In October 2011 I bought my tickets for the HP Studio Tour in London and after several months of waiting I finally visited the studios with a friend of mine on Saturday 7 April 2012. It was utterly amazing. The studios are a Mecca and a definite must visit for each self-respecting HP fan, but are also very interesting for anyone who’s into movies and simply wants to be on a real set. As I am both an HP fan and a major movie buff I found myself in heaven for 6 hours.
Let me start by saying that the organization of the whole thing was really good. Thanks to the detailed information on the official website we had our travel planning down to the minute. The idea of being too late for my time slot actually haunted me in my sleep, the night before leaving to London was marked by a horrifying nightmare which saw us arriving too late at the studios.
Anyway, we arrived at Watford Junction at around 12h30, our time slot was 13h30. Upon arrival in the train station there were digital posters telling you the shuttle bus was outside on the left, departing from platform 1. At platform 1 you could find the time table for the shuttle bus. It arrived right on time, we bought our tickets on the bus (not included in your entrance ticket). For anyone who hasn’t seen the pictures on the WB HP facebook, the bus is VERY recognizable.
The ride to the studios was only 10 minutes and it was the perfect approach. You’re coming down a slope and there it is, the Leavesden film studios in all their glory.
The bus drops you off in front on the entrance. On the right are the ticket desks where you have to get your tickets if you didn’t have them send to you. There are machines where you can scan your barcode on the confirmation mail or manned desks. I knew something was wrong with my confirmation, as my computer had only printed half of it. I didn’t even have a barcode, so naturally I almost had a heart attack when I saw you had to scan your barcode. Fortunately the lady at one of the manned desks was still able to verify our booking and hand over our tickets.
At around 13h30 we were finally inside the studios. We were greeted by a member of staff who welcomed us and informed us about the possibility of doing a self-guided audio tour (I believe £ 4 per person). We decided not to do this, because we’d be much too busy taking it all in and snapping photos. Besides, we figured our visit would certainly exceed the 3 hours advised on the website, so doing an audio tour would be too time consuming. If I go for a second visit (which will definitely happen) I’ll do the audio tour.
The reception area is quite large, with the Studio café on the left, the entrance to the studios in front and an information point and cloakroom to the right. There are also a Starbucks, toilets and an ATM. Naturally the gift shop cannot be missed either, it’s on the right as well. As we had some time to kill we went into the gift shop first and immediately knew we would need to prioritize as you can hardly buy the whole shop…..dilemma….major dilemma. Suffice to say they have a lot of good stuff in the shop. We browsed the shop and bought our souvenirs after we had done the tour, in total we spent at least one full hour in the shop. I thought the prices for souvenirs were reasonable.
Before queuing (yes, there is still a queue for your time slot) we stopped by the toilets as we didn’t know if there would be toilets inside (yes, there are). At 13h30 sharp we started queuing. If you’re booked on 13h30, it means you can enter the studios between 13h30 and 14h00. The magic happened at 13h55 when we could enter.
I am definitely not going to tell you what happens in the first few minutes as it would ruin everything. I can only tell you that I had never expected the tour to start the way it did. It took me by surprise and didn’t even register at first. Instead of slowly building it up they start with a bang and that’s when you know you’re in for the HP experience of your life.
Only the first few minutes of the tour are guided by a member of staff. After that first bit you’re on your own and can walk and discover the tour at your own pace. There are information panels, but not too much, which I think was good. They contain interesting trivia about that particular set piece. Some sets also have an introduction video, starring an actor or cast member of the HP movies.
I was a bit worried that, even with time slots, the place would be crowded. During my visit this was not the case. We could easily walk around, take pictures and read panels. There are a couple of sets where, inevitable, you have to wait a bit, because everyone wants to see it and take their time for it. Like the boys dormitory, the Gryffindor common room and Dumbledore’s office. But as you’ll be in the company of other HP fans everybody is real patient.
As you’re queuing to get in there is a message on a TV screen that the tour follows a one way trajectory. This is not entirely the case, it’s just divided in three large sections and within those sections you can move back and forth as much as you want. But once in section 3, you can’t go back to section 1.
The tour is very accessible, I saw one person in a wheelchair and he basically flew through the studios. There are some benches where you can rest, which I think was very considerate. Halfway through the tour is an outdoor area with a terrace where you can get butterbeer (!!!) and some things to eat, while enjoying some large outdoor set pieces. Lots of interactive photo opportunities here because you can touch set pieces.
There are enough staff members and they are very kind and helpful. They helped us out on numerous occasions when we wanted a picture of the two of us and needed someone to take the photo. Course other people also don’t mind to help you out. The visitors are like one large family, everybody is happy and is going through the same rollercoaster of amazement and wow-moments.
Staff are clearly trained though to approach people and ask them about the tour, about their favourite part so far, about their favourite character and so on. It makes the experience enjoyable and it’s easy to start a conversation. At the very last part of the tour I asked a staff member if the people that work at the studio are all HP fans and he replied that yes, basically everyone loves HP. They had to go through an interview and audition process to get selected. They work the tour in shifts, so I asked him about his favourite part and, just like me, he likes the first and last part best. The very first thing you see once the tour has started and the very last thing you see before the exit, because people have very strong reactions at those moments. He’s right about that! Upon entering the last room I had to push back tears, because what I was seeing was so beautiful, I was just overcome and could only stare (and wish very hard that the world of HP would really exist).
Anyway, the HP Studio Tour is a wonderful experience and worth every penny. They obviously thought well about the circuit and order of the sets. Even though the third section might (at first) not be as impressive (in scale) as the first and second section it most definitely is very important as it helps you even further appreciate all of the hard work and talent that have gone into creating this world and franchise. There are no words to describe the immense detail, from the largest set to the tiniest props. There was a wall, just before going to the outdoor area, stacked with small props and I loved it. It had Daily Prophets, the letter that Harry received in his first year, Ron’s Howler, Lily Potter’s handwritten letter, a visitor’s badge for the Ministry of Magic, potion bottles, text books of Defence Against the Dark Arts and so on….. simply astounding. You think you’ve seen it all in the movies, well think again, because there are many many many things you haven’t, but you will, when you visit the tour.
The presence of the Great Hall indicates that they went all the way, bringing us top pieces from the movies. The problem is that when you get out, you just want more! I don’t know if they still have room in those studios, but I wouldn’t mind if, in a couple of years, they would expand the tour and throw in more sets.
I enjoyed every minute of it and will certainly visit the studios again in the future. I highly recommend it to HP fans, it’s something you must see because it is not artificial: you’ll see the real sets, the real props, the real costumes the actors wore. It’s a memory you can treasure for the rest of your life.
Own or manage this property? Claim your listing for free to respond to reviews, update your profile and much more.