Last weekend, something magical happened. I mean, literally magical. Well obviously not literally but I went to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour and how much more magical can you get?
The Harry Potter Studio Tour is something I have wanted to do since it opened. I’ve just never got around to it – which is basically unforgivable. My only excuse is that you have to book in advance (often several weeks in advance, particularly if you want a weekend slot) and I am useless at committing my free time that far beforehand.
Anyway, finally the time came for me to get a grip and head on over there with The Flatmate. We were going by train which meant heading to Euston station before going on to Watford Junction. Our booking was for 1.30pm and the website said to get to the station 45 minutes in advance in order to catch the shuttle bus to the studios. We planned to be extra careful and get there a whole hour earlier but obviously we left the house late and then missed the train. It turned out to be a good thing though because the shuttles only left every half hour. We had a 10 minute wait at Watford Junction but it would have been a lot more if we had actually left on time.
It wasn’t hard to spot our bus as it arrived. It was plastered in Harry Potter images. Once on, we rushed to get the front seats on the top deck so that we would be the first ones to see the studios when they came into view. In our excitement, we started singing the Harry Potter theme tune and The Flatmate noted her disappointment that it wasn’t playing on the bus. Almost immediately, the voice of Arthur Weasley came over speaker system, along with some music, to welcome us to the Harry Potter experience. It wasn’t Hedwig’s theme but our excitement still started to grow.
After about 20 minutes, the studios loomed into view. Unfortunately, they didn’t look like Hogwarts – more like a yellow warehouse draped with pictures of Daniel Radcliffe’s face. Oh well, we were more interested in what’s inside.
We hopped off the bus quickly and were some of the first to reach the ticket machines where we collected our tickets. We were a little early but there was already a queue which we joined. The lobby displayed photos of the cast members as well as a blue Ford Anglia suspended in the air. The queue also snaked past a cupboard under the stairs where we could spot a pair of the glasses Daniel Radcliffe first wore during filming.
Finally the doors opened and we crowded into a darkened room, where we watched a short clip and were quizzed on our Harry Potter trivia. I have to admit, I’ve slipped. I used to know my Harry Potter stuff, but I couldn’t answer either question (1. What was the breed of dragon that Harry and Herminone used to escape from Gringotts, and 2. What is the translation of Hogwarts’ latin motto). Next, we were herded into a cinema room for another short introduction film. All the staff seemed very excitable.
Finally, we were ready to start the tour. Our group headed down a set of Hogwarts’ doors and then into the Great Hall. The tables were set with fake food and the walls lined with lions, ravens, badgers and snakes. Then there was the uniform costumes from each house along the sides and the teachers’ costumes along the front. After the Great Hall, we were dismissed and started the rest of the tour self-guided.
We started by reading about some of the directors and producers and then reached the costumes, sets and props. There was the Griffindor Common room, Dumbledore’s office, the kitchen from the Burrow and Hagrid’s hut. I spotted the Pensive, the Triwizard Cup, the Golden Egg, the Goblet of Fire, the door to the Chamber of Secrets and the Philosopher’s Stone. There was also a sample of the moving paintings that lined the corridors of Hogwarts. It turned out that the paintings used were of various members of the crew who had been offered the chance to have a painting made of them.
Since it’s the month of Halloween, there were also Death Eaters wandering around. We took the opportunity to get a Death Eater selfie (a Delfie, if you will). We tried to look scared but were far too happy to actually pull it off. Me and The Flatmate have had many adventures together but I think a Delfie is probably the best thing we have ever done. I tried to say thanks to the Death Eater next to me but they just hissed. I had to admit, they were good at staying in character.
Next, it was time for the Hogwarts Express – a later and much welcomed addition to the studio tour. I had already taken many photos (I took 287 in all) but this was the time for some proper posing. There were several trunks “disappearing” through the wall of Platform 9 3/4 so The Flatmate and I hopped on for some photo snapping fun. Then we queued to get onto the train. I’m glad we did but I have to say, I started to get a bit claustrophobic. The walkway was really narrow and movement was slow as people kept stopping to take pictures into the dimly lit carriages which had each been set up to look like a different scene from the movies.
