Face Off: Newport Aquarium's Scuba Santa vs. Cincinnati Zoo's Festival of Lights

Which family attraction is better?

CINCINNATI -- Twas' the week before Christmas and all through the town, Scuba Santa was swimming and the Festival of Lights didn't produce one frown.

So the question was posed, which attraction is better? Don't worry, we're on it, don't be a fretter.

In this week's version of Face Off, we compare the Cincinnati Zoo's infamous holiday attraction, the Festival of Lights, and the Newport Aquarium's underwater wonderland with Scuba Santa, to find out which one is more worth your money and time.

The Aquarium offers something you rarely see: Santa Claus swimming with six species of sharks. But the Zoo's Festival of Lights pulls you into a sparkly world full of magic... and train rides.

Attraction highlights and features according to their respective websites:


  • Scuba Santa : You can play a Reindeer Roundup game and help Scuba Santa find his missing reindeer, visit Scuba Santa's Post Office and write a letter, hear Scuba Santa talk from beneath the sea during magical underwater dive show. Santa will also read "Twas' the Night Before Christmas" from inside the tank.
  • Festival of Lights : You can see the new Wild Lights Show on Swan Lake, Madcap Black-Light Puppet Show, see Santa through Dec. 23, ride the North Polar Express Train and visit a Fairyland where you can find the five hidden fairies

Who wins? Both attractions offer multiple family-friendly activities and a variety of fun things to do. We call it a tie.

Score: Aquarium 1, Zoo 1


  • Scuba Santa: The Newport Aquarium offers a small cafeteria area at the end of the walk-through.
  • Festival of Lights: Snacks are available for purchase throughout the attraction, multiple restaurants are on hand for consumption and their hot chocolate is to die for. Oh, and let's not forget the S'mores-N-More where you can enjoy your favorite camping treat.

Who wins? We say Festival of Lights. Not only do people look forward to seeing those sparkly lights, but also the delicious hot chocolate that pairs nicely in the frosty weather. The variety of foods is also a winner, especially when trying to feed a family with different tastes.

Score: Aquarium 1, Zoo 2

Which attraction is more expensive?

  • Scuba Santa Admission: Adults (13 years and older) $23, Children (2 years through 12) $15, Children under 2 tickets are Free
  • Festival of Lights *BASIC Admission: Adults (13 years and older) $15, Children (2 years through 12) $10, Children under 2 tickets are Free, Senior tickets are $10
  • Festival of Lights *TOTAL EXPERIENCE Package: Adults (13 years and older) $25, Children (2 years through 12) $21, Children under 2 tickets are Free, Senior tickets are $21

*Basic Admission: This only includes admission into the park
*Total Experience Package: This includes admission to the park, unlimited access to the train and one viewing at the 4D theater

Who wins? Based on admission alone, Festival of Lights basic admission takes the cake. If a family of five (two adults, two 10 year olds and one baby) attended each attraction, Festival of Lights would cost you $50 and Scuba Santa would set you back $76. However, if that same family paid for the Festival of Lights Total Experience Package, they would shell out $90 - a difference of $14 from the Scuba Santa deal. The Zoo seems to offer the better deal.

Score: Aquarium 1, Zoo, 3

But what about the hidden fees?

  • Scuba Santa: Parking could set you back a few bucks if you don't find off-street parking but admission cost is all you will need to pay inside the attraction unless you buy souvenirs.
  • Festival of Lights: It's possible to find off-street parking close to the Zoo but chances are you will be paying $8 to get a good spot. The North Polar Express will put you out $3 per ride and the 4-D theater will cost you $6 per person if you don't purchase the total experience package.

Who wins? Scuba Santa wins this race. If you don't mind parking your car on the street for free, once you pay admission you won't be hit with any hidden fees. However, if you only purchase the basic admission into Festival of Lights and your kids hear the familiar "choo-choo" and see other kids having fun on the train -- you'll wish that $3 train-ticket was included in your package... along with a free 4-D movie.

Score: Aquarium, 2, Zoo, 3

Attraction environment:

  • Scuba Santa: Unless you count the walk to and from your car to enter the aquarium, the entire attraction takes place indoors where it's nice and warm.
  • Festival of Lights: Bundle up! This attraction can take hours to walk through and apart from a few indoor heated areas, you'll be outside the majority of the time. For parents with little ones, expect a few screams and complaints.

Who wins? This depends of the type of Christmas adventurer. If you like the outdoors and don't mind the cold, the open and airy Festival of Lights might be right up your alley. However, if you're not a winter-lover and have kids that may not enjoy the cool air, the warm indoor Aquarium might be better suited

for you. We call it a tie.

Score: Aquarium, 3, Zoo, 4

What did the community say when asked on Facebook which attraction they would pick?

  • Scuba Santa:
  1. Gretchen Forde: "Newport Aquarium. I like being warm. lol"
  2. Megan Spradling: "Aquarium. Cant stand the cold!"
  3. Elizabeth Bergeron: "Aquarium, I find the lights don't meet my expectations."
  4. Gina Lederer Verst: "We love both! But, I personally prefer the Aquarium because I dislike being cold. Also, a lot of the animals at the zoo are not out/visible. And, the lines can be outrageous for Santa and the train at the zoo."
  • Festival of Lights:
  1. Tina Pickering: "Festival of Lights. Love being outdoors and drinking hot chocolate. Been every year for the last 20. It's tradition."
  2. Cathy Cook: "Festival of Lights due to it being more family-oriented, more to do and see, it's outside where you can enjoy the beautiful snow and lights throughout the zoo, and it feels more "Christmas-sy"! I love Festival of Lights!!"
  3. Dana Violet: "Festival of Lights - whenever I go to the aquarium, it's too crowded. At least outdoors, there is more space."

Who wins? According to the WCPO Facebook page, Festival of Lights had more positive comments by a landslide.

Score: Aquarium 3, Zoo 5

Who reigns supreme? Based on on these factors, we king Festival of Lights as the champion of this round of Face Off.

Tell us which attraction YOU would pick in the comment box below.

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