For the rest of you, welcome to the cool kids' table.
- A LITTLE BACKSTORY -
I am what you would consider a diehard Harry Potter fan. I've been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, and loved every second of it. I'm studying in Oxford at the moment, which is as close to studying at Hogwarts as a Muggle could possibly get. Whenever I travel, I tend to insist on finding Harry Potter-related locales before visiting anything of historical significance.
So obviously, I had to make the trek to the Studio Tour right outside of London. We were supposed to go as a group of five, but because my best friend fell ill the morning of, she and her parents re-scheduled (by the way, their family is my spirit animal and I love them). Alas, it was my buddy Nick and I ... and of course, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and more.
- TIPS & THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND -
1 // The studio tour is exclusively about the making of the movies. Of course, most things overlap with the books. However, the tour purely covers props, sets, costumes, and other details in how the movies came to life.
2 // Watch a few of the movies before and a few of the movies after. I went in without watching any of the movies immediately prior. However, I would strongly recommend watching one or two to jog your memory a bit - you'll pick up on many more of the smaller details on the tour. Afterwards, watching a few more is simply a different ballgame.
3 // Transportation is tricky. If you'd like to get to the Studio Tour by yourself, here are directions by car, coach, or train. We opted to go with Premium Tours - you board the bus at Victoria Station, spend two hours total going there and back, and get about three hours in the studios. It also comes with a free Butterbeer voucher, so that's a real dealbreaker, y'know.
4 // There are three sections - you can take as much time as you want in each section, but once you leave - you can't go back. The first section is packed full of goodies such as complete sets and props and costumes; the second is actually outside (it's where you get Butterbeer!); the third section houses concept art, models, Diagon Alley, and more fun surprises. You'll spend the most time in the first section, the least time in the second. Plan accordingly.
5 // Ask for a Passport at Information. Or, bring your own paper. Children can get a "Passport" with their ticket. There are stamp stations all over the place where you can "engrave" various seals to mark each area. If you're not visiting with a child, you can still try asking for one - I doubt they'll turn you away (bonus: there's a free coat check!). To be safe though, I'd bring a little notebook or a few sheets of paper to stamp, because those seals are brilliant.
6 // If you go on a weekend, pick a morning tour. Nick and I used our original tickets, which was for 2:30pm on Friday with an extended 30 minutes in the Great Hall. Lauren and her parents re-scheduled for Sunday morning. In our opinion, the extra time in the Great Hall is not worth it. It's wonderful, yes, but you're better off exploring on your own. Lauren also recommends the morning tour because it is a lot less crowded.
7 // The gift store. Okay, here's the thing about the gift store. I get it, you want to buy "authentic" HP gear. I'm the same way. This is what I recommend - grab something small like a Chocolate Frog, some candy, or a keychain. For bigger (and much pricier) things, I would buy them online for cheaper. For souvenirs like a wand or a robe, I would actually buy in Orlando if you get the chance - at Universal, you get the full experience (going to Ollivander's, watching the wand-choosing process, etc.), so it's more memorable of a splurge than if you were to simply grab it at the studios!
8 // Chat with the employees. They can offer you lots of stories and insights that you wouldn't otherwise receive!
9 // Let your freak flag fly. Y'all. I embarrass myself all the time, it's fine. But let me tell you - it's impossible to be too big of a HP nerd on this tour because everyone else feels the same way. Cry, shriek, gasp in awe, and arm slap your friend (I did) to your heart's content - this is a no judgment zone.
10 // Enjoy yourself, take your time, and bring a camera. You have more than enough time in there, I promise. Go through the tour deliberately and slowly, watch all the little videos, read the plaques, keep an eye out for smaller, less noticeable details (Lily Potter's note is my absolute favorite), and take lots and lots of pictures! It's strongly encouraged. Also, they set up studio lighting so that all of your pictures look fantastic - minimal editing required!
- VERDICT -
Before going, we asked another friend who had already been, "does the tour ruin all of the magic?" She said no, the tour actually added to the magic.
After experiencing it myself, I have to agree. While it does show you how "magic" was made and how illusions were created - it actually adds an element to this other world we HP lovers call home. For example, the beds in the Gryffindor boys' dormitory are tiny. So tiny that when they were filming, the actors' feet would be dangling off the ends. Sweet story, isn't it? Most of the sets were unimaginably small and packed. It's a different kind of magic - movie magic - to see how they were able to expertly create the amazing movies we so love out of these various components. They'll tell you things that make you say, "ahh, so that's why!" and it's really special feeling, like you've been let in on a secret.
Finally, in an introductory video by Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint, they explain that Leavesden Studios is basically their second home. Not only did they film here, but it's also where they studied, played, made friends, celebrated birthdays, spent their everyday lives for ten years, and simply - grew up. And it's an altogether different magical experience getting to see the place where all of that happened. I got teary-eyed, I'm just throwing that out there.
So while yes, the tour is pricey and far away and it takes forever and a half, if you love the HP series and especially the movies - you'll want to visit and it'll be well worth the hassle.
- FOR MORE INFORMATION -
To plan your visit, here's the official site. Here's the tour company we booked through. Feel free to e-mail me with any additional questions and tips (or if you want to chat HP theory/love) - I'd love to help!
For more Harry Potter goodness... this is when I went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, when I visited "the birthplace of Harry Potter" and a brief jaunt to Platform 9 3/4. There's more coming, I promise!