Five Go Festive! The Lanterns at Chester Zoo 2019

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If you’re a regular to my blog and social channels then you’ll already know that we are huge fans of Wild Rumpus. They have been responsible for providing some truly magical memories for our family (at Timber Festival, Just So Festival and Art on the Run) during the last couple of years. Therefore, their festive offering The Lanterns which is held annually at Chester Zoo is an absolute must see.

As a not-for-profit community interest company, all of Wild Rumpus’s profit goes back into its arts programmes, developed to support emerging artists, create pioneering schemes for volunteers, and host creative adventures for marvellous families of all shapes and sizes.

Our first visit to The lanterns was last year (read about our 2018 visit here) and I can honestly say we will be visiting every year for the foreseeable future.

The Moonlit Meadow

We were very kindly invited by Wild Rumpus to attend the opening night this year which took place on 22nd November. We were so excited, and because it fell the day before Nana’s birthday she came along too.

It takes around an hour to walk The Lanterns route, but plan in longer for some fab festive photos and the chance to try out some of the tasty treats on offer.

What’s new this year?

We saw some ‘old favourites’ return such as the wonderfully detailed animals in the Moonlit Meadow and the badly behaved but incredibly entertaining penguins.

The penguins make a welcome return

But 2019 also sees some brand new additions. The first zone we encountered was Explorer Basecamp where suitcases and travel passes are strewn around, hot air balloons fill the night sky and an exotic parrot will waddle over to greet you. Have your photo taken with the friendly zebra who is only too happy to pose.

Explorer Base Camp
The friendly zebra at Explorer Base Camp
The luminous parrot at Explorer Base Camp

We absolutely loved the new Under Water zone, the giant octopus is a sight to behold, moving and changing colour as it goes. But, our little family had a soft spot for the colourful jellyfish lanterns that were bobbing about in the breeze! We made jellyfish umbrellas for Just So Festival so felt somewhat ‘tribally’ attached.

The giant octopus in Under Water
The beautiful jellyfish at Under Water

The old lion enclosure (the lions have been rehomed in their new purpose built enclosure which was completed in October) has been transformed into the Tropical Dreams landscape for amphibians and reptiles. Here we met some amazing dart frogs, chameleons and a huge snake who seemed to be happy nestled in amongst the vivid UV reactive ferns and flowers.

Our favourite ‘leaping’ frog in Tropical Dreams
The python at Tropical Dreams
The dart frogs at Tropical Dreams

So what’s changed?

There are a few key features that have undergone major changes from last year. The first being the amount of interactive lantern puppets, responding to feedback from previous years these fun characters have been ramped up this year providing entertainment and the kind of pure magic you just wouldn’t find anywhere else.

The light tunnel in all its twinkling beauty

The light tunnel which is made up from thousands of twinkling fairy lights was a major hit last year, and this year it’s back, but even bigger and with more sparkle than ever before. Take your Insta-worthy selfies then pop on a pair of ‘special’ glasses to really make the magic happen!

Taken through my magic glasses

Christmas is synonymous with snow in this household, and therefore highlight of our visit last year was the snow cannon. It was situated in the Enchanted Woodland but caused a bit of a bottle neck due to it’s popularity. You can expect to get some amazing photos of your little ones with faces full of joy, dancing about in the snow. I only have one slightly blurred photo from this year to show you though unfortunately, because I too spent my time dancing in the snow albeit with Eli in my arms!

Snow much fun!

The snow cannon has been moved to just after the Northern Lights which is where the Christmas Market serves up hot and cold drinks, and everything from hog roast to some yummy sweet treats. In my opinion this is a great improvement as naturally the footfall going straight through towards the snow cannon reduces as people drift off for refreshments. This means that there is now plenty of opportunity for snow play without it getting too crowded at any one time.

Me and two of my lanterneers

The Christmas Market itself seemed to lack something this year in terms of it’s atmosphere but I’m not sure what or why? It felt like a real hub last year where visitors sat and relaxed while enjoying a bite to eat or a quick drink. It felt like much more of a corridor than a destination this time around, it might be something as simple as tweaking the layout but it’s only my personal observation. That being said, the food we sampled was absolutely delicious and reasonably priced for an event of this scale.

Stanley meeting Father Christmas

This was also where we met THE most authentic Father Christmas ever, complete with accent and very real beard. He gave both of my boys a gingerbread biscuit which was a lovely touch. As we walked away Stanley (5) grabbed my hand and whispered ‘I think that was actually the REAL one Mummy’.

Do you still believe? I do!

Our favourite bits

Whichever way you turn and in whatever direction you look, you are met by colour and light at The Lanterns. In our opinion however, they saved the very best until last.

The breathtaking Shangri-la

Shangri-la is an exotic oriental world of colour and striking patterns. Meander through a walkway filled with beautiful traditional batik lanterns and come face to face with aherd of lofty giraffes and a pair of gleaming elephants.

Wow, just wow! I’m struggling to describe just how Shagri-la looks, or do I mean feels? It is certainly a delight for all of the senses. The colours are so vivid, lights twinkle, trees are illuminated and it just has a dream-like quality.

A complete wonderland

When you glance from your children to your mother and find they all have the exact same look of wonder on their faces, you know that you’re experiencing something special together and THAT is the real reason why we love The Lanterns so much.

The unbelievable colour in Shangri-la

The giraffes are simply spectacular and the people ‘working’ them are amazing. They interact with the children but also display some natural characteristics by stopping every now and again to nibble on the tree foliage.

The magic of Shangri-la
Stanley showing the giraffe his biscuit
James was absolutely thrilled by the interactive puppets

But our hearts were completely won over by the [new] elephants, taking the place of the penguins from last year as our favourites so far. James never even saw the people behind them, only the larger than life characters in front of him. They are so beautiful, enough detail to make them completely believeable but wonderfully lit and bright yellow in colour so that they’re also animals of fantasy.

The beautifully crafted elephant

James was happily munching his way through his gingerbread biscuit at this point (it had been at least 30 minutes since he’d last eaten so he was obviously starving!) but one elephant seems to be quite partial to baked goodies and so it wrapped it’s trunk around James biscuit and tried to snatch it from him! It was a joy to watch and James found the whole thing absolutely hilarious. Another special memory made, and one we’ll never forget.

James running off from the elephant to protect his biscuit

In summary.

We can’t recommend The Lanterns enough, if you are looking for a magical way to start off your festive season then I can’t think of anything that would even come close.

There are other amazing light displays out there I know, but the combination of light, sound and high quality interactive elements makes this a completely unique experience.

Carrying their own keepsake lanterns

We were a party made up of three generations and we all had a magical time. It was my mum’s first visit and she’s already said she wants to go with us again. We will definitely be returning next year, it just gives us that warm festive feeling inside and gets us into the Christmas spirit.

Nana loved it just as much as her boys

All I can say is… I heartily recommend putting your wellies on, wrapping up warm and heading into your very own wonderland!

The perfect start to our festive season

The Lanterns run until 23rd December with entry from 4pm which makes it suitable for families with younger children. Last entry is 7.45pm. The Lanterns route is buggy friendly. Extra assistance AVAILABLE from guest services for those with additional needs.

The Lanterns still has availability for dates in December, to book your tickets click here. Hurry, don’t miss out!

Disclosure: We were invited to attend the opening night of The Lanterns 2019 by Wild Rumpus as part of their press team. We received complimentary tickets in exchange for this review and coverage across my social media channels.

We paid in full for our previous visit in 2018.

All images are my own unless otherwise credited and must not be reproduced without permission.

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