“Its HP day, at last!” yelled my seven year old son on Saturday morning pulling on his clothes with uncharacteristic verve and speed. The day he’d been patiently waiting for for a fortnight had finally come. Two weeks earlier my daughter had accidentally discovered my scribbled note with the words ‘Harry Potter Studios’ on it and enquired what it meant. Having intended to keep it a secret till the last minute, I let ‘Mrs Norris’ out of the bag, to whoops of delight and general merriment. “We’ve been given free tickets for us all, on condition I write up a review on my blog,” I’d added.
Having read the first two books and recently seen the same films, my son, and husband I might add, is a total fan. My nine year old daughter enjoys it too, though only the first book (she has a more sensitive sensibility, like her mother). Despite the Studios being only 20 minutes down the road from us we’d not yet taken them, being put off somewhat by the price (£89 for a family of 4 or 5).
But we hadn’t realised quite what a treat we’d be in for.
From the moment we arrived at our allotted 11am slot to the time we left, a whole 5 hours later, we were entertained, educated and captivated by the whole experience. The overall feel of it is one of celebration and pride at the feat of making these films, from the way the three main actors explain on a big screen the dizzying array of jobs and people involved, to the tiny minutiae of detail that is explained in creative and unusual ways throughout the exhibition (and that is what it is, really, as there is very little about it that makes it a ‘tour’ in the tradition sense of the word).
It starts with a touch of the theatrical and ends with a ‘wow’ factor that you really didn’t expect, whilst in between you are kept enthralled by the huge range of exhibits from the 8 films, with explanations that are far from boring or over loaded. I won’t reveal too much here, as one of the beauties of this tour is the odd element of surprise enabled by a theatrical sense of ‘secrets to be revealed…..’
What I will tell you is that you’ll get to see the Great Dining Hall, Dumbledore’s Office, Hagrid’s hut, Diagon Alley (you knew that, of course), prostethic masks of goblins, the various cars, mobiles and buses, costumes, Spot the 15 snitches, and one super hairy, super enormous spider dangling from a ceiling. But don’t fear those of you of the arachnaphobic persuasion, you can look away (I pitied the poor security guard who had to stand in that room all day. She just laughed at me when I wondered how she coped standing under it all day).
But what really strikes you is the incredible detail and sheer genius that went into the making of these films. Even if you weren’t a Harry Potter fan (I wouldn’t call myself one, more by default) you couldn’t help but be captivated by the creativity and, dare I say it, ‘wizardry’ of how everything was made and, in particular, how the special effects were effected. For once, the words ‘world of’ felt appropriate.
Our kids’ favourite bit was where you get to have a go at being filmed flying in the car or on a broomstick. Hilarious. But watch out, be strong and hold onto your credit card as they cleverly don’t reveal the price till after you’ve laughed your cloaks off. We managed to avoid buying the DVD and came away with three 6’x9′ photos for the princely sum of £21. Be prepared. Or just avoid that section.
My favourite room I can’t mention as I don’t want to give it away, but my favourite quirky detail was the purple door to Mulpepper’s Potions shop in Diagon Alley that read ‘Sale of Unicorn Blood Forbidden. DO NOT ASK’.
I also loved the overall sense of team spirit that you picked up, from the start of the tour when we are shown a short film of Daniel, Emma & Rupert singing the praises of the 3,000 plus who’d worked to make it a success, to the very last room, the Wand Room. This room is filled with 3,000 wand boxes with the names of every single person who’d been involved, from JK Rowling herself to the women who’d sewed the hairs onto Aragog the giant spider’s legs, all in the same size writing and size box. I loved that kind of ‘levelling’. My son cleverly picked out Daniel Radcliffe’s name, but I wouldn’t have done – I was too busy noticing a certain ‘Karen Wand’ whose name had clearly destined her for this career path….
Every school holidays they put on a special feature to attract visitors, and this half term from 14-24th Feb was the turn of the animals who were featured in the films. Although there was a fair bit of song and dance about this, to be honest, it felt like a side show and they weren’t always easy to find. Mrs Norris had gone off for a break when we got to the Gryffindor common room, but Neville’s toad was in his tank and there was a rat to look at. The Neopolitan mastiff who had been the grizzly three headed dog slobbered true to form and certainly looked sleepy. However, my daughter loved seeing Hedwig the snowy owl perched outside no. 4 Privet Drive, fell in love with the kitten version of Crookshanks the ginger cat in Diagon Alley and they both revelled in stroking the python. We didn’t get to see/meet the head trainer and learn about how they learnt to act, but we weren’t bothered, however if you’d gone especially you might have been disappointed.
The only negatives we found related to getting there, the eating arrangements and the shop.
Clearly a Californian came up with the idea of the eating area being outside, forgetting how cold and wet it can be in the UK. Thankfully there is a large roof but if you’re going in the winter dress for eating outside. Thankfully, they’ve listened to comments and are apparently planning to surround the area with glass soon, but in the meantime, you’re left having to lug your coats around the entire tour. And if you’re a local and not arriving from the M25 from where the Studios are well sign-posted, watch out for dodgy Satnav directions. These were so bad that we initially ended up at an office park down the road, a common problem according to the car parking attendants who told us it was the fault of the council who wouldn’t supply them with a unique post code. We wondered why this couldn’t have been explained in the email with the directions, and why the directions page on the website couldn’t be made to work on mobiles?
Finally, the shop. Oh boy. This is so expensive that you’ll need to brace yourself more than normal and be prepared in your mind for what you’ll fork out. The cheapest thing you can walk away with is an overpriced quill-shaped lolly for £2.45, the rest of the confectionery eye-watering prices of £8.95 for Every Flavour Beans or £4.95 for chocolate toads. Wooden wands (of a zillion types) are an incredible £24.99, cuddly toys of the not so cuddly animals are the same price. Bejewelled swords are manageable at £12.95 but you’ll be hard pushed to find much else for less than £10. We were incredibly fortunate to have been given a super-goodie bag which contained two wands, a Hedwig puppet with swivelling head, and 3-headed dog, and a chocolate frog. My kids adore them, but I doubt we’d have bought them ourselves as souvenirs owing to the cost.
With the price of tickets being what they are, you’ll need to factor all this in when planning a trip, but thankfully they’re very welcoming of packed lunches. In fact, there isn’t much to buy for lunch beyond giant hotdogs, sandwiches, drinks and the famous butter beer. At £3 a go, and being loaded with about a tonne of sugar, you’ll probably only want to buy one per child/family anyway – we saw many people leaving theirs barely drunk.
So, overall, we had a fantastic time, and would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in films let alone Harry Potter. Yes, the tickets may set you back almost £90 but it kept my kids interested for the entire 5 hours (that’s saying something for a 7 and 9 year old), and they’ve kids have talked and drawn nothing else since returning two days ago, so its given me another two days of entertainment, at least. That’s value for money. In fact, I’ll leave you with a photo of a model of Hogwarts that we made yesterday (not quite finished), devised by my son, executed mainly by mum, and inspired by the real thing…..
We received tickets for a family of four to attend the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden, Watford, in exchange for an honest review of our experience. If you’d like to buy tickets, they are only sold in advance, see www.wbstudiotour.co.uk