WE are regular visitors to Chester Zoo, but to arrive just as it was going dark was incredibly exciting for my children.

Then to see the lights glittering in the trees and Santa’s elves welcoming us to the zoo, their faces lit up instantly and the magic of Christmas was well and truly underway.

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We were at the zoo for the annual Christmas Lantern Parade and first stop was a marquee where we collected the children’s lanterns – complete with magic dust that made them light up (you can take these home with you). 

After picking up our bright pink family lantern (other colours are available!) we then put on our 3D glasses and wandered along the festive path, where the bright lights magically transformed into monkey’s heads.

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Next stop was the bat house – not my favourite place – but the children love it and also love the fact that mummy is scared, as they are definitely not. 

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Outside, we picked up our lanterns once again and followed the trail through the zoo, picking up a hot chocolate for everyone along the way.

Elves line the route and will point you in the direction of Father Christmas and the excitement begins the build. But first, you’ll see some of the spectacular, life-sized animal lanterns come to life.

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Children can then hang their stars – complete with Christmas wishes – onto a branch of the Cedar Wishing Tree before joining the queue to meet Santa.

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long and after a quick hello and a group photo, the little ones came away with some sweets and candy canes, which they reluctantly agreed to save until after supper, served in the main restaurant by the zoo’s entrance.

The award-winning Lantern Magic is the kind of thing that could easily become an annual Christmas tradition and we’ll certainly be returning next year.

Although the weather was wet and miserable, our unforgettable night-time journey through the zoo was a big hit all round.

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Tickets have sold out at weekends, but there’s still some left midweek until it finishes on December 23. More details here.