Friday, January 14, 2022

My First Asian Lantern Festival: "Into The Wild"

Happy Friday, you ferocious firecracker! Have you smiled yet today?

If not, I got you:

Last weekend John and I visited our first ever Asian Lantern Festival at the Central Florida Zoo. These lighted festivals are apparently all the rage in zoos across the U.S. but I'm told ours is an especially snazzy example. Even better, this particular exhibit, "Into The Wild," travels! So some of you have seen these exact displays in your state, and some of you might see them soon. I love that, really spreads the joy around.

If you can't watch the video where you are right now, never fear; I also have photos, and there's so much more to see! I tried to video the ones with a lot of motion, but I took regular pics for the rest.

A line of giant candy-colored snails greeted us in the parking lot. Peep that reflection in the pond!

The entry is flanked by these froggy friends:

If you saw my video, you know they blink! ("JOHN, THEY BLINK!! YES I KNOW I'M BEING TOO LOUD.") Going in I only expected a few static displays, so this was my first inkling that we were in for something special.

These festivals are a DELIGHT to photograph, because by the time you lower the exposure enough to capture the colors, all the people in frame practically disappear.

("De-light"? See what I did there?)

The narrow entry path was flanked by lighted cacti, snakes, and even a giant scorpion and spider. This iguana was my favorite, though:

See how they painted on extra details? So you can see the wire framework underneath and the painted "scales" on top, a cool layered effect.

Ah yes, and here's us:

Say hi, us!

I told John I wanted to take more photos together, so we took a few selfies throughout the night. We went with our friends Sue and Ken, you'll see them pop up later, too.

Next a row of the most spectacular - and huge, which you'll notice is a theme - spinning "lanterns."

There are 8 all together, each a Buddhist symbol. There are helpful signs explaining each display, but with the crowds we didn't linger long enough to read them all. Even though we rarely stopped moving, it took us about an hour and half to see everything! This festival is HUGE, y'all.

Did you notice John's t-shirt up there? 'Cuz I bet you can guess his favorite display:

There's zero justice in this photo; see my video to watch the butterflies flap and undulate and change color, ooooh. Also the scale is tricky in the dark; this tree is about 30 feet tall. Ahhhh-mazing.

Then it kept getting better!

Those fireworks lights in the background *almost* stole the show. I'mma need some immediately. Plus the giant angler fish, obviously.

A star(fish) field! Reminds me of the Pixar short La Luna, which I had to re-watch just now for "research." ;) The ceramic tinkly sounds of the stars is so soothing.

Check out this view:

Three scenes in one! Everywhere we went there were more colorful lights on the horizon, drawing us on.

The sea turtles were mounted IN the pond:

A whole path of cool blue jellyfish:

And here's the final scene that was just a blur behind the sea turtles:

The lanterns were cascading down a hilly slope. I bumped the exposure so you can see the trees around it; I love that canopy overhead.

More fish, this time with dragonflies.

The wings flapped!

There were two long wooden bridges along the path: one red, one blue. Something about all this monochromatic red was like a comfy weighted blanket in the cool night air.

The crowds had thinned back here, so, unmasked selfie:

It's like we're in a dark room! Brings me back to some fun photography classes in high school and college.

(If you're old enough to have been in a dark room yourself, hi, how do *you* combat lower back pain? You know, because we're old. ;))

Moooving on...

Poison dart frog!

Giant panda scene!

ENORMOUS dragon field. Wow.

Hopefully the trees in frame give an idea of how massive this beauty is.


I climbed onto a bench for this shot, but even with the phone 8 feet up I could barely get the face in frame. It is TALL. And so gorgeous. Look at all the details - every line you see in the teeth is a wire frame underneath! That is staggering.

One of my top favorites is next - but y'all have to help me identifying the mythical beast:

This shaggy dragon dog(?) stole my heart - I must have taken 20 pictures of him alone.

I love the fierce expression combined with the elegant wings and huggable-looking body. I WANTS TO SCHNUGGLE IT.

"Back off, lady, I don't want no hugs."


Aaaand now I have "I Don't Want No Scrub" stuck in my head.

No, I don't want no hugs
Hugs are a lot, won't get no love from me
Stay on the opposite side, for the rest of the night
And stop hollerin' at me


Get it together, Jen.

Also in the No Hugs club:

Pretty snake!

Here's the second lighted bridge, this time with Ken and Sue posing for us:

You can see back here the crowds really thin out, which was lovely.

You can follow Ken on Instagram, btw! He posts some fun stuff from around Orlando and with his drone. Say hi if you do; he and Sue are some of the sweetest people I know, A++ highly recommend adding them to your friend list.

A Wonderland path:

Just needs a light-up Alice and the White Rabbit!

