When Harry Potter first became popular in the States, I was 11 and obsessed with chapter books. I vividly remember reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone in the UK) under my blanket with a flashlight like the little geek I was.
Because of the release dates of the books, I’m part of the generation that quite literally grew up with Harry Potter as the new books (and films) came out. I even co-created a Harry Potter club on the playground in elementary school. There were ‘report cards’ for Potions and Defense against the Dark Arts and we also ‘sorted’ people into Houses.
nothing. Everything. NOTHING.
Anyways, now that I live in the UK, I’ve had the opportunity to go to the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford a few times. This past week, I went with a friend to see the new Platform 9 3/4 exhibit, and I thought I’d take you along for a review.
Please don’t read if you are going soon and don’t want to be ‘spoiled’ for how the experience is laid out. It’s not like I’m showing anything you can’t see in the movies, but just in case you want to be a purist.
The line for the tour starts in the lobby. They’ve got a few props dotted around to get you excited, and then, once it’s time, you enter two rooms.
The first is a holding room where a staff member (dressed in Hogwarts robes, obviously) tells you to have a great time but DO NOT TOUCH BECAUSE THESE PROPS ARE BASICALLY NATIONAL TREASURES. You then go into a movie theater, where you watch a recording of Daniel, Emma, and Rupert talking about how they grew up at these studios. By this point I had already almost shed a tear, let’s be honest.
They do a really nice transition into the first room, the Great Hall.
This is where you are allowed to mill about on your own and the fangirling really kicks in. OH HEY, DUMBLEDORE, HEY.
It’s a massive space and has been laid out to make it easy to make your way around as fast as you want or just stop and stare with your mouth hanging open as you hate yourself for not being a child actor in England at the time of filming because you TOTALLY could have been Hermione.
New to the first section is an exhibit on Platform 9 3/4, including the Hogwarts Express, plenty of chances to pretend you’re on your way to Hogwarts, and a reconstructed set on the inside of the train taking you from the gang’s first journey to the end of the series.
After the first rooms, you make your way outside to see the exterior sets. There’s a café and places to sit and eat in case you come around lunch or dinnertime, and you can try Butter Beer or Butter Beer ice cream.
The exterior sets don’t lend themselves to being as naturally impressive as the interior sets, but there are great photo opportunities on the Knight Bus, in front of the Dursley’s House, and in the flying car.
The last time I was there, there wasn’t a sign that explained that the Dursleys lived at 4 Privet Drive, but I would imagine they’ve added that to help all of the people taking pictures of the “Dursley house” while standing in front of 3 Privet Drive. They do look identical, but one was home to Harry Potter and one was probably home to an average British family who were too polite to ask their neighbors to calm it down with all the wizarding that went on after dark.
From there, you head into the “Creatures” section, which is a smaller room but is probably the best room for understanding the technical ways the crews brought the world to life.
After the sets is the blueprints section where you see the architectural drawings for many of the major structures, as well as the concept art that helped them to get the tone and feel of the movies correct.
At the end, you might be dragging a bit after taking in so much information. It’s Harry Potter overload in the best way possible. You meander around the corner, wondering if this is the end of the tour.
And then, BOOM. You stumble upon the castle model and you start to get a tingle inside and soft music is playing in the background and the lights are dimmed. The audio guide starts up with the “Final days” clips where you hear various actors and crew talk about how much of a family they had become, and suddenly you are feeling ALL THE FEELS. I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING.
Once you’ve wiped your snot all over your jacket and have already queued up all 8 films on your Netflix from your phone, you exit into a tribute to all of the cast and crew of the films (4,000+ wands in total).
And then it’s time for Harry Potter mecca, also known as the gift shop. The gift shop is moderately to expensively priced, with adult shirts ranging from about 18 to 25 pounds. But you can pretty much buy anything Potter related here, so if you want something to take home, you’ll find it here.
Overall, I would highly recommend the studio tour to any fan. It’s also great for any non-fans who are interested in movie-making, and you can easily take the whole family and have everyone enjoy it.
They say to leave 3 to 3 1/2 hours for the tour, and we took exactly 3 1/2 hours. They have a ‘green screen’ exhibit where you can ride on a broomstick, but this usually has a line, which would add time. We also didn’t spend that long in the gift shop, so tack that on as more time.
They offer an audio guide, and while it doesn’t necessarily make or break the experience, I found it really interesting and it has clips short enough so that it’s not droning on and on. Also Tom Felton (who plays Draco) narrates it, so, if he’s your thing, there’s that.
As JK Rowling’s quote says on the last wall as you exit,
“The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
SORRY, BE RIGHT BACK, CRYING AGAIN. PASS ME MY WAND.