The Harry Potter books were a huge thing for me when I was growing up. My Nan used to take me to Waterstones at midnight for the release of the newest installment to the series, and I would stay up all night reading it right to the end, desperate to know what happened. Then the movies came out and added a whole new magical, visual dimension to the stories. It’s no surprise then that my daughter now loves the movies as much as I do, although I won’t let her watch past The Goblet of Fire yet as they get a bit too scary for her.
We first took her to the Warner Bros Studios in Watford in January of this year for her birthday (it was for her not me, honestly!). This is where the magic of the movies happened – 8 films all shot over the years in these very studios! When we got a special invitation to go back and see the newest Goblet of Fire event I was beside myself with excitement and jumped at the chance to take my family back again! Even though it was only 5 months since we’d last been, there was so much more to see due to it being a different event. It amazed me how different it actually was – although the general layout etc. is the same, the way they do it for each new exhibition and the amount of new things they bring out is spectacular, and almost makes it feel like a whole different place. This is coming from someone who spent over 6 hours there the first time, so you can imagine how much there is to see and do. This is definitely somewhere that you can go to again and again and not get bored. They change the event every few months – see website for details – but the current Goblet of Fire feature is on until 23rd September 2018.
This tour is suitable for absolutely everyone, and the best bit is even if you’re not that into Harry Potter you’ll still have a blast! It begins with an introduction in your group before you go into the cinema to watch a short film about it from the actors themselves. The doors will then open and you find yourself in the spectacular Great Hall, complete with house tables and props. The Hall is done up according to what the current event is, so at the moment the working Goblet of Fire prop is set up for the first time since the movie was shot – exciting stuff! They’ve even included the age line around it, and models of Fred and George Weasley on the floor with beards after the goblet spat them out – brilliant! The staff member leading our group gave us a demonstration of the goblets special effects so we could see how it worked for the movies which was pretty awesome. From the hall you are free to explore at your own pace – be aware, it’s easy to literally spend the entire day and night in this place with so much to see and find out!
Wander through the various sets and see costumes and props from the movies, some of which are brought out especially for the event. This time they are showcasing the prefect’s bathroom taps and how they work, as well as the Riddle’s grave being down in a more prominent position than usual, and the Pensieve out of its cupboard.My favourite sets have to be Dumbledore’s office and the potions classroom – the detail in them is just phenomenal, and I spot new things every time I’m there. I need a shout out here to Carmen, one of the members of staff. She was absolutely fantastic – so enthusiastic and informative, great with the kids and she went out of her way to make things special for us, like showing us what was in various jars from the potions class and telling us all about them. (I’ll let you find out for yourselves what sorts of things there are, it’s worth it!).
You have made it to the green screen area! This is so much fun – you can put robes on and get pictures of yourself on a wanted poster, or even a film/photos of yourself flying on a broomstick which I have to admit is pretty cool. Don’t forget to magically pick up your broomstick too! Further on, one of the newest activities is a wand movement class which was great fun for myself and the girls, definitely worth a go!
Through to more sets and props – the biggies here are walking through the Forbidden Forest where you can bow to Buckbeak before the Acromantula start to surround you, and then emerging onto platform 9 3/4 to see the absolutely beautiful Hogwarts Express! You can have your picture taken sat in a carriage here too which is fun, and you can actually go onto the train itself and see the carriages done up as in the various movies.
By this time you’ll be about ready for some refreshment so it’s a good job you’ve arrived at the restaurant! Good variety of food here, we sampled the Tikka Massala which we found very nice and even the kids enjoyed it – bonus! Of course they also sell Butterbeer here which looks awesome but wasn’t something we particularly enjoyed to be honest. We had to get one just to say we had tried it, but one between us was fine rather than one each. They do also do Butterbeer Ice Cream now which might be better but unfortunately we didn’t get to taste that this time round.
