of the fireworks display at the Statue of Liberty.

(The New Year's Eve cruise is a separate ticketed event not included with CityPASS.)

New Year's Eve in New York City. Photo credit: Circle Line Cruises


Just across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey, see Scuba Santa swim alongside sharks, sea turtles and stingrays at Adventure Aquarium.

Photo credit: Adventure Aquarium

San Francisco

‘Tis the season for science at California Academy of Sciences. The natural history museum/planetarium/rainforest/aquarium transforms into a floor-to-ceiling winter wonderland with indoor snow flurries, caroling and a visiting pair of reindeer.

Photo credit: California Academy of Sciences


Holiday traditions in the Northwest start on the water. Every year, the Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship sails to different Puget Sound waterfront communities, around 65 in total. Choirs on board give 20-minute performances to these communities. On shore, thousands of people gather around roaring bonfires anticipating the arrival of the Christmas Ship.

(The Christmas Ship is a separate ticketed event not included with CityPASS.)

Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship™ Festival Sponsored by The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy and Alaska Airlines. Photo credit: Argosy Cruises

At Woodland Park Zoo, animals will be treated to fish or fruit-trimmed wreathes, evergreens or wrapped boxes containing favorite treats during the Winter Celebration.

A lion at Woodland Park Zoo's Winter Celebration. Photo credit: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Southern California

It’s the most wonderful time of the year at the happiest place on earth! New Celebrations this year include the new Festival of Holidays and new "World of Color—Season of Light," and Haunted Mansion Holiday. Glistening Christmas trees and seasonal decor adorn the entire Disneyland Resort, and "A Christmas Fantasy" parade is performed daily. Jingle Cruise will also return to Disneyland Park this holiday season.

Photo credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

Tampa Bay

Over at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, they are staying open late on select nights for Christmas in the Wild. Twinkling lights illuminate the night, and there could be a surprise around every corner with carolers, dancers and tumblers. Experience an up-close encounter with an animal ambassador, or watch the animals get into the Christmas spirit with seasonal enrichments.

Christmas in the Wild at Lowry Park Zoo.


There’s magic at Casa Loma. On Wednesday nights from 5-9pm, the castle, gardens and grounds are lit up in a dazzling light display for Winterland Nights. New this year is a holiday-themed magic show by famed illusionist entertainers Professor Wick, as well as live performers Soli and Rob and Circus Jon.

Photo credit: Casa Loma

Raising Panda Twins

On September 3, Lun Lun, a giant panda at Zoo Atlanta, gave birth to her second set of twins. We wanted to know what it was like to help care for the animals, so we asked a keeper for a few details.

Jen Webb has been a Mammal Keeper in Zoo Atlanta’s Carnivore Department for over five years. A Georgia native from Fayette County, Webb says working at the major zoo in her home state is pretty awesome, and is lucky to work with pandas. “I’ve known my whole life I’d make a career working with wildlife, but I never knew in what capacity,” Webb said. “Truthfully, zookeeping wasn’t even on my radar until I took a Zoo Biology class (through Georgia State University) and completed an internship at Zoo Atlanta my senior year in college. I quickly fell in love with the field.“

Jen Webb - Panda keeper at Zoo Atlanta

Her wild job
I have a Bachelor of Science degree, as do virtually all professional zookeepers, in Biology from Clayton State University. Other keepers have majors in Zoology, Animal Behavior, Wildlife Management, Psychology, or other fields.

My responsibilities are vast, and the job isn’t always glamorous, but zookeeping combines my two loves in life: working with wildlife and teaching. As a zookeeper my main job is the day-to-day care of the animals I work with. This includes cleaning their daytime and nighttime areas; feeding; habitat maintenance; animal training (all voluntary on the animals’ part and by use of positive reinforcement); providing enrichment (ways to stimulate the animals and their natural instincts); educating guests through keeper talks; research; and assisting in veterinary procedures.

