I solemnly swear I am up to no good...
My first visit to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour was in 2014, pre-dating any semblance of a jolenegoes blog, and I went again in 2017 with my best friend. Since my first two visits, the tour has grown exponentially, and I am so happy I got to visit again.
In case you're a reader who does not want spoilers, here are my personal tips for visiting the tour:
I usually aim for the earlier time slots, as they are not as crowded
Grab a "passport" at coat check! I did not know about this until after the fact
Wear something comfortable, and comfortable shoes. You will be walking/on your feet a LOT
The tour is not in Central London. Make sure you map things ahead of time to get an accurate estimate of your travel time, and plan accordingly
Do not expect a theme park. This tour focuses on the "behind-the-scenes magic" that went into the making of our beloved Harry Potter movies
If you are not a huge Harry Potter fan, this tour might not interest you much
There are opportunities for snacks before the tour and halfway through
Depending on the time of year you attend, you might see different themes. Closer to Halloween, the Great Hall is decorated that way, and there are Death Eaters that roam around. Because I went in November, the theme was the Yule Ball
**major tour SPOILERS AHEAD!**
Jennifer and I had a 10AM time slot on a Friday, and we were hoping that meant an emptier tour. Thankfully, it did! We also allowed over an hour for transit, which ended up being barely enough time.
Dressed in our Ravenclaw best, we hopped on a couple trains and I even started re-reading Philosopher's Stone during our commute. Once we arrived in Watford Junction, we saw the familiar Harry Potter double decker bus, and our hearts skipped a beat! We are both big Potterheads and despite having done the tour before, we were incredibly excited to be back.
The studio tour building has changed drastically since the last time I visited. They've clearly been taking notes and I have to say, I was impressed. The new wand walkway was fun, and the actual entryway is now full of great decor, dining locations and more.
We checked in our coats and made our way to the line, which was mostly empty. During past visits, I remember waiting in line for a bit. This time, however, our wait was short. If you do end up waiting in line for a bit, fear not! There is plenty to look at, including a very famous cupboard.
I won't give it away, but the introduction to the tour is still my favorite part and makes me emotional!
This tour is not a theme park, and it's not a guided tour. It is a collection of props, sets, costumes, and behind-the-scenes magic. There is so much to take in! The detail is incredible, and I truly never tire of seeing everything up close. I love that photos and videos are allowed, and you can go through everything at your own pace. The tour is essentially broken down into two sound stages, J and K (get it?). The first one is mostly props and sets, while the second has fewer items but some of the most gorgeous parts of the tour.
You will find some fun interactive activities throughout the tour as well, which show guests how the "magic" is created in the movies. Check out this fun perspective photo below!
Some of my favorite parts of the tour are the Forbidden Forest and the Hogwarts Express. Not only are they immersive parts of the tour, but it's quite interesting to see how those sets were created.
I would advise anyone with serious arachnophobia to avoid Aragog and his family!
The tour is also one-way; once you reach the halfway point, there is a dining area, a cafe and an outdoor courtyard with some very fun things to see (including 4 Privet Drive). Jennifer grabbed a snack and we both had butterbeer of course.
This time around, one of my new favorite parts this time was the new greenhouse - it had just been added. I seriously could not get enough of the mandrakes... they literally screamed when you pulled them!
I also loved the Gringotts additions to the second soundstage. It balanced out the tour more, and I particularly loved the emphasis on showing how Gringotts was accomplished. It's the small details, like how the "marble" was painted, that make these sets and movies incredible.
In our current climate of CGI-heavy films and shows, this kind of opportunity to see how real-life props, sets and prosthetics were created is rare and so fabulously interesting. I applaud the tour for not only showcasing a beloved film series in such a fond way, but also highlighting the creators that were behind it.
And of course, the tour does not leave out Diagon Alley. One of my favorite parts of walking through it is observing all of the gorgeous details in the windows.
By this point, the tour was approaching its end, and we walked through the gorgeous introduction to the "grand finale" of the tour - the Hogwarts model.
Obviously the tour cannot house an actual castle, but it does house quite a large model that was used in filming, oftentimes combined with green screen. The lighting around the model changes cyclically, providing a day/night view of the castle. Emotional music from the films plays in the background, tugging at the heartstrings of the Potterheads admiring the castle model.
Since we came during the time we did, we got to see "Hogwarts in the snow," which was absolutely beautiful. In addition, there was a small exhibit that showed different types of snow, what they are made of, and what kinds are used for filming different scenes.
The Hogwarts model marks the end of the tour in the best way. There is a final room after (which I forgot to take photos of) that has boxes and boxes of wands with the names of the people who helped make the films. This tour is a love letter to Harry Potter fans, the cast and crew of the films, as well as the entire empire the books and films have created.
As someone who grew up not only reading the books (AKA literally buying them at midnight) but also watching the movies (I am very close in age to the cast), I really enjoy attending this tour. It's always emotional, special, and straight up fun. The detail and craftsmanship of every Potter artifact is impressive, educational and awe-inspiring.
If you are a Potterhead, I encourage you to visit this tour if you can!