I was well chuffed yesterday from beginning to end – all 20 hours of it ❤
Yesterday (Jan. 12) was the day I had planned (okay, the ONLY thing I planned aside from NYE) to specifically go back to London for. I arrived at the Watford Junction train station 2 hrs 20 min before the first shuttle bus departed for the Harry Potter Studios- that’s how organised I was because I would have died if I missed my tour.
I expected it to not be as crowded, just because we’re in the middle of winter and schools are all back in session. I was wrong. Busloads of school groups and rowdy, naughty boys (who kept running into my photos and irritating the £*%* out of me) were also on the tour, so my excitement dissipated when I realised that. But alas, any massive tourist attraction will be like that any time of year.
I was bummed that I wasn’t able to go with either of my friends who wanted to come, but in a sense, it was a blessing because I probably took photos of every single sign, object, and general detail that anyone wouldn’t have had the patience for. And FYI, this was probably the most INCREDIBLE museum/tour I’ve ever done in my life, so I highly recommend it. It’s well cheap, too – for any Harry Potter fan, it is 120% worth it to visit. It’s something I’ll remember forever, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how happy I felt when I walked through the doors.
I ended up only spending 3.5 hours there in total, but I still took my time and went through all the displays with much fervor. Seeing Leavesden Studios up close and in person for the first time since watching every single behind-the-scenes featurette about it since 2001 was just mind-boggling.
I was beyond fortunate that it was Hogwarts in the Snow for my visit – all the exhibits were adorned with Christmas garland, tinsel, Christmas trees, and the massive Hogwarts replica at the end was surrounded by snow. Winter is my absolute favourite time of year, so it made my visit that much more perfect.
I didn’t know what to expect since I hadn’t researched or seen anything in relation to the tour – I wanted everything to be a surprise. I’m so glad I didn’t spoil anything for myself because I was literally brought to tears (of happiness).
We were greeted by a massive, snow-laden Christmas tree as soon as we entered, along with a side display of some props and costumes used in the “Fantastic Beasts” film. Every single set piece, costume, and set that we saw on the tour were actual ones used for filming purposes, which made it 100% magic.
I chose not to grab the multimedia guide for an extra £5 but kinda wish I had, since I missed out on some cool tidbits of info about the portraits and other trivia whilst walking through everything. Next time? Not too many people had them, since there were SO many videos and audio clips scattered in each display anyhow. Sensory overload! And who knows why, but I also forgot to drop off my rucksack in the cloakroom before we began the tour, so I looked like a Ninja Turtle Asian tourist the entire time.
(Warning: Don’t read any further if you don’t want to be spoiled when you visit on your own)
The tour entrance was a queue wrapping past the Cupboard Under the Stairs, along with a few signs about how the story came to life – the idea, the books, and then the films. It was simply surreal, because I was transported to my feelings of love and adoration for this series as young as 7 yrs. old. Almost 20 years later, here I was…
We entered a room where we all stood like sardines in front of 8 extremely small newspaper-length screens as one of the guides gave a quick cheesy speech to get everyone pumped. After watching a few clips featuring David Heyman (executive producer of the films), we entered the cinema, where we were told to enjoy the entire eight films back to back and not see sunlight. 😉
Nah. It was a brief introductory video with Dan, Rupert, and Emma and a montage of movie clips and highlights from behind-the-scenes in the 10 years of making all the films. The clip segwayed perfectly from screen to the actual entrance to the Great Hall, where we were given the most magical experience yet.
Our mass group of 200+ people ended up filing into the doors of the Great Hall, with life imitating the renowned shot in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (yes, referring to the UK title because I’ve converted). I almost died from pure joy.
It was better than the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Hobbiton, Weta, and all the Disney parks combined. This was my childhood dream coming true – well, in the closest way possible. I was overcome with emotion.
The Great Hall, in short, is one of the most beautifully detailed spaces I’ve ever seen in my life. It FAR outshone Christ Church’s hall in Oxford (sorry, Oxford), so I’m really glad I saw all that before I did the tour. I wasn’t exactly listening to the tour guide once the doors were opened (this was the only room where a guide spoke to everyone; after that, the tour was on your own and you went at your own pace). I was in my own world, hanging toward the back to avoid people and snapping a billion photos of every detail from the cutlery to the Christmas-themed foods and decor on the long tables.