Once everyone’s been fed and watered head outside to see the awesome triple decker Knight Bus, the famous Hogwarts bridge, number 4 Privet Drive and the Potters’ Godrics Hollow house. Then inside to the more technical bits and bobs – animatronics, models, CGI, special effects etc. If you’re not a techy (like me) this might sound boring, but actually it’s really fascinating. You can see how they made Dobby come to life in the films and even have a go at it yourself by seeing how he copies your movements at different stages of his development (FYI the kids really enjoyed that one).
My favourite bit of the second area is the Wow factor you get – not once but twice! The first one is when you suddenly find yourself walking into Diagon Alley, it’s literally as if you right there! And then after some small models and pictures etc, you walk in to a room and see sprawling in front of you a huge, detailed model of Hogwarts. It is so beautiful I actually had tears in my eyes both times! The impact it has is phenomenal, and seeing how they made it and used it on the screens around it just makes it even more spectacular.
This basically brings you to the end of the studio tour, where you can buy some souvenirs from the gift shop, yay!
You will be given an allocated time slot for your tour, so try to leave plenty of time for your journey to ensure you get there on time to join your group – it gets fully booked and busy very quickly! Tickets must be bought online in advance, I would advise booking as early as possible especially for peak times. I personally would go a morning slot next time so that we don’t run out of time – even after two visits and many hours spent there, there is so much I have yet to see/read.
Anyone who knows Harry Potter realizes that there are some very scary parts of it for younger children. My 5 year old is particularly terrified of dementors, and got in a bit of a state on the train carriage green screen when a dementor appeared. The member of staff here was absolutely lovely too – she saw how upset and scared she was and told her how she can point her wand at the dementors and say ‘Expecto Patronum!” and they will go away. This immediately cheered her up and she now does it all the time! She also really doesn’t like the Forbidden Forest and finds it too scary. Luckily Warner Bros has clearly thought of this and you can easily bypass the scariest parts if required.
Don’t forget your passports! Not your real ones of course, I’m afraid you’re not actually going to Hogwarts however much you’d like to! When you arrive you get given a passport each if you want (we just got them for the kids) which keeps them busy the whole way round looking out for Golden Snitches and special stamps. As well as being an activity to do at the time, they turn into a lovely keepsake from your visit.
Staff: Cannot praise the staff enough, every single one of them was friendly, polite and very enthusiastic. Some of them really went all out as mentioned above, and they really made it an even more fun experience for us.
Food: The food was very tasty and a reasonable size portion. Reasonable prices too for what it is 🙂 Personally don’t like the butterbeer, but I did get it in a special butterbeer glass to take home with me which is pretty cool! I will be trying the ice cream next time too.
Cost: It is a pretty expensive day out, especially if you want to buy the green screen photos/videos. However our first visit was for my daughters birthday, so we knew we would be spending quite a lot of money overall and didn’t begrudge it at all, it’s definitely worth it! And if you do as we did and got all of that the first time round, then on your next visit you wont need to buy them again which is a bonus. The gift shop is also expensive, especially if you’re a massive Harry Potter fan like us you can spend far too much money! On little miss’ birthday she ended up getting an authentic robe and a wand which set us back over £100 altogether. Saying that, the robe was too big and she’ll be wearing it for years so will definitely get the wear out of it, she absolutely loves dressing and having wand duels with me (Yes I got a wand too – it had to be done!). I did get a deathly hallows necklace on our second visit for only a tenner, so there are things you can get that aren’t as much money too.
Overall Experience: Fantastic!!! I completely love this place, and would happily go back every week. It caters for both children and adults, although we did leave the baby at home both times as we knew he’d end up getting antsy after a while. There are a lot of interactive things to get the kids involved which is nice, and the way they change it up for each event makes it feel different every time. I have spent 10 hours there in total so far, and it’s still nowhere near long enough. Yes it is expensive, but in my view every penny is soooo worth it.
The Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford is right at the top of my UK family days out favourites – if you’ve not already been I highly recommend going before the Goblet of Fire event finishes 23rd September 2018. I know I will be definitely be going to the next feature which is all about the Dark Arts! Get your tickets here .