This year, I feel like I’ve skipped a couple of months somehow. November came around far too quickly and suddenly we’re into December and up until now I haven’t felt at all ready for the Christmas period. So, in order to try and get into the festive spirit I started looking into activities we would enjoy as a family.
The Lanterns at Chester Zoo is an event I’ve seen advertised for the last couple of years, and I’ve always thought that it looked amazing, really magical. So, I quickly booked to go 30th November…the perfect timing to start off our festivities as the following day we traditionally put up our Christmas tree.
There was a choice of arrival time slots and I chose the earliest (4pm) because it meant we wouldn’t get back too late for the boys and their bedtimes.
We live approx 1.5hrs away from the zoo so we aimed to leave by 2.30pm. Ben finishes work at midday on Friday so we were ready on time…with a newborn too, go us!! Ok, ok there was a lot of running around like a headless chicken from me, and several mutterings under my breath everytime someone shouted ‘Muuuummmmy’ but we were all strapped and buckled into our seats in good time, mission accomplished…I’m calling it a win!
Anyone who has ever had small (mostly nocturnal) children will know that the precise timing of naps will impact on whether you have the night from hell or not…so some preparation was required. We had all the boys in the car by 2.15pm, Eli having just been fed, James had a full tummy, a bottle of juice and had been deprived of his 11am nap, and Stanley was just a huge blob of excitement. All 3 fell asleep en route as planned which gave me and Ben a chance to chat and actually hear the radio without being interrupted…a complete luxury!!
We arrived just before 4pm and parked easily on the main carpark. The zoo closes at 3.30pm for daytime visitors and reopens at 4pm for the lanterns. Before we had even got to the ticket gates we were greeted by a man riding a huge green snail and large pink and purple butterflies flitted amongst the crowd. There was also music playing which added to the surreal magical feeling of it all. Music was to play a huge part in creating the atmosphere for the different lanterns and really added to the experience.
Once inside we were faced by a huge board showing a map of the lanterns route and the different ‘zones’ along the way.
This was our journey…
A continuation of butterflies, snails and huge flowers that towered overhead. Staff members gave us lanterns to carry on our walk…a small tin bucket style lantern for each child complete with battery operated tealight, these were a massive hit with the boys. Stanley already telling us it was like a firefly (not short of imagination, our Stan).
We were also offered a brightly coloured paper pyramid lantern that was mounted on a long stick, after carefully choosing his colour (read taking ages to decide) and then walking off, Stanley decided that it was too heavy and so in order to keep our hands free (for controlling two excited boys) we decided to give ours back.
This was my personal favourite display as the animal lanterns were huge and so detailed. And, obviously they looked very at home here in the zoo. Simply put, they were beautiful. The snow on the ground also made it feel very festive, I’d dressed the boys in their snowsuits to keep the chill out, so it made for very Christmassy photo opportunities.
The first and last animals you see in the Moonlit Meadow are the giraffes which led on nicely to…
Shangri-la was bursting with colour and pattern. The giraffe like sculptures and glowing shapes lined the pathway down to where the animated giraffe lanterns were interacting with the children.
From a child’s perspective the moving giraffe lanterns were huge and there were lots of little faces looking up in complete awe. There were definitely some ‘big kids’ too and they were Dad shaped and loving it!
Colourful boulders led the way through this world of endangered bird species. The lanterns were set at different heights with some birds in flight overhead.
James made friends with an emu and it gave him a gentle peck on the nose. The ‘puppet’ lanterns that featured throughout were a great addition, and kept the boys entertained. I think without them they might have become a little bored of just looking at the static lanterns, but trying to guess which characters they would meet next kept their excitement going. The people working the puppets were brilliant at giving the creatures character and interacting with the children. Stanley and James never even noticed the people behind them.
Soon we were into a wintery world of traditional Nordic/Scandi style Festivities. Simple silhouettes with warm white patterns and lots of twinkly fairy lights. This wasn’t the most exciting of the zones, especially for the boys but it was definitely the best smelling and tasting as it also included a teepee village hosting a Christmas food market…mulled wine fragranced the air and a huge Christmas tree was the focal point.
We left the bustle of the food market behind, and entered through a tunnel of fairy lights which made for an absolutely stunning photo backdrop.. lots of people took this opportunity and stopped to pose for instaworthy pics. However, I had two uncooperative boys and the kind of hubby who wanders off whenever a camera comes out and no amount of bribing (believe me, I tried) would convince them to stop and so the best I got was a quick selfie with Stanley that was too close to make the most of the lights (insert eye roll here).
On the other side of the tunnel was a British woodland setting with recognisable animals and a very friendly squirrel scurrying about.
This was by far Stanley’s favourite zone because right at the end, it started snowing on us!! Cue lots of twirling around in the snow (the music from Edward Scissorhands was playing, well that’s what I thought it was…I’m showing my age, but pretty perfect if you ask me!). The pure joy of two little boys dancing in the snow, in a woodland lit by twinkling lights was completely contagious and even the hubby joined in and had his photo taken!
The next zone couldn’t have been more different to the tranquil one we’d left, eccentricity ruled here. In fact there were no rules, we were in a wacky Wonderland.
Colourful potions, lampshades and teapots hinted at the mad hatters teaparty. We followed the white rabbit and spotted the Cheshire cat just before he disappeared piece by piece. Rollerskating flamingos zoomed past.
Following on from the slightly hallucinogenic feeling we adults now had, the rainforest hit us with full force. Sloths hung from vines above our heads and the huge tropical flowers were UV reactive and so so bright!!
Even though by this time we had been walking around for well over an hour the boys were still exploring the displays and calling us over to look at little details they’d discovered.
This was the final stop on our lantern journey. We walked under icey arches and met the resident penguins. The penguins were great fun, some talked, some only quacked (is that even the right term for the noise a penguin makes?) and one particular perky penguin was all singing and dancing and loved being in the limelight. I managed to grab a selfie with him, because I’m actually aged 6 on the inside!!
After we’d said goodbye to the penguins (who we were very reluctant to leave) we were given some special effect glasses to wear. These turned the ordinary strings of fairylights on the way out, into psychedelic starbursts of colour.
We absolutely loved the lanterns experience. Spending time together as a family (of five! Little Eli slept all the way through, bless him) enjoying the festive period is what this time of year is all about isn’t it?
It definitely left a magical impression on us all, and I think The Lanterns at Chester Zoo will become a yearly tradition to ramp up our Christmas spirit.
I came away feeling like a child again, and I really did have that warm fuzzy feeling inside. I’d highly recommend visiting if you’re fairly local, the lanterns are on until 23rd December, for more info and tickets click here.
Seeing is believing, my photos really don’t do it justice. #seeingisbelievingatcz
Oh, and for those of you wondering about the nap plan I carefully orchestrated…well, we had the night from hell.
Still totally worth it!!
Looking for more tried and tested festive family trips? Click here!