Note – This is a blow-by-blow account of the tour; if you don’t want spoilers, I suggest you don’t read it 🙂
On Saturday we visited the Warner Bros. Studio, Leavesden to experience the ‘Making of Harry Potter’ Tour. G is a massive Harry Potter fan and we got her tickets for her birthday. We had hoped to go nearer to her birthday but the tour is extremely popular and you have to book quite far in advance. We’d left J to stay with his Grandma for the afternoon as we thought it might be a bit difficult doing the tour with a three month old who gets bored very easily! G decided she wanted to wear her Gryffindor Robes and Hogwarts Tie for the occasion; she looked awesome and ready to ‘go to Hogwarts’!
On arrival to the site I was pretty blown away by the size of it. It’s MASSIVE. Two enormous ‘warehouse’ structures adorned with promotional stills from the films. You can’t miss it!
Once inside you find yourself in a vast atrium area which has the entrance to the tour directly in front of you, a Starbucks and Restaurant to the left and the Gift Shop to the right. As we were a little early we took a look around the Gift Shop and thing you notice (after the exquisite theming!) are the prices. Want a full Hogwarts Uniform? £200+ Want replica robes similar to those worn by Dumbledore? £500 please! There are obviously smaller and cheaper items – G liked the T-Shirts (XS – £12.99 ) and a Pen (£3.99!), but there did seem to be a lot of parents sucking air through their teeth when looking at the price labels. Equally though, the tills were packed and people were buying items by the shed load!
We decided to stop for a quick coffee at the Starbucks, as we still had 15 minutes or so to kill.
Once coffee had been consumed we joined the queue for the start of the tour. The queue looked longer than it actually was and it moved pretty quickly. On the way through you also get to see Harry Potter’s ‘Bedroom’ – the cupboard under the stairs at the Dursleys. It’s behind a barrier so you don’t get to see it too closely, but it’s a cool spot for a photo.
Every five minutes or so a large group of waiting guests are led into a large holding area with screens. A short film about how the book became a film is played and this was a bit dull really! We were then led into a cinema area and shown another short film about Harry Potter and its ‘home’ at the Studios. This film was introduced by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. The end of the film showed them all slipping off behind the door that lead to the ‘Great Hall’. The film stopped and the cinema screen flew up to reveal the same door, creaking open. There was a wave of gasps and cheers from the audience and G’s mouth was wide open and she shrieked, ‘AWESOME!’.
We were then led into the the Hall, and it’s phenomenal – the size of it is immense and the level of detail is incredible. The tour guide gave us a few minutes to have a look around before she started talking about the set and some of the finer details. At the end of the Hall stood mannequins with the costumes of some of the lead ‘teachers’ in the film, I loved the ‘Hagrid’ one – you really understand just how tall and wide he actually is!
This was the end of the ‘Guided Tour’ – the rest of it you explore for yourself. There are plenty of staff around to speak to talk to and ask questions, but we just explored all the different sets and props they have on display. In the middle of it all they have a ‘Green Screen Experience’ which enables you to take a ride in Ron’s Dad’s Ford Anglia, and don a Hogwarts Cloak and jump onto a Broomstick and ‘fly’ around London and Hogwarts. They take a photo of you doing both and you can purchase them. You can skip this part entirely if you’re short on time. Despite the queue looking fairly small, the ’45 minutes from this point’ sign is painfully accurate. The photos are £12 for one, £15 for two £18 for three and £20 for four. Certainly not cheap, but then again similar to what you’d find at Thorpe Park etc.
Once you’ve seen around Sound Stage J you can make your way to Sound Stage K – via the Cafe area. Once you’ve left J, you’re not allowed back in as they operate a ‘one way’ system, so be warned, make sure you see everything you need to before leaving! The Cafe area is outside, with an undercover seating area. As well as having another Starbucks outlet, there is also a ‘Butter Beer’ concession, selling the famous brew. It looks pretty rank and the head on it looks like congealed cream, but it actually tastes okay. I think it’s essentially Cream Soda.
The outside area also plays host to some more sets and props too, including a replica of Hagrid’s Bike, the famous Ford Anglia, the ‘Knight Bus’, The Dursley’s House on Privet Drive, and the ‘Hogwarts Bridge’. You’re able to have your picture take in, on, and around these. G particularly enjoyed knocking on the Dursley’s front door, and rather embarrassingly leaping onto Hagrid’s Bike after pushing through the queue of patient fans.
You can then continue into Sound Stage K, which starts off showing some of the models and animatronics used in the films. There are even some interactive ones you can play with! G was keen to hunt down Dobby for a photo, although she immediately noticed his ‘blood’ stained clothes and pointed out it was ‘Dead Dobby’ she was being photographed with.
The exhibition then went in to one of the most famous streets in the World of Wizardry – Diagon Alley. It was pretty much as you’ve seen it in the films. The shops are sadly just façades and don’t have much ‘depth’ to them which was a shame. It was nice to walk down and peer into the shops though.
The next part of the exhibition was my favourite. They had lots of drawings, plans, models and concept art of the world of Harry Potter. Everything was here, from a beautiful drawing of Dobby, to the construction drawings of Dumbledore’s Chair, right up to a scale model of Hogwarts made from paper and modelling card.
Then came the bit I loved the most, a full scale model of Hogwarts. It’s absolutely jaw-dropping; the size of it is immense, but the detail itself is mind boggling as it looks so incredibly real. This model was used in the film, and with a mixture of CGI and camera tricks they were able to put the actors into the external scenes. There are video screens dotted around where you can see how this was done and you can also watch a time lapse video of the 40 days it took to reassemble the model in the exhibition.
Once you’ve explored Hogwarts you then move on to the final room which is a mock up of ‘Ollivander’s’, the famous wand shop. Every single box has a little sticker on with the names of every member of the cast and crew from the films. Thanks to some over-excited Americans I saw ‘Rupert Grint’s box. This scene is a slight disappointment as it looks a bit of an afterthought to be honest. They should have really finished with the Hogwarts model. Still, G quite liked it. So, that was it. You’re then cast back into the magically expensive world of the Gift Shop and parental moans of ‘You’re not having it at that price!!’.