Harry’s Patronus greets you as you enter the experience. | Source: The Pop Insider

First-years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils — unless, of course, you’re in detention or Westchester, New York.

Last night, I attended a preview of the Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience and it was, in one (albeit, cheesy) word, Magical. The experience is, in essence, a walking trail of magical creatures through an actual forest. It takes place in the Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, which is just about an hour north of New York City by car (probably even faster by broomstick). Upon entering the grounds, you’re greeted by a Hogsmeade-adjacent village with sweet shops, snacks, merch, and a bar that serves warm beverages or a cool glass of non-alcoholic butterbeer. None of that was open yet for the preview, however, so we went on with the show.

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During the experience, you walk an evenly paved, well-marked trail through the forest that has a magical creature awaiting at every turn. You really start to feel like you’re walking through the actual Forbidden Forest as you’re greeted by soundscapes from the film, colorful lights, and familiar creatures. Along the trail, there are a number of times when you can stop to embrace the wizard you were always meant to be with interactive elements.

First up, an actual hippogriff! This was probably one of my favorite moments of the night because as a kid growing up reading Harry Potter I absolutely wanted Buckbeak as a pet. So when the kind experience worker told me I could bow to it, I admittedly got very giddy and became the 10-year-old version of myself for a moment. Spoiler alert: If you bow correctly, it bows back! I would have spent all night there but there was much more to see and people were waiting for their turn.

You can bow to Buckbeak to see if it bows back! | Source: The Pop Insider

Here’s where I will give my most important tip I learned during the evening: Dress warm. This is a forest in New York at night time — it’s never not going to be cold. I suggest you do not wear your Yule Ball-finest just to get that perfect shot for your Instagram feed. You’ll look just as cute bundled up in scarves and hats, I promise! 

Did I take my own advice? Absolutely not. Luckily, there’s a spot halfway through the forest to refuel on warm beverages, grab a bite to eat, stock up on merch, and use the Little Wizard’s Room. We decided to take our hot chocolates with us to keep warm on the trail, only to mildly panic a few minutes later about the lack of trash cans. It turns out we just weren’t patient enough because we did end up finding some along the way (that blended in with the scenery, I might add). If you decide to walk with your warm beverage, just know you will have to put it down for the WAND DUEL!

Not only can you battle with a borrowed wand, but you can also cast a Patronus, which is projected into the forest. All of these moments can serve as photo opportunities or just memory makers, depending on whether you’re more of a Colin Creevy or a Luna Lovegood. The unfortunate thing is that other people are also walking the trails, so if you get stuck behind a group of teenage girls trying to get the perfect shot, you might have to wait a minute for your turn to battle. That being said, it’s worth the wait to be able to cast some magic.

Do you remember when Ron was upset in the Forbidden Forest when they had to follow spiders? Yeah, you know where this is going. There’s a great moment on the trail where you can meet Aragog and his pals. This isn’t great for everyone, though, and the team behind the Experience knows this. So, they have a person stationed to warn you of what’s to come. If you’re more scared of spiders than Ron Weasley, you can just bypass that moment and move on to the next.

I’m not going to spoil the finale but I will say it captured a beautiful moment from the film in a way that sums up the experience as a whole. While moments can be great to make the FOMO real for your Instagram followers, the real magic comes when you become truly present and enjoy that feeling you had as a kid when reading the books or watching the films for the first time.

Would I recommend attending the Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience? Definitely! Just be sure to bundle up and bring your galleons.

Learn more about the experience and find tickets here!