After we disembarked from the train, we joined another queue to sit in the makeshift carriages that had been used for filming. We had an official picture taken (which we didn’t buy because it cost £14) and then took several selfies ourselves. The windows were actually screens, pretending to show the outside world but actually showing the movie scenes – like the chocolate frog, the flying Ford Anglia and the Dementors.
Once we left the “station”, we ended up outside. We could have brought a picnic with us but we didn’t think of that so had to buy food. My hot dog was about £5.50 but it wasn’t bad – just your standard theme park-esque food. I also got a glass of Butterbeer for £3.95. The Flatmate had tried it before and warned me that she didn’t like it but I was at Harry Potter World. I was always going to buy it – no matter how much is cost. She was right though – it was gross. She even tried it again to confirm it was just as bad as before. It’s not actually beer but designed to look like it, so it’s an amber liquid with a sickly sweet foam top. The sweetener tasted very artificial and made it taste like a really bad dirty pint. Thankfully, I don’t think I was the only one not to like it and barrels were provided where unwanted liquids could be discarded.
After we were fed and watered, we were in the small outside section, where we found the Knight Bus, Numbers 3 and 4 Privet Drive, the bridge to Hogwarts, the giant chess pieces and Lily and James Potter’s destroyed cottage in Godric’s Hollow. There was also a motorbike and side car along with a Ford Anglia you could pose on/in. As you can imagine, many photos were posed for and taken in this section.
We then moved on back inside to the electronics and make up section. The amount of work that went into designing the looks and some of the characters/creatures was unbelieveable. We found Dobbie, Buckbeak, Aragog and the Basilisk here, along with a video with Warwick Davies about the workshop.
This was followed by Diagon Alley, which changed a lot throughout the films. This was the bit I was particularly excited about. We walked up a cobbled street completed with Aelops Owl Emporium, Ollivanders’ Wand Shop, Gringotts and many more. The most notable of these was the brightly coloured Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. There were many photos taken here too.
Afterwards, we made it into the artwork section, where images that had been drawn up and models made for various buildings and sets. They were seriously impressive and some really quite beautiful. I had hoped there would be postcards of some of the drawings for sale in the gift shop but I couldn’t spot any.
Finally, we made it to the grand finale. SPOILER ALERT.
The (almost) final display was of Hogwarts itself – or at least the model used for the outaide shots of the castle. I must say, the site of it, combined with the music playing (which bizarrely wasn’t Hedwigs Theme Song), did make me feel quite emotional. I’m pretty sure I actually saw one girl crying and I didn’t even blame her. Let’s face it, it’s a place we have all grown up with – and there it was, right in front of us.
After a wander and some pictures we moved into the last room. This held boxes of wands, stacked from the floor to the ceiling. 17,000 wand boxes were made for the film, each with its box handwritten. Now they have the name of a member of the crew that worked on the film – it was basically like seeing the end credits. We were able to spot Tom Felton, Daniel Radcliffe and J.K. herself.
The tour had taken us about 3 and a half hours altogether, including our lunch stop. We’d been told that the average time people took to complete the tour was 3 hours but that the record was 12 whole hours in the place. I was sorry that we were so far off.
Before we left, we had a look through the gift shop. The day hadn’t been cheap but, lets face it, we couldn’t leave with souvenir. Chocolate frogs and boxes of Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beans seemed really overpriced at about £8, as were most things. However, I found a giant Mauraders Map mug for about £10 and The Flatmate found a cauldron mug for a few pounds more so that’s what we settled on.
With that, we headed back to the bus stop – still in a state of semi state of euphoria – and it wasn’t long before we were on the shuttle bus and heading back home.
All was well.