Day out: Harry Potter Studio Tour

26 Oct

This was the big enchilada of days out.  One of the best days out we’ve had this past year, a highlight of the summer.  It is not cheap, and not something we’d do more than once … probably … but I expect our day at the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour to be one of the top memories of our time in England.  I’ve even used a photo of the kids in a flying car in our holiday cards.  Yes: it was that good.

The studio tour is a self-guided backstage look at the sets, costumes, design work, and creation studios as they actually were used in the filming of the movies.  I took three children, and we stayed about five hours — and could have stayed longer.  Okay, I could have stayed longer.  The five year old was ready to go.  Here are my few tips, before we get in to the photos:

  • Get your tickets online, well ahead of time, and select a timed entry slot as close to first thing in the morning as possible.
  • Bring your camera with an extra battery and extra memory card, because you can take as many photos as you like — and you will.
  • You may be tempted to get a coffee at the Starbucks just inside the doors (THERE IS A STARBUCKS!) but you won’t be able to bring the coffee on the tour. Wait.
  • The digital audio guide (narrated by Tom Felton/Draco Malfoy) has lots of extra material and is very worthwhile for older children (or adults).  Younger children will enjoy pressing all the buttons and looking at the digital photos, but probably won’t gain ten pounds worth of value from the devices.
  • You can purchase souvenir books ahead of time, but there’s no cost savings and the exact same books are available in large piles in the gift shop.
  • Check out the gift shop before you do the tour because it will be packed like a sardine can later in the day.  And then, if any of your little wizards and witches happen to not yet have their own wands, they can get their very own to wave magically around throughout the tour.
  • Plan to take a break about half way through for some butterbeer and a sandwich.
  • Expect to run home and re-watch all the movies, shouting “We were there!  We were there!” during half the scenes.  Because YOU WERE THERE.

So, here we go.

In case you’ve forgotten where you are, massive publicity photos gaze down at you just inside the main entrance.

Here’s that gift shop I mentioned — first thing in the morning, before it becomes TOTALLY INSANE.

And the tour begins in the beginning — under the stairs.

After a short film (the only place where no photos are allowed) and a short commentary, you enter the Great Hall.  The actual Great Hall.  Like … The Great Hall.

Mannequins stand in for actors — in movie costumes — while a guide comments on the room and various interesting trivia about building this set, and the filming.

Then move through another set of doors and the gigantic warehouse of sets and collections unfolds.  Here’s the table from the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire.  Up close, you can see it’s all plastic — but it still looks amazing.

The tower room where Harry, Ron, Neville, Dean and Seamus bunked.  The audio guide notes that the beds were made with the young actors in mind, and as they grew they had to hunch over to pretend they could still lie down in these beds.

I was amazed to find that so many film elements which I had carelessly assumed were computer generated were in fact very real.  (If you’ve been to this blog before you might wonder if this is one my close-up shots.  No.  This clock is as tall as my house.)

Recognize any of these?

It’s hard to say, but Dumbledore’s Tower may have been my favorite set.  I thought any minute Fawkes would start moulting.

The potions classroom was equally amazing.  With strategic lighting, hundreds of small, detailed props, and some ‘magically’ stirred potions, this set was a huge kid-pleaser.

The viewer is left with the realization that no detail, no atmospheric element, was too small.

The Weasley’s house — The Burrow — was also magically enhanced with chopping knives and sweaters knitting themselves.

Portions of the epic Ministry of Magic sets remain, including the terrifying and tragic Magic Is Might statue.

A mantle-peice’s worth of Death Eaters hulks to one side.

The crime-against fashion (not to mention evil) Dolores Umbridge has her office to the other side.

Just before exiting this massive building, there is a chance to have photos taken — on broomstick, in the flying car, and as a prisoner in Azkaban.  We were very lucky to have almost no wait — it looked like waits could be up to an hour or more on high-traffic days.  Even if you don’t buy the photos, dressing in cloaks, sitting stride the brooms while a wind machine blows and you see yourself soaring over Hogwarts or through London streets is an experience all on its own.  (Of course, we bought some photos.  And the pounds keep flying into the Studio pockets.)

After the sets building and the photos, you exit outside into a small cafe area which happily provides butterbeer, small snacks, and tables and chairs for a much-needed sit.

And a view of the Knight Bus!

Not just the Knight Bus, but the Dursley’s house!  And Hagrid’s motorcycle!

Peek inside the bus!

Look down the length of the Covered Bridge!

See the house where Harry lived with his parents — still practically smoking from the destruction!

Pose with the larger-than-life wizard’s chess pieces!

This is where my mind started to go, to be honest.

I tried to play things cool in the creature studio — our next building — but when fetal Voldemort unpredictably moved, I totally screamed.

