There are many ways to enjoy the holidays while also giving back to those in need. One event designed with that concept in mind is The Enchanted Forest. The 16th annual two-day event is created by The Junior League of Northern Virginia, a volunteer group of women.
After we entered, our first stop was to the Kids in the Holiday Kitchen section. The proceeds of The Enchanted Forest support the Kids in the Kitchen program, which promotes a healthy lifestyle for families and supports women to create better communities.
The craft promotes the idea of gardening and tables are set up with mini flower pots, paint, glitter and ribbons. After your pot dries, return to pick up a bag of soil and choose a seed packet of herbs. The cost for this activity is $5 per pot and JLNV volunteers are available should you need assistance.
For $2, you can decorate your own ornament with tissue paper or a snowman. The JLNV volunteer does the difficult work of putting the paper or fake snow in the breakable ornament. You add the finishing touches like a bell and ribbon and use a sharpie to give the snowman a face.
The National Capital Trackers have an impressive collection of model trains on display including one carrying Christmas trees and another with Disney character cargo. There is a table with healthy snacks like graham crackers and apple slices. You also have the option of dipping the treats in yogurt or pumpkin pie fluff. At the next table, children can color their favorite fruits and vegetables on paper plates.
The main stage is where you can stroll through The Enchanted Forest of trees up for auction. There are many trees with a variety of themes such as Baby’s First Christmas, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Rustic Wines from around the World. My personal favorite was Money Does Grow on Trees adorned with lottery scratch off tickets.
Children will enjoy Space Exploration, Star Wars and two STEM decorated trees. Disney is also represented with Frozen, Swimming with Dory and A Very Mickey Christmas. There’s the popular game tree, a Crayola art themed tree and one for fans of Shopkins. Using the handbid mobile app, guests can bid on the trees in advance or during the event. Trees are decorated with ornaments and other themed items. For example, a Country Kind of Christmas featured several restaurant gift certificates while a Dress Like A Princess Tree included books, a lamp and dollhouse.
The main stage is also the venue for live entertainment. Pirate Magic was on stage doing tricks with balloon animals. The children were engaged and after his performance, he handed out treasure in the form of mini flashlights, plastic rings, lollipops and tattoos. A children’s dance troupe followed. Depending on the day you visit, you may see Ukulele Phil and the Hula Kids or The Great Zucchini.
A general admission ticket is steep at $15 per child (children under 2 are free) and $10 per adult, but keep in mind, this is a fundraiser. The fee includes access to Kids in the Holiday Kitchen, model train display, pirate tattoos, live entertainment, the forest of trees, viewing of the holiday marketplace and an appearance by Santa.
One thing I didn’t like was that there were so many extra cost for other activities, which I felt should have been included with admission. If you want to make a snowman ornament it’s an additional $2 and another $5 to decorate a flower pot.
I also didn’t know that you had to purchase these at the admission table. Signage overall was poor and made it confusing as to what the offerings were. In The Enchanted Forest itself, all of the signs were handwritten, making it hard to find or read some of the listings.
In addition to enjoying the Forest, attendees can check out premium events priced at $35 to $50 per person such as VIP Breakfast with Santa, Brunch with Santa and a Gingerbread Workshop. The Santa dining events include a photo op, story time, craft and a general admission ticket. The Santa events appear to be the best wallet friendly option because it includes a variety of activities. Bring your mom friends to An Enchanted Tea or make An Enchanted Garden. Bring a date to the Anniversary Reception for an evening of wining, dining and dancing. Advance reservations are recommended and can be purchased online.
The Holiday Marketplace includes Usborne books, children’s hair accessories, beauty products, jewelry and a soap carving demonstration upon request. The Westin hotel has a small booth selling a limited amount of snacks, sandwiches and drinks.
I felt that for the general admission price alone, the event lacked a wow factor. My 9 year old was bored at times. However, before we left, Santa appeared and they had a moment. She turned to me and said “that’s the real Santa. I know that because he is carrying the keys to his sleigh.” With such joy in her face, that made the Enchanted Forest worth the occasion.