Day Four: Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour
If I could bottle the excitement engendered by our imminent visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour on our fourth day in the UK, I could power a small city for a week. I don’t think Uchenna slept a wink the night before, but that didn’t seem to dampen the bouncy energy with which she bolted out of bed, dressed and scoffed her breakfast! I’d pre-planned our route so as to ensure we weren’t late (your entry ticket to the Studio is time-specific), and gave us 2 and a half hours to do a 45-minute journey. From our pad we took the bus to Kings Cross station, walked to Euston Station and took the train to Watford Junction. An array of oddly-dressed humans climbed onto the train with us, all bound for the same place. Uchenna, in her Weasley-knitted jersey, long dress, maroon Gryffindor socks and round spectacles, could have been an official Pottermore Mascot.
Arriving at Watford Junction, we all trooped to the special bus terminal and waited in line for our shuttle to the Studio. There are two busses that run in an endless loop between Watford and the Levensdon Studios where the films were made, but it still took over an hour to catch one. I’d specifically chosen a Tuesday mid-morning tour, thinking that would be quieter, but it soon became apparent that it’s never a quiet day at Levensdon! The Studio Tour draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and you need to give yourself enough time to get there and get through the endless queues for the shuttle, for ticket collection and for entrance. If, like me, you equate standing in long queues with dental torture, I recommend lots of deep, calming breathes and constantly reminding yourself that it’ll all be worth it when you’re in.
Because it is. It really, really is. The five hours we spent inside the two ENORMOUS soundstages were, to use a completely overused but entirely appropriate word, Magical. The designers of the tour have managed to create an experience which is both authentic and interactive, with enough detail and behind-the-scenes trivia to satisfy even the most exacting fan. We bought the audio/video digital tour guide and I’m glad we did – watching interviews with the cast and crew took the edge off waiting in the unending queues and provided some fascinating insights into the world of moviemaking. I liked how the tour also paid homage, again and again, to all the unseen and erstwhile uncelebrated artists, technicians, engineers, designers, animal trainers and costume makers who created the Wizarding World that we all know and love so well. I swallowed countless lumps in my throat while exploring with Uchenna, marvelling at the love and care that went into bringing Harry to the screen, and to the world.
There’s a canteen situated halfway, just at the point where you think you might die from starvation and dehydration. Uchenna was a BIG fan of the butterbeer, so she had mine too. Thank goodness. I was happy to find vegan hot dogs and hamburgers on offer, so we re-fuelled before tackling the second sound stage. The last part of the tour is even better than the first, and builds up to an astonishing final room, which I’m not going to spoil for you. Suffice to say that no true Potterhead will leave emotionally unaffected. It as two very tired, very happy travellers who emerged to make their way back home via shuttle and train and tube and bus. I suggested pizza and a movie on the laptop when we got home. Would you like to guess which movie she chose?
ProTip: your Studio Tour ticket gets you in the door, but there are quite a few expenses when you’re in there. None are compulsory, to be fair, but it’s hard to justify NOT getting the (incredibly expensive) printed photo of your greenscreen broom adventure when you’ve come so far to experience it. The food is also quite pricey for what you get. It’s a small gripe, but be prepared to pay through your nose for extras and refreshments. You also need to pay £3.00 per person per way for the shuttle bus, and they only take cash.