None of the creature heads were very impressed with me.  Aren’t the merpeople amazing?

I won’t say how long I stared at Dobby, waiting for him to blink.  (He didn’t.)

The descending Aragog terrified my youngest, so we swept through quickly and were rewarded by …

Diagon Alley remains just as it was during the filming.  Take out the raised platform, and you could film another Harry Potter movie there today.

It was like walking through the best Renaissance Faire market space in the history of ever.

When you think you can’t absorb any more, you walk in to a black and white room, two stories high, filled floor to ceiling with gorgeous OCD doodles and designs for sets, creatures, costumes, and buildings.

And then circle another room filled with accurate scale models — all made of paper — of almost every Harry Potter world building or large natural formation.

Then walk into another huge space, filled with Hogwarts.  I’d say a model of Hogwarts, but this really IS Hogwarts.  All those flying and swooping scenes over the castle — or boating or battling or walking approaches — are cameras flying and swooping over this 1:24 scale model.  The room turns from dawn to dusk in an endless loop, the lights come on inside the castle and then dim once again with each new day.  There are large touch-screen monitors allowing visitors to zoom in for more information on different sections of the castle, and a wide ramp slowly winds around the entire structure.

I would have been very happy to sit here, at the base of the walls, and watch the ‘sun’ rise and fall for hours.  It feels like magic.

But, exit one must, and in this case, slightly unexpectedly — through the interior of Olivander’s.  The name on each wand box is hand lettered.  Go ahead and look.  There are thousands.

Now, now that your mind is completely blown, but you need to pull yourself together to drag your children away from a second trip to the gift shop and all the way home, now you can go to Starbucks.

Don’t forget your souvenir.

14 Responses to “Day out: Harry Potter Studio Tour”

  1. ECBrooks October 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    OMG I can’t barely even stand it for a tiny minute. I can’t even IMAGINE how awesome this was in the flesh. Love the blog … love your pictures … love Harry Potter

    • Monique October 27, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

      I feel the love. 😉 Top of the bucket list, next time you are in London.

  2. Zazzy October 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Wow that looks like an incredible tour! I didn’t like the movies at first but then I became a junkie and I have them all on DVD. I want a wand!

    • Monique October 27, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

      One of the few times I enjoy the movies as much as the books — and walking through the sets was just … impossibly wonderful. I would have bought myself a wand, but I decided my magic credit card would have to do.

  3. happyhomemakeruk October 27, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    We did this tour in June – it was utterly fantastic! You have pulled your photos together so well – I was overwhelmed by all of it when editing my own. Bravo!

    • Monique October 27, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

      I know just what you mean. There are so many photos, I hardly knew where to start with going through them and trying to put together a post. Probably why it took me almost three months to get this out! Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Anonymous October 30, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I agree completely with your comment above: the Harry Potter experience was one of the few times I enjoyed the movies as much as the books. AMAZING. We whizzed through the creatures bit (Kate is only three and got more than a little bit freaked out by the fetal Voldemort and huge Aragog) as well as the paper models. It was fun to see those segments properly in your pics. Those photos are fantastic, Monique! Makes me want to link straight to your blog and save my family from looking at my pathetic pictures. 🙂

    • Monique October 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      No, post your photos, I want to see! (And link back!) It’s such fun to see how everyone looks at the same things, differently. After going, I think the tour is most interesting to kids over at least 7 — what do you think?

  5. Neda November 3, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Now that I’ve been, I can properly look through your HP blog post! I missed fetal Voldemort, probably because E was freaked out at this stage and buried his head in my shoulder. WHAT A GOOD TIME!! We’re using our HP pics for cards too! 🙂

    • Monique November 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      😀 I have to admit, it would be fun to go back without the kids, so I could stay ALL DAY LONG and see ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. Loved it.

  6. Tesni November 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Been awol from this blog for awhile, and so glad to have time to read it again! I’ve been on this tour twice! I loved it so much that I went again. The second time was just as good, especially as we went to the 6pm viewing, and we walked around slower than most so by the end, there was just us and another group still there. It was fantastic to have it almost to ourselves! The first time I went it was crammed so I didn’t get any good shots of Diagon Alley or get to go in the Ford Anglia or motorbike. This time hardly a person in sight! You should definitely go again, I noticed the parents seemed to have more fun than the kids who seem to go ‘oh cool it’s a broom, what’s next?’.

    • Monique November 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

      Heya, glad to see you again! 🙂 You make a really good point about going later in the day … if I manage an adults-only tour (oo, sounds risque) going later in the evening sounds like a great idea. I love that you’ve been twice — makes me less crazy for wanting to do the same. 😉

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