This post is really long and contains Studio Tour spoilers. You’ve been warned.
J: So… This was one of the most looked forward to days of this holiday. And it was amazing! Let us take you through it.
We began by taking the train from King’s Cross to Watford Junction and then, after waiting for the official studio tour shuttle bus, being confused about when it should arrive, talking with other equally confused visitors etc, we finally got to board this cool double decker bus, finally on our way to a most magical place.
The Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio Tour.
We got our prebooked tickets and audio guides relatively quickly, considering how packed the place was. One of the most memorable things about waiting in line though, were the people. There weren’t too many apart from us in full cosplay, but most wore their house colours and wands, scarves, t-shirts with Harry Potter prints etc. The most stand-out though was the guy in an incredible Voldemort cosplay. I’m sad to say we didn’t get a photo with him. We only saw him in the lobby. We lost him when we got into the actual tour.
The cupboard under the stairs which you saw lining up to enter the tour.
And what a tour it was. The beginning was amazing (you’ll hear that word a lot.)
Fun story: Kylie recently met Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) at Supanova, where she asked him his favourite part of the tour. His answer was the beginning. And he said what we’ll say to you: “I won’t spoil it for you“. You have to experience it yourself.
Other fun story: They told us the record time for someone staying there was 13 hours. Stay tuned to the end to find out how long we spent.
K: The first place you find yourself after the introduction is the Great Hall. As we were visiting in December, they were featuring the making of snow and fire effects, not to mention all the festive Christmas decorations! The Great Hall was decked out in (see what I did there? :P) massive Christmas wreaths and trees laden with gold stars. Levitating broomstick-riding witches flew around the top of each one. The Great Hall left us as awestruck as it left Harry the first time he entered the Hall for his sorting. Tables filled with roast chickens and potatoes, bowls of peas and jugs of water (with hog head lids). At each seat there were house-specific bonbons and gifts; there was pudding, and even cakes covered in white icing topped with fondant snow wizards!
The fireplace was lit, and around the walls were mannequins dressed in house robes, showcasing the changes in design over the years and at the end of the Hall, in front of the staff table, were the costumes of Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid and more! There was also a table you could sit at, and feel what it felt to sit in the Great Hall.
This area was unfortunately a little rushed as it is the start of the tour you are asked to move out to let the next group of people in, but you could return if you didn’t get enough time. The rest of the tour though is at your own pace and boy, did we take our time exploring every inch!
J: And there was so much to see! I’m going to take you through the first area in broad strokes, because if I went into detail this would get way too long.
So after the Great Hall you go through a section with related items such as the scale model of the inside of the Great Hall ceiling used to make the sky effects, and also some specific set pieces like the ice fountain sculpture from the Yule Ball and all the delicious desserts. (Unfortunately not edible).
Following this is costume, hair and makeup. Yes, they have that kind of stuff too. The best are the wigs and costumes though. Also a bit about distressing costumes at the end.
The costumes Evanna Lynch wore for Luna Lovegood.
After this there’s not really any kind of order to anything, and there are a lot of things to see. Unfortunately, I can’t list everything, but some of the highlights, more or less in order off appearance, is the Hogwarts gates, the Gryffindor dormitories and common room – which are amazingly detailed – the Leaky Cauldron with the forced perspective setup used to simulate the long corridor on the upper floor, the Mirror of Erised and the Fat Lady portrait, the display of wands, Dumbledore’s office with all its knick-knacks, including the cabinet with the memories from HBP and the pensieve. The potions classroom, the actual Goblet of Fire, the Weasley’s kitchen in the Burrow, the Ministry of Magic, the portrait wall and so much, much, more that I’m probably forgetting.
Kylie filming the Gryffindor boy’s dorm.
And the attention to detail in all of these sets is incredible. And many in include buttons you can press to trigger animatronics to make the sets feel even more alive. There are also staff scattered about, giving further information about the items, such as the Goblet of Fire, and how its casket uncovering mechanism worked.
K: You forgot the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, Umbridge’s office, Malfoy Manor, the huge swinging pendulum, and Hagrid’s Hut! How could you forget Hagrid’s Hut?? This was one thing we thought better in the a Harry Potter Exhibition though, because unlike the exhibition, you couldn’t walk through and sit in Hagrid’s huge armchair. There was also a display of horcruxes, items to be found in the Room of Requirement, the most expensive prop on set that is seen for a whole of a second or two… The list goes on and on.
They were also showing how they make fire and the different methods of making snow and you could put your hands in and see and feel the different results. Of course this only made me more excited to see the real stuff again! We also participated in Wand Training 101, a video tutorial with wand trainer, Paul Harris, from the movies, and had fun learning five different wand movements for combat, as seen in the Trailing Tonks behind the scenes feature on OOTP.
