Imagine walking through a forest of illuminated jellyfish and fluorescent coral, seeing glowing alligators and flamingos light the night sky, and passing through scenes decorated with the vibrant colors of the Wynwood Arts District — all made from handcrafted Chinese lanterns. That’s what’s in the works at Miami’s Jungle Island, which will debut the Luminosa! Festival of Lights October 5. After some rocky years for business, including damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017, Jungle Island is undergoing a major redesign, reinventing itself as an eco-adventure park and event space rather than a traditional zoo.
Luminosa, in partnership with Zigong Lantern Group and China Lantern International, will contribute to this effort. Though it’s inspired by the ancient Buddhist tradition of Chinese lantern festivals, this installation will have a decidedly Miamian flavor.
“We decided to give it our own spin, so we decided to re-create iconic, recognizable South Florida scenes,” says Jeremy Hauwelaert, Jungle Island’s director of sales and marketing. Instead of traditional lanterns, these will be shaped like some of the plants and animals found at the park, including many creatures native to South Florida.
With its evening showtimes and glowing, fantastical elements, Luminosa might remind visitors of this past winter's incredibly successful NightGarden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Luminosa will span 13 of Jungle Island's 18 acres, and Hauwelaert estimates it will take visitors about two hours to explore all of the lanterns. The space will be divided into four areas: Guests can expect to wander among silk parrots and oversize orchids in “Birds and Blooms”; jellyfish and dolphins in “Biscayne Bay”; lemurs, sloths, and kangaroos on the “Jungle Trail”; and panoramic scenes of Magic City landmarks in “Miami Style.” Plans are also in the works for Chinese acrobats and other artists to perform. So get your camera ready, because the photo ops will be numerous.
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Zigong Lantern Group is the leader in Chinese lantern festivals around the world. It has held the events in more than 30 cities in 16 countries plus China. These lanterns will meet the group's high standards, each one handmade in the company's factory in Zigong, China. “The lanterns have got a metal skeleton with LED lights underneath, and then they’re covered in silk finishing,” Hauwelaert explains. “It’s a labor of love to make them.” They’re also huge. The South Beach-themed lantern alone measures about 90 feet long and 18 feet tall.
The goal is to celebrate what makes Miami special while providing the experience of a nighttime park in the heart of the city. During the festival, Jungle Island will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and most of its live animals will remain on display in the evenings. The team hopes to draw attention to the beauty of South Florida’s ecological diversity and to educate guests about the live animals at the park as well, such as endangered lemurs from Madagascar.
Hauwelaert says Jungle Island hopes to draw about 200,000 locals and tourists alike for Luminosa, and as with most Zigong Lantern Group events, it’s expected to sell out well in advance. Snag tickets sooner rather than later if you want to experience the magic.
Luminosa! Festival of Lights. 5 to 10 p.m. October 5, 2019, through January 8, 2020, at Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami; 305-400-7000; jungleisland.com. Tickets cost $38.50 per adult and $33 per child.