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Thursday, December 08, 2022
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Grab your wands and broomsticks, for the wizard-gathering at Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience in Westchester, New York. The entirety of FDR State Park, which is about a 50-minute drive from Teaneck, has been converted into a wooded wonderland featuring magical creatures and scenes from the ‘Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films. I went with Aaron, David, and Ely, my friends from YU, to experience the Wizarding World firsthand.

While putting together the Pesach 2022 Chol Hamoed Guide (428), I discovered a website called FeverUp which highlights exciting events in large cities that are open only for a limited duration. I have been a Harry Potter fan for most of my life, having read the series twice—once in middle school and once again during my Shana Alef. So when a FeverUp notification informed me about the Forbidden Forest Experience, I immediately reached out to its media support and managed to secure press passes for myself and my friends to visit this immersive display.

The night of the screening arrived and after parking our car, we had a few minute walk to get to the actual experience. The lot was pitch black, but there was a roped-off sidewalk with traffic guards waving orange LED sticks, directing us along the path. Once at the entrance, we saw a statue of a giant blue stag on a mount, representing Harry Potter’s trademark Patronus (a spell-casted animal that acts as a shield for wizards), posing confidently, with the event’s title written and glowing underneath. A staff guide motioned us forward to stand on a platform with her. There, she asked us some quick Harry Potter trivia questions before taking out an illuminator, a magical device that takes away and stores light. Clicking the device, all of the light on the platform went out, leaving us in the dark. Then we chanted the magical spell “Lumos” which brought back the light. We then set off into the dark forest to begin our adventure.

As we entered the forest, we felt ourselves leaving the “real world” onto an entirely different plane. Hidden sound speakers constantly played music from the Harry Potter films, and frequently we heard different famous quotes from the movie’s characters. The whole forest was lit up with sublime lights that change colors in sync with the music. For example, when the music was cheerful, the lights were blue, and as the music intensified, it would turn red. Whenever the series’ villain Voldermort spoke, the light changed green, replicating his dark magic colors. Additionally, there were light and smoke machines to enhance the magical illusion. As we walked deeper and deeper into the woods, the music got louder and the smoke kept getting thicker, building up the suspense. After a few minutes of walking, at last, the smoke cleared and we saw a humongous lifesize figure of the half-giant Hagrid, holding a lantern beside his dog Fang, both welcoming us into the Wizarding World.

We then entered Hagrid’s Garden where we passed a sign which read “Beware escaped Skrewts by this area.” Soon we saw several boxes containing Blast-Ended Skrewts which are large scorpion-like creatures that shoot fire. The boxes had holes from the creatures’ blasts and smoke emanated from them. We also noticed many owls birched up on trees (in Harry Potter lore, owls deliver the mail). At the end of the garden, we encountered the legendary Hippogriff, Buckbeak, on which Harry had flown in the 3rd film. Buckbeak is a cross between an eagle and a horse, with white feathers along its mane, wings perched up on its side, 4-legs, bird-like claws for feet, and a gray beak. A staff member behind a rope stood by the Hippogriff and asked if any of us were brave enough to come up and greet him.

My friend Ely went first, and the staff member told him to bow his head. Ely did so, and Buckbeak’s head followed suit. I went next, also greeting Buckbeak, who nodded his head back at me. We were very impressed with the attention to detail and mechanical ingenuity that must have gone into the making of Buckbeak, behind the scenes.

Next, we entered the darkest and spookiest part of the woods… where the werewolves roamed! The werewolves had glowing yellow eyes and pointy ears. They hid in the shadows amongst the trees and made howling noises at us. Thankfully, we made it out of the werewolf den, but soon we faced another frightening sight—Hagrid’s full-giant brother Grawp. Grawp was mostly harmless, but he occasionally let out a loud belch, with green smoke emanating from his mouth.

Soon we hit the halfway mark and arrived at a tavern serving Hogsmeade-themed beverages and snacks, including Butterbeer. Unfortunately, none of the options were Kosher, other than the water. Tip: bring your own food and drinks and sit by the cute picnic tables set up there, allowing you to take a little break from all of the walking!

