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The magic is back
Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour (London)
Member Name: Mildew82
Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour (London)
Advantages: Jaw-dropping sights bringing back the magic of Harry Potter, good facilities and transport links
Disadvantages: Extertionate costs taking advantage of fans, not particularly interactive
The studio is located in Leavesden, Hertfordshire and the easiest way to get there is by an automobile, preferably via the M25 at either J19/J20 or the M1 at J5 depending on your travelling direction as the studio is but a short drive away from either of these motorways and is rather fabulously signposted so you shouldn't fail to find the place. Parking in a huge car park is free and you will be directed to the nearest vacant spot by a no doubt recently graduated student in a fluorescent safety jacket. If you don't rely on your own sense of direction then for SatNav use type in the postcode WD25 7GS and you should make it in one piece.
If you're coming in by train the nearest station is Watford Junction where you will find a shuttle bus that takes you directly to the studio with a 15 minute journey time, running about every 30 minutes, but allow yourself enough time to arrive before your ticket entry time. The buses run from Watford Junction between 9:20am and 5:20pm and from the studio from 11:55am to 9:35pm costing you £2 for a return or £1.50 for a single if you want to stay forever.
Unfortunately, apparating and disapparating is banned by the Ministry of Magic so please stick to conventional methods of travel.
Imagine chopping up an onion and you may have the same reaction to the studio ticket prices. Booking can only be done in advance online or if you are purchasing for a vast number of people via the call centre on 0845 084 0900, you must select your day and chosen 30 minute time slot and then it's like any standard website for paying online with a basket, the entering of payment and billing details and the extra delivery costs of £3.95 slapped on at the end just to make it a tiny bit more expensive (although you can collect on the day for free).
Ticket Type: Basic | Complete Package (includes audio/visual guide (normally £4.95) + souvenir guidebook (normally £9.95))
Adult (A): £28 | £37.95 - a saving of £4.95
Child (Ch) (Ages 5-15): £21 | £30.95 - a saving of £4.95
Under 5s: Free | N/A
Family Ticket (2 A + 2 Ch or 1 A + 3 Ch): £83 - a saving of either £15 or £8 | N/A
If you buy group ticket from 10-24 tickets you can get a £2 discount on every Adult and a £1.50 discount on every Child ticket.
I was stingy and didn't want to pay extra for the audio/visual guide or souvenir guidebook at the time of ordering the tickets - especially since I was buying 7 tickets and my credit card probably would have imploded but you can buy/rent them on the day and yet I still didn't want to fork out the extra cost. I had a good look at the guidebook and it is definitely a nice thing to take away with you with lots of information and pretty photographs that any fan will love, but I just felt it was a tad too expensive on top of the entry price. I also didn't go for the audio/visual guide as again I objected to the extra cost but I think that was potentially a mistake as watching the other patrons around me they looked to be fully engrossed in the wonderful film footage and interesting facts about the various props/costumes/sets as narrated by Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) so I would suggest not dismissing it on price as it seemed to reveal a lot more than was available just in the studio. But you can see how the costs would just start mounting up for a family getting one each and frankly with the price of entry I don't see why they shouldn't have been included free...grrr...
So what can you expect from the tour? The studio is divided into an introduction area followed by two main buildings separated by a courtyard, and it is effectively a one way system so you do want to make sure you've seen everything before moving on. Once you make it through a queue of about 15-20 minutes in the waiting area you are taken into the strange introduction room and given some basic survival information before being forced to stand for a few minutes to watch some randomly dull people related to the films chatting about them on screens haphazardly strewn about the room. You then move to a mini cinema (they're obviously starting with lowly stuff before gradually building up) where you get a short montage of behind-the-scenes clips from the films narrated by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint who then lead you (virtually) into the next phase of the tour which happens to be the instantly recognisable Great Hall where a tour guide will talk you through some of its finer points. It's incredible how much smaller the room is than it appears in the films and unfortunately there was no magical ceiling depicting the weather outside (huh...I totally thought that was real), but there is some amazing attention to detail with all the house logos affixed around their appointed locations in the hall, the fireplace, costumes displayed on mannequins plus some groovy gothic winged boar torch holders.
Next you move in to the first building where you are then free to roam without any tour guide restrictions. This is also where the hunt for the Golden Snitches commences for the kids who have gotten hold of the free activity passport. This area doesn't follow any obvious theme, you simply stumble around like a kid in a candy store looking at sets, props and costumes from an assortment of different films and there are a few video monitors showing short films on a loop and some information boards about the more interesting items for those that didn't opt for any of the extra guides, but it isn't really like an interactive museum, it's more like a showroom - you can look, but don't touch for fear of an employee using the Crucio curse on you. It's just simply great fun to wander about at your leisure reminiscing about plotlines from the books or picking up interesting facts about such things as Professor Umbridge's rather disgustingly pink and cat filled office, Professor Dumbledore's amazing office with books, portraits of past headmasters and other magical paraphernalia, Hagrid's hut as well as some fascinating and jaw-dropping props that made it out alive like the gates to Hogwarts with more winged boars, the massive clock pendulum, the Chamber of Secrets snake door, the imposing Magic is Might statue, creepy Death Eater masks, an assortment of stuff from the Room of Requirement and just so much more that I just don't want to spoil. There is also the opportunity to green screen it on a broom in full witch or wizard garb and have your photo taken (for another £12!) but the queues on a busy day can be up to 45+ minutes and it's probably one for the kids.