You only get us, though, with one more selfie:

K, that's enough of our faces for now. ;)

Still a few more favorites to go, though!

Loooove the colors in this dog.

And here's another stunner:

This nine-tailed fox slowly changes colors!

I couldn't pick a favorites combo, they're all incredible.

Like a painting come to life, ahhh.

This reindeer(?) does not change colors, so it's a challenge to capture the blue light:

Magnificent in person, though, and easier to see the details.

This lantern festival surpassed ALL my expectations and immediately jumped to the top of my "annual traditions" list. It's perfect for date nights or to spend time with friends/family, and also great for practicing your photography! If you ever get the chance to see one, definitely take it.

Sadly "Into the Wild" ends this weekend, but the Central Florida Zoo hosts a new lantern exhibit every year during December and January. So locals, mark your calendars for next time! And if you live in the U.S., check your local zoos to see if there's a similar lantern festival coming your way.

I hope this made your Friday a little shinier, maybe gave you a little mental break from a hard week. Now, go be awesome. After you take a nap.




P.S. We have a new design in the Epbot Threadless shop! Check it out:

John designed this for our amazing FoE mods - so we also have a version with FOE in the middle - but I asked him to make an alternate with Epbot for the rest of you. As with all our shirts, you can have it printed on any color or style shirt:

And - AND! - get this: our mod Phillip just reminded me you can also get any of our shirt designs on stickers, pins, magnets, notebooks, and more.

I completely forgot about this option, so I'm discovering all these myself for the first time, oops. I'm both giddy and feel like an idiot. Anyhoo, click on the "accessories" drop down menu at the top right on our storefront to browse all the goodies. (Wait, there are greeting cards?? Oh I am so ordering these.)


  1. WOW, that's spectacular! I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for anything similar in my area. I'd love to go.

  2. Is that a Sphinx? Or maybe a Simargl?

  3. The blue animal at the end might be a qilin (Chinese mythological beast): Interpretations vary a lot, but a branched horn, a mane, hooves, and flames on its body all seem to be common.

  4. Yes! Here in Massachusetts we went to this at the Franklin Park Zoo this year and last. I see many of the same figures in your pics from them. Both years were different but equally spectacular so definitely go again next year. I can't wait to see what's different next year!

  5. seconding the comment about the deer-thing being a qilin and adding that the winged doggo is probably a more canine version of a pixiu
    they're very Videogames™ interpretations, though, so, yeah

  6. We go to this one in Sanford every year. I think the butterfly tree was my favorite, followed closely by the pandas.

  7. definitely adding the Central Florida Zoo to my list of reasons to move to Orlando! 😃

  8. The iguana has a fuschia dewlap! Say it out loud, s'fun-- FUSCHIA DEWLAP!

    Annnnnd there's my new Drag Name.

    So, OK, dig it... those blue jellyfish? I am 100% certain with every atom of my being that those are fairly accurate representations of what UFOs/UAPs actually are; living, jellyfish-like creatures that inhabit the upper atmosphere. Yes, it's a damn big hill, and I'll die on it having built a tomb worthy of the pharaohs that says "I TOLD YOU GUYS THEY WERE UP THERE".

    Your Pal,

    Storm the Klingon

  9. Hey now, the fact that I have been in a darkroom, and the fact that I get lower back pain aren't *directly* connected! ;)

    Actually, I was taking my film class at a time when digital cameras were becoming the norm, and I was a little startled when an elementary aged girl I was photographing immediately asked what the picture looked like. It was clear she had no idea about film!

    Those lanterns are amazing, and I am so glad we got to see some of the magic thank you!!

  10. That looks amazing! I hope it comes to our zoo sometime! Thanks for the gorgeous photos to make me feel like I was there!

  11. In one of the photos, John's mask looks like it hooks to his glasses nose piece, where did you find it.

    Back Pain - look for Voltaren Gel, I found it in Canada several years ago. I live near Detroit and before Covid I would cross the border and shop in Windsor. I was thrilled to find out it became an over the counter drug in the US last year. It's amazing.

    1. John's mask is our DIY version, where the fabric cover slips over a foam frame. My tutorial on how to make one is linked in the sidebar if you want to check it out!

  12. Wow - what an amazing event!

    If your question about lower back pain was a serious one, I find comfortable, fairly flat footwear with soles that absorb impact (like a good running shoe, properly tied up), walking, and heat packs on the back help me.

  13. Gorgeous! Thanks for sharing Jen!!

  14. We've been repeat attendees at the Cleveland Zoo and the displays different each year. If you do go back, there will be new lanterns and surprises :) I loved that they hosted a "drive-thru" version during 2020 (covig - blegh), but walking is always fun too.

  15. Those last two look like Ninetales and Xerneas, which are Pokemon.


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