Sadly, I never gained admission to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. And while I know that my childhood dreams of becoming a wizard were in fact fantasy, the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour in London recently gave me an opportunity to seize the Potter magic for a day. At The Making of Harty Potter, I was able to see the sorting hat, visit the Great Hall, fly on a broomstick around the Quidditch Pitch (video below) and take a wheelchair travel selfie next to the Hogwarts Express. In this article, I'd like to show you how to fall in love with Hogwarts all over again, on set - wheelchair and all!
Cost & Admission
Usually, I discuss the costs associated with an activity at the end of my blog review. With respect to the WB Studio Tour, I feel it will be helpful to get that out of the way first. This tour is not cheap, but I viewed it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
There are two ticket options offered - a self-guided tour and a Deluxe Tour, which is guided. The self-guided tour costs £39.00 (~$48 USD) for adults, and allows you to move through the exhibit at your leisure. The Deluxe Tour is a truly VIP experience, with priority entry, an informed tour guide, professional photo ops, lunch and BUTTERBEER! The cost of the improved experience is £199.00 (~$247 USD) per person.
If you have a disability, your "carer" or personal care assistant is admitted free. I was told that a copy of my blue handicapped parking decal would be proof enough to take advantage of this offer. I took a photo of the blue badge before leaving the United States, but was never asked to show my "proof of disability" at the studio. I believe this was because my disability is plainly visible.
I visited the WB Studio Tour with a friend, but the standard tour tickets were sold out for the day we wanted to go. Unfortunately unable to be flexible, we opted for the VIP tour - setting us back about $250 U.S. dollars. But, given that PCAs are given a free ticket, my friend got her entry ticket for free.
Inside the Studio Tour
Whether you take the self-guided or deluxe tour, the tour route is the same. You'll start with a very brief video and introduction, then proceed into the Great Hall. Hint- If it is your "birthday," you'll get to push the giant doors open. So, Happy Birthday! 😉
The Great Hall was decorated for the Christmas holiday, and many trees and wreaths were on display. And while the food on the tables was made of plastic, we were told that the feasts shown in the movies were comprised of real, edible food.
Because this is the first stop on the tour, groups of 50-100 people are sent in one after another. Try to be at the front of the line, and take your photographs straight away. If you purchased a deluxe tour ticket, you'll have an opportunity to return here later. The hall is empty for a minute or two between groups, if you want to take photos without others crowding your frame.
After departing the Great Hall, you'll begin to see exhibits relating to the production of the eight Harry Potter films. These exhibits give you some insight into things like directing, casting, costume design, make-up, set design and more.
Staff are on hand to answer any questions, and deluxe tour members have the benefit of a dedicated guide. The space can get crowded, especially on weekends. I found myself saying "excuse me" quite often, as I tried to make my way through the hordes of people. My tour guide did a good job in forging a path for me, and she never began addressing our group until I had arrived. If your wheelchair has a built-in horn, don't be afraid to use it!
The individual exhibits themselves offer some additional information on display boards, which feature both pictures and text. Being able to see the real set and costume pieces that were used in the film will be a special treat for any Potter fan.
There are a LOT of set pieces on display, so I will share only my favorites. Since my fantasy dream was to be sorted into Gryffindor, let's start with the dormitory where Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom made their residence:
The picture above is Harry Potter's bed in the Gryffindor House dormitory. Interestingly enough, the set was not redesigned as the characters grew in both height and age. Our guide shared how the filmmakers had to adjust their shooting angles as the years progressed. Seeing Daniel Radcliffe's legs hanging off the end of the bed wouldn't do, so they often shot waist-up, or with the characters sitting in their bunks.
My favorite residence in the Harry Potter books and films was The Burrow - the Weasley family's haphazard home. Some of my favorite odds & ends were on display in this set, including the Weasley Clock, which monitored the whereabouts of the individual family members. The magic iron was still at work during my visit to the set, pressing clothes, however shoddy they were.
You'll see the Hogwarts Express train midway through your tour, but I thought I'd jump here before taking you to the Hogwarts School sets. This was the real train used in the movies, and it began its life in service to Britain's national rail service.
Able-bodied visitors can walk up a few steps and board one of the train cars. Wheelchair users can roll into the last car, which was used in shooting many of the scenes in the film. You'll get to peer into Harry's train cabin, and you'll notice the Honeydukes Express food trolley in the aisle.
My favorite set, and the one I'd most like to have taken a picture inside, was Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore's office. It took me awhile to decide whether my favorite Potter character was Dumbledore or Sirius Black, but I ultimately settled on the Headmaster.
