The Asian Lantern Festival shines at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo


Alan Kronenberg, Staff Writer

Early last week I had the chance to attend one of my favorite annual events in Cleveland. It brings together lights, colors and models in the shapes of animals and flowers, dazzling under the night sky. With each yearly recurrence, this spectacle becomes more complex and entertaining as its figures are refined and expanded upon to captivate its growing audience. Having returned three times now, I am always amazed that I can experience all of this right here at our local zoo.

The event I’m describing is the Asian Lantern Festival at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Now in its fifth year, the festival features brilliantly illuminated lantern displays that light up the zoo at night. This special event showcases a variety of animal-themed lanterns, ranging from small flowers, grandiose Asian palaces and arching dragon tunnels. The festival also offers fun, hourly acrobatic shows at the main amphitheater stage, cooking and food options at the market and, of course, the opportunity to see some of the zoo animals at night.

Each year, however, the zoo makes alterations to the event to make it newer and exciting. This year, for instance, they changed up the hourly show by having it center more on acrobatics than in years past. They also added approximately 70 new lantern exhibits to the overall event. One of these new types of exhibits involved interactive, animatronic-like lanterns that respond to certain inputs, like a dragon that roars if you step on this star-shaped sensor, or a huge jellyfish that changes colors if you hit one of the four drums connected to it. These contraptions are seemingly tailored towards the younger kids who frequent the event in droves earlier in the evening. However, they are enjoyable for all ages, with even middle-aged men jumping up and down on some of the sensors. It is this kind of amusement that I think the Asian Lantern Festival is best suited for. People of all ages attend this festival to enjoy both the amazing and the more cutesy lantern displays spread out around the zoo.

In addition to the lanterns, the event also allows visitors to visit the zoo after normal hours and witness nocturnal animal activity in real life. The festival’s route takes you in a loop around most of the zoo’s sections, allowing you to see some of the zoo’s animals as you follow the lantern trail, including those who become most active at night. On my visit, these included brown bears climbing around on wooden platforms, snow leopards walking right over our heads in elevated tunnels and the normally dormant pack of wolves actually running about their habitat and playing with each other. Such a unique experience with these animals was a truly unexpected treat; all of which was made possible because of this festival.

Altogether, the Asian Lantern Festival offers visitors a chance to experience the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in a whole new way. By presenting what is ordinarily seen at a zoo or aquarium by the light of a lantern, this event delights over 100,000 visitors each year with its artistic homages to the animals that we love. In doing so, the lanterns serve as a reminder to cherish the beauty of the natural world both here at the zoo and all around us. It is for this reason and many more that I highly recommend you make the approximately 20-minute drive down from campus to experience the zoo’s Asian Lantern Festival for yourself. And now, it’ll be available for even longer, as the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo announced that it will be extending the festival until Sept. 17—a full 18 days longer than originally planned. 

The event runs from Thursdays to Sundays between 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for walk-throughs of the zoo, and on specially-administered time slots on Wednesdays for drive-throughs of the event in your car. Though I haven’t experienced the drive-through version of the event, I would still recommend the walking option if possible because you can get closer to and spend more time looking at the lanterns and animals this way. Additionally, the zoo advertised the return of the Wild Ride event for Sept. 18, where you can bike through the zoo from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and see the lanterns for the last time until the event’s return next year. If you want more information or want to buy tickets for either of these events, be sure to check it out on the Cleveland Metroparks website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.