Get ready for a mammoth of a post. (This is ridiculous but I’m tearing up just at the thought of it)
As the grand opening of the studio tour was in my Easter break and very close to my birthday, I’d been begging and begging my parents to buy me tickets for months and the answer had always been the same – No. Then, on the day I returned from my excruitiatingly long and painful Duke of Edinburgh trek, my parents informed me that whilst I’d been away they’d been refreshing the website every day trying to get me tickets as there were none available for the opening month. Miraculously, as soon as I came to look at the website a spot became available for that very week.
The booking itself is very simple. All you have to do is select the date and time you want to go on the tour, enter the number of each type of ticket you want and then checkout. There is also the option to add on some extras to your package. You can pre-book a ‘Souvenir Guidebook’ and a ‘Digital Guide’, both of which supposedly enhance your experience. I opted for the ‘Souvenir Guidebook’, but not the ‘Digital Guide’, but in hindsight I should have selected both. The Souvenir Guidebook is a really nice booklet with glossy pages and big pictures. It is very well presented and serves as a lovely reminder of the things you’ve seen on your trip. You don’t need to pre-order this book as it is also on sale at the gift shop at the Studios for exactly the same price. It is a bit pricey at £9.95, but for Potterheads it is well worth it. As far as I could tell (from jealously peering over people’s shoulders), the Digital Guide was basically a device that looked a lot like an iPod touch that had extra snippets of information and videos on it. This costs around £4.95, though you do not get to keep it so it’s not entirely necessary.
It appears that the intial rush to buy tickets is now over; however, I still recommend that you buy your tickets about a month in advance if you want to get the perfect time for you. If you’re only available at the weekends then you definitely need to think about booking in advance because they weekend slots book up fast.
What to look at
The tour starts from the very second you hand your ticket over and join the queue. Whilst you’re awaiting entry you will pass Harry’s cupboard under the stairs – toy soldiers included – and many quotes from various people lining the walls to get you excited. First, you are led into a dark room with lots of screens and you are shown a quick film about Potter’s history. My emotional rollercoaster started here as I was filled with fond, childhood memories. After this brief introduction, you are led into another room with a bigger screen, much like a cinema, and another video about the making of the Potter films is shown. I was crying pretty much the whole way through this. There are interviews with the cast, the crew, the directors, the author herself and lots of behind the scenes footage. When the film is over, a grand set of doors is magically revealed and the Great Hall lies in wait. The Great Hall is also incredible detailed and there are lots of costumes on display here, including Harry’s very first uniform! There is a speaker for this part of the tour who gives an introduction to the tour and tells you all the interesting facts about the Great Hall – like the fact that the floor is made out of real paving stones.
After this, the tour is self guided and you are left to explore the rest of the tour in your own time. Some parts of the tour display props and costumes and others are the real sets. There is a spectacular show of the vehicles and bigger props used in the films and they are shown (moving) hanging from the ceiling, next to a large screen showing you exactly how this prop was used in the film and how special effects were used to make it realistic. This video shows you the extraordinary number of special effects that went into making these films. They even showed you how in one scene, Daniel Radcliffe was filmed walking on a treadmill in front of a green screen, but on film this was magically transformed into Harry walking through the snow at Godric’s Hollow. It is absolutely incredible to see the transition from what was actually filmed and what we see on screen. In this section you can see The Burrow, the Gryffindor Common Room, Snape’s classrooms, the Boy’s Dormitory, Dumbledore’s Office, Umbridge’s Office, the Ministry of Magic, the fireplaces at the Ministry, Hagrid’s Hut, the Griffin Stairwell, the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, Gringott’s Vault Door and some others. There’s also a huge display of props including the Philosopher’s Stone, the Triwizard Cup, the snitch and other Quidditch equipment, the Goblet of Fire, the time turner and more. There is also a fantastic constume display to accompany each set and you can see clothes from all of the movies and see how the characters have grown! Lastly there is a stunning display of all the graphic designs and posters used for things like The Daily Prophet, the Quibbler, sweet packages etc.
When you’ve finished looking around the first building, about half way through the tour, there’s the part of the tour which is outside and it is here where you will find the Knightbus, Godric’s Hollow, the Ford Anglia, Hagrid’s Bike, chess pieces from the Philosopher’s Stone, Hogwart’s Bridge and of course, Number 4 Privet Drive. This part of the tour is great because you can actually touch all of these things. You can sit on Hagrid’s bike, get inside the Ford Anglia, stand in the Knight Bus and knock on the door of number 4 Privet Drive. This is another great photo opportunity so don’t think that the weather doesn’t matter when picking which day to book your tour! Possibly the most exciting thing about this section of the tour is the opportunity to buy Butterbeer. Personally, I really liked this drink. It’s really sweet and fizzy with a thick layer of sweet cream on top – exactly as I’d imagined. Each cup costs around £2.95, and although it isn’t large, it’s definitely worth it! It even leaves you with that white moustache on your upper lip that is so often talked about.