Towards the end of the room they showcased Quidditch items – the different balls and brooms – and other modes of transport against a huge green screen. Everything from Harry’s first Nimbus 2000, to Mad Eye’s specialised broom with back support, from Sirius’ motorbike, to the Gringotts carts! It was here you entered the no-photography green screen area to have a ride on your very own broom and have your photo in the flying Ford Anglia! Considering the queue was almost at the door, the line moved quickly. Though we had no intention of buying the £12 photo or the £25 video on usb stick, it was still disappointing to see a foot cut off that the photographer hadn’t warned us about, and might have been the difference between falling into the urge to make a purchase or not. Whether or not you plan to buy the photo, definitely do the experience – it’s not every day you get to ride a broom and despite the staff member telling you what to do and where to look, it was so much fun! They also lend you robes in any house if you don’t have them, which was no problem for us, but my Mum picked out a Slytherin robe *facepalm* I could see her fitting into any other house, but not Slytherin!
J: The next section of the tour was Platform 9 and 3/4. They had everything! Including the actual full size train! This was also where they had the Hogwarts Express shop, which has stuff you won’t find in the gift shop at the end of the tour so make sure you look through it and buy what you want from here now! You won’t be able to go back later!
Of course, we had done extensive research into what would be available and what we wanted, unfortunately, the photo frame Kylie wanted from this shop wasn’t in stock, so we couldn’t get it (more reason to come back a second time) but we still had a great time at the station! We took photos of the train and staged photos of us around the station, reading the Prophet, waiting for our train!
You could also look inside one of the train carriages, where they had dressed up one compartment for each of the years Harry went to Hogwarts. It was great! Again, such attention to detail!
Here you could also ride a Hogwarts express simulation thing and have another opportunity to pay a lot of money for a photo, but we didn’t do it. What we did do however, was take a lot of great photos ourselves!
K: By this time it was almost 3pm, and we were starving and our shoulders were sore from carrying camera bags and cosplay bags so we welcomed the break at the Backlot Cafe! There is a small section just as you’re leaving the area to enter the cafe that housed a display case showcasing Mina Lima’s design work for the series, including the Marauders Map, Dumbledore’s Will, Weasley Wizard Wheezes products and school books. Unfortunately we didn’t spend too much time looking at this as we were getting worried we’d only completed the first half of the tour!
The Backlot Cafe was surprisingly reasonably priced and we grabbed some egg, bacon and mayonnaise sandwiches for £4.25 (okay, a bit much for a sandwich, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting to get a meal under £6, and I do love a good egg sandwich!) We also grabbed long awaited Butterbeers in the plastic souvenir tankards, delicious, but not quite the buttery taste we believe it should be! You could also grab newly introduced Butterbeer ice cream cones, but alas, we skipped this until next time!
Outside the Backlot Cafe, they have the outdoor sets… The Knight Bus, Privet Drive Houses 3 and 4 (which they open up on special occasions, but not when we were there), the Potters House, and part of the iconic Wooden Bridge which you get to walk through. That felt very authentic, with its uneven floorboards and sloped roof, was very cool. Off to the corner before you enter the next part of the tour they also had the chess pieces from Philsopher’s Stone, and again, Sirius’ motorbike and Mr Weasley’s flying car – this time you could take your own photos with them, so yes, of course we did! Was a little disappointing you couldn’t climb up on a chess piece and be a knight like Ron, but I guess that could be a little more dangerous!
J: About the butterbeer, as I had never tasted if before, I thought it was just great! But alas, I don’t have anything to compare it to. I’m sure Kylie’s butterbeer is great too though and I’m gonna ask her to make it for me as soon as possible!
The outdoor area was really fun too, but a little chilly after being in the warm exhibition halls for hours. So it was nice to go back inside for the back half of the tour.
This was where we encountered the creature shop! Which was full of models and animatronics of every imaginable creature and character in the wizarding world! There were shelves of tools and masks and material used for model making, and on the tallest shelf was a big black human-sized balloon thing that we had explained to us was used for Aunt Marge’s blowing-up scene! Seriously, there was no end to the creativity in that place!
You got to see complex animatronics that were often no more than a body part with metal rods and cables sticking out of it, probably the most impressive of which was Hagrid’s head (or was it his body?). There was also a glass box in the middle with smaller animatronics that actually moved if you pressed a button, like Hedwig, the miniature dragons and the baby-like Voldemort remains seen in the King’s Cross scene of the last movie. And boy are the people making these things talented! Baby-Voldie breathed and turned it’s eyes on you and looked almost alive!