Working with giant pandas
I got very lucky! I started working as a seasonal keeper in the Bird Department and the Primate Department, but it was temporary full-time work. So I kept applying for every permanent full-time position that became available. I wanted to work with carnivores, so the position with giant pandas seemed perfect since giant pandas fall under our Carnivore Department.

Sleepy Panda Twins at Zoo Atlanta

The popularity of pandas
Giant pandas are very charismatic, adorable, popular animals. And not every zoo has them! Only four zoos in the U.S. house giant pandas on loan from China. Giant pandas are also notorious for being a difficult species to breed, as females are fertile only under very specific conditions and for a very, very short amount of time. This, and their appearance, makes giant panda births very popular!

Giant pandas are also a rare species in general. It’s not as likely that any of our visitors will see giant pandas in the wild in China, so the excitement around giant panda births also helps to make the connection between the individuals who are part of our giant panda program here at the Zoo and their wild counterparts, who are very reliant on conservation programs like the one of which Zoo Atlanta is part.

Birth of the pandas
Giant pandas are born very, very altricial (underdeveloped). Babies are 1,000 times smaller than their moms at birth. They are about the size of a stick of butter, weigh only a few ounces, and are blind, deaf, unable to walk, and unable to regulate their own body temperature. For these reasons, they have to be held continuously for the first month or so, or otherwise they will freeze to death. So it’s hard for Mom to take care of two babies. Because of this, while twins occur about 50 percent of the time, usually one is abandoned in the wild. In a zoological setting, the caretakers can step in and keep one of the cubs warm in an incubator until it’s the cub’s turn to spend some time with Mom bonding and nursing.

The first year
(It’s) very busy! For the first four or five months, we have keepers and a colleague from China in the building 24/7 to keep an eye on the baby (ies) and Mom. This is to ensure that Mom is getting enough food and care she needs to care for her cub(s), and to ensure that the cub(s) are growing and developing normally. Once the cub(s) are around 5 months old, their immune systems are strong enough that they can be exposed to other areas of the panda building where our other pandas spend time. This is when visitors gets to lay their eyes on the new nugget(s) for the first time. After that, the keepers are still busy providing Mom with an endless supply of bamboo and making sure the cub(s) doesn’t get into too much mischief!

Baby Panda Born in Atlanta

Holding a cub
Their fur is quite wooly, and these animals, even when small, are very dense and solidly built. Cubs in the wild spend most of the day sleeping in a tree while Mom forages for bamboo. So they have a very strong grip! Even at 8 months old, the cubs are difficult to handle safely so we only do it when needed. After the cub(s) are a year old they’re too strong!

Like all of the animals here at Zoo Atlanta, the cubs and Lun Lun are treated as wild animals, so to preserve and encourage their important natural behaviors, our team handles the cubs as infrequently as possible, and only for very specific reasons.

Telling the twins apart
Each cub is unique. Sometimes there are visual markers you can use to tell them apart. For example, currently, Cub A has more black fur around its mouth and nose than its sibling does. But visual markers change as the pandas grow. So the best way to tell them apart is by their ever-evolving personalities. Cub A is definitely the fussier one. Also, each cub has its own designated incubator. With our first set of twins born in 2013, we shaved a small patch of fur between the shoulder blades of one cub while we were still handling them. This made it very easy to tell them apart.

A good panda mom
Lun Lun is a very attentive mother. She cares for each cub equally. She is very quick to respond whenever they vocalize, whether it’s because they’re hungry, want to snuggle closer, or need to be stimulated to go to the bathroom. While we do approach her care as that of a wild animal, Lun Lun has developed positive relationships with us, her keepers. She will shift into another den to allow us to swap cubs, and if she doesn’t want to do that she will allow us to trade her a cub for a treat and another cub. When there are twins, our job is to make sure Lun Lun and the cub she has are being attended to, and to ensure that the cub hanging out in the incubator is comfortable and not getting too hungry. We start with swaps every two hours, and gradually increase the time between swaps as the cubs grow. Once they can regulate their own temperatures, we give Lun Lun both her cubs and she is able to care for them on her own.