The second part of the tour is a lot more about what went into making the films rather than the sets and props. Here you will find an amazing array of every single creature featured in the films and how they were made. You will disappointed to hear that in fact only the head of the basilisk was made. You can see each and every one goblin/house elf mask – they do look pretty grim – and how each of these were made and fitted the actors. After the ‘Creature Shop’, you are lead to another breathtaking part of the tour- Diagon Alley. I did not expect Diagon Alley to be, well, a real Alley! Each and every shop is properly decorated with detail with shop displays and it looks like a real street! All the shops from the film are here, though it is a lot more compact, and you feel as if you could actually just go shopping for a new owl or a new set of robes!
The very last room of the tour is the most spectacular of them all. It had been a highly emotional visit for me (for some reason anything HP related sets the waterworks off) so when I rounded the corner to see the 1:24 model of Hogwarts Castle, I was completely overwhelmed. It was the most beautiful and amazing creation I had ever seen and I was blown away by the detail that went into it. Everything was perfectly handcrafted to scale and real gravel and plants were used to for the landscaping. There are more than 300 fibre optic lights installed and these stimulate torches and lanterns to give the illusion of students walking down the hallways. It is the crown jewel of the Harry Potter art department – which isn’t surprising given that it took a team of 86 people to construct the first version. Footage of this model was combined with special effects to create the incredibly realistic views of Hogwart’s exterior which I had always believed to be comprised of real castles. This was a phenomenal end to the tour and was definitely the most memorable moment for me.
What to do
There is an absolutely fantastic photo opportunity to be had during the Studio Tour where you are given the chance to ride a broomstick. Using CGI and a green screen effects, they make it look like you are actually flying and it is absolutely incredible. Firstly, you are given a set of Hogwarts robes (you can choose one from the four houses), and then you wait in line for your turn. There are a total of three broomsticks there so the waiting time isn’t too long. When I first joined the queue, it said that the waiting time ‘from this point onwards’ was 45 minutes, and I wasn’t too fussed about this because I was determined to get on that broom, but thankfully, it didn’t take nearly as long as that. When it is your turn, the friendly staff member talks you through everything. You make yourself comfortable on the broom, and then the magic begins. Now, this isn’t just any photo opportunity, because before your photo is taken, you get the chance to see yourself fly over London and Hogwarts. There is a small screen in front of you so it looks like you’re actually moving and the broom itself isn’t fixed so you can swerve from side to side and bob up and down. The member of staff attending to you will make sure you get the most out of your experience by giving you a few things to do whilst on your broom. When your ‘flying’ experience is over, there are a few quick snaps and then it’s off to the counter to collect your photos. There are four different photos to choose from: hovering over Hogwarts, flying in front of some buses in London, flying along the Thames and flying along the water surrounding Hogwarts – the favourite of most people seems to be the one hovering above Hogwarts. There is also the opportunity to have your photo taken inside the Ford Anglia and you can watch yourself ‘driving’ it through the air. This photo is great for families as you take the photo with as many people as you can fit into the frame. These photos aren’t exactly cheap, but they are definitely worth it. I’m not entirely sure what the prices were but I believe I paid £15 for two photos and they come in a lovely, glossy, paper frame (just like the sort you’d get at a theme park – but better, obviously).
The Gift Shop
Words cannot even begin to describe my excitement upon entering the gift shop. So I was always one of those children that spent the entire day out pushing and pulling my parents through the exhibitions just to get to the gift shop, but I guarantee that you will be blown away by it. There is a huge range of Potter products on offer, but I won’t deceive you, they don’t come cheap. If I had it my way I would’ve bought EVERYTHING in the shop, though of course, my mother did not allow this and so I opted for a Potter t-shirt (£32.95) and Hogwarts scarf (£24.95). It is a very large shop and products range from sweets to keyrings to clothing to stuffed toys to wall paintings to jewellery to uniform to notepads to magnets to books to wands to replica costumes – and more! It is literally my favourite shop in the whole entire world and if I could I would go there everyday, though unfortunately you can only get to gift shop after you’ve shown your ticket proving that you’re actually there for the Tour (sad face). The queue in the gift shop is enormously long at times so I recommend you keep wandering around until it’s a normal length.