Also on display near this set was the pensieve, where thoughts and memories were preserved and shared.
Another interesting set was Professor Snape's potions classroom. Life-size mannequins with a general resemblance to the characters were placed in many of the sets, for perspective.
One of the things I enjoyed seeing was the attention to detail that went into the building of the films' sets. It was also amazing how many filming locations could fit into a single studio!
Do you remember the Chamber of Secrets? The Door to the Chamber of Secrets is preserved here. We were told not to touch it, as it is in fact a very fragile piece of complicated machinery, and only a few people know how to successfully operate it.
The Potter nerd I am, I attempted to speak a bit of parseltongue. It did not open. Whether that was because it is not actually voice-activated, or my parseltongue was not up to par, I'll never know.
Number Four Privet Drive does exist! The set is preserved here in an outer courtyard at The Making of Harry Potter. It took me about 10 minutes to snap this photo, free of other visitors. People like to take a picture by the door, and they aren't keen on giving others a turn. Bad Muggles!
While you wait for the photo opportunity, be sure to sip on a delicious butterbeer, which you'll be able to purchase right before going outside. A free butterbeer is included as part of the deluxe tour.
Also in the outdoor courtyard is the Knight Bus. If you're able to stand, you can hop on the back of the bus to take a picture. Sadly, there is no wheelchair access, but you could take a photo next to the bus - if you like.
It may disappoint you to know, but most of the overhead shots of the Hogwarts Castle were conducted in the studio, using this model. The model is quite large, filling an entire room, and you'll be able to walk or roll around each of its sides.
When I visited, it was covered with powdery "snow" in celebration of the winter season.
Mount Your Broomsticks
Every one of us has dreamed of riding a Nimbus 2000 at some point in our Harry Potter fan lives. The WB Studio Tour offers an opportunity to do just that, but it is unfortunately the least accessible activity.
If you are able to climb aboard a broomstick, like the one pictured above, you'll have the opportunity to take professional photos and star in your own movie.
Although there are multiple green screens, each with their own broomstick, they are all set at the same height - at least a foot higher than a power wheelchair seat. If you are willing to attempt the transfer, the staff will try to help you, along with your companions or carer. It is possible (and allowed) to be lifted onto the seat atop the broomstick. I really think the studio should have one of these that is more easily accessible to wheelchair users.
Not willing to miss the opportunity to fulfill my dream of flying on the broomstick, I attempted and succeeded in making the transfer (thanks to a LOT of help). Here was the final product of my efforts:
While I wasn't actually flying, the video makes for an incredible souvenir! It was included for free as part of my deluxe tour ticket, but you can also purchase the video if you go the less expensive standard tour route.
Premium Photo Ops
In addition to the broomstick ride, you'll also have the opportunity to pose for other premium photos. While Deluxe tickets include both digital and printed versions of these, standard ticket-holders will need to pay.
Here were two of my favorite photo ops:
I've always wanted a photo at Platform 9 and 3/4. The Wanted poster? Not so much. But, I am happy to have them and share with you now!
Location & Transportation
The studio tour's website offers detailed information on getting to The Making of Harry Potter. You can access that at www.wbstudiotour.co.uk.
Since I did't have a car in London and did not want to pay an expensive taxi fare, I opted to use public transportation. You'll need to get to the Watford Junction railway station, which is served by the London Overground, National Rail and city bus routes 142 and 258.
I traveled to Watford Junction on the city bus, and returned to London on the overground train service. Both are wheelchair accessible.
To get to the studio tour from Watford Junction Station, you can get on the studio's shuttle bus. The cost is £2.50 round-trip, payable with cash or coin only. The shuttle buses park outside the station, and are easy to spot - your favorite Potter characters and scenes are painted on the outside of the bus.
I know that £199 is a lot of money, but if you are disabled and can get two people (yourself included) in for that, it's not so bad after all. The experience is one that I will cherish, as it allowed me to have the ultimate inside look at a movie and book franchise that played such an important role in my childhood.
I fell in love with Harry Potter all over again, and proceeded to waste spend my next two days in London binge-watching the Potter films. It was a really cool opportunity to see how the movies were made and the set pieces were designed. It became clear to me that Harry Potter was a labor of love, from the books all the way through the movies.
If you remember the days spent longing for the release of the next book, you won't want to miss a trip to The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Leavesden Studios in London.
For more information or to plan your trip, visit the studio tour website at www.wbstudiotour.co.uk. For those planning a journey in the coming months, you may wish to wait until a new Forbidden Forest exhibit opens on March 31, 2017.