Over the course of the past three weeks I have traveled all over continental Europe, seen some of the world’s most incredible sites, and eaten some of the most delicious foods I have ever dreamed of, and yet I didn’t reach the most exciting day of the trip until today. I have waited over three years for this day and I cannot believe it is actually here. The tickets are purchased, the travel plan is decided, and the Hogwarts t-shirt is laid out and ready to go. That’s right, it’s Warner Brother’s Studio Tour day
BUT before we get into one of the most magical days of my life, we took a day to get our lives together and do some casual London wandering in between sleeping and eating Dominos. We made our way to Camden Market for an afternoon, and it was spectacular. We also spent a few hours at the Natural History Museum, but it was less than impressive. Camden was by far the highlight, but not nearly as exciting as what we had planned for tomorrow.
Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a pretty big Harry Potter nerd, as you may or may not have been able to tell based on my past blog posts. I could probably write a novel about how much Harry Potter means to me, but I’ll spare you the sappy details and get on with our day. Being in the land where Harry Potter originated has been a pretty amazing thing, but ultimately that all culminates with the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, a fully immersive experience on location where they made the films. I’ve read the books, seen the movies, watched the musicals, been to the theme park, and now I finally got to see the Studio Tour.
On the morning of the tour we had the privilege of getting to just sleep in and not have a care in the world until after 1 since our tour time slot wasn’t until 3:30. If you ever plan on visiting the Warner Brothers Studio Tour just know that you have to book your tickets and time slot about a month beforehand as it is such a popular destination. The ticket buying process is very easy and straightforward but after that it gets slightly difficult. The biggest downfall of the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour is definitely the location. Even for us being in London, we still had at least an hour’s journey to get there, so I planned to leave over two hours before our time slot. We grabbed our first train and made multiple transfers to get to Euston where we hopped on the first available train to Watford Junction. There was a brief moment of confusion because the train was there way early and we didn’t know that it was the right one, but eventually we got on and were happily on our way. Apparently trains from Euston to Watford Junction are either A. really long and make a bunch of stops, or B. really short with only 2 stops. Unfortunately we didn’t know this and ended up on the really long train.
We got to Watford at 3. Much later than I was anticipating, and when we missed the 3 o’clock shuttle, I had a brief moment of panic that we were going to miss our slot and not be able to get in. The Warner Brothers website says that if you’re late you aren’t guaranteed entry, so I was getting very worried. Our bus got there at like 3:28 and my heart was racing. They let us get our ticket, and we got through the ticket check-point and I had a huge sigh of relief. We were exactly on time and I could not have been more relieved, and excited.
The first thing that you get to see in the queue to get in is the cupboard under the stairs, which is a perfectly fitting way to start the tour. I was surprised how small the queue was and how quickly we were moved into the first room of the tour.
The first stop was a small room with a bunch of small screens where they had different international Potter movie posters and we got our intro to the tour. I think the best thing they told us was that while the average tour takes about 3 hours, the longest has been over 11. I had a hard time believing that at first, but after seeing the first room I was not surprised in the slightest and I bet if I went there by myself in the morning, I would have no problem staying there that long. When the attendant finished her intro speech and played the first video of clips of movie premiers and stuff from producers and creators, we entered a small cinema. The guy introing in there was wonderful, making a joke that we were watching all 8 movies (which I would definitely be on board for) and we all laughed before we watched a clip of various pieces from interviews and films and what not. I got an incredible craving to see the films in theatre again. The feeling of being completely surrounded by a screen playing these movies is an experience that I miss so much. As soon as I was just getting into the clips, the screen went black and suddenly rose up to expose the doors of the Great Hall. The entire room gasped in surprise. There is nothing like seeing the excited faces of a crowd of people who couldn’t wait to be immersed into the world of their favorite boy wizard. Excuse the pun, but the second those doors were revealed was a moment of pure magic.
Shelbie and I all but sprinted to be at the front of the group where the lady asked for anyone with a birthday and Shelbie was up next to her before I could blink. She was the only one so she got to open the doors to the Great Hall (note: the doors of the Great Hall push open not pull). While I would have loved to do that, I got to be the first one to walk in behind her to see the incredible spectacle that is the Great Hall set. I would be lying if I said I didn’t tear up because it was just so surreal. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment of walking into that room for the first time. Because it is the actual set, it’s basically the exact feeling you would have walking into Hogwarts as a first year. I really can’t describe how amazing it was but it was breathtaking.
