There is that thing, where you don't visit the things on your doorstep because there is always DIY or a new boxset or you are too caught up on visiting that place half way around the world. I'm terribly guilty of that, it took nearly a decade of living in Brighton to visit the Royal Pavilion. I don't know about you, but its always the excuse of "one day" or "we will end up going when someone visits" giving you permission to ignore visiting these places. Admit it, you are just as guilty as me. Just before the hubby's cousin headed back to Canada after working here for a couple of years we found out she was guilty too - while here she had used her free time to visit Berlin and Italy and pretty much most of Europe, and yet hadn't gone to the Warner Bros. Studio tour.
This had to be fixed, we are talking about a girl who is almost as big a geek as me. So, literally 48 hours before she left the country we bundled into the car and headed up to The Making of Harry Potter is located on the Warner Bros. lot up at Leavesden, just north of London. In a nutshell, this is where they filmed the movies (along with Pinewood) and showcases sets, props, costumes and the scale model that was built of the Hogwarts Campus. It's not only great fun to see the places from the movies, but also play around in the sets too - I'm looking at you Broomstick Flying!
First things first, your ticket is timed entry, which helps them stagger everyone going in so they can do a "grand entrance". I don't want to spoil it but there is a bit of a showcase as you head in, which is pretty cool. Also, as they say most people spend about 3 hours, it makes the place a little less crowded than it could be. The queues for the experiences like broom flying, and the photo op's like Platform 9 3/4 were obvious, but not terrible, and it was never too hard to get close to what we wanted to look at. There are two cafe's and a Starbucks, but there was nothing amazing in the food department. Honestly, Butterbeer was a bit disappointing - give me a ice cream float anyday - but it had to be tried after all.
The exhibits themselves are fantastic, but then they would be given they are taken right from the film. A lot of the sets, including The Great Hall, are set up as "hot sets" with perfect lighting and looking just like they did on film. Costumes and facial prosthetic are set up on mannequins so you get a proper sense of them - the blank shapes of the mannequins are easy to overlay in your head with Emma Watson or Dan Radcliffe or whomever and feel like they are standing in front of you. Some of my favourite bits were the random little props like the skele-grow bottle from Chamber of Secrets, and the death eater masks. I swear I took more photos than showed up in my memory card - I mean I know I didn't but I was that engrossed in all of it I'm sure I must have. Think of it a bit like a museum, exhibits are everywhere and there are little detail cards by most of it, but other places you just see amazing stuff bundled together, like noticing the gramophone from Goblet of Fire.
Some of the sets you could just look at, like the Potions classroom, Gryffindor common room and Cupboard under the stairs. Others like the great hall and Dumbledore's office had an interactive element and while some of it is cordoned off you can walk around and be part of it. At the moment the great hall is celebrating 15 years since The Philosophers Stone, so the sorting hat is on display, and there are more special things scheduled for the anniversary so its worth checking the website to see what they have on.
There is an interactive element too, so its not just a museum to the movies. The Weasley's Kitchen set has bits you can control and certain models in the creature workshop are controllable. There is also the green-screen section, where you can ride broomsticks and sit in the blue Ford Anglia. They take your photo and of course they charge if you want it, but its still fun to do even with no intention of getting the photo. In the Backlot you can stand in the back of the Knight Bus, knock on the door of Privet Drive, Sit on the wall of Godric's Hollow and walk the Hogwarts Bridge. Oh and ride in Sirius' bike, that was great fun.
The exhibits were great, and the model of Hogwarts itself was really emotional to look out on, I could have stared at that for hours. They are definitely worth the visit, and looking over some of the replica's in the shop was really good too, as those you can handle. The entrance into the shop is a lovely touch too, hundreds of wand boxes named for everyone involved in the production - actors, crew and everyone in between.
The shop was a major disappointment. After such a cool tour, we were expecting to be compelled to part with truckloads of cash in the shop, Honestly, not so much. As a Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff the consistancy of stuff between the houses was more than a bit rubbish, I saw a great Hufflepuff pin and Gryffindor top I liked, but no Ravenclaw version, and my Hufflepuff found similar with what she liked. Getting what we did want was a whole other nightmare. There was a Hogwarts Express cushion we wanted for out green velvet armchair, but we didn't pick it up at the little shop by that set as we were only half way round and who wants to carry stuff right? Except nothing from the Hogwarts Express Gift shop in the tour is actually in the main shop at the end. Not that you'd know until you get there. Mr O made the effort find and grab someone to go get it, as at that point there is no back into the tour, but we could very easily have not bothered as no one spoke to us at all as we walked around looking, even to say a polite hello. When they are so concerned with getting your money with the photo op's like broom riding, if seemed funny to me that the shop end is disorganized to the point I nearly walked out without buying, and none of the staff in the retail or photo areas seemed interested in being polite - something they need to work on if you ask me. In many ways the not being all about the shop is fantastic (although a bit juxtaposed to the people selling you photos everywhere) but the problem is these days we are so used to having that it is expected. This is especially true on a site so far from anything else.
If you like Harry Potter then it is definitely worth a visit, if not then what is wrong with you?? Seriously, it is a fun day and, being mostly indoors, I can also see it being a nice day out in terrible weather, and I would definitely go back to see it set up for Christmas.
Have you been? Or are there places near you that you always mean to visit but never do??