Monday, June 22, 2015

Muggles at the Ministry of Magic: Our Day at Warner Brothers StudiosLeavesden

Are you a Harry Potter fan?  Did you stand in line to buy the books the day they came out and buy your movie tickets in advance?  If so (or even if you're too young to have been a fan before the last movie came out in 2011), you would love the tour of the actual place where most of the Harry Potter movies were filmed - Warner Brothers Studios Leavesden and The Making of Harry Potter.

We took two other fun Harry Potter tours when we were here in 2011 since the studio tour wasn't yet available.  The first was a guided day trip on a bus that took us to locations used in the filming of the first two movies.  We enjoyed that very much and saw places we would never have found on our own without a car since several were in Oxford and the tiny village of Lacock.

This room in Lacock Abbey was used to film Snape's class in the first two films, before filming moved to Leavesden Studios.

This poster at Lacock Abbey shows still shots of scenes filmed there
This is the cottage in Lacock that served as Harry's parents' home.
This is the real house outside London that served as Number 4 Privet Drive.  I snapped this picture just moments before a resident of another home on this street came out and yelled at our tour bus driver for bringing hoards of tourists to their peaceful neighborhood.

When we went in 2011, there was much more demand for this tour since The Making of Harry Potter wasn't open yet.  This meant that the tour operated more often and was therefore cheaper.  These days, you have to book a private van so it costs a lot.

The second was a walking tour of London sites used in filming.  It was a different kind of fun, and it had the bonus of getting us to other standard London sites - the Monument, Tower Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, etc.
Our tour guide tests Kinley's Harry Potter knowledge.
Our tour guide shows us the site of filming for the Leaky Cauldron scenes in the first two movies.
Our walking tour took us past a tower built to commemorate the Great Fire, commonly know as The Monument.  The Goblet of Fire was modeled after the sculpture at the top.

But today's adventure bested them both.  We spent several hours at Warner Brothers Studios Leavesden to tour The Making of Harry Potter.  It even outdid The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando, in Josh's opinion.  And here's why.  It was REAL.  Well, as real as a fictional world can be.  Real in that the sets we saw were the actual ones used to film the movies.  We walked through the actual Great Hall.  (Did you know that they used real rock for the floors in there?). We gawked at the multiple levels and shocking detail of Dumbledore's actual office.  And we were blown away by the scale and intricacy of the Ministry of Magic set.  But before we could enjoy our day, we had to do some planning in advance.

First, we booked our tickets online about a month ahead.  This.  Is.  Essential.  Do not come to London thinking you'll just book once you get here.  We bought the Family ticket which is for 2 adults and 2 children and costs £101.  We had to book a specific arrival time, and then we had a half-hour window to enter.  

To get there, we took the Tube to Watford Junction and from there followed the signs in the station to the bus stop for Harry Potter tours.  It costs £2 per person each way, and we had to stand the whole way since so many people crammed on there.  The good thing about this was that we were the first people off the bus once we got to the studios.  Josh and Kinley zipped over to pick up our tickets with our voucher, while I took pictures of Knox in front of the chess pieces used in filming.
Josh and Kinley pick up our tickets.
And Knox poses with the chess pieces.

Once inside, we presented our tickets since we'd arrived just in time for our 12:30 time slot.
We waited for at least a half an hour in the queue to get into the tour even though our tickets were time stamped.
We joined the queue to enter a large room where a brief video was shown and we were given a little speech about what to expect (no food or drinks outside the cafe, there are two soundstages with a backlot in between, average time to see it all is 3 hours, etc.).  From there, we were routed into a theater where we sat to watch a montage of all 8 films before being ushered through the huge doors of Hogwarts.
Josh and Knox enter the doors of Hogwarts!
I don't want to spoil the whole thing for you in case you ever do it yourself, but here are a few pictures from inside.  And my top tip is this:  TRY THE BUTTERBEER.  We tried it and loved it at Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure, so we forked over the £2.95 each for it here.  We opted not to get the souvenir mug since we already have one at home.
The set for Harry Potter's room under the stairs on Privet Drive can be seen while you wait in line to start the tour.

Line up the butterbeers!

Compare the set for Number 4 Privet Drive  (seen on the backlot part of the tour) to the picture above of the London neighborhood home used in the first two movies.

Kinley and Knox hang on for dear life on the Knight Bus!
Two final tips: 
1). It took us 5 1/2 hours to do the tour, but that's because Josh and I wanted to read all of the exhibits and information signs in addition to watching the informative bonus feature videos at many exhibits.  The kids didn't want to read as much and probably would have finished faster without us.  But they also were able to waste a lot of time standing in line for the chance to make a green screen video of themselves riding a Nimbus 2000 while Josh and I read exhibits.  (You can buy the broom flying videos, but they're pricey.)
2). Each child is given a little passport when you pick up your tickets.  There is a spot on each page to get an embossed stamp at locations along the tour.  THE EMBOSSERS ARE NOT BROKEN!  There is not supposed to be ink.  It's a 3D embossed image, so don't freak out when it looks like it's not working.  To get the best image, fold back the covers of the passport and just insert one page to be embossed.  Push down HARD on the lever to get a deep impression.

Have a great time!

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