I first discovered Harry Potter when I was a student, during the hype surrounding the publication of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I eagerly watched the first film - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - as soon as it was released in cinemas back in 2001 and I kept up with the book and film releases until the final film, part two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in 2011. So I'm quite a fan and pretty familiar with the franchise! (Of course, I also have a son called Harry, and that may not be entirely co-incidental!)
I've been very keen to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour for quite some time, and so it was a great treat to be given the chance to visit the studios last weekend. Harry has just begun his introduction to Harry Potter, and so far he has seen and enjoyed the first two films, and he'll be working his way through the rest shortly. Mia at 4 is a little young yet to watch the films, but I was hopeful that there would be enough in the tour to keep her interested.
We visited on a Sunday in the school summer holidays, so we knew that it would be busy. We were booked onto the first tour of the day at 10am and arrived about twenty minutes before. We did have to wait in line for about half an hour before we could begin our tour which wasn't ideal, especially with impatient children, but once inside we found that the crowds dispersed well and there was plenty of space to see everything. Standing in the queue also gave us the opportunity for a good look at the first set - Harry's room in the cupboard under the stairs.
Both children were given a Harry Potter Passport which was a great touch for keeping them interested as we followed the self-guided tour. There were six stamps to collect, as well as hidden golden snitches to find and lots of trivia questions.
The first part of your tour is the Great Hall set. Over the summer the studios are hosting the first ever Sweets and Treats feature which focuses on how food, both real and replica, was made for the Harry Potter films. There are demonstrations at several points in the tour, and the tables in the Great Hall have been laid with some delicious looking cakes and desserts, albeit it only props.
There is a time limit to this area of the tour, but we had plenty of time to linger and see everything, as well as taking lots of photos. The lighting on the tour is perfect for taking great photographs, I've come back with so many!
Throughout the tour there are plenty of costumes on display, all of which are instantly recognisable. The mannequins look a bit creepy in the photographs, but it actually works really well in real life and it's great to be able to get so close to the costumes and have a proper look at them, there is so much detail.
You move on from the Great Hall into a large open sound stage, where you can see many different sets and props from the films. The whole area is very well designed so that you can get close to the sets to take photos and have a really good look at them, and the crowds flow really smoothly through the whole area. There are also plenty of places where you can sit down for a rest! I really enjoyed looking around the different sets, and there are lots of information boards packed with trivia. It's amazing how much thought has gone into everything, and there are plenty of extra details which it is easy to miss when watching the films.
There is a lot to see here, before you turn a corner and there in front of you is the Hogwarts Express waiting at the platform! To one side there is the chance to pose for a picture as you push a luggage trolley through to Platform 9 3/4, and then you can walk along a carriage of the train, with each compartment set up as it was seen in a different film.
Finally you can take a seat in a carriage like one that was used for filming, and enjoy a short 'journey' with some projected scenes where you are encouraged to react to what you can see through the windows. There is also the opportunity to have your photograph taken in a carriage with a green screen and then purchase a photo with different images superimposed onto the windows of your carriage. This is just one of several green screen photograph opportunities during the tour. They aren't for us, but if you wish you can have your photograph (and video) taken against a variety of different backgrounds to purchase and it looked pretty fun with just short queues. The picture below of us in the carriage was taken on my phone by a friendly member of staff.
After this there is a chance for a sit down in the cafe before moving on to the exterior sets. The cafe has a selection of hot and cold food, and there are plenty of tables where you can also eat your own food. Our main reason for stopping here though was the Butterbeer!
We've very much enjoyed sampling Butterbeer at the Harry Potter theme parks in Florida, so having a cup here was a must, although at £2.95 for a small cup it is pretty pricey. This summer, Butterbeer ice cream is also available to purchase. It was delicious, although I'm afraid that at £5 a tub we chose to make do with sharing one between us!
After this you can see some of the exterior sets. Harry was fascinated by these large chess pieces that mysteriously seemed to move as soon as he touched them - it must be magic!
Here you can also visit a very famous house - 4 Privet Drive - where Harry lives with the Dursleys. In the first film a real house in Bracknell was used, but subsequent films were made using a set and you can walk right up to the 'house' and peer through the windows. There's nothing to see but it makes a great photo!
The finale of the tour is the huge scale model of Hogwarts Castle which was used for many film sequences. It's pretty amazing and you can walk right around it to see it from all angles.
We had a wonderful visit and as a fan I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to go. I do think that the ticket prices are pretty steep, but having said that if you are a fan of the franchise it's an opportunity to see things that you really can't see anywhere else. We spent about three hours here, and I could probably have spent longer if I'd not been with the little ones. Harry enjoyed the visit very much and loved spotting things that he recognised from the films. Mia to be honest was slightly too young to get the most out of it, although she didn't get bored as long as we kept moving and the ice cream break in the middle kept her going!
Sweets and Treats is running until Sunday 6th September so there is still time to visit while it's on - pop over to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour website to check availability and to book tickets.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you might be interested to read my reviews of the Harry Potter attractions in Orlando, Florida:
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure
We received complimentary admission to the Warner Bros. Stuidio Tour in exchange for a review. Adult ticket prices (16+) start at £33 and child tickets (5-15 years accompanied by an adult) start at £25.50. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and a reservation must be made for a particular time slot.