As night falls at Westchester County’s Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, a sense of magic fills the air, as the park’s wooden pathways are transformed into an immersive experience dedicated to ‘Harry Potter,’ bringing the Wizarding World’s most majestic creatures to life. By Rachel Chang
The Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience, which made its USA debut last weekend, is an ode to the seven best-selling books and eight blockbuster movies, showcased through interactive exhibits, light shows, and theatrical illusions, some that can only be chalked up to magic. The walk-through display also opened at Loudoun County’s Morven Park in Leesburg, Va., on October 29.
All about the Harry Potter experience
From the moment I stepped into the dark forest during a preview last week, the lines between reality and enchantment blurred, as if I had taken a portkey to another dimension. With John Williams’ famous soundtrack juxtaposed between famous lines from the film playing, and multicoloured lights illuminating the New York flora, the visit was one part immersive theatre, and another part visual spectacle.
We were invited to take part by connecting with our inner wizards, casting spells that turned on and off lanterns and choosing wands to duel against our friends (or frenemies!). My inner Hufflepuff dreams came true as my hot chocolate was topped with my house colours, but also questioned as the Patronus I conjured up in the woods was a phoenix, like Dumbledore’s (so perhaps I’m more of a Gryffindor than I thought!). Among the most stunning (and Instagrammable) moments were bowing to Buckbeak the Hippogriff, who gently bowed back in all his regality, and a shocking moment that Ron Weasley would have shuddered at, involving more than just Aragog. (Warnings are given so those with arachnophobia don’t enter the zone.)
Venturing into a real-life version of a fictional forest that is off-limits for Hogwarts students comes with as many twists and turns as Harry’s story itself. There are moments when you’re walking along quietly and suddenly spot a unicorn, as well as others where you find yourself following a trail of illuminated mushrooms or floating lights. While I squealed with delight over the mistletoe that Cho Chang and Harry shared their first kiss under, I also screamed in terror during a Dementor attack—literally jumping and grabbing my friend in fear! Familiar creatures from the ‘Fantastic Beasts‘ movies, like Nifflers, also make appearances, alongside owls, giants, centaurs, and other delightful surprise guests.
Despite the magical mood, Muggle needs are also fulfilled, as themed food and drinks—including Butterbeer—are available at both the mid-point and entrance, as are plenty of Wizarding World merchandise.
Running through January 2023 in both New York and Virginia, the nighttime trail from Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment in partnership with Thinkwell, Unify, and Fever, Open daily from 5 pm to 11 pm (with last entry at 9:45 pm), the family-friendly adventure lasts about 60 to 90 minutes long, with a walking trail that takes about 45 to 75 minutes.
Aware of the Muggle impact of such a major endeavour on its New York State site, the pop-up event was designed with environmental foresight in mind.
“The vast majority of the overall woodland will remain completely untouched by the experience and should have minimal impact on natural habitats,” the event organisers said on its site. “Working in conjunction with the estate manager, any sapling trees that are removed for the event will be replaced within the wood system with species benefiting the overall health of the wood. Therefore, we will not reduce the woodland, but look to increase the number of heritage species on the estate as a whole.”
Additionally, the event has partnered with One Tree Planted, offering guests the chance to contribute to reforestation and sustainable projects.
The Forbidden Forest Experience first premiered in July 2021 at Arley Hall in Cheshire, UK, where tickets are still available through the end of the year. It also opened at Groenenberg Castle in Belgium, with limited availability in November and December.
The Wizarding World continues to work its magic on the Muggle universe, as another new experience, Harry Potter: Magic at Play, opens at Chicago’s Water Tower Place on November 11, and the three-day Wizarding World Festival is scheduled for 2023—though details are still locked up in the Chamber of Secrets.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Courtesy of WIZARDING WORLD and all related trademarks, characters, names, and indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s22)