|Petey Potter and the Cheesy Grin of Fire|
So having got that out of the way, what on earth was I thinking visiting Harry Potter World this week? Well the boyfriend wanted to go and as I regularly make him do shit he's not interested in, it seemed fair enough. Off we trundled. And honestly? It was amazing.
Let's get some practical info out of the way. It's located at the Warner Brothers studios in Watford, north of London. It's superbly well organised and part of that means it's never overcrowded, because you have to book your ticket in advance and they only let a certain number of people in for each tour. In our case we had to wait a month to get a mid-week ticket in term time January, it's clearly so popular.
|Teeby Potter outside, all excited|
They've clearly spent a fortune on the place, but that's okay because they also clearly make a small fortune out of it. Don't even think of going if you're on a tight budget. Tickets were about £32 each; a veggie burger was £7.95. Bars of chocolate in the shop were £3.95. Cheap looking plastic wands were £25. Two USB sticks and 2 photos of us riding broomsticks (more later) were £50. Harry Potter sweaters were £79. If you've got some Harry Potter mad kids, you could easily sink £300+ here in a day.
It might be best to go for an early afternoon visit, after you've eaten elsewhere, and also to feign a medical condition that requires hospitalisation just before the shop, which miraculously gets better after you've rushed your kids through and are safely on the other side.
You will need a full 3 hours for the visit by the way, so plan accordingly. The staff are some of the nicest, best trained people I've come across in a public interface role. They were absolutely lovely without exception, from the people keeping the (free) parking brilliantly organised, to the people doing the broomstick demos.
Last thing: don't think it's all kids here. I'd say the majority of people were actually 20 or 30 somethings. I guess they're the age range who really grew up with both the books and the movies. That's my way of saying, therefore if you're a little more mature, you won't feel a prat.
Given how little I'm interested in Harry Potter, what amazed me was how interested I was in the actual film making details you learn. There's a general introduction and couple of films, then you're free to wander through everything else at your own pace, which was appreciated. And you do literally get to walk through several of the actual sets (the Hogwarts dining room is of course the most spectacular).
|Inside the Hogwarts Dining Hall|
What really struck me above anything else, was getting to appreciate the massive amount of creative work that goes into designing these things. The sets are pure works of fantasy: taken from the descriptions of the book they've been transformed into "real life" using fibre glass and wood. Everything is bespoke, everything is a product of a team's artistic creation.
As you visit the sets you also see some of the tricks of the movie trade, like "false perspective" that allows two people to sit in the front of a pub at a regular sized table, but the set behind them is far smaller and tapers off into the distance. When filmed, it looks huge.
|Some street set thing. Dunno what it's called.|
There are sections on the various special effects, the creatures and their animation, the costumes, make up, props, the graphic design, and scaled models of various elements. You realise that a small army of people is involved and literally millions go into these things (the total cost for all 8 films actually came to $1.155 billion. However they took a total of $7.723 billion at the box office - meaning it wasn't a bad investment by any means).
If the above sounds in any way dry - it isn't. It's magical (see what I did there!?), fascinating, beautifully presented and I was just captivated by it all. I guess it doesn't matter what the movie is: if you don't have knowledge of how one is created, any one would do. The thing with Harry Potter is the sets, costumes etc are all so incredibly beautiful, and the production budgets were so huge, it makes an excellent example to see.
|Enormous Scale Model of Hogwarts. I think.|
There's a café mid way through the tour, which is a fine idea and ideal opportunity to drop some more dosh of course. It's one of two places in the world where they serve Butterbeer: Universal Studios in Orlando and here. Apparently it's something that comes up in the Harry Potter movies, but if you were listening earlier, you'll remember I was either asleep or absent or in a trance so wouldn't remember.
|Even Ste almost vommed|
Looking on the net, it's basically sweetened condensed milk, whipped butter, ice-cream soda, and a butter scotch topping. It's simply the most delicious thing you've ever tasted - for the first 5 seconds. You then want to projectile vomit everywhere.
Oh and it's £2.95 for a tiny little cup (still enough to make you sick though!), unless you want a souvenir tankard, in which case you have to hand over your mother, your house, and your first born child. Rather cutely on the recycling bins in the café they put "Butterbeer" on the signs under "Liquids". Nice touch.
|Yup, ours went straight in here|
Everyone gets a chance to fly on a broom. This is fabulous [-ly embarrassing]. Essentially the entire queue is standing there with nothing to do except watch you and your performance on a screen. The queues aren't painfully long (remember, timed entries only, not overcrowded etc) but still, there are probably 50 people at a time watching you.
Ste and I of course both decided to go full out with as many little facial expressions and gestures as possible, to make it even more embarrassing still. You are filmed with a plain green background, but get to see where you are flying on a screen. A dude tells you things like "wave to your friend" or "shake your fist" and you over-act accordingly.
Here are our efforts - it's a scandal, frankly, that we weren't selected for a major role in the actual movies, all things considered. If the embedded movies below don't work, click here for Ste; and here for Peter, which will take you to Youtube.
It was FUN - and of course there were no prices displayed anywhere for if you wanted to order a CD or USB stick with your performance on it. £50 for our two, plus two printed pictures. *Cough, splutter, collapse etc...* but of course we had to have them. They may be the best thing you have ever seen in fact. Come on, admit it.
So here's my recommendation. Go. It's that simple. It's one of the best days out I've ever experienced and I've done a lot of days out in my time! I absolutely loved it, and so, clearly do the reviewers on TripAdvisor. As at the time of writing 11,514 of 13,910 people ranked it excellent (five owl eyes) which is a staggering achievement. Yours truly is one of them. Many of the reviews are absolutely gushing and quite rightly so.
|Amazing. I even managed to photo No 3, not No 4, Privet Drive.|
Just imagine if I actually liked Harry Potter how even more positive this piece would be! If you're a fan, just do it. And make sure you post your broomstick video for us all to laugh at, of course :-)