A Luminous Date at the Asian Lantern Festival

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A Luminous Date at the Central Florida Zoo Asian Lantern Festival

Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things to do in Orlando during the holidays? I have found a solution. The Asian Lantern Festival at the Central Florida Zoo is relaxing. The 2022 dates for the Asian Lantern Festival are confirmed for November 18, 2022 to January 15, 2023. These 2022 dates give you plenty of time to check out this beautiful nighttime experience.

Just like any holiday event in Central Florida, there's a right way to experience the Asian Lantern Festival, and then there's a better way. Read on for tips to have the best date night possible at the Central Florida Zoo Asian Lantern Festival.

Below is our review of our visit to the Asian Lantern Festival in 2021. We will provide a first-hand review once the 2022 festival opens.

When To Go to the Asian Lantern Festival

If you are like my husband and me, you're pretty much booked through the month of December. This festival is really a celebration of the new year, so it runs through January 15, 2023. I visited by myself in 2021.

If you want to go in December, I recommend getting tickets sooner than later. Like all holiday events in Central Florida, the closer you get to Christmas Day the busier it will be. January is the best time to go to avoid crowds.

When you book your tickets you select a timeslot. I selected the 8:00 pm arrival time, which allowed me to enjoy the festival until 10:00 pm. When I first arrived it was very busy, so I hung back and relaxed in an Adirondack chair near the splash pad (which was turned off so guests could enjoy the aquatic-themed lanterns in this area).

After about 8:20 pm the crowds had gotten ahead of me, so I was able to enjoy the lanterns without as many people around. There was hardly anyone in sight by the time 9:15 pm rolled around and I was about halfway through the lantern pathway. Selecting this last timeslot of the night seems to be a good strategy for couples who want to have less kids and less people overall around them. You'll just need to let the initial crowd get ahead of you for about 15-20 minutes.

Starfish Walkway at Asian Lantern Festival at Central Florida Zoo 2021 is near the front of the lantern walkway and features orange, blue, and red starfish lanterns near ground level along a small circular pathway
Starfish Walkway at Asian Lantern Festival at Central Florida Zoo 2021

How To Get Around

When you arrive to the Asian Lantern Festival you will park in the free parking lot. It is dirt and grass, and the zoo itself is mostly a wooden boardwalk so I would recommend comfortable shoes, closed-toe if possible. There is a very long walkway leading to the actual gate. The long walkway is lined with lanterns, getting you in the mood for a beautiful evening before you even walk through the gate.

You'll need your ticket either saved to your phone or printed to be scanned for entry. Once inside you'll be directed to head to the left walkway where you'll meet some aquatic themed lanterns. This where the main snack bars are located. I stopped here and grabbed some cheese fries and a drink. This is a nice spot to relax, take in the views, and let the crowds get ahead.

The lantern walkway winds through the entire zoo, though some of the smaller walkways in the center of the zoo are blocked off and not part of the festival. Crowd flow is managed by making the lantern walkway one-way. Because it is one-way it is tempting to keep walking and keep going. I highly recommend slowing down so you can appreciate the details.

Lighted Walkway at Asian Lantern Festival at Central Florida Zoo 2021 - this photo is taken at night. A wooden boardwalk is illuminated from above with white asian lanterns and blue and purple lights along the sides toward the top. A couple dressed in jeans and long sleeve shirts have their back to the camera and are walking down the lighted boardwalk
Lighted Walkway at Asian Lantern Festival at Central Florida Zoo 2021

Once you enter the walkways with lanterns overhead you'll be reaching the halfway point of the festival. In fact, the large orange and red dragon lantern is just about the exact halfway point. Once you reach the gorilla lanterns and large panda display you're essentially at the end.

I asked to go back over to the aquatic lanterns near the front because it was so crowded at the beginning. The friendly staff member obliged and I decided since it was still well before 10:00pm I had time to go back through the entire walkway one more time. If you decide to do the same please be respectful of the staff and make sure you get to the exit well before 10:00pm.

What to Eat At The Asian Lantern Festival

The Central Florida Zoo is located near downtown Sanford. It would be tough to pass up all the wonderful date night spots in Sanford, so consider making a full night of it.

If you decide to have something to eat at the Asian Lantern Festival there are plenty of concession spots along the festival walkway, some of which serve Asian-inspired bites. The new dining location, Graze is open during the festival, usually until at least 9:00 pm each night, although it varies depending on the crowds.

Do not miss the build-your-own S'mores station at Swirl. This snack stand is near the enchanted garden and peacock lantern displays. The S'mores kits are basic with two graham crackers, a square of Hershey's chocolate bar, and two marshmallows and a stick to roast the marshmallows. Each kit is $5.

S'Mores Station at Asian Lantern Festival at Central Florida Zoo 2021 - this photo was taken at night, two square shaped firepits are in the foreground as is a long wooden rod holding two marshmallows being roasted over the fire. A green peacock asian lantern is illuminated in the background
S'Mores Station at Asian Lantern Festival at Central Florida Zoo 2021

The firepits for roasting the marshmallows made for a romantic atmosphere. There are some picnic tables and you can see some of the lanterns from this spot. This is a great stop for a little romantic break before walking through the final displays of the festival.

Don't Miss the Details

During my visit to the 2021 Asian Lantern Festival at the Central Florida Zoo I witnessed so many families rushing through the experience. Most of the couples I witnessed, however, knew to take their time.

One thing that surprised me about the laterns is how many of them have motion. I was expecting static displays of lights. Instead, most of the lanterns feature movement, some as simple as a winking eye or a moving mouth, while other lanterns feature full movement. So take a moment and pause at each display to make sure you don't miss a thing.

There are also many displays that have overhead elements so make sure to look up. There is also relaxing Asian music played throughout the entire festival walkway. The calm tones put me at ease. Once I let the crowd get ahead of me this felt so different than the countless Christmas light displays in Orlando.

Whale and Dolphin Display Asian Lantern Festival at Central Florida Zoo 2021 - this photo was taken at night. A large whale lantern is accompanied by a smaller dolphin lantern and both are displayed above lanterns that look like waves. The lanterns are illuminated with blue, white, and purple colors.
Whale and Dolphin Display Asian Lantern Festival at Central Florida Zoo 2021

How To Get Tickets

The Central Florida Zoo Asian Lantern Festival is a separate ticketed event. Regular admission to the zoo during the day does not apply to this special event. The festival takes place on most nights, but not every night, and runs through January 15, 2023.

When purchasing your ticket you'll select a timeslot to enter and enjoy the festival. If you are an annual passholder for the Central Florida Zoo you do receive a discount on most nights, and need to purchase your festival tickets through a special link.

Please review Central Florida Zoo's website and direct any questions directly to the staff of the zoo. Consider bringing along a light sweater, or just cozy up together and enjoy this beautiful evening.


All images by Dani Meyering


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