The Making of Harry Potter Tour Part 1 [Gal About Town: Fashion and Travel at Your Fingertips]

A few weeks ago my husband and I took advantage of his hiatus, and the fact that Hollywood pretty much shuts down during Christmas, and jetted off to Europe for three weeks. I had been blessed with a lot of work during 2012 and racked up quite a bit of Priority Club points from using their Visa Priority Club card for purchases. These hotel points were now burning a hole in our pocket, and we decided to cash some in and skip around Europe for 21 days (we had A LOT of points to burn).  For the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about our experiences from the trip, along with reviews of what is and isn’t worth your time/money, and also, what will make your nerdy heart sing.

My nerd heart skipped many of beats during this trip, and one of the most exciting experiences during our stay was The Making of Harry Potter studio tour in Leavesden, England where much of the eight Harry Potter movies were filmed.

In 2000 Warner Brothers began to lease the Leavesden Studios (which used to be an aircraft factory) for filming the Harry Potter movies. While parts of the movies were filmed on location, a great deal of the interiors and even Privet Lane were filmed at the studio. After 10 years of filming the HP movies in Leavesden, Warner Brothers purchased the studios, started building new sound stages, and made plans to turn two of the soundstages into an expansive behind-the-scenes tour of the Harry Potter universe. It took two years to complete, and on March 31, 2012 Warner Brothers opened their doors to HP fans from all over the world.

When my husband and I started to plan our trip abroad, he asked me what I wanted to do while we were in London, and I yelled out, “THE HARRY POTTER TOUR”. JP didn’t even know it existed, whereas I had been following the news about it for close to two years. I am a complete nerd for all things Harry Potter. I don’t own a wand, or a replica of any of Hermione’s jewelry, or a sorting hat, but I love and appreciate the Harry Potter books and films. Which is funny, because up until a few years ago, I hated all things HP. I had never read the books, or seen the films, but everyone around me had and talked about them incessantly. I was burned out from HP overload. It was all so hyped up, and I had heard so much about it, that I wanted nothing to do with it. That is until JP begged me, also incessantly, to go and see Order of the Phoenix with him. After a few weeks of begging, I finally gave in. And that was when I fell in love.

We ordered tickets for the tour almost a month in advance, and they had already sold out the tour for close to the whole month of January at that point. So my big tip to you is, book your tickets as much in advance as possible. Also, try and book them for a morning or early afternoon tour instead of one later in the day (trust me).

It took us a train ride from London Euston, and then a tour shuttle from the station to the studio, and within an hour we were standing on the lot. From the smile on my face, and my giddy manor, you’d have thought I’d never been on a studio lot before, let alone work in the entertainment business. But, I love my work, and am always appreciative and also in awe of the work that goes into movies. The magic of it all still excites me, despite the sometimes bullshit of it all.

Now, The Making of Harry Potter tour is not your average studio tour. There are no trams. A rickety old animatronic Jaws will not try to eat you. If you, or someone you know, has ever taken a “studio tour” out here in LA, and expected you would have a similar experience at the HP tour, you’re in for the surprise of your life!

When you enter the converted sound stage, there’s a mini-Starbucks, a café of sorts (not much of a food selection), coat check, audio guide booth, and the gift shop. Of course there’s a gift shop you say. But again, if you were to think this was any old gift shop, you’d be wrong. It’s decorated with stain glass windows from the movie, floating candles, and parts of the Hogwarts Great Hall ceiling. The gift shop is a spectacle in and of itself. As for the actual merchandise, it’s equally as interesting. An HP fan is sure to find something they love and want to covet in there. Many of the items can be unjustly pricey (DO NOT get me started on the really cheaply made costume replicas that cost upwards of £200) but there are Christmas ornaments, leather embossed notebooks for each of the Hogwarts houses, etc, all for a reasonable price. The prop replicas are gorgeous and well made, and they have a wide variety of stuffed toys for all of your wee Potter fans. We got to the studio about an hour early for our tour, that hour quickly passed as we marveled over the gift shop. Bottom line, make sure you allow time for this, it is actually really awesome.

Wanting the full HP tour experience, we each purchased the audio tour guide. It was slightly expensive at £4.95 each (about $15.00 total), but worth it. In the future, JP and I could’ve shared the guide, but for those of you who don’t like to share, make sure you get your own. The guide is actually an iPod touch loaded with extra audio (narrated by Draco Malfoy) and video bits about the tour, as well as behind the scene pictures, and a helpful tour map. It is so packed full of information, it was actually a little overwhelming. Originally we had wanted to listen to and watch every bit, but because of time had to really pair down what we listened to. The tour itself also has a great wealth of information, so in the end, I would only recommend the guide to: a) die-hard HP fans b) people who don’t know what really goes into making a film but want to learn c) if you plan on spending your whole day at the tour.

At about 15-30 minutes before your scheduled tour time, you get in line for your tour. Since the studio can get up to 5,000 people per day, and the tour is mainly completed at your own leisure, you will want to line up as early as they will let you. The line entrance to the tour has three parts to it. First the lobby line, where you can marvel at Harry’s cupboard bedroom under the stairs, Mr. Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia, and some giant cast photos.

From there you are herded into a small room, and next into a lovely little movie theater where they show you a short movie that include some of the best moments from all eight movies. It was really well edited, and puts you in the perfect HP nostalgic mood. Honestly, it made both JP and I a little misty. Also, it’s a good bit of insight for those who don’t know much about the movies.  As the movie ends, the screen lifts to reveal….Thee grand doors to Hogwarts! The audience gasped. A staff member asked the audience for people celebrating their birthday to come forward to the doors. These lucky people actually got to open the doors that lead us into…The Great Hall!

Stay tuned for Part Two!

Now Boldly Go!

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