It might be November, but the holidays have arrived in Northern Virginia. With many of the popular holiday destinations opening before Thanksgiving, we were excited to check out something new to our area – the Chinese Lantern Festival in Vienna, VA.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived. We’ve been to other holiday light displays in the area, but the Chinese Lantern Festival is completely different. Located at Roer’s Zoofari (formerly the Reston Zoo), the zoo is transformed with 40 displays – over 800 lanterns – into a lit up nature wonderland.
The festival is a modern take on the ancient art of lantern-making. Artists from China worked for months to create scenes that include animals from around the world. Each lantern is hand made – built with a metal frame and covered with fabric. Many of them are animated – we loved seeing the animals move (and some even have sounds!). They are crafted with an eye for detail and the displays are truly amazing. Once you see them, you will not be surprised to learn that it can take up to a week for the artisans to create just one of the displays!
With so many light displays in the area this time of year, this is something very different. There are two holiday themed displays, but for the most part, all of the lanterns are animals, not Christmas lights. The lanterns are truly spectacular – I was especially impressed with the largest display that was in the pond. The reflection of the jellyfish lanterns in the water was breathtaking. My daughter’s favorite were the pandas eating the bamboo. And she really liked being able to get so close to many of the lanterns (though you shouldn’t touch them!) and kept insisting that I take more pictures of her favorites. Do not forget your camera – you will be happy you have it with you to capture the beauty and magic.
At $25 for adults and $15 for children, admission for the festival is pricy. However, this includes the artisans and nightly kung fu demonstrations. The performers and artisans are from China (not local kids showing off their skills) and the kung fu performances occur hourly each night. With the entertainment, the price is more reasonable, especially since the festival is so unique. There are also large animatronic dinosaurs that children can ride for an additional cost ($3 for one ride or $5 for two).
One other note – the entrance and exit to the festival is through the Roer’s Zoofari gift shop. Have a plan in place if you don’t want to be pestered the entire time you are there about buying a stuffed animal. There is also a smaller gift shop near the dinosaur exhibit that has light-up toys and dinosaurs. I wish that I had thought to bring some glow bracelets for my daughter from home so that I wouldn’t have to say no when she asked for some.
The Chinese Lantern Festival is open Wednesday to Sunday until November 30 and daily from December 1, 2016 to January 1, 2017. Hours are from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. nightly. You can purchase your tickets online or in person.
Photos courtesy of Mara Surridge.