On a brisk fall night in New York, we drove into a dark Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in Yorktown Heights. Turning a bend in the road, a familiar figure suddenly gleamed out of the darkness. The stag Patronus told us we were in the right spot. The press preview for Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience was held two days before opening night at the Westchester County location. Arriving for our designated timeslot, we were greeted by friendly staff who seemed just as enthusiastic as we were about the experience.
Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience is a walking path through the woods of FDR State Park. Along the way, guests are immersed in expertly produced soundscapes featuring music and dialogue from the beloved Wizarding World films. Using a combination of lights, projections, props, and animatronics, the experience boasts plenty of magical moments, creature encounters, and interactive elements.
“We work really closely with Warner Bros. Entertainment and they really are amazing at helping us with the creative,” says Heather McGill, the Producer and Creative Director at Unify, an experience design and production agency, who, in partnership with Warner Bros, Fever, and Thinkwell, are behind the Forbidden Forest event. “We’re really lucky we have prop houses both here in the U.S. and in the U.K.,” says McGill, “We have electronics and animatronics, just beautiful props.”
The creatures we met along the path were from both the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films. Fans of the Fantastic Beasts series will be excited to see that nifflers and bowtruckles were not left out of the fun. We even had a unicorn sighting through the trees! Of course, a trip into the Forbidden Forest would not be complete without Hagrid and Fang to guide the way. Luckily for us, they were on hand to do so!
When asked how Hagrid and Newt Scamander might react to the experience, McGill says she thinks they would both be pleased.
“I think that Hagrid would be really pleased with how we have looked after the creatures,” says McGill, “We make sure that all of those creatures have lots of space and are enjoying the forest experience. I think Newt would be pretty excited to see the creatures enjoying the natural habitat. I think that’s a really fun thing about the experience is that we use the natural habitat to bring the creatures to life and vice versa.”
Along the way, there are some fun interactive moments. These include bowing to Buckbeak, casting a Patronus, and dueling.
Guests are encouraged to explore at their own pace and the trail took us about an hour to complete. We did stop for some snacks halfway through. Once the experience officially opens, goodies such as butterbeer, hot chocolate, cupcakes, and lemon poppyseed cake will be available in a makeshift Hogsmeade Village that guests will be able to enjoy at the start and end of the trail. Exclusive merchandise will also be available for purchase.
The Westchester County location joins similar experiences in Cheshire, U.K., and Leesburg, V.A. The New York trail opens to the public on October 22nd and runs through January 22nd. Tickets are available on the event website. Pricing depends on the day of the week and timeslot selected. There are also group and family discounts available.