We’re finally done with the Paris leg of our trip and we’re now in the UK! I’m so happy about getting through my backlog, bit by bit.
Today’s post is about one of my favourite bits of our Europe trip in 2015. This happens in the middle of our London leg but I opted to write about it first due to two reasons: 1.) It will be easier to link it to different posts and 2.) The first one is something I just made up the real and only reason is that I’m just hella excited to write about this one. So prepare yourselves. This is going to be a lengthy post.
If you know me personally or if you’ve been following the blog for a while now, you probably already know that I’m a humungous Harry Potter fan. Yes, I’m a grown woman and no, I don’t care what you think. It came out when I was young, okay?!
It’s weird though how this isn’t my first time in Europe yet I only got to go to the studios during this trip. I guess timing really is one of life’s most important factors. That, and a companion (husband, in my case) willing to spend all day with you at a studio and watch you drool over things while being such an insufferable know-it-all (see what I did there?) and the ultimate fan girl.
Before I move along, I just have to thank Alvin for being such a great husband. We even marathon-ed all 8 movies prior to the trip just so he can be up to date with HP knowledge. I really can’t believe he only saw one of the movies and he can’t even remember which one! Forgave him for not reading the books though. His interests do lay in the non-fiction section of the bookstore.
Though I must say, he did look like he was enjoying himself in the studio in the end. Or… was he just humouring me?
The Making of Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour is often advertised to be in London but it’s actually in Leavesden – an area that is actually 20 miles Northwest of Central London.
We took a train from from London Euston station to Watford Junction and the journey took a little over an hour so do take this into consideration! Upon arrival in Watford, we took a double decker bus operated by Mullany’s Coaches to the studio. The bus stops right in front of the train station and is decked in Harry Potter decal so you won’t miss it. The bus ride takes about 10 minutes and will cost you GBP2.50 for a return ticket.
We booked our tickets through the official website months in advance to make sure we get slots. The studio does not sell tickets on-site. So, no walk-ins.
You will get your booking confirmation via e-mail which you can exchange for actual tickets upon your arrival. There are ticket counters right outside the studio. You also have the option to have your tickets mailed in advance to you for a hassle-free entry.
Our tickets amounted to GBP85.85 in total. The breakdown is as follows:
Adult tickets: GBP33.00 each (GBP66.00)
Paperback souvenir guidebook: GBP9.95
Digital guides: GBP4.95 each (GBP9.90)
Tip: If you’ve read most of the books, the digital guides may end up being useless to you. It’s pretty cool though. It has audio and video so you can watch some behind the scenes stuff. But it ended up being more useful to my husband. So reserve the guides for people in your group who are not that much of a die-hard fan. As for the paperback souvenir guide, get it. It’s a steal for the price and is an exclusive piece of merchandise from the studio. You can see me talking about it here at 20:30.
When booking your tickets, you get to choose what time you want to start your tour. This is the studio’s effort to do some crowd control since it can get pretty congested. I suggest you go in the morning since people tend to stay longer and the afternoons will most likely leave the studio full with all the people from the morning tours, still lingering and taking photos. Our schedule was at 9:30 and we arrived to this:
Not to worry. The line moves pretty fast. While waiting, you also get to see the cupboard under the stairs. It’s enough to get anybody who’s read the novels or seen the movies excited.
The Great Hall
You will then be ushered in to a theatre room where a message from the cast will greet you. Cameras weren’t allowed so sorry if there are no photos of that. After the short film, guests will be guided towards the doors of the Great Hall.
You can just feel the excitement in the air as kids dressed as Hogwarts students and adults who wished they could do the same and not be judged for it await for the doors to open.
Tip: Go on your birthday. They would normally pick you to open the enormous double doors and be the first to go inside.
Confession: I almost pretended like it was my birthday just to be the one to get to open the doors. Knowing that my husband may not look at me the same way again, stopped me. In the end, the privilege went to a kid dressed in Hogwarts robes with a Gryffindor scarf.
I did not scream nor run as I entered, I promise. I was able to retain my poise that’s normally reserved for diplomatic events that I attend with my husband. I was the perfect model of calm and cool until I saw these:
And that’s when I started gushing and pointing at stuff. The fake food supposedly prepared by House Elves, the costumes worn by the cast (Tip: Look for the one worn by Daniel Radcliffe while filming Sorcerer’s Stone), the utensils – everything just lives up to expectation!
No, there is no enchanted ceiling when you look up. Sorry to disappoint you.
