This weekend just gone we made our way to Watford to the studios at Leavesden, to visit the Harry Potter Tour over at the Warner Brothers Studios. To say we were excited would be an understatement!
We finally did the Harry Potter tour – we booked the tickets way up front and got a 9.30am slot. Reasonable, you’d think, except you have the trek from Carshalton up to Watford which fortunately only took an hour at that time of day. Parking is included with your ticket, and we headed into the studio to wait for our slot. There’s a cafe to the left of the building as you enter where you can wait for your slot to open.
I don’t want to spoil the tour (too much) for anyone reading this who might be going, and really just want to include practical information – though pictures will give some things away and an idea of what to expect. I’ve tried to be good – but also the costumes give a good idea of what to expect (you got used to the lack of faces!)
This Harry Potter tour exists as first Harry Potter films were being created and nobody knew how the books would end, so props and scenery were kept in case they would be needed for the final film(s). So when production ended they had a load of super cool stuff which nerds like me have been desperate to see for a LONG time.
However, when our first opportunity to go arose, H was way too young. I wanted this to be an experience we’d enjoy as a family as we have done the films. Right now H is starting Book 5, and has seen all the films up to the Half-Blood Prince (and knows way more about it all than I do).
So what do you get on the Harry Potter tour? A fairly long queue at the start, but some fun stuff on the way. Groups are ushered into a room where there are three doors (hint – go for the left hand one if you can). The queue leading to this room goes quite slowly, but once you’re in there you’ll start the tour and can go at your own pace from a certain point.
The amount of detail that has gone into everything is amazing (and to think had there only been one book they could have been destroyed!) – and there is a LOT. The main area you go through houses almost everything you can think of, and you could easily spend at least three hours in here (we did). In fact, we only stopped as we needed to get something to eat and drink. A 9.30 slot got us inside by 10am, and eating by 1pm!
For kids there’s a complementary passport you can get stamped in a specific area, as well as a fantastic Golden Snitch trail – this was good for H and a major distraction too. She’s so obsessed with Harry Potter she wanted to read every-single-thing. We could have spent 13 hours (the current record for the amount of time spent there according to our guide) in there were it not for the passport!!
Quite often we’d find a snitch and then say “ooh, maybe it’s out here!” and distract her enough that she’d forget about the reading. There is a 15th Anniversary coloured badge you can get too, of which only one was available yesterday (Gryffindor) though if you check ebay some people seem to have them for sale… I’m guessing they offer a different colour every day maybe?
In the main area of the Harry Potter tour it is sectioned into scenes and areas, so there are costumes in one part, you’ve got some Quidditch stuff going on (and a fabulous part where your child can pick up a broom, or indeed ride on one – the first is free, the second is quite expensive – we spent £40 and got a video and two photos). I love the interactive parts – you can wave your hand above a sensor which makes the knitting knit in the film when they get to the Weasley’s house in Book 2.
After you’ve left the main area you head to Platform 9 and three quarters which has the first gift shop you’ll come to. This isn’t as big as the main shop but does have quite a lot. Next to it they have a green screen area where you can create a film going to Hogwarts which we did but didn’t watch (we’d already spent too much money paying for the Broomstick one – it would be great if this could be added to the existing USB so you’re only paying a big price the once).
To the side of this area is the main eating area. There’s a lot of space, and we got a seat easily having realised we’d been wandering around for three hours and were pretty hungry. We bought Butterbeer of course (it reminded me of a cream soda float) – one in a commemorative cup and two plastic ones at approx £15 total.
We took our own packed lunch which saved us a bit of money too, it looked like they had a good choice of food there.
When you’re in the food area, you’re right by the outside set area, which when we visited had 3 Privet Drive open, and the front room as it was when Harry’s first letter(s) to Hogwarts arrived in Book 1. We also got a replica envelope like the ones used and a demonstration of how they did it. This exhibition has now finished unfortunately!
In the outside area there are two vehicles – the motorbike and sidecar, plus the Ford Anglia where you can take free photos. There is an opportunity to have your photo taken on a green screen and be placed in the Ford Anglia – but this of course, costs!
It’s also around this point you realise you can’t go back. When you do the Harry Potter tour you’re going round in your own time which works well (we got lots of photos without people in the background despite there being so many of us) – and you really felt like you had your own space.
Onwards to the next area, where it goes into the masks used throughout the film, and also how Robbie Coltrane looks so big and what they did (I’ve always wondered exactly what happened), before you’re entering Diagon Alley, some more models and then the very final room. I’ve seen many photos of this room and I wasn’t prepared for how incredible it was!
After that you enter a room full of boxes. But then you look… those boxes are wand boxes. With the cast’s names on them. Many many boxes…. it was a real treat, spotting the names…
So finally you end up in the main shop. I spent another £15 on merchandise, but bought H a fabulous Time Turner which was £8.95 and looks really nice and sturdy and not like it will fall apart (which if you know the time turner, you’d wonder).
So is the Harry Potter Studio Tour worth almost £100 for the three of us? Definitely. I’m glad we booked way up-front as it meant the tickets were paid for which freed up money for the extras… and yes, I’m a sucker for all that. Some parts were spoilers for H (the Horcruxes) so I steered her away, and a short clip from Deathly Hallows has made her want to hold off from seeing the film (good, she’s too young right now!) – though she did have a sneaky read of the book not that long ago.
As a long-standing fan of the books and the films it was a fascinating experience. I just want to talk about it! But you can’t say a lot as I think knowing only what you need to (all food places take cards, there’s one cashpoint by the entrance, there are loads of toilets, nothing seemed too scary) doesn’t spoil it for others.
Will I be going back? I would love to! We have no plans, however I’m now left wondering if parts of Fantastic Beasts (out in November!) will make their way into the tour, as after all it doesn’t actually say the Harry Potter tour – just the Warner Brothers Studio Tour…. hmmmm……
In addition, one thing I’d wondered – if you get a 4pm slot (which seems to be one of the last ones of the day), I’d wondered if you could get everything done. Well, the studios don’t close until 10pm, so in an ideal world, you should be able to!
You can book your Warner Brothers Harry Potter tour tickets here. Look out for lots of fabulous 15th Anniversary events throughout the year!