Pandas have a favorite scent
The keepers tell their favorites through trial and error. All scents have been approved by our veterinarians. So even if the animal ingests the scent, it won’t cause them harm. Once we had an assortment of scents, we started offering the pandas each scent. Some they reacted strongly to (rubbing it all over their bodies, called “self-anointing”), while other scents they weren’t that impressed with.

Twin Panda Cubs

Life as twins
The twins will stay together as long as they are happy being together. This will last until they are sexually mature. Once they’re sexually mature, they will naturally want to lead solitary lives.

From China with love
All of our offspring return to China as part of our loan agreement. They return to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which is where their parents were born, around the age of 3 and will remain together until they’re sexually mature.

What you’ll see at the zoo
Guests can currently see Yang Yang (the father of all the cubs), and the first set of twins born in 2013: Mei Lun and Mei Huan. We have a monitor in the panda viewing area where visitors can see Lun Lun with her cub. However, they will not make their debut until December 2016 or January 2017. In this coming November, the 2013 twins will make their journey to China as have all of their older siblings. So, for a small period of time, guests will only see Yang Yang.

Keep an eye out
Watch how the pandas eat! They have a very strong sense of smell and powerful jaw muscles. They only eat the pieces of bamboo that smell the “best.” They’re actually smelling for sugar/starch content. So every time they take a bite, you’ll notice they’ll hold the bamboo in front of their noses – that’s when they’re smelling to see if they want to take another bite, or if it’s time to try another piece. They’re very picky!

What else?
Being a zookeeper is a very hard job and at times quite dirty … but’s also a very rewarding job! It never ceases to amaze me with the relationships we are able to build with these animals. Everything we ask them to do is voluntary, and they always have a choice. So to see them actually do what we ask is pretty cool!

I’d also like to add that while giant pandas are definitely one of the most popular species here at the Zoo, they’re also part of a very important conservation program. Zoo Atlanta has contributed over $10 million in conservation funding for giant pandas in the wild in China. Supporting the Zoo helps us continue to make a difference with these long-term investments for the benefit of wild populations.

Newborn Baby Cub

More info from the Zoo Atlanta panda blog

Chinese tradition maintains that giant panda cubs are named when they reach 100 days of age. All five of Lun Lun’s and Yang Yang’s previous offspring were named according to this tradition, and while there are no firm plans yet for their naming, we expect that the new cubs will be named following this custom.

When to see them
All plans will be based on the cubs’ level of development and Lun Lun’s comfort level in taking the cubs with her into new areas, but we are hopeful that Members and guests will be able to see the twins in December 2016 or January 2017.

Bamboo Besties
Three-year-old giant panda twins, Mei Lun and Mei Huan, the first pair of surviving giant panda twins in the U.S., are expected to leave Atlanta for the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China in November 2016.

To visit the Zoo and other top Atlanta attractions, explore the Atlanta CityPASS.





Where Should You Go On Vacation?

Let’s face it; it’s time to finally take that summer vacation. Vacation hours are racking up, and you’re Googling travel destinations when you should be working. If you’re feeling the travel itch, it’s best to just give in and scratch it.

The world is your playground, but planning that perfect final summer vacation can be overwhelming. The U.S. is a big place to explore and every region has its differences — different food, different landscapes, different personalities, and different attractions.

Not sure what area of the country to explore next? Choose your own adventure and take the stress out of your search with the flowchart challenge. Tell us where you’re headed in the comments below!

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Now that you know which part of the country is right for you to visit for your vacation, make it an even more enjoyable experience by taking a CityPASS booklet with you. With CityPASS you'll save up to 50% on admission to famous attractions and get to skip most ticket lines. CityPASS ticket booklets are available in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay, and Toronto.

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