Even before I purchased my ticket to the BookCrossing convention (the reason for the trip), I purchased my ticket to the Warner Brother Studio Harry Potter Tour. I pretty much just guessed a good date that wasn’t my birthday and hoped that I’d be able to schedule everything else around that date. I purchased my ticket the second day they were on sale, FYI.
WARNING: this post contains tons of spoilers and photos of the studio tour. If you’re planning to go ever and want to experience the magic and surprises yourself, PLEASE don’t read this post!
Despite my stupid mistake the night before, this trip really was the BEST birthday present to myself ever. Seriously. I was so anxious to get to the studio tour, I got there super early. My ticket was for 1pm and I left the hostel at 9am.
I went to Yumchaa where I got a muffin, free internet, and a chai late that I proceeded to spill EVERYWHERE. I didn’t realize that the mug was smaller than the thingy that went on top of it. I felt really dumb and used all their napkins mopping it up. And I tipped SO MUCH I was so embarrassed about it.
I took the train from Euston to Watford Junction, using my BritRail pass and at both stations, guards seemed to not like seeing it. In all other instances of my using it, it has been regarded as something like a special honor. LOL I sat around the station for a while writing postcards. Then I couldn’t take waiting any more and took the double-decker shuttle bus (I sat at the top one row from the front; great view) to the studio.
It turns out that there was a little cafe there inside the studio and you can go into the store without a ticket. As I had about two hours to kill, I went to the store. I bought WAY TOO MUCH, but lots of it will be Christmas presents for Harry Potter friends, so it was sort of justified. I did, however, buy myself a Hufflepuff baseball cap (I’d actually been wanting a Harry Potter hat to wear to outdoor events), a purple pygmy puff (to go with my pink one from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida), and Hufflepuff gloves.
I got the souvenir guide and audio tour package with my ticket. I was so glad I did because there was a CRISIS as my batteries failed halfway through and I didn’t get good photos of everything I wanted. But when my batteries started failing I could have cried! I thought I had spares and put those in only to find that they were old ones! Ah! In fact, I found 2 more pairs of old ones in my bag. I asked around, but no one had any spares I could buy off them :-( Even with that terrible moment, I had such an amazing time. There was so much to see!
WARNING: DO NOT READ ON UNLESS YOU WANT TOUR SPOILERS!
1. Intro Film
We were taken into a room with movie posters from various places around the world cycling through on screens. The crowd was not at all responsive to the guy trying to psych us up, but I hooted loudly when he asked if there were any Hufflepuffs :-) We watched a little intro film about the Harry Potter craze in regards to the movies, ending with a fanmade poster at one opening showing baby Harry. I teared up.
2. Cinema Room Film
We sat down and watched a little film where Dan, Emma, and Rupert welcomed us to the studio. At the end of the video, there was a door and the screen lifted up to reveal that actual door behind–the door to the Great Hall.
3. Great Hall
We walked in and I cried. The room was HUGE and amazing, with tables set up on either side, props on the tables, and costumes along the sides and across the front. They ushered us through FAR too quickly for my liking, but it was so magical to stand there in the actual Great Hall. I didn’t realize it would hit me quite that powerfully.
4. Sets, Props, & Costumes
If you’ve been to the Harry Potter Exhibition (I went once in Chicago and then again in New York with the new Deathly Hallows 2 props included) you have some idea of what is on display in this section of the tour. It’s the sets, props, and costumes used in the films. But it’s magnified greatly AND you can take photos. So before you would get a table with a cauldron and potions book on the top and bottles beneath and Snape’s costume beside. Here you have two huge potions classrooms (one for Snape, one for Slughorn) with whole cases of ingredients and actual self-stirring cauldrons. Instead of just Umbridge’s desk and her costume, you get her entire office. It’s spectacular and overwhelming just how much they have there for you to see. Everything from the actual lighting bolt applications to Ministry of Magic fireplaces to a portrait of Stephen Fry!
