We’re still in London and are spending the day with Harry. Not the royal Harry, the important one - Harry Potter.
I’ll fess up first and let you know that I made a right royal mess of getting our tickets for the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. I tried booking our tickets about a month in advance but by this stage the entire week we were in London was booked out. With no other choice I ended up having to mortgage the house we don’t own and pay an extortionate price through Viator. If you’re wondering how much more expensive it was, think more than twice the 148 pounds it would otherwise have cost the family to enter. Lesson for all, book early! As expensive as it was, however, there was no way we weren’t going to do the tour as I’m pretty sure I would have been excommunicated from being a Dad by the two girls if we hadn’t.
The Viator package gave us nothing more than transfers from Victoria Coach Bus Station out to the studio in Watford. No commentary, no flash Harry Potter themed bus, just the trip out there and back again, assuming you make the bus on time. Disappointingly, the bus doesn’t even leave from platform 9 and three quarters, but from platform 0. It might change, of course, but that’s where it left from when we went. Travelling from the centre of London, it takes a fair amount of time to reach Watford, which is out past the M25. From memory, it took about an hour and a half. With hindsight, it would’ve been a good idea to have downloaded one of the Harry Potter movies onto the iPad first and then watched en route.
We were given close to four hours for our visit before the bus picked us up again, which I think most people would use every minute of. There are audio headsets which you can hire for 5 pounds just past the entrance and which are narrated by Malfoy which will add more time to your tour, but supposedly these are well worth it.
After getting through security checks we were greeted by a massive dragon whose job it might’ve been to frighten us into the nearby gift shop. Brave it out as there’ll be time for that later and instead head straight to where a queue has likely started, which is where the tour properly begins.
As everyone knows, the Brits like nothing better than a good queue and the next 45 minutes or so consists of either queueing, waiting in a room which has some visual displays of each of the Harry Potter movies or listening to a couple of video presentations. There are a number of exhibits to look at along the way and this guided/controlled part of the tour I’m guessing is mostly designed to thin out the traffic for when you’re able to explore at your leisure.
Again, I’ll have to admit that with all the queueing I was beginning to get a bit worried that the whole event might end up being something of a damp squib. But once we entered the massive entrance doors to the Great Hall, all fears were dispelled. This really was one of those oooohhhhh, ahhhhhh moments as we saw the attention to detail and the magic of what lay in front of us.
Inside the Great Hall there are replica costumes of students from each of the Hogwarts houses. If inclined, you can then take a photo in front of whichever house the Sorting Hat has seen fit to place you. Some people came dressed in their HP regalia and were able to fit right in.
At the front of the Great Hall is more photo ops with a range of different Professors and staff from Hogwarts.
The Great Hall was the last part where you are shepherded through and not able to dwell as long as you’d like. After this, it was time to wander the wizarding world of Harry Potter and gaze at all the wondrous props and sets laid out in front of us.
One of my favour exhibits was the mesmerizing Potions Classroom where Snape resided over close to 1,000 and other potion related paraphernalia.
The beauty about this exhibit, along with pretty much all the other main features, was just how lifelike it was, which really makes you feel fully immersed in the whole HP world.
Amidst all the things that you can see, there are also plenty of other things you can touch and do. One such thing was getting your own broomstick to rise for your upcoming Quidditch match. You could also get a picture taken on a broomstick, as well as a computer generated video whizzing through the sky. All added extras, of course, which have to be factored into the overall cost of your day.
Continuing through the main room there are loads more sets and props to enthrall.
To be honest, there’s way too much to share in one post and it is one of those places that when you say you need to see it to believe, you really do need to see it to believe it.
There are also a range of other showpieces which give a good feel for how the visual and special effects would have been done.
Another special place is the Forbidden Forest. I’ll try not to spoil too much, but we passed one poor lady who was literally hyperventilating at some of the scenes that were occurring. Let’s just say this isn’t a place you want to come to if you’re a little Miss Muffet-type.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Harry Potter experience if there wasn’t a platform 9 3/4 and accompanying Hogwarts Express.
After all the excitement it is necessary to grab a drink or two to calm us down. In this case the irresistible butter beer.
And even the opportunity to drive the Weasley’s flying car. Thankfully, this time is was much better behaved than in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
After our bit of fresh air, it was time to head back into the next hangar for even more magnificent sets, including (amongst others) Gringotts Bank and Bellatrix Lestrange’s treasure room.
After checking out the Creature Effects and Art Department exhibits the tour nears it completion. But it wouldn’t be properly complete without a walk down the infamous Diagon Alley
And to round it off, a final look at the massive models used to film Hogswart.
Finally, we’d promised the kids a look around the merchandise shop where they could spend some of their not so hard earned money.
By the time tantrums were thrown, people were lost, clothes and wands were tried out for good measure and minds were changed more than 100 times we’d missed our bus back to London. Not to worry though, we thought, as we already had Day Passes for the train and we could simply use those. After about a 45 minute wait for the next Hogwarts bus (2.5 pounds each one way) we were deposited at Watford Junction to find out that this was outside zone 9 and hence we’d need to purchase extension tickets for the one stop up the line. More money handed over, the quantity of which made me wonder whether the train company was in cahoots with Warner Brothers, and we were then able to collapse onto the train to travel all the way across London back to Mark and Lorraine’s place. If only Annabelle’s newly bought wand could’ve Apparated us back home.
The Warner Brothers Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter is quite simply an experience that no self respecting wizard or muggle with any semblance of magical dignity could pass up. There is so much to do and see and the quality of sets, props, costumes and entertainment is simply mind blowing. Yes, it is expensive, although not nearly as expensive as what we turned it into, but it really is worth it.
With travel included it will take up a full day, so best advice is to book well early and opt for a morning visit. If planned better than we did (and so long as you’re not based on completely the other side of London like we were), travelling to Watford isn’t really that big a deal, with regular trains from London Euston to Watford Junction and the shuttle bus available from there to the site itself usually running every twenty minutes. Allow yourself at least four hours to get the most out of it and make sure you get yourself a butter beer, you won’t be disappointed.
London’s now done for us and it definitely is time to Apparate our way out of here and head to what a lot of people are calling one of best up and coming travel destinations in the world, the country of Georgia.