Enchanting animal lanterns at Woodland Park Zoo’s WildLanterns winter light show. Credit: Nancy Chaney
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
WildLanterns, an enchanting winter light show at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, returns for its third year, opening Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. This visually spectacular display makes for a memorable holiday outing splurge.
Back in 2020, the zoo decided to leave its usual WildLights display in storage (it had been running the previous eight seasons) and rented a new animal lantern exhibit. The decision wasn't pandemic-related, though — the planning for WildLanterns actually began before 2020.
WildLanterns consists of more than 300 lanterns fashioned in the shapes of creatures from around the world. A host of new lanterns and some old favorites feature in the 2022 show. The south section of the WildLanterns pathway is centered around bugs: dragonflies, beetles and an enormous interactive praying mantis.
Before our first visit, it was hard to determine the scale of the lanterns from the promo pictures. Now I can tell you, many of these lanterns are HUGE. Most are at least as tall as an adult, and some are many, many times bigger. They’re made of fabric stretched over a frame, like a complex kite beautifully rendered in 3D. Some of the figures are even animated.
In a past show, for example, a striking peacock preened at the west entrance and the elephant gently flapped its ears. My favorite was the giant frog’s slow blink. Don't miss looking closely at the animals’ beautiful and expressive eyes. What incredible attention to detail!
Look for interactive stations tucked in along the loop and in the north meadow by the carousel. There are lots of photo ops as well. Pose with Sasquatch, a cute bunny or in the flower tunnel.
But we don't want to spoil all of the surprises.
Cost of WildLanterns
Yikes! Tickets to WildLanterns cost about double what WildLights tickets were, and considerably more than many other local holiday light shows. Adults and teen tickets (for ages 13 and older) cost $29.95–$34.95; children's tickets (for ages 3–12) cost $25.95–$29.95. Prices vary by date and day selected. Toddlers ages 2 and younger enter free. Zoo members receive a 20-percent discount.
At well over $100 for a family of four, that’s a lot to fork over. But consider this: WildLanterns is a fundraiser for the zoo. Like all institutions, the zoo took a big hit during the pandemic, but animals still had to eat and the keepers still had to take care of them. You might feel a little better about those ticket prices knowing that the money goes toward animal enrichment and care.
Note that WildLanterns tickets do not get you into the zoo to see the animals during the day, and vice versa. For WildLanterns, you’re not there to see the live thing. We saw a bat in the adaptations building and smelled the flamingos, that’s it.
But if you had to choose between seeing the animals or seeing the lanterns … well, actually you don’t have to choose. The lanterns look beautiful during the day, too! If you’re planning a day trip to see the animals, you’ll see big colorful sculptures, just not lit up.
Parents should know
Once you enter, you can stay as long as you want (plan for 1–2 hours). The event goes on rain or shine, so dress for the weather. We visited on a rainy night, and the lights were actually even more beautiful with the reflections on the wet pavement.
The restrooms are open. Food kiosks are open, or you are welcome to bring your own snacks. The former Rainforest Pavilion got a remodel a couple of years ago and is now reopened as 1899 Grove.
I did notice that in parts of the loop between lantern installations, it got very, very dark. There are some colored uplights in the trees, but I wished there were some string lights along the path to better guide visitors. You might consider dressing the kids in something really bright and distinctive so it’s harder to lose sight of them.
The carousel is scheduled to be open during WildLanterns, as is the Zoomazium.
The bottom line
WildLanterns is a splurge for sure, but one worth making if you can swing it. These super-sized animal lanterns are really special — you won’t see anything like them at any of the other local light shows.
As my boys and I sipped hot chocolate by the fire pit, admiring the amazing lanterns, it felt positively festive. Put WildLanterns in your holiday-season plans.
If you go ...
When: WildLanterns opens Friday, Nov. 11, and runs through Jan. 22, 2023. The show is closed select Mondays, and also closed on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 24), and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Dec. 24–25). Open hours are 4–8:30 p.m.
Cost: Adults and teen tickets (for ages 13 and older) cost $29.95–$34.95; children's tickets (for ages 3–12) cost $25.95–$29.95. Toddlers ages 2 and younger enter free. Zoo members receive a 20-percent discount. Book timed-entry tickets online.
Parking: Parking in zoo lots costs $6. Free street parking can be found along Phinney Avenue North.
Snacks and more: Concession stands are open and you may also bring your own food. The ZooStore at the west entrance is open during WildLanterns.
More light shows: There are so many more de-light-ful lights shows around town. Check them all out in our guide to holiday light displays around Seattle, the Eastside and South Sound.
Editor's note: This review was first published in 2020, when WildLanterns opened, and was updated for 2022.