Asian Lantern Festival: Into the Wild

Central Florida Zoo, Sanford, FL

We may have found a New Year’s tradition to continue enjoying the season of lights after the holidays: The Asian Lantern Festival! Our local zoo is running this after hours event from November 20th – January 12th 2020 from 6pm to 10pm nightly.

We weren’t sure what to expect, and were surprised to find giant illuminated ‘lanterns’ which are sculpted wire forms covered with a silk material. They are each lit from inside with many standard sized light bulbs attached to the interior of the wire forms. They were both much bigger and brighter than we had anticipated. We were expecting a large christmas light display, but this was something we had never seen before.

We entered the exhibit throuh a walkway flanked by whimsical crescent moons and stars which looked a lot like bananas. They tower over my 6’3″ husband as you can see in the photo below.

As we followed the winding path, we discovered large scale lanterns representing some of the animals that make their home at the zoo. Music also accomapnies visitors and changes upon entering the different event areas.

Some of the lantern animal exhibits included life sized giraffes and an oversized animated alligator whose jaws open and close. We tried to get a peek at the resident animals but they were mostly sheltering down for the night. We glimpsed a few behind or boarding the festival exhibits, such as the donkey behind the giraffes. Overall, the zoo animal enclosures were dark and most animals were unable to be seen.

The chinese dragon was the largest lantern by far, which seemed to be near as long as a football field. It’s hard to tell the scale from the photo but those are some pine trees on the left bottom corner of the screen on the last two humps of the dragon.

There were food vendors and drink stations, and a small arts and crafts tent. The event was very well manned with numerous volunteers guiding you at every turn, including parking attendants. The event was very popular and slightly crowded even on a Wednesday night after Christmas, I would think a weekend would be extremely crowded. The cost was $50 for 4 tickets or around $18.60 each. It was a magical mesmerizing evening and I plan to go again next year; an unexpected opportunity to carry a little luminary magic into the new year.