Miniature Hungarian Horntail.
There were also regular “still” models, which were incredibly detailed as well. There were life-size models of the trio as well as Malfoy, Dumbledore, Hagrid and Dobby, all in glass cases. Admittedly the model of Harry looked slightly off (maybe because he wasn’t wearing his glasses?), but that was probably the only thing that didn’t live up to expectations. The rest looked amazing!
Lastly, before you arrived in the next section, you passed a life-sized animated Buckbeak, whose movements were so smooth and coordinated you would almost expect him to get up and fly away at any time! They also had life-sized models of Aragog, the thestrals, the Hungarian Horntail, the Bailisk and more.
Next was Diagon Alley, which was pretty much as expected. Amazing. They had the Weasley Wizard Wheezes, Ollivanders and all the other shops. Unfortunately they didn’t let you walk into any of them, but it was great nonetheless! You even got to learn how they made the footprints of Harry walking in the snow under the invisibility cloak!
Looking down Diagon Alley.
Following this, you got to walk through corridors of posters showcasing amazing concept art before ending up at a room with miniature paper concept models for all the outdoor scenery, like parts of the castle and Hagrid’s Hut.
These were all cool and stuff, but they had nothing on what lay ahead. The icing on the cake so to speak. The massive, even in miniature, fully painted model of Hogwarts and the grounds. Seriously, this thing is huge! They had interactive screens where you could read about the model and how it had evolved throughout the movies, parts being added and stuff, and how it was finally moved, in pieces, to its current location. And the lights in the ceiling illuminating it shifted through a day and night cycle, providing an impressive effect.
I could go on and on about this thing. It was probably the single most impressive piece they had on display in the whole tour. It was dressed up for winter in impressive detail, with snow on the ground and in the trees, and the buildings were so amazingly detailed. I can only imagine the amount of time and work that went into creating it. Sculpting it into perfection. It was truly a sight to behold.
You walked in a circle around it, allowing you to take it in from Every angle before reluctantly leaving it for the room of wands.
This is the last stop before the gift shop. And when I say room of wands, I mean that there were boxes of wands filling every inch of space on the walls and stacked in piles in places. And every single box had a name on it of someone who had worked on the movies, including all the people working behind the scenes like set designers, artists, directors and producers. We managed to find most of the major actors, like the trio and other important characters, but I’m sure we missed a lot! I’m not sure that there was one name repeated, which just goes to show how many people worked on making these films come to life over the ten years.
K: And then it was all over! Except it wasn’t all over because you were greeted with the gift shop and it was like another huge display of props all over again and we didn’t know where to look first! Almost immediately you step into the Dark Arts section which we knew we didn’t want anything from, but of course, we couldn’t leave one corner of the shop unexplored! They had toys of every animal, sections dedicated to each house, wands of every character, endless options of keyrings and magnets, t-shirts and drinkware, and the more expensive Noble Collection props. We pulled out our shopping list and a quill, and began filling our arms with goodies and crossing them off our list. We spent at least an hour in the shop finding (and not finding) the things we wanted, and it was a fun interactive experience in itself! Once again despite the long queues at checkout, they moved very quickly and the staff were very helpful helping us look for the things we couldn’t find ourselves (and turns out they weren’t there, so it we didn’t overlook anything after all!) We ended with about three bags full of stuff, and if you’re still not tired of hearing about Harry Potter, or youre just interested in knowing what we bought in the gift shop, you can find our Studio Tour Haul Video right here!
Our shopping list.
And then you walked out and you were back where you started and you had to return the audio headset (which we didn’t have any chance to listen to!) and you collected your jackets and you tried not to cry as you looked around at the portraits on the walls, just wanting to line up and do it all again! By the time we got out of the gift shop, we had spent about 9 hours there, and then we spent about another hour just sitting at the cafe, eating Bertie Botts and trying to book a taxi on the free WiFi for the airport the next morning. We really didn’t want to leave. But sooner or later we had to walk out, and wait on another bus to take us back, with excited kids retelling their parents all that they had seen and they’ll surely be retelling that for a while!
It took about another hour to get home and have dinner, and then recheck the taxi booking again. Then we had to spend the night repackaging our suitcases, trying to safely pack in all our of new souvenirs, and we worked it so that one suitcase held the merchandise and items we wouldn’t need to access, and one held all the clothing and things we’d be accessing all the time. By the time we went to bed it was 1.30am, and we had alarms set for 3am for a 3.30 taxi! Exhausted? Absolutely.