The ceiling was obviously not the night sky (sadly), since all that was green screened, but everything else – from the ornate eagle sculptures to the massive Hall doors to the House Points at the very front – was displayed exactly how you’d imagine it to be from the films. There was a Christmas tree and wreaths to go with the Hogwarts in the Snow theme, and we were shown a really cool effect where flames ignited these cauldron-like tableweights for about 10 seconds.
I didn’t realise that we only got about 5 minutes in the Hall before we were kicked out for the next tour to come in. I mean, we could have re-entered or gone back later on but that also meant more and a more hoards of people continuing to file in. The front of the Hall displayed each of the costumes of the main professors, worn by the actors themselves – it was so sad to see Snape’s on display in the center (Alan Rickman!). McGonagall, Snape, Dumbledore, Flitwick, Hagrid, Madame Maxime… so, so cool. I probably could have stayed in there for the entire day if they let me.
The next room was organised by sections – the tour wrapped around in a fluid path where you just looked at every display as you went. It was broken into categories: Producers, directors, screenwriters, set design, props, creature design (the coolest room ever, very much like Weta), costumes, hair and makeup (all those wigs, ha), and set replicas like the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s office, The Burrow, the Potions classroom, Gryffindor boys dormitory, transportation (animatronics for Hagrid’s motorbike were on display), Malloy Manor, Ministry of Magic, interactive wand demonstration in front of a bunch of mirrors (cheesy and mostly for kids), riding around on a broomstick (videos and photos for sale), yelling “Up!” to an animatronic broomstick… and so much more.
The Yule Ball section with the colourful ice sculpture palace and surrounding chocolate table was simply dazzling. As expected, the palace was designed by inspiration of Brighton Palace – and having just seen that days before, I saw the resemblance. All the Yule Ball costumes were on display (Emma Watson is literally a size 000 by the looks of it) and I found it hilarious how short Daniel Radcliffe’s one seemed.
My heart was racing as my eyes and memory tried to soak in as much as it photographically could. Even the birthday and Christmas cards, unwrapped sweets wrappers, and little props on the dressers for things like the common room were designed to a T. So impressive.
The Horcruxes were on display in a glass case (of course), and Rowena Ravenclaw’s tiara was absolutely stunning and quite possibly my favourite piece. There were other massive prop pieces (like the doors to the Great Hall, Chamber of Secrets, and the Gringotts vault) scattered about as well.
I loved The Burrow and how you waved your hand across a few sensory pads to make the pans wash on its own, the snowman ice skate on the same cake as seen in Order of he Phoenix, and all sorts of other magic.
And just when I thought that was it, the path led to a cafe and butterbeer station. The butterbeer was probably 1/4 the size of the one in Orlando and definitely tasted like watered-down beer with cream foam, so it wasn’t sweet at all and I don’t really recommend to anyone for £4. They also had butterbeer ice cream, which I should have tried instead.
It was raining by the time I got to the outdoor replicas of the Knight Bus, Hogwarts Bridge (which was sadly roped off to walk through because of the rain), 4 Privet Drive, the Potters Cottage on Godric’s Hollow, the giant Wizard’s Chess pieces, the Flying Car, and Hagrid’s motorbike. Again, I was blown away by all the details and each sign that detailed its history and construction, though – I especially loved the sign on the Knight Bus that was styled exactly the same as the London buses, but just in purple colour schemes. Everything is so much better seeing it in person and now that I’ve gallivanted around England for the first time. It just made the magic seem REAL.
The prosthetics/creature design room was incredible. Thanks to living with Wetanarians and talented artists in Wellington, I appreciate anyone in this field – all the hard work, specialisation, and attention to detail is just astonishing. There were prosthetic facial molds of almost every creature imaginable (Dobby, Griphook, Kreacher, etc.) and lots of dead character molds (okay, they all looked dead based on their limp facial expressions so it was a bit creepy) – Harry, Malfoy, Bathilda Bagshot (gross), Hermione, Hagrid, etc. There was even a small display showing the remote controllers used to control movements for Hedwig, the crazy teeth-encased book that almost brutalises Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban, Norbert, and Dobby. Super cool.
