Oh my! How excited were we on Sunday? We took our Muggle-selves off to Warner Brothers Studio in Leavesden to marvel at the delights of the Harry Potter Studio tour.
An expensive treat - yes - £126 for a family ticket! But it was a birthday treat for Shannon. The studios are in Watford, around a 50 minute drive from us.
Pulling up in the car we were greeted by the sight of huge chess pieces, traffic cones that looked like wizard hats and huge posters from the movie. Cue lots of excited squealing from me and the children.
We went for a 9.30am tour (frankly it was the only time available on the day we wanted). On arrival the kids were each given a Harry Potter Passport to stamp on the way round. As we joined the queue we waited patiently next to “the cupboard under the stairs” for the doors to open. I won't spoil it for others - but after a little talk and cinema presentation - you will enter the Great Hall.
A lot of families whinge about the price but we were not disappointed at all (we have been fans for a long time and have brought our children up with the books and films). Yes – there are temptations to spend more along the way, especially the green screen room. Here you can fly the enchanted Ford Anglia – or ride your broomstick through various settings from the Hogwarts grounds to London. There is also the option to sit in a Hogwarts Express carriage and have pictures there - your first photograph would cost £14, then £7 per picture after that.
We visited the tour three years ago - the Hogwarts Express wasn't there at the time - so it was an extra special treat to see it and to step inside the carriages.
The rest of the areas can be strolled around at your leisure – there’s so much to see including sets, props and costumes. In the outdoor area you can cross Hogwarts Bridge, sit inside the Ford Anglia and stand on the back step of the huge purple Knight Bus. Privet Drive is currently open, so you can step inside and see the living room with all the letters flying about.
The cafe serves Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice cream, again an expensive treat - I wanted a souvenir cup so payed £6. We shared a cup and an ice cream between the five of us – it is pretty good, a kind of cream soda meets toffee fizzy drink with a creamy froth on top and a toffee/butterscotch flavoured ice cream.
In the next area you get to see prosthetics, animatronics and large models, including Aragog the spider, the hippogriff and Grawp the giant's huge head.
We were shown a mould of Luna Lovegood's foot - the actress wore it to protect her feet when filming in the woods. This half term the theme is Directing Dobby - so throughout you will see various Dobby-related items. Did you know the actors used a tennis ball on a stick to act with and Dobby was added in afterwards?
This then leads you onto Diagon Alley – personally I particularly enjoyed this part. Gazing adoringly at the intricate details of all the shop fronts – plenty of photo opportunities here, you really feel part of the atmosphere. Finally you get to the art room, where you can look at designs, paintings and models. The grand finale is when you enter the last room where you are greeted by the sight of the huge Hogwarts Castle model – it is stunning and caused huge gasps and “wows” from all of us as we entered the room.
Before entering the gift shop you reach a room full of wands, the walls are stacked high with boxes and boxes, each one named with a character, actor, set designer, prop maker. J.K. Rowling even has one……..
The gift shop is awesome, floating candles, a huge chandelier and bright red Chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling. Having had an expensive weekend I wasn’t in the position to spend more – all the favourite sweets were on display – chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts Beans and lots of Lollipops. The kids each chose a lollipop - just under £2 each. The replica wands will set you back £25-£30, they were intricately carved from wood, with many characters wands on offer – as a Potter fan I was very tempted. There are also broomsticks, clothing and lots of soft toys including a lovely Hedwig Snowy Owl.
All in all we were there just over three hours and enjoyed every magical moment – Mischief Managed!
At the end of March a new feature will be added - the Forbidden Forest will be opened up for the first time - amongst the imposing trees, you will encounter a full size model of Buckbeak, which is new to the tour, and have the opportunity to bow to the majestic creature. You will see up close the incredible detail and craftsmanship that went into creating the magnificent Hippogriff. Each feather had to be individually inserted and glued by the Creature Effects team who were busy adding feathers right up until the final moment Buckbeak was needed on set for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
I'm sure you'll all agree this sounds amazing. See here for more details. If you are huge fans like we are you'll want to return again and again.