We’re sitting in a restaurant in Cardiff, Wales and discussing my plans for the next two weeks in England.
“And you’ll go to Warner Brothers Studio Tour of Harry Potter, won’t you?“ says my colleague, who is an older gentleman, and I suspect just being kind to his American guest.
“I don’t think so ..“ I begin, “It’s so expensive, and I …”
“No, no. You have to go.“ He interrupts, leaning forward to make his point. He speaks quietly and quickly, as if imparting a great secret. “I’ve been. I have a friend who’s been and she said when she saw the Great Hall in person she cried. When we went, almost the entire shuttle bus from the Tube stop was full of adults. Adults! Not kids. You really must go.”
My literary heart swells at the mere mention of the Great Hall, and I realize this guy is not just being kind. We trade the code words of Potter fans, “Diagon Alley,” “Dumbledore,” “Hogwarts,” while our third colleague shrugs and confesses she has never read the books.
I go home that night and book my ticket. £29 ($44) .. I must be drunk.
If we skip to the end of this story, I’ll tell you that I would pay £29 all over again. Maybe more than once. I’d go earlier, because four hours wasn’t enough time (for real). I’d stop taking pictures (250+) and wander around, sit, talk to other visitors if they’re not in a trance like I was. The long and short of it is, if you’re into Harry Potter, this studio tour is a gift. It is an immense, magnificent, jaw-dropping gift.
I grew up on Harry Potter. I was reminded of this small fact while standing in line waiting for entry, and looking at the posters along the wall. 1997, the first book is published: I was a freshman in high school. 2001, the first movie is released: I graduate high school. My mom and I went to a midnight release party. My friends and I blitzed the newest book in 24 hours, every time. We went to first showing of the films, Thursdays at midnight. I cried when Dobby died. You get the picture.
Now as you may know, I’m anti-tour. While researching this trip, I kept coming back to this tour. Only guided the first 10-15 minutes, the rest is yours for the wandering. Then my students were writing me recommendation lists with HARRY POTTER TOUR in capital letters and five exclamation points. How can you ignore such a recommendation? Then Phil, a fellow adult and bibliophile, sits across from me and sparkles at the mention of the tour. So, I have to go.
It would be 100% wrong of me to reveal this studio tour’s many secrets, so I’m going to pick and choose a few. There were times I gasped and clapped a hand over my mouth, more than once I teared up, and I laughed and shook my head a dozen times. To say this was an experience is an understatement.
* The Studio is composed of two sound stages and the website estimates the tour would take 3.5 hours for the average muggle. They’re not lying. The sound stages are cavernous, and bits and pieces of this epic movie making are in every corner. You do have to sign up for a timed entry when you purchase your ticket, so keep that in mind. If (when) I do it again, I’ll go in the morning so I don’t have to worry about last call announcements when I’m in Diagon Alley.
* You really do see the Great Hall in person. There is a dramatic entry, and you walk through the very doors to the hall like a first year. I can completely understand why my colleague’s friend cried at the sight of it.
* This place is prop city. I snapped a photo of a sign with these staggering numbers, “5000 pieces of furniture, 12000 handmade books, 15000 glass prophecy spheres, 17000 wand boxes and (the best) 40,000 individual Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes products.” Some of the props I freaked out about: the Mirror of Erised, the Horcruxes in one place and in fine detail, the door to the Chamber of Secrets, the Sorting Hat …
* Let’s not forget the rest of the sets – the Great Hall is not the only one present in it’s entirety. Some sets are in pieces (the marble staircase), and others are in their full glory. The best part was when you turned the corner and saw something you’d forgotten about or didn’t realize you were dying to see. Diagon Alley, Yes! The Potions Classroom, OMG. The Burrow kitchen, whoa! Dumbledore’s office .. sigh.
* The truly amazing display of CGI props and rigs was dynamite (CGI = Computer Generated Imagery). All along the way there are TV screens where various directors, producers and actors tell you how the magic happened for Quidditch matches, Hagrid’s motorcycle and the Gringott’s carts. Let’s just say, you can also hop on a broom and fly in front of a green screen (for a fee, of course).
* The monsters and beasts have a space, too. Goblins and werewolves and dementors, oh my. In a really fantastic and well thought out video progression, Warwick Davis (Prof Flitwick) leads you around the room to demonstrate how some things are done. I was very pleased to see Buckbeak, several potted mandrakes, the Book of Monsters (quite alive), and more.
* Other highlights? Drinking a cup of butterbeer. Walking the Hogwarts Bridge. Seeing the gigantic Wizard’s Chess pieces. Viewing the piles of correspondence, Quibbler editions and Daily Prophet pieces. Walking through endless costumes from all of the films. Looking up at the castle portraits. The list is, obviously, endless. You really must see it for yourself.
Until next time, Warner Brothers … a million thanks from this witch (you didn’t really think I was a muggle, did you?)
Warner Brothers Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter: http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/
How to Get There: http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/en/your-visit/getting-here
– I took a train to Watford Junction from London Euston Station + the shuttle bus to the studio. Easy, cheap.