My dear friend is a Harry Potter nut. Now, I’m talking a real collect everything, all the films on DVD three times, honest to goodness fruitcake and, while I did enjoy reading the books and might have stood in line at midnight for a couple, I didn’t really think I was that into it all. So you’ll forgive me for being a bit bemused as to how I got quite so excited by being at The Making of Harry Potter studio tour a few weeks back. In fact, it was multiple photos before we’d even gone through the door and spending a considerable amount of time in the gift shop, bearing in mind that I hate shopping with a passion.
You could easily think that WB are thinking how they can milk the Harry Potter franchise now that there are no more movies coming, so have hastily slung up a few props and so on to keep the fans happy (I went to the Titanic tour a few years ago and it was EXACTLY that) but not so, the WB tour is over two sound stages and a back lot and is filled with the actual sets, props and costumes that you saw on screen – consider my faith in film studios partially restored.
The studio tour is pretty easy to find, as it’s just off the motorway and they even have a Harry Potter bus to collect those who travel by rail and it works by having timed tickets. We went for a 11.30am ticket and, as we arrived about an hour before that, had plenty of time to have a bite to eat and peruse the shop and put some purchases in the car – this was a good idea as lugging memorabilia around the rest of the tour would have been a drag! You can buy a printed guide and a video guide, but while the printed guide was a good souvenir, I confess I didn’t really use the video guide as there was so much to see.
The picture above is of the outside of the tour, but as soon as you go through the doors it’s total Harry Potter-fest! There are huge posters of the characters on the walls and props including the Ford Anglia and Harry’s luggage trolley from Kings Cross in the lobby alone, and then the shop has a window done out like Honeydukes plus lots of film props inside. One example is the book shelves at the back of the shop – seemingly nondescript, they were actually used in the movies and now ‘repurposed’! We were also told by a very helpful member of staff that all of the ‘proppy’ items in the shop that are up high, or locked away were used in the films.
But onto the tour. All I can say is Wow! It’s so nice to see that a bit of thought and effort has gone into the tour and that the bits that people really want to see are all there. The tour starts in the Great Hall at Hogwarts and there’s lots to see here as the room is set with two of the long tables and has uniform from each house and costume worn by a number of the Professors. After this, you’re sent off into the wild to look at whatever you want, for as long as you want and this is what’s really good about it – your ticket is timed for entry, but they don’t kick you out. We were there for about five hours, but you could spend much longer than this.
To guide the children around, there is a passport free with the child’s ticket in which you can go on a Golden Snitch hunt (they’re hanging from the ceiling in various places) and also dotted around there are stamping stations for you to emboss the pages of your passport – it was quite cute to watch the little-uns rushing around trying to find the various things!
On Sound Stage One, you’re taken through Hogwarts, including the Gryffindor common room and Harry’s dormitory sets, plus lots of costume, wigs and smaller props, then further out into Harry’s world with sets from The Burrow, Hagrid’s hut and the Leaky Cauldron – needless to say it can be difficult to get a proper look as there were a lot of people about, but if you’re patient you can make your way to the front! Aside from the video guide, there did also seem to be a good number of staff around, happy to help the kids find snitches, but also to answer any questions you might have. They were to a man (or woman) cheerful, chatty and seemed genuinely pleased to be there, which was a nice surprise.
Also in Sound Stage One, there is the opportunity to have a go at some green screen photos. Now, this was a pretty busy attraction, but we were only waiting for 30 – 45 minutes, so not too bad. The photos were really good fun – you can have a group shot in the Ford Anglia, or one of these beauties:
An awesome broomstick shot (robes are provided there, wand provided by my dear friend). These are not cheap, although if you buy four pictures you do get them for £5 each as opposed to (I think) £12 for one. Well worth it for me!
When you’ve spent enough time on Sound Stage One, you can go out onto the Back Lot – although make sure that you HAVE seen everything as you can’t go back once you’ve gone out… There are some really cool things on the Back Lot, not least of which is food and also a Butterbeer stand. Butterbeer was ok and basically tasted like cream soda, but the commemorative glass was cute. The food was reasonably priced, but just sarnies really.
Also on the Back Lot are the Knightbus, ANOTHER Ford Anglia, Privet Drive and the Hogwarts covered bridge. At the time we went it was fenced off, but I have heard that you’re now allowed to walk on it, so I’ll have to go again just for that!
Upon leaving the Back Lot (again, you can’t go back) you enter the ‘creature shop’, with all the models, fake heads and trickery that make the films so good. There are videos running for you to watch and a full-size Diagon Alley, where it seamlessly goes from night to day and back again. You can really get up close to the shops and peer into the windows – Fred and George’s shop is really good here.
After this, it’s more artwork and the final, showstopper piece of the exhibition – the Hogwarts model. I won’t spoil it by adding a picture, but it really is breathtaking and, well, massive.
Despite the ticket price being £29 for adults for 2013 and £21.50 for kids, it’s well, well worth the money. As I said, you could spend a whole day there and still not take everything in. I’m definitely planning to go again next year, but my nutty friend? Planning her third visit this year and if a Potter nut thinks that highly of it, it’s got to be pretty good.
ps Thanks for sticking with this looooong post. I bet you’ve gone now haven’t you? I’m writing this to NO-ONE… Hellllooooooo??