|Hanging around at 4 Privet Drive|
|Trying out some wand moves|
First things first - you need to book online and well in advance. I booked six weeks ahead for a Saturday in May, and the only slot we could get was 5PM-8PM. However, this turned out to be fine - it wasn't absolutely mobbed, and when we turned up at 4.30, they seemed quite happy to let us in early.
Although I had heard nothing but good reports, I still wasn't quite sure what to expect. The Doctor and I are not generally big fans of theme parks, and tend to prefer the Great Outdoors to any indoor attraction, or anything (Disney, I'm looking at you here) where things are fake.
But we all love Harry Potter. I read all the books myself before having children, and I've recently read the first three aloud to the boys. We did a marathon watching of all the films over Christmas so the boys were familiar with all the characters from beginning to end (which probably helps, because if you haven't seen all the films/read all the books, the tour does contain some spoilers).
So, when the curtain went up at the beginning of the tour (I won't say what's revealed, because it's such a surprise), I really was swept up in the magic. The one thing I hadn't expected was that I would enjoy it as much (if not more than) the children. This is partly because I am a huge movie buff - just the idea that we were on a film set was terribly exciting. Seeing the real costumes that actors like Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane actually wore was fascinating, as was seeing the real live sets (including the outdoor ones, such as 4 Privet Drive) and taking in all the information about how they were created. I began to feel quite regretful that I'd never pursued a career in film -- I think it's probably a bit late now...
What's good about the tour is that it is pitched for all ages. Children may not have the attention span to watch a five minute video about how a set was created, or marvel at the fact that someone sat down and actually painted all those portraits of the Headmasters of Hogwarts in Dumbledore's office. But they can try out doing wizard-y wand moves in front of a mirror, or riding a Quidditch broomstick against a green screen (afterwards you can purchase a DVD that makes you look as if you're flying over Hogwarts). Be warned though - even at 5PM there was a very long queue for the broomstick rides; we gave it a miss as there was so much else we wanted to do).
My highlights? Diagon Alley, the model Hogwarts Castle and the Hogwarts Great Hall. The creature workshop (where you can see how they made characters such as Dobby and Buckbeak come to life) is also really interesting.
Lowlights? The shop, which you can't avoid and in which everything is incredibly expensive. We had to spend ages persuading the boys not to spend their entire year's pocket money on a twenty five quid plastic broomstick (which we knew they'd only play with for five minutes).
If you want the newly nine-year-old's view -- Littleboy 1 says he liked Diagon Alley best of all."I was impressed how much they built of it," he tells me. That's fair comment.
I'd only add -- go when your children are nine or older. Really young children may not appreciate it all. The teenagers there seemed possibly the most excited - and that's fair enough,as Harry Potter is probably pitched more at their age than any other. But if you're really keen fans, and don't mind paying the ninety quid family ticket price, it's a bit like Disney; you could always go again.....