I wandered aimlessly, being in the sort of fugue state that I was I didn’t really know what I was doing, but everything was beautiful. My only real other complaint about the tour was probably how rushed the Great Hall felt, which was because it was the entrance and everyone wants that feeling of walking into the empty great hall. They said you could go back in but I got very distracted by all of the other stuff and never got around to going back. Immediately after the Great Hall is the first set room, filled with sets and props and information and costumes and it was extremely overwhelming and amazing. They had the drink table from the Yule Ball, which was amazing, and some costumes and Richard Harris’ wig before hitting some of the bigger sets.
The Leaky Cauldron.
They had the full Gryffindor Boys Dorm, which was adorable and Dumbledore’s office was cool, but since I’ve sort of seen them before at the theme park in Orlando, I was most taken by the potions classroom. The detail was mind blowing and I wish I could have gotten right up in there to look at all of the bottles and flasks and details. Every single label is hand written and hand attached, so some look old and are peeling, but that all adds to the feel of the set. It’s absolutely mind blowing to see all of the detail that went into places like the potions classroom because in the films you don’t even really get to see the labels, but they’re there and they’re incredible. They had tables set with cauldrons and potion books and everything was amazing. If there wasn’t a barricade I probably could have waltzed right in and made a cauldron full of Draught of Living Death because everything was right there, and the cauldrons were even stirring themselves so I wouldn’t have even had to do much.
There was Hagrid’s Hut and the Chamber of Secrets Door and the Gryffindor Common Room and so many other things surrounding a pile of an assortment of props, including a set of house elf armor. Did they need to create a fully functional set of armor for a house elf? Absolutely not. But they did. They had Quidditch rigs and other animatronic stuff to show how some of the stuff was made, and you could even climb aboard a broom rig in front of a green screen to fly like the actors. Unfortunately there was a pretty long line so I decided to spend my time esewhere.
Cutest set of Armor I’ve ever seen.
They had Malfoy Manor, Borgin and Burke, The Ministry, and Umbridge’s office and they were all amazingly intricate. Umbridge may be the character I despise the most, but her office was so cool. The pink was super vibrant and all of the cat decor was adorable. They even had some of her proclamations on the wall, which I adored. It had already been at least an hour and we had just finished the first room. I was starting to understand how someone could spend over 11 hours here.
Our next stop was the newly renovated Platform 9 ¾, which I was super stoked to see. Walking onto the platform was an immediate flashback to my time in Orlando when I got to be one of the first people to ride the Hogwarts Express, but all of this stuff was completely genuine from the films, which was so hard to grasp. I also found a new appreciation for the Orlando theme park because there really weren’t any differences to be found between the recreations and the originals, which is pretty spectacular.
We played guess that luggage and took more platform 9 ¾ pictures before walking through the shop and hopping in line to walk on the actual train they used for filming. The train was wonderful; each carriage had been set up to recreate a scene from the films in which the train was used for filming. You walk along the carriage peering into to see the set ups for some of the most memorable Potter scenes, Ron’s handprint was on the window from Azkaban, and even Lavender’s heart drawing was on the window from Half Blood Prince. It was pretty amazing. They also have a little set up where you can sit on replica carriages and experience a short train simulation, nothing like the ride in Orlando, but still fun.
Inside one of the carriages on the train and a recreation of a scene in Prisoner of Azkaban.
When we finished up at Platform 9 ¾ we made it to the backlot cafe where we happily picked up some food, and I more than excitedly grabbed a long awaited for butterbeer. I had a ham sandwich, which wasn’t too exciting, but as always I was in love with my butterbeer. I feel like I should make it a life goal to have a tap of butterbeer installed in my future home so I never have to travel to enjoy it.
In my happy place.
The backlot is where they have the bigger sets, like the Knight Bus, 4 Privet Drive, the Hogwarts Bridge, and the Potter House. All were incredible, and the interactivity of this lot was really fun. We took pictures with everything, and got to sit in the Ford Anglia and Hagrid’s Motorbike for even more fun pictures. For some reason it went from overwhelmingly hot yesterday to quite chilly today so we didn’t spend too much time out there. Again, the attention to detail was fantastic. The knight bus came complete with it’s own bus stop sign, obviously in the same style as all London transport.
