The Potter Pilgrimage: Part I

Harry Potter Studios | Leavesden 2015

Tickets to my Happiest Place on Earth

Tickets to my Happiest Place on Earth

I have absolutely no shame in saying that the Harry Potter parts of our UK trip last year made my 2015. We made several stops in different areas of significance in the Harry Potter series – some were planned, some were not. The first stop was indeed planned. And planned carefully. (Details and tips at the end of this post. Stay tuned for part 2!)

Two months or so before the trip, we had already purchased tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden. I knew I wanted to spend the entire day there, so instead of taking a tour package (with transportation, but with a limited number of hours in the studios), I decided we could just go there ourselves, that way we could spend as much time as we wanted inside. It took us about 30 minutes from our hotel in London to Watford Junction, where a shuttle picked us up to bring us to the studios:

Now you can imagine my excitement at being on that bus. I was quite emotional pulling up to the lot in Leavesden because I was in complete awe at seeing the place where the cast and crew of Harry Potter filmed for 10 years. The sight of the unassuming, yet massive building alone made me feel like I was riding on the back of a Hippogriff, and I hadn’t even seen anything yet.

 

Fighting to keep calm as I entered the gate to heaven

Fighting to keep calm as I entered the gates to my happiness

People always ask me which I liked better – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando or The Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. While I will say that being in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter made me feel like a real witch living in a real Wizarding town, there was something truly magical about getting to walk where the cast and crew worked for a decade. The wonderful thing about the theme park, is that you get to go in and out of the shops, you get to visit Hogwarts as if you really are a student there, and you get to experience what being a witch or wizard is like. But the Studio Tour is different. You don’t get to do those things, but stepping into that lot will make you feel truly special – because you will get a glimpse into the love and care and hard work that went into making the films. I personally could not stop touching whatever wall I was allowed to, hoping to get some sort of spiritual souvenir from the cast and crew. And seeing the original sets and props? Wow. I could hardly stop myself from crying.

The Cupboard Under the Stairs

The Cupboard Under the Stairs

THE TOUR | Part 1

Upon entering the Studios,  there is a spacious lobby with huge pictures of the cast everywhere and props like the blue Ford Anglia. This is where you pick up your audio guides if you bought any, and your studio tour passports. As you line up to go in, you are greeted by the Cupboard Under the Stairs set. At this point if you’re anything like me, you will begin to hyperventilate.

Then you are led to a large room where the likes of J.K. Rowling and David Heyman appear on a number of screens to explain how the movies came to life. After this, my favourite part:

*If you are planning to go there and you don’t like SPOILERS, STOP READING NOW.

You are then led to a theatre, and on the huge screen you see the Golden Trio emerge: Daniel, Emma, and Rupert. They welcome you to the studio tour, and explain what’s in store for you inside. Behind them, are the doors to the Great Hall. They then enter one by one. Dan gives one last sassy remark, and then follows the two inside the hall. The iconic music plays, tension is high, and the screen goes up to reveal THE REAL DOORS OF THE GREAT HALL. Needless to say, I cried like a baby. You are then asked to move forward, and the doors are swung open to the sight of all your childhood dreams come true. At this point, I started caressing the doors and touching the floor – I would have lied down on it, if it weren’t for my inner adult telling me that was a bad idea.

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The Doors to the Great Hall

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The House tables!

In my House colours in the Great Hall

Representing Gryffindor in my House colours, ready for breakfast in the Great Hall

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Hogwarts teachers in their splendid robes

After this section, you are left to explore the studios on your own. Here are but a few of the things you will find there:

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The Headmaster’s Office – one of the most beautiful sets in my opinion

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The Boys Dormitory in Gryffindor Tower

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The Gryffindor Common Room with costumes of the Golden Trio from “The Prisoner of Azkaban”

Here’s a fun little fact: See that picture of the woman with her back turned? That’s actually Dame Maggie Smith. On of the things you’ll learn from the audio guide.

It was quite something to stand in the Gryffindor Common Room – since I am a proud Gryffindor myself. It felt so familiar, and so welcoming. I really did feel like I was home.

The Burrow

The Burrow – featuring continuous magical knitting

Hagrid's Hut

Hagrid’s Hut

Practiced my Parseltongue on the door to the Chamber of Secrets

The door to the Chamber of Secrets where I tried my hand at Parseltongue – Update: I’m not very good.

The terrifying set of Malfoy Manor

The terrifying set of Malfoy Manor

This massive moving clock

Just look at this massive moving clock

There is also a green screen section, where you can ride a broomstick around London and around the Wizarding World, and where you can take the Ford Anglia for a spin as the Hogwarts Express chases you. This was so much fun. They charge an arm and a leg to buy those pictures and videos, but how often do you get to do that in the Muggle world?

Here’s a 15 second preview of the video I bought. You can tell by the immovable smile on my face and animated hand movements that I had the time of my life.

As you exit this section, you are then face to face with Platform 9 and 3/4! We were lucky enough to be there on the very day it opened!

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The original Hogwarts Express!

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Each train car was dressed with a different movie

This part was awesome. When you enter the original Hogwarts Express, each of the train cars are actually designed with one movie per car. So when you get to the car that is dressed according to the Half Blood Prince, you can actually see the finger-drawn L & R on the window – where Lavender Brown drew a heart with her breath.

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Struggling with my cart. Dobby must be up to something.

There’s also an open train which you can board, which simulates the movements of the actual Hogwarts Express, and where the windows show scenes that you would see if you were really riding the train – like the landscapes of England, Harry and Ron flying past in the Ford Anglia, and even a Dementor attack. The Platform 9 and 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express sets are marvellous additions to the tour.

And this is just the first part of the studios! As you can see, there are already soooo many props and sets worth taking the time to look at and study, so much detail, so many interesting facts from behind the scenes, and we’re only halfway.

But this is where I will leave you for now. Up next, the outdoor lot, Butterbeer, more sets and props, and a small haul of the things I got there! Stay tuned!

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