I think this summer for me marks 18 years of loving Harry Potter. We have English family friends, and in late 1997 or so, one of them sent over a book that was popular and she thought we might enjoy – “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. My mom – hearing that there was a sequel – went to the bookstore right away and purchased “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. (cue laughter) No one noticed that they were the same book until I read the British version and then desperate for the sequel started reading…the same book. So, origin story over, bona-fides laid bare, here are my thoughts on the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour.
I actually visited for the first time last fall. A girlfriend and I had been in England for a hiking trip, and on our last few days in London, wanted to see the studios. We had a terrific time, and spent hours there. I seriously took about 700 photos of all the cool little things. Because that’s what the studio lets you do – get up close and personal to the sets, costumes and props.
They also have a lot of interactive photo opportunities, because they know that’s what people want the most. Obviously you can take your photo standing outside the Hogwarts Express. But what if you were to take your picture *inside* the express with a Ford Anglia flying outside the window (thanks digital windows!). There are places to take your picture like you’re going through the wall at Platform 9 3/4, to pretend you’re in one of the fireplaces at the Ministry of Magic, to pretend to ride Hagrid/Sirius’s motorbike. All terrific stuff.
Halfway through the tour there’s a cafe where you can buy butterbeer, butterbeer ice cream, or food that is not pure sugar (but who wants that?). And since it’s about halfway through the studio, it’s a nice resting place, though I wish that the bathrooms were closer to the cafe (they’re back in the main studio space just before you get to the Hogwarts Express). As a note – there’s free wifi throughout the entire studio, so if you worry about not being able to post your new photos to facebook or instagram, worry no more.
So how did I end up at the studios once again less than a year after my first visit? Well, as you know, the Boy and I recently got back from a trip to London with his girls. Before the trip we had asked what they were most interested in doing, and H – who is 10 – had read the Harry Potter books the previous year and was desperate to go. Her little sister (E) who had seen a couple of the movies was also interested, but her need was not as dire. The Boy asked if I would be ok going again, I said “Uh…yeah. I’ll be fine” and I was. This time I focused more on looking carefully at things – and not just through my camera. If there was something particularly special or interesting or that I hadn’t noticed on the last trip, I still stopped to take a picture. I also made sure to get pictures of the girls enjoying things – there is nothing better than seeing the joy in a child’s face when they’re in a place they have only dreamed about until now.
There was also a new area open that hadn’t been before – the interior of No. 4 Privet Drive, and so we got to see some awesome things like this room filled with the Hogwarts letters (all hanging by fishing line), and it was pretty darn cool.
So – here’s some helpful information on getting there. Your choices are a train from Euston or taking the Overground and making sure you are on the right train when you get to Willesden Junction. The benefit of taking a train from Euston is that they’re pretty fast, but they’ll cost you about £15 (if I’m remembering correctly from last year). The Overground can be slower, especially if you’re going through an area with lots of stops, or if you have to change lines a couple times. The benefit here is that you can use your Oyster card, and that’s one less thing to worry about. But once you get to Watford Junction, things are even easier. There’s a double decker bus that runs from outside the station (in the bus area to the left) to the studio itself – it’s covered in Harry Potter stuff, so difficult to miss. It costs £2.50 for a round trip ticket, and if you’re not driving is the easiest way to do things. Plus – wifi on the bus.
Book your tickets as soon as you know what day you can go. We booked ours a month in advance, and even that limited our entrance time. And if you plan on spending hours and hours…try not to get a tour time before 3pm. It’s self guided as soon as you’ve entered, so no one will hurry you along, but the studios do close eventually, so if you want to do a relaxing walk, see all the things, do all the photo ops, listen to all the audio-guide items, don’t let yourself get caught with end of day tickets. And this is the perfect time to say that the audio guide is totally worth it. It’s not that expensive, and while it’s not required to go in to the studios, they do give you another layer of interest and depth to the things that you’re seeing.
Make sure you save time to look around the gift shop. Obviously it’s not required to buy anything, but if you do want something, they probably have it. This is the craziest, most amazing collection of Harry Potter themed gear I’ve ever seen, and it makes for great gift giving for Harry Potter fans. I would also say save your shopping until after the tour – you may be tempted as you wait at the entrance for your tour time, but maybe look around but DO NOT BUY ANYTHING YET. You don’t want to carry around more than you need for hours, and you’ll exit through the gift shop on the way out.
So that’s all I’ve got. It’s a terrific adventure, and if you’ve been before but are with others who want to go…don’t be afraid to go back. It’s always fun, always interesting to see the technical marvels of how these movies are made. And if you’re like me, it’ll make you choke up a little at the memories of the younger woman who first loved these books.
Has anyone else been? Loved it? Have tips for others who might be visiting?
Details: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London -The Making of Harry Potter, Watford Junction, UK.