Harry Potter studio tour – family day out
One of our pre-determined destinations on our English leg was a visit to Harry Potter Studio tours. I really enjoyed the books when they came out; literally couldn’t put them down, and the movies were very engaging.
But as Ethan (age 9) has read most of the books and Jasper (age 7) is just starting, their grandma had bought them tickets for Christmas! What else do you get 2 boys who are about to go travelling around the world!
What to do beforehand?
Book your tickets online!! At least 2 months or more. We booked in April, outside the UK half term and it was fully booked. Thankfully we explained our predicament and were allocated tickets – phew!
Buy some Harry potter (surprise) memorabilia BEFORE you arrive as a treat! As we are at the beginning of our world trip we don’t have space or money, so I bought a couple of Griffyndor badges in advance. Saves you spending a fortune in the shop.
If you have a Hogwarts cloak wear this to be a part of the action, but also to get through the broom riding quicker.
Bring pencils for the passports (I’ll explain later).
If you are on a budget, like us, then take a packed lunch. They are allowed and you can eat them in the cafe area or outside.
How to get there?
We had originally planned to take public transport to Watford junction station where a regular bus (every 20 mins) takes you to the studios for free! However, due to time and cost it was easier to drive the motorhome.
If you are based in London and hoping for a day trip, fear not. There are lots of tour, packages or day trip options.
Parking is easy. When you arrive show your booking confirmation or tickets to the parking attendant.
Note: it is recommended you arrive at least 30 minutes before your time slot.
Once we parked up I was concerned at the queue outside the main door. The car park wasn’t even busy!!
But I needn’t have worried, we soon realised this was just security to check your bags and ensure no knives etc..
We went to the window (to the left) to collect our tickets first. Be aware you need ID or bank card of the main ticket holder to collect.
The teller also gave me 2 ‘passports’ for the kids to complete on their way round . This is what you need your pencils for! There are questions to answer and stamps to collect around the studios.
First stage arrival
When you first enter you walk through long corridors until you reach a ‘holding pen’. In reality it’s a free cloakroom, toilets, cafe and shop to keep you occupied before your allocated slot.
You then queue to enter the room for your debriefing (standing room only). Note: when you enter, walk to the far end of the room near the 3 doors. When the debriefing is over the doors open to a small cinema room. Being near the door will mean you get a good seat (near the front).
Both this and queueing can be lengthy so bring snacks or be prepared to entertain. There is also a fair amount of walking too, so I’d recommend strollers for young children.
Stage two – cinema
You are seated for this next stage, but not for long! The film offers you an introduction to the hundreds of elements to making the film.
It explains that within the studios the costumes, sets and props that you see are all handmade, carefully thought through/designed and all belong to the original films!
It also talks about the people involved in bringing Harry Potter to life. Absolutely incredible!!
Stage three – The Great Hall
It’s a real WOW! moment as you enter the great hall and see the room set up exactly as it was in the film. Ensure you let staff know beforehand if it’s your birthday as you will be offered the chance to open the doors.
There is plenty of opportunity to take photographs and after the tour guide has finished providing all the Harry Potter film facts we were directed through to the first studio…
Stage four – scenes/costumes and props
You are free to roam at your own pace. It is all clearly marked as to the locations/scenes. We followed it around according to the boys passports so that they could collect the stamps! But there is no (free) tour map. However, it is self explanatory.
There are scenes for:
- Gryffindor dormroom
- Dumbeldores office
- Potion room
- Ministry of Magic and
- the Forbidden forest and more
It was funny to watch the boys recognise manyprops, characters and locations from the film’s. I heard lots of ‘look, look…’
The studio helps you to recall and absorb you into Harry Potter’s world. It has all been created very well and there’s lots of space so you don’t feel crowded.
Within the first studio there are a couple of interactions. Firstly you can attempt to practice your magic to lift your own broomstick ready for flight. Then you can get on a broomstick yourself and fly like Harry Potter through Hogwarts and the streets of London. Great fun for the boys to do and watch but a tad expensive at £14 for a photograph!! I didn’t even bother to read how much the video costs.
There was also an area for wand lessons, but the boys were too excited to see the forbidden forest to stop for this one.
Swiftly moving on we progressed through the hall and soon entered the forbidden forest. It was well crafted with great atmosphere, but beware what lies above!!
The next room is where you’ll find Platform 9 ³/⁴ with the Hogwarts Express. Another wow moment as you turn the corner and capture the most talked about moments in Harry Potter’s journey.
Stage 5 – Refreshments
So far it has taken us around 2 hours to reach this point. So it was a much needed pitstop at the café area where you can buy your lunch and butter beer. Purely a photo opportunity though, as I don’t think I saw anyone finish their drink (and at £3.95 min. no one went back for seconds!), but you have to try so we had one to share.
You can relax and rest your feet while you eat your lunch from the cafe with a range of sandwiches, salads or hot food or eat your own packed lunch.
Stage 6 – Studio 2
After the refreshment stop the next studio takes you through the more engineered side of the movie and how the electronics and prosthetic’s were created. You can see the ‘life-like’ animatronic buckbeak that moves and blinks.
This part didn’t interest the boys as much, but they soon became excited when we reached Diagon Alley and saw a death-eater. Luckily one of the staff told the boys they have protected us from them with a defense charm! I have to say the staff were all very enthusiastic and answered any questions!
The last and final room is just round the corner, with a miniature life-like model of Hogwarts Castle. The attention to detail was so beautiful.
How long do you need?
For us, we spent around 3 hours in total there (including lunch). The queues were small and while the sets were all amazing and detailed . It didn’t hold the boys attention for very long, so we were constantly moving.
For those who deem themselves movie buffs they will probably spend longer.
Shop, shop, shop
And so no tour is complete without the obligatory fleecing at the end. As I mentioned before I came prepared and had Gryffindor badges at the ready. But it still didn’t stop them buying some sweets (I’m such a cruel mummy!)
I can’t really complain though, as it was nothing to some of the basket loads I saw arriving at the till! OMG!!
But if you are in this predicament and if all else fails with those puppy dog eyes staring back at you; then there are some small items, such as mini notebooks for £5 or post cards for £1! Go on… Treat yourself!
I felt it was a bit pricey, especially with the add-ons. I’m glad we’ve done it but I doubt we will be back. It was amazing to see the creation of the film in all its glory, but as my boys are aged 7 and 9 they were wowed by some elements, but not as absorbed in others.
That’s not to say it wasn’t fantastic and inspiring, but for the overall experience I think my boys, however much they enjoyed it, they would prefer something a little more lively.
I would recommend if you have read the book and watched the films, that you visit once but come prepared to get the most out of your day.