And then I entered Diagon Alley. I’m assuming that the Diagon Alley in Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando can’t even compare, because this was the real deal. Definitely my favourite part of the tour, easily. Every single shop was the same as you saw in the first film (obviously), but I loved Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes the most. The animatronic puking Pumpkin Pastilles model with a girl puking into a bucket of sweets was just incredible.
The next room was the concept design room (which looked like a sterile Pixar-like area covered in wallpaper of architectural sketches). I can’t believe the amount of work that each crew member painstakingly put forth in order to ensure the authentic look and feel of each building and set piece (not just Hogwarts). And to see the process of going from developmental sketches to the final product through computer graphics was utterly stunning. The miniature models of Hogwarts, Durmstrang ship, Quidditch pitch field, etc. were also incredible. The walls were lined with beautiful concept paintings that depicted specific scenes from each film.
The graphic design display (a shrine of the letters, Weasley Wizard Wheezes products, badges, sweets boxes, newspapers, Quibbler, tickets, passports, etc.) was also one of my favourites. Each textbook even was created with specific details and beautiful covers, showing just how realistic everything had to look.
The Hogwarts Railway station was a long room with photo opportunities for Platform 9 3/4, Hogwarts Express (the actual model which you could walk through and see the set pieces and carriages used for each specific film, labelled with different set pieces and familiar things like the R+L love heart used in Half-Blood Prince), and an interactive re-creation of riding a carriage in the Hogwarts Express (extremely cheesy but whatever).
The stunner of them all was the end of the tour – a grand model of Hogwarts castle itself (and a perfect reason to be proud that I got it tattooed on my shoulder a week prior). It was absolutely gorgeous. The “Harry in Winter” track playing in the background made my heart swell with monumental excitement as I stared in awe at this amazing work of art. There was also a special exhibit showing how they used different types of materials for realistic snow (magnesium sulfate, shredded plastic, shredded paper).
The last room was the one I was looking forward to: the wand room. Over 4,000 names of cast and crew who worked on the films were memorialised on wand boxes in a stunning display. My friend who graciously planned my ENTIRE trip itinerary from beginning to end had worked on the films, so I was elated when I found his name on a box. You’re AMAZING, Ben!
As expected, the tour poured out into the gift shop, which was still filled with set pieces (Chinese lanterns from Slughorn’s office, chandeliers used in ballrooms, floating candles, etc.). I did really well and refrained from buying anything useless (half my Potter memorabilia back home is collecting dust), but I did cave and buy a really cheesy photo on a broomstick.
And then I got to spend quality time with my favourite teammate on earth – Joe! He showed me around Bromley, his hometown in SE London (on the border of Kent), which was only about 20 min by train from the city centre. It’ll probably be our last reunion for awhile, so I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my last night in London.
We had a delicious lunch (Miso- my first Asian meal in England, and so typical of him to pick it because of my roots, ha) and drinks, followed by walking to his house in the SNOW. I experienced my very first heavy snowfall (at first it was just sleet but then it started settling to create an actual winter wonderland effect), and I was SO EXCITED. How sad is it that I’ve never seen a city covered in white snow like that before?! It was truly stunning to look out his bedroom window and see his backyard engulfed in white, like a scene from a Christmas film. I’m beyond jealous of his location in the middle of both central London and the countryside right over his fence.
We also had a proper Sunday roast (mmm, complete with Yorkshire pudding) and about five cups of English Breakfast tea at his home. His home, by the way, was the nicest and most stunningly decorated home I’ve ever been in – it could very well qualify as a Bromley palace (especially with his amazing suit of armour on display). Lush English lifestyle!
After many drinks and more chats followed by my farewell to the beautiful Ashleigh, I had to say goodbye yet again and hope that we’ll reconnect in the future. It would be so much easier if I actually lived in England!
Harry Potter, snow, and quality time with one of my best friends – my heart is going to combust if I keep having such amazing days out here. Is this real life?! I’m so, so lucky to have had the memories I’ve had thus far, especially with the people involved.
Cheers to Pilesly and the Peak District for the next few days with Amy and Ben! 💕💕💕