ABOVE: Huge fish lanterns in a pond at the Asian Lantern Festival (Mount Dora Buzz photo)
There’s still time to be awed by the innovative “Asian Lantern Festival: Into the Wild” happening at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. The evening festival, which continues through January 15, is the only event in Central Florida honoring the traditional lantern festivals celebrated throughout Asia for centuries.
The grounds of the zoo have been transformed with nearly a mile of colorful eye candy featuring 30 larger-than-life displays of illuminated sculptures crafted from metal, fabric and LED lights. Although the event features traditional red lanterns that symbolize good fortune, the main attractions are the oversized animal, plant and dragon lanterns that illuminate the grounds.
It typically takes guests about an hour and a half to stroll through all the lantern exhibits along the path and engage with some of the interactive displays. Visitors can opt to take longer or go around the path more than once. Since the event happens outside the zoo’s regular hours, the animals have access to their evening habitats and are out of the view of visitors.
The annual Sanford event is created in partnership with Tianyu Arts & Culture, Inc., the largest Chinese lantern festival producer in North America and one of the first companies to bring authentic Chinese lantern traditions to the U.S. and Europe. The company has produced 62 light festivals in zoos, parks, and venues around the U.S. in 32 cities. Inspired by Asian tradition and nature, the custom lantern designs highlight birds, land mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish in their natural habitats, as well as endangered and extinct wildlife to share important messages of conservation.
Tickets must be purchased online in advance and time slots can sell out, so it’s best to plan ahead. The last entry into the festival is 9:15 p.m. Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is located at 3755 W. Seminole Boulevard in Sanford.