Next is the outside courtyard, and here are some of the bigger objects like the triple decker purple Knight Bus, the made up Hogwart's bridge that appeared only in the film for the Prisoner of Azkaban plus my personal favourite number 3 and 4 Privet Drive which was modelled on some houses from my beloved hometown Bracknell (Martins Heron) so it was like popping home briefly. There is also the very quaint, Tudor-like house of James and Lily Potter sadly in a state of ruin after Voldermort's handy work. Here you can also buy and try some Butterbeer, which I have been unable to find out the definitive recipe for but I think it's some concoction of butterscotch and butter with some cream soda added on top to create foam, which only grows the longer you leave it. This drink is simply delicious and incredibly sweet, but I fear a tad sickly sweet after a while and you'd be doing very well to finish one of these without digestive issues. Moving on past the enormous life size chess pieces you enter the final building which begins to focus more on the magical creatures in their various states of development with the hideous Inferi, goblin heads laid out like a production line, werewolves, Aragog, Buckbeak, the Basilisk and plenty of information about the techniques that went into their development and the special effects that brought them to life. My personal favourite thing that is the stuff of nightmares is the foetal Voldermort that if you press a button will start to twitch with hideous gasping breaths so look out for that little treat.
Moving on is one of the best complete sets yet and that is Diagon Alley with its entire other worldly atmosphere (apart from all the modern day people lolloping about) with cobbled streets leading up to such shops as Slug & Jiggers, Scribbulous, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes and of course Ollivander's. My only disappointment was you couldn't go into any of the shops, which was sadly not feasible with the volume of footfall, plus there was probably not anything in them, but the outsides felt so realistic you could almost imagine being there in the film which gave a bit of a thrill. Beyond Diagon Alley you hit the final stage of the tour which focuses on the conceptualisation part of the film production from architectural designs, artist drawings for the magical creatures like Dobby (poor Dobby) and buildings like Azkaban, actual miniature models of, for example, buildings and the Whomping Willow and then one of the most astounding sights of all, a massive model of Hogwarts which was easily bigger than my house which you view from above and work your way around on a spiralling path downwards. This was one of the most captivating sights of the whole tour with such incredibly intricate detail you could stare at it for hours.
You are now at the end of the tour, and after passing through a fascinating room chocked from floor to ceiling with wands (if you spend some time looking at the names of them you'll spot some people like Ralph Fiennes and Rupert Grint so I think there must be one for anyone that worked on the films which is a nice touch) you then hit the gift shop or as I like to call it Rip-off City. There were some nice items available including the books and DVDs, sweets straight out of Honeydukes and Weasleys Wizard Wheezes although they did pale in comparison to the real things you've just spent the last few hours being bowled over by, but it was the sheer cost that was utterly ridiculous and put me off buying anything. Wands were about £25 as were stuffed toys, you could buy a Firebolt for about £250, Dumbeldore's cloak for £395, I quite fancied a Marauders Map until I saw it was £30 and in fact the cheapest item seemed to be a lollipop for £3.95. I felt this was all pretty insulting considering the entry price and extra costs everywhere, and I can just imagine little faces of excited kids desperate for some toys and the bill for the poor parents. Like they haven't made enough money from the films.
* There are toilets available outside in the waiting area and within the tour and the ones inside the waiting area were top quality - very clean, well-stocked with all the latest mod cons with motion sensor flushers and taps and those superfast hand-driers.
* The Studio Café is open from 9:30am and serves hot and cold lunches and snacks like soup, sandwiches and cakes as well as hot and cold drinks. When we arrived in the afternoon the place was absolutely packed so I think you may have a bit of a wait and a struggle to find a place to sit during the really busy times, so you might be better off having a picnic in the courtyard. There is also a Starbucks just outside the café if all you want is a coffee.
* There is a cloakroom to leave bags and coats and any other random bulky items you may have brought for "a small fee" whatever they consider to be small.
* There are baby-changing and milk warming facilities in the Studio Café. Buggies and pushchairs are allowed, but not double pushchairs, but due to limited numbers allowed you are recommended to leave them in the cloakroom.
* Disabled access - booking should be made through the call centre to make sure all requirements are met as there are a limited number of wheelchair users at any time allowed but the whole tour is wheelchair friendly. One free carer is allowed with proof of entitlement, and guide and hearing dogs are also permitted. Induction loops with the T-coil function are available for those with hearing aids.
"The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour" is without a doubt a haven for Harry Potter fans. Just walking around and admiring the magnificent sets, props and costumes with the thrill of nostalgia will take a couple of hours, and if you enhance your visit with extra audio/visual guides you're probably looking at 3 hours plus of childlike excitement. The studio have made a real effort to make life easy for visitors with great parking and shuttle bus transport, a café and other eating options, nice toilets and excellent disability facilities and every effort to make it as absorbing an experience as possible and all in all it is great fun for adults and kids alike. My biggest disappointment is the sheer cost of everything, dare I say the word extortion, which prevented me from enhancing my visit and taking any mementos away with me which I think is slightly taking advantage of the enormous fan base for evil monetary gain. That aside, this place is awesome.
Summary: A terrific place for fans of Harry Potter to relive the magic but watch out for the prices!
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