Monday, 5 November 2012

Out and about: Harry Potter Studio Tour

If you don't like Harry Potter, or you do and you are yet to finish the books/films, I suggest you stop reading now - this post will either infuriate you, or bore you!

When the first Harry Potter film was released it coincided with a family birthday and we all toddled off to watch it en masse. From that year on it became a family tradition to watch the films, queue for the books or snuggle up on the sofa to watch the DVDs together. This year, we were running out of Harry Potter related events and, short of heading off to Florida to visit Harry Potter Land, there’s not much more of the HP franchise left to explore. And then I remembered the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour

I booked some tickets for a 2.30pm entrance for my dad’s birthday weekend online, and lucky I did. Two weeks later I went back and all but one were gone, so book in advance to avoid disappointment.
We arrived about an hour early at what felt like a retail park, were directed to a parking bay and, in our hurry to get inside declined the offer of a local pub recommendation for some lunch, opting instead for the on-site café. We braced ourselves for some hideous food but actually it wasn’t too bad… except for the (expectedly) hideous prices.

Anyway, enough about the car park and the café, on to the tour!
We queued, as directed, 20 minutes before our designated tour time, were welcomed in a cinema-style introduction by Daniel, Emma and Rupert and then walked through the grand Hogwarts doors and found ourselves in the Great Hall.

And the magic started.

The tour is self guided upon leaving the Great Hall but there are staff placed strategically around the studios to provide more in-depth information and even mini “tutorials” on the artefacts, sets and costumes.

The tour promises that “Secrets will be revealed” and they certainly are. Normally, I’d hate to see how the magic is created, as it could ruin the enchantment of the films, but in this instance it added to it.

Seeing the actual Great Hall was pretty breathtaking, seeing the (surprisingly small) costumes worn by the actors was fascinating, standing face-to-face with actors dressed as Death Eaters was cool (except for my mum who jumped out of her skin), and being (almost) in the sets and being able to touch some of the props gave me goosebumps.

I’ll admit it – I transformed in to an ultra-mega-super-Harry-Potter-geek-a-saurus. Think the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory all mashed up in to one giant Star Trek enthusiast, attending a Star Trek convention and having lunch with William Shatner. Yip. That was me.

My exceptionally nerdy brother actually commented, as I did a little squeal on discovering a particular item, that it was nice to “not be the nerd for once”. Stating that, in this environment, he felt almost “cool”. Whatevs.
This is a Mecca for Harry Potter geeks looking to prolong the love. I felt right at home.

Highlights for me (after much deliberation over dinner and in the car on the way home) were as follows:
  • Standing in the Great Hall. The ACTUAL Great Hall. OMG! I almost cried.
  • Walking along Diagon Alley and poring over the intricate window displays. So real. I know the names of the shops along this fictional street almost as well as the stores along Chelmsford high street.
  • A rather detailed lecture about a number of key characters’ wands, including the individual aesthetics and qualities of each. Very interesting with some very well-thought out arguments even if it was all completely made up!
  • Sampling Butterbeer which, pleasantly, wasn’t as gross as I imagined it to be!
  • Looking for the cast names in the Wand Room
  • And last but not least, spending the best part of an hour walking around and around and around the scale model of Hogwarts. It took my breath away. Where I held my tears back int he Great Hall, here I was not so restrained!

My least favourite bit? The gift shop. I wanted to buy everything. Sadly I’m not a billionaire (or an eight year old) so I had to restrain myself. In the end I bought some tongue-in-cheek books JKR wrote for Comic Relief, Quidditch through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, to add to my HP book shelf, alongside The Tales of Beedle the Bard and the original seven books.

We headed over to The Grove Hotel, about a five minute drive away (and apparently where some of the cast stayed during filming - squeeeeeal), for some cocktails, in-depth Harry Potter related discussions and dinner.
I’m now planning to watch the box set back-to-back and annoy everyone with lots of pausing and shrieks of “I'VE SEEN THAT!” whilst pointing at the screen.
Overall, a GREAT day out for HP fans old and young. Who wants to come with me when I go back? I’ll sort out our costumes…

Travel information can be found here and tickets can be bought here.

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