Last weekend, we were invited down for a second visit by the lovely people at Citroen – and to test drive the new Citroen C4 Picasso (more on that another day).
For this visit Flea and I were joined by some friends – Annie (11), Harry (8) and Jim (46).
The Studio Tour is essentially two huge sound stages and a back lot where you can see many of major interior and exterior sets for the Harry Potter movies, along with props, costumes and special effects displays. You can even have a go at riding a broomstick of a flying car, thanks to the magic of green screen technology. I don’t want to spoil too many surprises but if you’re curious, there are some photos from our trips to Hogwarts over on the blog Facebook page.
So what are our top tips for a day out at the Harry Potter Studios?
- First up, you need to book ahead, and book a timed ticket slot. Bit of nerdy trivia – the Studio Tour admits 590 new guests every hour, but because people like to dawdle, not all of those people will leave the tour in the 2.5 hours Warner Bros estimates you’ll spend wandering around. So as the day goes on, the number of people in the tour gets gradually higher and higher. By the time we left the site at 4pm (the tour is open from 9am to 10pm) it was extremely busy and a bit chaotic in the main lobby of the attraction. A PR guy we spoke to said the company is doing some statistical analysis to adjust for the number of ‘residual’ visitors but in the meantime, if you want the best experience, my advice is to book early.
- When you arrive on site, pick up Potter Passports for your children – they’re free, and include a treasure hunt for kids, and let them ‘stamp’ their passports at key points around the tour. It’s a little thing, but all three of the kids with us thought they were great fun, and they make for a great souvenir.
- When you go into the tour, you’ll be taken first into a dark room with screens on the side. If you can, head for the door on the far wall, left hand side and stand there. This ensures you’ll get the best seats in the house for the next stage of the experience.
- The first set you see is The Great Hall, and my favourite thing here is spotting all the things that never really got featured in the films but were made anyway – the attention to detail in the Potter movies was absolutely amazing. Check out the carvings on the back of the giant fireplace, the house point counting machines behind the teachers’ table, and the detailing on the pitchers and crockery on the long refectory tables.
- When touring the interior sets, don’t miss the opportunity to ride a broom in front of a green screen. Don’t be afraid to REALLY over-act, as the photos are so much more fun if you adopt a terrified face, or an evil face (in Flea’s case) which can be super-imposed on to a cloudy sky with the Dark Mark leering in one corner. Another quick tip : don’t wear a straight skirt, everyone waiting in line will be able to see straight up it when you sit on the broom.
- Be sure to ask the guides lots of questions because they REALLY do know their stuff and love to share their geeky knowledge, from which buttons to press to make the flying car invisible, to which masks were worn by which death eaters.
- Halfway through the tour is an outdoor back-lot with the main exteriors from the films and some vehicles. There are two stands – one selling sandwiches, and one selling butterbeer. You can also bring your own picnic and eat it here. I’d recommend doing so because the queues for food are long, and can be slow – although the queue for just Butterbeer is much shorter.
- Having said that, even if your kids want to taste Butterbeer, I’d still recommend bringing along a bottle of water, too – it’s an acquired taste (shall we say) and none of our three kids liked the taste of their Butterbeer! (it’s quite sweet, a cross between butterscotch and caramel). For my money, the frozen Butterbeer in Florida is much more palatable. If you buy the souvenir cups for your drinks, don’t forget a plastic bag to put them in to take home, because they will be ridiculously sticky!
- Save plenty of time for the second half of the tour, which covers all the creatures and monsters of the films, and the castle itself. There is a room holding a scaled-down model of the castle, which was used for all those sweeping exterior shots, and while it’s fun to gaze at the model in awe, the touchscreen computer displays allow you to do so much more, and learn so much about how the films were put together, and what goes into making certain shots and effects happen.
- Prepare your kids for the gift shop. We set our kids a budget before we arrived on the day, so they knew what they could spend. That’s important when a Hogwarts school jumper costs almost £60 and a set of robes is £79. Even the wands are around £25 each. Of course, the quality reflects the price and there are some truly wonderful souvenirs, but you could easily spend a fortune here.