The mini Mumbler has just turned 9 years old and she didn’t want a party. The only thing that she wanted to do to celebrate her birthday was a visit to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London as she is a massive Harry Potter fan.
If she is a fan, then I should call myself a Harry Potter turbo geek. We got into the books this summer when we were touring Europe in a motorhome. We needed a way to help while away the miles and so I purchased the first Harry Potter book, “The Philosophers Stone” on audio book and our whole family was instantly hooked.
Over the last 3 months we have devoured all of the films and almost all of the books and so visiting the place that made the magic come alive was high up on our “to-do” list. My daughters birthday was the perfect excuse, particularly because it is in December and therefore I knew that Hogwarts would look spectacular in the snow!
We booked our studio tour for 11.30am as a helpful friend had advised us to book early-ish during the day. The reason being that although numbers are limited on each tour, you can linger at the studio for as long as you like so by the end of the day the place is pretty busy.
As it is about a 4 hour drive to the Studio from Yorkshire, we chose to book in a hotel overnight. We chose the Premier Inn at Watford which worked really well. It was only a 12 minute drive to the Warner Bros Studio and the family rooms were ideal.
We arrived at 11.15 for our 11.30 tour but we should probably have arrived 10 minutes earlier (I can’t blame the tour for that, they quite clearly state that you should arrive 20 minutes before your allotted time)
We picked up our tickets outside and because it was my daughters birthday, she was given a special birthday badge to wear. It was really lovely as througout the tour, all the staff there made a point of saying “Happy birthday” to her which made her feel really special. My daughters were both given a little Making of Harry Potter Studio Passport and were informed that they should collect 6 stamps whilst walking around the tour as well as looking out for 13 hidden golden snitches.
We queued up in the vast lobby area to begin the tour and there is the opportunity to hire audio guides. I would highly recommend that adults and older kids do hire them- they are absolutely fantastic and give you so much extra information about the films, the production, the cast and crew. I booked audio guides for all for of us and it cost about £12. With hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend booking them for very young children as my two got bored with them and I ended up carrying them around. Next time I would share my own audioguide with any young kids initially (they were fantastic for keeping them amused in the line before we went in as they are touch screen devices with an interactive map) and then taken it back once the novelty had worn off!
Waiting in-line was no hassle at all because there is so much to see in the lobby. The photos of the cast over the years were fabulous and the set from Harry’s bedroom in the under-the-stairs cupboard was great. We were so excited to begin and I can honestly say that the tour didn’t disappoint.
Initially we were taken into a large room with (I’d guess around 200 others) and we were given a brief introduction to the studio tour and the world of Harry Potter, followed by a whistle stop tour of all the films in a cinema. After the cinema screening the tour started properly and I was really delighted to find out that the host asked the audience if any people were celebrating birthdays and then my daughter was given a very special job. I won’t spoil any of the surprises here in case you haven’t visited yet, but I would recommend that you tell the staff if you are celebrating as they do make it extra special for you.
During the tour we were treated to all of the “behind the scenes” aspects of the Harry Potter films. We walked through the Great Hall (which was absolutely beautiful, particularly as it was all decorated for Christmas) we saw the boys dormitory, the Gryffindor common room, the potions dungeon, Hagrid’s hut, the Forbidden Forest, The Hogwarts Express Diagon Ally, Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, Platform 9 3/4, Hogwarts itself and so much more.
We posed for a family photograph in Hogwarts robes and my daughters both had a go at flying broomsticks against a green screen which resulted in a fairly spectacular mini movie once the FX team had put the images against a backdrop. They also took part in a wand lesson to improve their spell casting!
There were insights into the costumes, the hair and make-up, the props (the scale of which is just mind-blowing) the visual FX and special FX, the stunts, the animation, the architecture and the set planning. At each area there was plenty to read and digital guides (in case you haven’t booked the audio guide) You can move around at your own pace and there were quite a few benches dotted around if you want a rest.
There is a backlot cafe about two thirds of the way around the tour where you can buy drinks, meals and snacks and the much anticipated Butterbeer. What can I say about Butterbeer? Personally I loved it, the rest of my family though it was gross! It’s a gently carbonated caramel/butterscotch type flavour with a dollop of cream on the top. Ahead of the tour you can book and pay for it on-line in a souvenir glass however on the day you can get it in a disposable glass which naturally is the cheaper option (you can also buy the souvenir glasses on the day)
The level of detail was absolutely astounding. Doing the tour has made me want to re-watch all of the films so that I can begin to properly take-in some of the detail and special FX.
Would I recommend the tour?
Absolutely yes. If you are a Harry Potter fan then it should be compulsory! It was one of my favourite family days out and I would imagine that you could visit it more than once and still learn new things; there is so much to take in. We were there for just under 4 hours and only left because my youngest daughter had had enough. I could have stayed longer!
The official photos and videos from the green screen area (broom flying) were very expensive but of course these are optional purchases
The gift shop at the end is expensive (however it is better value than the Harry Potter shop at Kings Cross it turns out: Luna’s wand in a presentation box at Kings Cross cost me £35 but it was £29 at the Warner Brothers Studio. I didn’t compare them side by side but they looked pretty similar to me!)
Leave your coat in the car. Even in December when the temperature was just above freezing outside the studio was toasty warm and a bulky coat would have been a hinderance. There is a brief outside area though so I’d recommend taking a small umbrella in your bag if it’s raining.
Wear a big birthday badge or make it know to the staff upon arrival if you’re celebrating a birthday. They’ll make a real fuss of you.
Book audio players for adults and older kids only
Only order 1 butterbeer until you’ve tried it. It’s an acquired taste….
Wear comfy shoes, it is a lot of walking.
Do not go in hungry. The cafe is quite a long way into the tour. There are refreshments in the entrance lobby so have a cuppa and some food before you begin.
Re-watch the films before you go. Watch them again after. Just watch them all the time!
Disclosure: Mumbler did not pay for the family ticket to visit the Warner Bros Studio Tour however the opinion given is genuine. We absolutely loved our visit and cannot wait to return.