The Big Room
From the Great Hall, we move to the studio’s Big Room where you will get to explore various sets from the movie. It was such a joy exploring the place and seeing how well-preserved they were. Some personal notes were still stuck on the makeup mirror. It’s as if they only finished filming yesterday.
The Burrow is one of the sets that attract quite a huge crowd. It is practically alive with Mrs Weasley’s knives chopping ingredients for tonight’s dinner on their own, the sink was busy with washing some pans, and there’s that scarf being knitted on one of the winged armchairs. Yep, exactly like the movies! ‘Magical’ is an understatement.
So what do you see when you look into the Mirror of Erised? Apparently, Alvin and I see us together. Hahaha! Excuse the cheese. It was out there, it would be a shame not to exploit it.
By the way, in case you haven’t noticed yet – lighting is horrible inside the Big Room. Some of the grainier photos were taken with my iPhone 6 Plus so I apologise for the less than acceptable quality. The clearer photos were taken with a Sony A5000. I didn’t use my camera flash all throughout the tour.
The Ministry of Magic
Still inside the Big Room is one of my favourite places in Hogwarts – Dumbledore’s Office. No, the portraits of former Headmasters were not moving. However, if you look close enough, you will see the sword of Godric Gryffindor between some of them. Also, don’t forget to look for the Pensieve! Man, I wish I owned (a real) one.
The Green Screen (Broomstick) Experience
Another awesome bit of the tour is the green screen experience where you get to try how the cast filmed their flying scenes. You can choose whether you want to be in the Ford Anglia or on a broomstick.
The Ford Anglia attracts less people and is good for families or big groups who want to try it together. I, on the other hand, went for the broomstick of course. 😉
Tip: To save time, head for the green screen area as soon as you are ushered out of the Great Hall and into the Big Room, do this activity first before exploring the sets to ensure that you won’t have to deal with the long lines.
No photos were allowed inside the green screen area so I can’t show you exactly how it was done but basically, they let you wear a Hogwarts robe then you sit on a broom – ladies, please don’t wear skirts unless you want to flash everybody – and the attendant will turn on a fan and the background video while he/she instructs you what to do. This was how it was done with the cast!
After which, you can pay for a photo of you or the video of your flying experience. I bought the video that came in a Harry Potter Thumb Drive (comes in a metal case too) for GBP25. I was broke after this trip but it was so worth it! Below is a screenshot of how the video looked like. No, I will not post the video. It is for my private viewing pleasure. *insane laughter*
My only disappointment was that there were no Quidditch scenes! I would have made a great Seeker or a decent (and quite devious) Beater!
Platform 9 3/4 and The Hogwarts Express
The next part of the tour is platform 9 and 3/4 where you will be able to explore the life-sized Hogwarts Express.
Prior to boarding the train, you can get your photo taken in the cabins re-made for filming on the other side of the room. The window is actually a screen to make it look like the train is moving! Spot the Ford Anglia on the window!
There are also several carts disappearing through a brick wall. Here, you can also take photos and pretend to be ‘entering’ the magical platform that’s invisible to Muggle eyes. I have a similar photo but it was taken at King’s Cross Station when we arrived in London. But it looks very similar. I knew about these photo stations existing at the studio but I still insisted I take mine in King’s Cross despite the horribly long line. It’s more authentic. :))
Inside the train, the actual cabins have been converted to show some of the most well-loved scenes from the movie. From the first time Harry boarded the Hogwarts Express and shared everything he bought from the snack trolley with Ron, to the last scene where Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione took their kids to the station 19 years after Voldemort’s (actual) defeat.
By this time, you are going to be hungry. Especially if you didn’t eat at the Studio Café or the Starbucks by the entrance. The Backlot Café serves a wide selection of meals – mostly Western food. If you have special dietary requirements, just ask the staff.
My husband got a burger while I opted for some Macaroni and Cheese. Both come with side salad.
Orders are served in paper plates and what they lack in presentation, they make up for in taste. Starbucks drinks can also be purchased at the Backlot Café – no need to run back to the entrance for a cup of coffee.
I also got the biggest cup of Butterbeer available and for a few extra pounds, you can take the collectible cup home. Just don’t forget to rinse the cup with water (there’s a sink near the Butterbeer counter) or else, you’ll be bringing home a very sticky cup.
I loved the taste of Butterbeer. It’s a refreshing cross between butterscotch and caramel with froth on top.
The Backlot is an outdoor area that is perfect for taking photos with some of the sets. Finally! Great lighting! My personal favourites remain to be the Knight Bus and the Ford Anglia which you can actually ride for a change!