5. Special Effects
The special effects section was neat, but I sort of didn’t want it to ruin the magic. I stood in line for this section for a minute, but when I got into line it was an hour long wait and I was freaking out about my batteries. So I ducked out and checked out other parts instead. When I looked at the end of the section, I saw people purchasing photos of themselves on broomsticks and decided that, though it would be fun to ride one, it would be more fun to do with people I knew, not alone. So I skipped this and don’t regret that decision.
Outside they had some of the larger sets that wouldn’t fit inside the studios. Let me also take the time to mention that they filmed on studios J and K (coincidence, not on purpose! lol). Outside was the Knight Bus, the Flying Ford, two houses on Privet Drive (including Number 4, of course), the Bridge, giant chess pieces, and James and Lily’s house (I cried again). I had a butterbeer and tried to buy batteries off of people to no success.
7. Creature Shop
Warwick Davies took us through each of the rooms of these workshops via a little film that showed us different aspects (models, masks, mechanisms, applications, etc.) of building the creatures and characters used in the movies. You could even push a button and make the Monster book attack or make Hedwig’s head turn or make icky Voldy thing from under the bench move. My camera hated me at this point, so I mostly just stood and looked at everything I could and watched each short film thingy twice through. (Note: the first photo below is actually from the sets, props, and costumes section, but it fits better here)
8. Diagon Alley
This was an example of what a hot set was like. We actually got to walk through Diagon Alley with buildings on either side, the sets fully decorated and ready if shooting were to start taking place. My camera DEFINITELY didn’t like this section. But I walked up and down the street at least 3 times, just taking in the details of the buildings towering above me and the amount of detail in each. If you’ve been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal, it’s like that only it’s REAL, more detailed, and almost twice the number of stores.
9. Art Design
This section had tons and tons of sketches and blueprints of objects, characters, and locations. There was a draft board with various videos showing development and techniques and the people who created all of the wonders in the movies. There was a hall with concept art by different artists. And then there was a room with the white scale models of almost every major set. I took about a three dozen photos of the Hogwarts model and Shell Cottage in case I want to make them out of LEGO or write more fanfic set there.
10. Giant Hogwarts
There was talk about some big surprise at the end of the tour and I didn’t know what could possibly top what I’d already seen. But then I walked into the room and I cried again: Hogwarts. It was real and right in front of me. It was somewhere from 2-3 stories tall, so it wasn’t a life-sized version, but it was to-scale and complete. The light cycled through in the room from night to day so you could see everything from the plants used to the lights in the windows. There were also video screens so that you could watch timelapse video of it being constructed and zoom in on various parts to learn about the details in those sections. And there was a path starting from the top and winding around it, so you got a great view of it from above, below, and everywhere in-between. It was spectacular. And Tom Felton’s audio narration telling about it was such a great bonus. The photos I took on my dying camera do NOT do it justice by a longshot. I got one of the employees to take a photo of me in front of it and said something like “my camera is just about dead, but I’m glad it has enough power for this last area” (I hadn’t been using the preview screen since the sets, props, and costumes section). He replied with “Oh, this isn’t the end. There’s one more surprise at the end!”
The last part was a collection of wand boxes, each labeled with the name of everyone on the cast & crew. There was an employee there who knew practically everything about the room–where names were and what people did. He lent me his wand so that I could point to Sean Biggerstaff’s box. And I did ask him many times for boxes of people like JKR and Matthew Lewis. I also listened as others asked him where people like David Tennant and John Williams were. But mostly I just wandered around and looked at all the names. I found a bunch of people on my own, even someone with my last name.
The whole tour was a dream come true. Absolutely breathtaking and well put together. I headed back to London on the train via platform 9. I had a meal bar for lunch (along with the butterbeer) so I had a proper dinner when I got back. I hadn’t had sushi yet and I passed a place with a lot of veggie options. So I ended up with a veggie platter of the best tasting variety of sushi I’ve ever had. Yum!