If you spend any time on social media, one thing that probably took over your feed this summer was the announcement of the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest Experience coming to Leesburg. The pictures that seemed to be shared by every Facebook friend instantly transported me into the magical world. And as a self-professed Harry Potter fan, I knew I had to check it out.
I was able to snag a ticket for the opening weekend, but don’t get me wrong, coming in at $64 ($56 for a single adult ticket and $8 to park) the sticker price is a little shocking at first. As someone who grew up on the books and went to the midnight premieres, it was an investment I was willing to make.
Once you check in, guests are ushered into an area full of picnic tables, vendors, and the now familiar deer patronus statue. I skipped the selfie opportunity and went straight to find the butterbeer. As one of the most iconic dishes/drinks from the series, I had been dreaming of taking a sip since I was a little kid.
While the bottle in itself is aesthetically pleasing, to get the full experience I added the souvenir mug. Unfortunately, this was the night I found out I was not a fan of butterscotch-flavored soda. To make up for my tastebuds crushing my childhood dreams, I picked up a steamy sausage roll, which instantly set the night back on the right track.
As you head into the forest, the trail is covered in a blanket of smoke as bright lights transform the local trail into an eerie, yet magical destination. The sound clips from the movies — both upbeat and looming — flow through the woods, preparing fans for the coming scenes.
Throughout the trail, there is a mixture of large and small scenes that act as great Instagram backdrops. From Hagrid and Fang to Hedwig and the infamous flying car, guests can get up close to some of their favorite characters and creatures from the magical world.
While the large scenes are easy to spot, I would also keep an eye out for the little details. Taking the trail a little slower, I was able to notice the group of bowtruckles near Newt Scamander’s briefcase, the car headlights flying through forest, and the unicorns grazing off the trail.
In addition to the static scenes, there were plenty of interactive stopping points along the trail. With options to bow to Buckbeak and have a dueling wand battle (picture Harry vs. Voldemort in the final movie), my favorite parts had to be casting a patronus and entering Aragog’s cave.
When casting the patronus, fans can pull out their own wand, or borrow one, before heading to the platform. When I went to cast my charm, a Jack Russel terrier appeared on the screen. In Prisoner of Azkaban, the book explains a patronus as, “a kind of Anti-dementor — a guardian which acts as a shield between you and the Dementor.” And as a dog person, that depiction made complete sense.
The trail sets the scene for Aragog’s entrance with plenty of intricate spider webs, low lighting, and sounds from the movie’s soundtrack. Sectioned off from the rest of the trail, those that are scared of spiders can easily pass right by Aragog’s cave without seeing a single creepy crawly. Once guests enter the screened-in area, the lights dim and the larger-than-life spider emerges from his cave as his sons and daughters also “drop in” for a visit. The experience is short, but looking back on Aragog’s scene from Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, the trail’s depiction is as close to a match as you can get.
At the halfway point of the trail, the village offers a place to sit, eat, and shop. If my ticket wasn’t for 9:30 p.m., I definitely would have picked up a full feast. With stops like Forest Fancies, The Bowtruckle Bar, and Dragonfire Roasts, you can expect some delicious finds. From sweets like Hogwarts hot chocolate and scones to a cauldron feast and smoked turkey leg, I could’ve easily spent all my money on sampling every dish.
Overall, I’d say it was a cool and unique experience. For the price, I wish there were a few more scenes along the trail instead of sounds from the movie, but the team behind the scenes did a great job bringing a NoVA park into the magical world of Harry Potter. The experience is open through January, with limited tickets still remaining.
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