Monday, 12 May 2014

A Magical Birthday at Hogwarts

Hanging around at 4 Privet Drive
Trying out some wand moves
Littleboy 1's birthday treat this year was to visit Hogwarts. And, for those of you who are thinking of going (I know Iota is), here's a little review (non-sponsored, I paid for it myself) to let you know how the Warner Bros. Studio Tour at Leavesden (near Watford) measured up.

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.....


Iota said...

Definitely not too late for a career change!

Thanks for all this useful info. We'd hoped to go when the Scottish term is over, but while the English kids are still at school, to avoid the crowds, but that's not going to work, so I think we'll be there in mid-August. But because you have to pre-book, I'm guessing the crowd control issue isn't too acute. Hoping so, anyway. 10-yo has been saving her pocket money, so I guess a trip to the shop is inevitable.

Anonymous said...

If you want a little free magic, look up Harry potter walking tours and you can walk around London and see some of the places from the fils, no where near as magical but interesting all the same.

Nota Bene said...

We too thought it was a brilliant place to go to...spent absolutely hours and hours there. We took an eight year old and a six year old just to cover our embarrassment of wanting to see it all...glad you all had fun there

About Last Weekend said...

Sounds great! My sister said it was good too. I have studiously avoided Disneyland here (and most theme parks) but this one sounds great

MsCaroline said...

Oh, I knew I loved you for a reason besides your blog! I always thought WE were the only people (at least the only Americans) who didn't care much for Disney and their artificial experiences. We got free tickets to Disney (the one in CA) when the boys were small, and none of us really ever felt the 'magic.' To add to that, there was that whole new California theme park: I simply could not get over why anyone would go to a theme park about California when they were IN California already and could go see it all 'for real.' Anyway, Harry Potter is definitely an exception to my anti-Disney sentiments - I'm a hopeless fan (probably more so than my kids ever were, although #2 would be keen to go) and would absolutely eat up all the details you mentioned.

Iota said...

OK, urgent question, before I book tickets for the tour. How long would you allow? Could it be a whole day event, or is it a 3 or 4 hour thing?We'll be driving up from Brighton, and I'm wondering whether to try and be there early, so as to be able to spend as much time as we want there, or to book a late morning tour, which will mean we won't have to leave Brighton too early and can avoid M25 traffic.

Anonymous said...

I Love Harry Potter and we are going here in the Summer. It sounds amazing and I can't wait to go. I think everyone enjoys Diagon Alley.