After the backlot becomes more of the ‘how it was made’ type of stuff, first with the creature shop. There was a cool video and a ton of the creatures from the films, which were really cool to see. They had a lot of the actual pieces used from the films, and while most of the creatures were really interesting to look at, the weird baby Voldemort thing and the full size models of the actors were quite creepy. I’ve read about all of the creatures and about how they were made, and now I’ve seen them and I still can’t imagine what it was like to have to put those things together. My appreciation for the production teams from these films grows larger every day.
Fully functional animatronic Buckbeak.
We then finally made our way to Diagon Alley, which was another strong flashback to Florida, even if this one was much smaller, which is understandable considering that Orlando has to accommodate and serve thousands of guests a day. I’ve essentially already seen and walked through a lot of these buildings, but the detail was still amazing.
Diagon Alley was cool, but next we got to go into what was probably my favorite part of the tour; the real creation pieces from the early stages of the films. They had all of the breathtaking concept art that I’m in love with on the walls, and all of the tiny white card models of the sets. I want to wallpaper my house in the concept art. The white card models are essentially the first stages of physically creating the sets, and incredibly detailed for being made so small, and out of only one material. But none of that was enough to prepare me for what I got to see next, and I even knew it was coming.
One of the amazing white card models of Hogsmeade.
The very last room of the tour is completely filled with a full, scaled-down model of Hogwarts castle that was used to create most of the exterior castle shots in the films, and it was by far one of the most incredible moments of my entire life. I have seen pictures and videos of it but in person it is completely mind numbing. I knew I had a ton of pictures to take but I spent so much time just staring at it, it’s so intensely intricate that you could stare at it for days and probably still see new parts of it. They also had this really cool touch screen where you could click around the castle and learn about different parts of it. Apparently every single shingle is hand laid and apparently they even went as far as changing the clock on the tiny tower to match the time of day for the shot they were filming. So many amazing details that the world wouldn’t have even known, and most of still doesn’t. I have seen a full sized model of Hogwarts, and even been inside of it, but nothing prepared me for the incredible sight of all of this version of the castle and grounds.
Unfortunately, that was the last stop of the tour, but I wouldn’t have ended it any other way. The exit is through a room full of wand boxes each with the name of a cast or crewmember, which is an awesome way to recognize everyone. We spent a while making sure we could find the golden trio and I even found JK Rowling. Emma Watson was slightly trickier to locate, but it was just because I was being dense and was too focused on JK Rowling’s to look a few boxes higher to see Emma’s.
And as any good tour does, it let out into the massive gift shop, where we spent almost an hour debating souvenirs. A lot of the stuff was the same as Orlando, but there was also some other really cool stuff. I spent some time debating a build your own Hogwarts set, some posters, other books, a guide book, keychains, and pretty much everything else in the shop. But I resisted. However, I came a lot closer to buying a cat cup and saucer set inspired by Umbridge, and am slightly regretting not picking it up. I definitely have it on the list for next time. As we were making our way towards the check out, I spotted a glass case with some really cool stuff, and I was immediately attached to a first Edition hard cover of Philosopher’s Stone with an embossed JK Rowling signature, and while for a moment I thought it was real and that the 18.00 pound price was actually 1,800, I confirmed that it was only 18 and I aggressively tried to talk myself out of it. As we made our way forward, I gave in and asked to look at it and as soon as I had it my hands I couldn’t say no. It’s just gorgeous, and it is actually a first edition print, obviously it’s a recent printing but it’s the same edition that was printed in 1999. I’m pretty in love with it. Does it make sense to keep buying books that I have to somehow figure out how to get home? Absolutely not, but I couldn’t help myself.
On our way out I took pictures of the stuff I couldn’t when we were rushing in and sadly had to say goodbye to the second most magical place in the world. While I am madly in love with this place and don’t want to leave, Orlando still holds that special place in my heart. I know some day I will be back and until then, it’s back to pictures, books, and movies. But I had a really fun time with Shelbie sort of closing off our incredible trip with this amazing stop.
We hopped on the faster train to Euston and made the painstaking trip back to Shelbie’s place for the night. I spent the night filtering through the 450 pictures I took and packing to make the last trip of this epic adventure. I cannot believe I have to finally go back to Cardiff tomorrow. It’s going to be very difficult to go from being in a new city every three days to being fully immersed in exam season. Can’t say I’m excited, but I’ve got to put the study in study abroad some time right? These past few weeks don’t even feel real, and while I can’t wait for my own bed, I don’t want to admit that spring break 2015 is over.