If Christmas really is all about the children, then there can’t be any quibbles about this year’s iteration of The Lanterns at Chester Zoo.
Our two young daughters, aged four and six, declared on the way home that they “really, really loved it” and insisted on listening to festive tunes for the entire return car journey because they “felt so Christmassy”. The thing is, however, that they’d ‘met Santa’ (or more importantly met his helper’s large bag of gingerbread Christmas trees), splodged around in some foam snow and been allowed to stay up late. They were always going to be sold, but I’m not convinced that we couldn’t have managed a biscuit and some bubbles in the garden and saved what would have been a family ticket price north of £50.
The actual lanterns this year, while charming enough, felt strangely underwhelming compared with 2018. This might have had something to do with the Baltic temperatures on the evening we visited which meant that punters were rattling around the course rather than lingering, and which the organisers could, of course, do nothing about. But I think it had more to do with the slightly altered route, which took in more of the zoo’s wide-open spaces and less of the smaller winding paths that bunched the crowd up and gave a festively communal feel to proceedings. A few of the lanterns themselves also lacked a little sparkle. The giant penguins (with performers inside illuminated costumes), who stole the show for our daughters last year playing comedy football with a fish, were simply standing around this time. The monochrome cityscapes of the Night Sky Adventure section were also a little underwhelming.
In the plus column, there were some welcome new additions. The animated waterfall and dart frogs of the Tropical Dreamland, set in the recently vacated lion enclosure, was a genuine spectacle. The brightly coloured Shangri La, with its elephants, giraffes and fairy lights, made a colourful finale. Some of the producers Wild Rumpus’s returning puppet lanterns, particularly the swooping owl and its fellow woodland creatures, remained spectacular and it was a nice touch to open up the lovely Oakfield Pub, at the heart of the zoo, as a warm place where visitors could eat the hog roasts and bratwursts they’d bought at stalls outside.
But for a place that is so focused on environment and sustainability, it seemed curiously wasteful that little effort was made to collect back and re-use the 3D glasses that were handed out for use in a beautiful, twinkling tunnel of light. They, unlike the miniature (safely LED) lanterns given as gifts on arrival, were of little interest to our children once our visit was done. They were too busy being happy about the snow, the gingerbread and the late night.
Images courtesy of Chester Zoo.
The Lanterns are at Chester Zoo until December 23, 2019.