Sirius’ motorcycle was also there and we were lucky enough that we got there at a time when it wasn’t too crowded yet. Other guests were still busy having their lunch. Although there was a 5 year old kid who kept photo bombing me at #4 Privet Drive and it took a couple of tries to get a photo without him on the frame.
Magical Creatures and Special Effects
After the Backlot, you will find yourself indoors once again. This time, to check out how magical creatures from the book were brought to life as well as to see how special effects came into play.
One of the things that actually convinced me to go for a lighter hair colour was Hermione. I already had the bushy curls. Why not go full circle? 😉
Seeing the newly-revived Voldemort ‘breathing’ and moving was probably the creepiest thing I saw during the tour. I had it on video but I lost most of my footage from London after an accident with my Final Cut Pro X libraries. More on that snafu on a later post. There will still be a London video blog soon though.
Was Diagon Alley as magical as i wanted it to be? While it would have been better if the shops were all open for us to explore (Imagine getting to go inside Flourish and Blotts!), the winding alley was still exceptional.
With Gringotts on one end and the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes on the other, the alley comes alive as it becomes crowded with the Muggle guests. If you work you imagination hard enough, they can look like wizards in disguise.
The pièce de résistance is undeniably the 1:24 model of the Hogwarts Castle. The attention to detail is just amazing. While it’s just a scale model, it’s still definitely enormous and it takes up such a huge space in the studio.
As someone who practically grew up with the books, it was really hard not to tear up when I saw it. In my head, J.K’s words were on repeat:
“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
And it’s true, isn’t it? For most people my age who were into reading when the books came out, Hogwarts was a dream and when the movies came along, it came to life – sort of.
Through the books and the movies, we all felt like we were a part of the story. We laughed at the twins’ jokes, cried when Dumbledore died then had to take a few days to recover when we found out about the ‘grand plan’, got our hearts broken along with Harry’s when Sirius died. To me, it was such a huge part of my young adult life and it taught me so much about love, friendship, and loyalty. It was impossible not to cry.
And I did. But what stopped me from going on a full-on bawl-fest was not my husband who was obviously starting to feel awkward about how I was acting. It was the huge number of kids who were starting to notice the weird adult who seemed to be having an internal melt down. I couldn’t have those little people making fun of me.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only grown person who got so emotional in front of the castle. If you – the one who’s reading this – have a plan to go to the studio, take my advice and bring tissues. Also, wear waterproof mascara. You’re welcome.
Alas, we reached the end of the tour. I admit, I was really excited to see all the Harry Potter merchandise which I know were going to be expensive but still – it’s not everyday I get to go to the studio where 8 of my favourite movies were filmed. Also, the prices do reflect the quality of the merchandise you’re getting here. So… yes. Justified.
Aside from wands, the selection of sweets and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes merchandise were the ones people were really getting excited about.
Chocolate from Honeydukes? Why, don’t mind if I do!
They also have Chocolate Frogs that won’t jump from the carton once you open it (like in the movies). There’s also U No Poo – the safe kind. Not the ‘Constipation Sensation that’s Sweeping the Nation’.
There’s also Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans that come at almost GBP10 per pack.
Cheap tip: Jelly Belly also makes weird flavoured Jelly Beans now which may remind you of Bertie Botts.
I bought myself a Gryffindor hoodie and a Hogwarts keychain at the souvenir shop to make sure I take a little piece of Hogwarts with me everyday and I get the Gryffindor lion to cover me when it’s cold. 😉 Also, #SchoolPride.
Just a couple more thoughts:
- Don’t be shy to ask the attendants about anything that pops into your head with regards to what you’re seeing in the studio. They are highly knowledgeable and are happy to help. Try asking them really hard questions! It’s fun to challenge them.
- Don’t worry if you didn’t pay for a digital guide, the information tabs around the studio are packed with so much trivia.
- The tour goes one way so be sure you’re done in the Big Room before moving on to the next sections and so on.
- Don’t be distracted by the gift shop once you’re at the entrance. It’s the same gift shop you will end up in once the tour is done. Don’t buy your souvenirs prior to the tour so you won’t have to lug them around. You will need your hands to take photos.
- Allot at least half a day to see the studio.
I hope this guide has been helpful to anybody who’s planning to visit The Making of Harry Potter: Warner Bros Studio Tour London! It is indeed a wonderful experience for any Harry Potter fan!
*Trip is not sponsored by any country’s tourism department, company, or brand. Although almost all of our expenses were shouldered by my side of the family who want to see me more often. Thanks, fam!????