Immediately after the tavern, we reached a wand-battling station where we got to duel against one another. We were each handed wands by an employee and stood at opposite ends of one another. Next, we pressed our wands against a small scanner in front of us, unleashing bolts from our wands. My bolt was red, while my opponent Ely’s was blue. The bolts went back and forth, but eventually, Ely’s bolt ended up overpowering my spell, giving him the victory.

Continuing onward through the forest, we passed several realistic centaurs on a big see-through screen, asking aloud why we were staring at them. We also noticed a unicorn walking along through the forest, using similar projection technology. There was a thestral carriage that looked like a horse carriage—except the animal was invisible. Nifflers from The Fantastic Beasts series were roaming the forest, too, and we saw them celebrating their collection of stolen gold and jewels. We also saw a broken Ford Anglia 105E, Arthur Weasley’s flying car, which Harry and Ron had crashed into the Whomping Willow in the second film. The car’s windshield wipers were wiping automatically while its headlights flashed, the engine roared, and smoke emerged from it.

At one point, we got to cast our own Patronus spell by reflecting on a happy memory and chanting “Expecto Patronum.” Using similar screen projection technology as the centaurs and unicorns, a blue bunny appeared for me, hopping all over the screen. My friend Aaron conjured a phoenix which was incredible to observe.

Easily my favorite and definitely the scariest part of the experience occurred towards the end of our journey when we entered the spider’s nest. First, we stood underneath more than a dozen spiders dangling by webs above our heads. Suddenly, the spiders dropped down, coming close to hitting our heads. Smoke then rose all around us, and Hagrid’s humongous spider friend Aragog popped out from a hidden cave next to us. The spiders above our heads dropped down even further, just missing our heads by a few inches.

For the grand finale, there was a special presentation in which dementors flew towards us on a jumbo screen, attempting to suck out our souls. Thankfully, Harry Potter casts a Patronus spell (which we had practiced earlier) and his blue stag appears, chasing the dementors away. It was a fitting end, leaving us full circle, having started out with the stag statue and finishing with Harry’s stag rescuing us. Following the presentation, there were several gift shops selling Harry Potter memorabilia, including exclusive Forbidden Forest Experience merchandise.

Overall, I was blown away by the Forbidden Forest Experience. The attention to detail in Harry Potter innuendos was top-notch, and we encountered many realistic creatures and characters, enabling us to feel like wizards casting our own spells. The ambiance of the forest was the best part—the speakers were all high quality playing exciting music, the lights were dazzling, and the different scenes were spectacular to witness. It felt like being in the movies.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience was created as a partnership between Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment, Thinkwell, Unify, and Fever. The Experience originated in Manchester, United Kingdom, and New York is its second venue. It is currently slated to run nightly through January 22, 2023, but make sure to grab tickets soon: November and December are understandably almost sold out!

Aaron, David, and I had each watched Harry Potter previously and especially loved all of the references throughout the experience. On the other hand, my friend Ely had never seen any of the films. Yet, he actually seemed to be having the most fun, learning all about Harry Potter and soaking in all of its magic. So, whether you are an avid Harry Potter fan or not, be sure to check out this limited-time event! It’s a beautiful walk that you will surely never forget.

Admission: Prices vary by day between $36-$76; children get $10 off; weekends are generally more expensive

Address: FDR State Park 75MM+65 Crompond, New York, USA, 10598

Hours: Slots at 5—9:45pm; closes around midnight

Website: www.hpforbiddenforestexperience.com/westchester

Unique Feature: An entire forest trail filled with Harry Potter references and interactive opportunities: Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience—Westchester

Zachary Greenberg is a Health & Benefits Consultant at Mercer and the TABC Track coach. In 2016, Zachary took 4th place in the 138lb weight class at the Henry Wittenberg Invitational. Additionally, he recently watched the new Marvel special “Werewolf by Night.” If you have any recommendations of fun places for Zachary to cover, please email him at [email protected]

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