I would consider myself a Harry Potter fan, so when I heard from friends about the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest Experience, which is only a 45-minute drive from where I live, I jumped on the opportunity to go.
I had heard a bit about the experience and seen snippets on social media, though my friends kindly chose not to give us any spoilers in advance of going. The gist I had got of the experience was a woodland walk, filled with Harry Potter themed light displays and the opportunity for interactive experiences along the way. As we were going in December, I had high hopes that I would feel a bit festive at this experience, wondering if they would add a few Christmassy twists, as nothing beats those festive Harry Potter vibes!
After going on the website, my excitement was heightened as it tells you to “prepare yourself for the most magical of walks” and lists all the opportunities you have to interact and enjoy yourself whilst there. I felt if anything, the website gave a few too many spoilers, but it certainly built up my expectations.
To me, the Harry Potter brand is all about getting lost in an immersive, magical world. It gives a sense of escapism and for our generation, it was a massive part of growing up, so I felt the experience was going to have to do a lot to live up to my expectations.
After going on the website, my second impression of the experience was booking tickets. All I can say is the price made me nearly fall off my chair. If we were to book peak time (early evening) it would have cost £92 for the two of us. It is roughly a 2-hour experience so I felt that was extortionate, especially when considering that if we were a family of four we would have been set back £164, with children’s tickets only slightly cheaper than adults. We opted for the ‘super off peak’ version of the tickets which were £28 for late entry (9pm), this meant it was going to be a late-night, but we were quite happy with that as it saved us money and meant there would be fewer children!
When we drove up there wasn’t much to build up excitement, the signs on the way were standard yellow road signs but it was a foggy night which naturally built up a fantastic atmosphere. The staff guiding us to the parking, and from the car park to the attraction were brilliant, it was a cold night, but they were all smiles and gave us a lovely warm welcome.
Walking up to the experience was nicely done with a large row of fairy lights, then on arrival, the first thing you saw was a big stag sculpture which set the tone for the rest of the attraction.
We were greeted and asked to stand in an area, much like when you are waiting to get on a rollercoaster. We were welcomed and had all the health and safety measures explained to us, but in a way that didn’t break the magic as the colleague was in character and despite the fact he must have been repeating the same message for hours on end, he did it with a fun energy to get us excited for the experience.
The experience itself was fantastic. The models on display were brilliant and the way lights and sounds had been used to create illusions of life were very clever. For Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts fans, there were many references to the big scenes, with some additional subtle touches that made you feel special to have noticed.
There were interactive elements such as bowing to Buckbeak and him bowing in return, going into Aragog’s lair, and casting your own Patronas charm, (I was a badger which I was initially very disgruntled about but was informed it meant I was determined, so I was happy with that!) which I found exciting as an adult let alone a child experiencing it for the first time. The fact that there were no big queues for these parts made it even better.
My favourite element was walking through an area of the woods where they had positioned loads of owls on all of the trees and played Hedwig’s song. We then proceeded to come across lights in the woods that looked like prowling werewolves and put you on edge. In reality, it was just lights made to look like their eyes, but it was done so well it allowed you to imagine much more.
The staff throughout the experience were great, we were told about what our patronas charms meant and they were subtly sanitising all the interactive elements throughout so it felt safe. Going into the toilets was a bit of a let down as it completely snapped me out of the world I was in, it was a standard portaloo building, which was clean, but could have been anywhere.
The final part of the experience was the ‘village’ which was an area to get F&B and do some shopping. Whilst I loved the atmosphere with fairy lights, themed buildings and Harry Potter music, there was no sign of festivities other than a Christmas tree in the middle and I couldn’t help but feel this was an opportunity to get as much money out of us as possible. This is to be expected in an attraction like this nowadays, but I feel £7 for a pasty is steep!
It was the classic ‘exit through the giftshop’ model, though they did provide an alternative exit for those not wanting to go indoors.
I feel that attaching a famous brand name like Harry Potter to any attraction does two things: it without a doubt pulls people in, but it also creates very high expectations. For me, these expectations were heightened further when I saw the ticket price.
My summary of the experience is that it was a pleasant evening out. I did feel truly immersed in another world whilst I walked around the woods, and I felt that the elements where you could interact were brilliantly done. The colleagues who worked there seemed passionate about their job and really contributed to the overall atmosphere. However, the immersion was broken when the toilets had no link to the attraction and I felt slightly trapped into buying something at the village at the end.
The fact we went in December and very little effort had been made to add any kind of festive feel seemed a bit lazy to me, reflecting my view of the entire experience that they knew the Harry Potter name would get you through the door, so they didn’t need to try too hard with anything else.
It truly was a ‘magical walk’ but I do think they were taking advantage of the famous brand name slightly and if I had paid full price for entry, I don’t think it would have felt so magical.