This past weekend Nick and I finally made it to the Asian Lantern Festival at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo with some friends. I have mixed feelings about zoos having seen some of these animals out in the wild, but I also get that not everyone gets to go on safari, and the work done at zoos helps raise awareness and much needed dollars that go back to conversation efforts for these animals in their native habitats. And yet, seeing these beautiful animals in relatively small spaces makes my heart break a little.
All that said, I know that the zoo keepers and vets and staff at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo really care very deeply about the animals in their care. While they may not have the same space to roam as in the wild, they do receive excellent care, and the team at the zoo works very hard to keep these animals mentally stimulated.
Under normal conditions, the Cleveland Zoo closes at 5 pm each night. Over the past two years, the Zoo has opened up it’s doors under limited engagement Thursday through Sunday evenings June 20 through July 28 from 6:30 - 10 p.m. (excluding July 4). The limited engagement is the Asian Lantern Festival, where parts of the zoo are open and lit with beautiful lanterns across several destinations including the Welcome Plaza, African Savanna, Wilderness Trek, Asian Highlands, Waterfowl Lake and more. This year’s festival features more than 40 all-new, large-scaled illuminated displays featuring hundreds of individual and interactive lanterns. These include a walk-through 100 foot long shark tunnel, 30 foot tall giant panda and an expansive display of Chinese pagodas.
Know before you go: Things to know about the Asian Lantern Festival
You need a separate ticket for this event. You can purchase tickets in advance or buy them at the door. A 4-pack of tickets is $60 at the door. There is a small discount if you buy these online in advance. Online ticket sales end at noon the day of the event - after that, you have to buy them in person at the box office.
Entry begins at 6:30 pm. If you get there at 6:30 pm, the light is great for people pictures but you can’t really get the whole effect of the lights in the lanterns. I recommend getting there a little later, say around 7:30 or 8:00 pm to maximize the light for people pictures and the lit lanterns.
Only certain parts of the zoo are open and accessible. If you’re trying to go to the rainforest or the Australian exhibit you have to go during normal hours.
Adult beverages (and non alcoholic beverages) are available for purchase - you can sip as you walk through the exhibit
The event features specialty vendors from Cleveland’s Asia Town - Koko Bakery, Li Wah and King Wah among others. There’s a specialty mochi stand too - keep an eye out for it!
This event ends July 28th. Last year the last week of the exhibit was a madhouse and it was completely sold out each evening. So go early if you can!
I missed the Asian Lantern Festival last year and deeply regretted it, so I’m really happy I got to check this off the list this year, and has the added bonus of practicing my photography skills too!
Hope you’re having a great summer!