Stories are an important part of our family culture. Legendary tales chock-full of adventure, bravery and characters with good morals. Timeless battles between the dark and light that are re-enacted all day long – in the living room, around the breakfast table and on the playground.
We’re huge fans of Star Wars and The Chronicles of Narnia, and I have The Hobbit sitting on the shelf for one exciting day in the distant future. The general rule is we have to read the book together before we watch the movie, which often takes a certain amount of discipline on our part.
The most recent series we’ve gotten into is one I didn’t expect to start for a few years at least. When the boys started asking questions about Harry Potter, I resisted – until we discovered the beautifully illustrated editions of the first three books.
The boys couldn’t get enough of The Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone, depending on where you live), and The Chamber of Secrets was even better. We waited to watch each of the movies until the last page had been turned, and the boys were bursting at the seams in anticipation. We got The Prisoner of Azkaban for Christmas, and we’re stopping there for now. They can re-visit the series again in a few years when they have matured a little more and are able to read the books on their own.
When we went to London last October, The Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour was at the top of our list of attractions to check out while we were there. We were super disappointed to discover one month in advance was too late to reserve tickets; they’d been sold out for each of the six days we were in town.
On a whim, I hopped on Ryanair.com to see if I could find any good deals, and there happened to be a flash sale for flights to London after Thanksgiving for 9.99 euros per person. An hour later, we’d purchased airfare and tickets to the Studio Tour for November, not knowing whether or not we would even be able to go. The week before our trip, my husband’s leave still hadn’t been approved (thank goodness for travel insurance). We were thrilled when he got the thumbs up at the last minute, and we were off on our whirlwind Harry Potter adventure!
Getting to Warner Brothers Studio
The Studio Tour is less than 30 minutes from London, and it’s accessible by shuttle, train and bus. You can also pay a little extra to join a Harry Potter tour group; the fee includes the cost of your tickets and round-trip transportation on a double-decker bus.
We flew Ryanair from Luxembourg to Stansted and stayed at a budget hotel (Premiere Inn) on the outskirts of the airport, which is only about 45 minutes from Warner Brothers Studio. Considering the extra time and money it would cost us to take a bus or train into central London and join a tour group there, we chose to rent a car for the two days we were in England. It’s an easy drive to and from the studios, and free parking with proof of ticket purchase is available on-site.
The Making of Harry Potter
I don’t want to spoil the tour for you, so I’m just going to share a few of my favorite images from our day.
We went during the Hogwarts in the Snow special event, and the Great Hall was all dressed up for Christmas. Simply breathtaking.
A corner of the Great Hall was set up to display pieces from the Yuletide Ball in the Goblet of Fire.
Getting sent to Dumbledore’s office was definitely a highlight of the day for me.
One of the few photos I took with my iPod (yes, I’m still without a smart phone). The lens is cracked, so it doesn’t take the best images anymore, but I love this one of my husband and me – blurry edges, grainy texture and all. We’re in Dumbledore’s office!
Getting ready to hop on the Hogwarts Express.
So much fun!
Learning how to duel.
Believe it or not, Aragog is one of my youngest son’s favorite characters from the first few books. He was thrilled to “meet him” in the Forbidden Forest.
Getting to take a peek inside Hagrid’s hut was also a highlight for him.
Half-way through the tour, we stopped for a round of butterbeer. Cheers, mate!
Number four Privet Drive.
Diagon Alley! Eek! Olivanders wand shop! Eek, again!
All those wands.
Overall, our favorite part of the whole tour was getting to learn more about how the movies were made. The boys were fascinated by all of the robots and special effects.
The grand finale: Hogwarts!
Tips for your own magical Studio Tour adventure
Reserve your tickets as soon as you have your dates set. They tend to sell out quickly – especially when a special event is going on. Refunds and date changes (with a fee) were possible when we made our reservations; be sure to read the terms and conditions before you make the purchase to know what to do if you have to alter your itinerary.
Arrive early – but not too early. Your ticket grants you entry at a specified time, and you won’t be allowed to go in before. There’s a small café and coffee shop serving Starbucks beverages in case you get hungry while you wait.
If you’re visiting with kids, ask for a Studio Tour passport if you aren’t given one up front with your tickets. Our boys had so much fun stopping to have their books stamped at each station. It’s a simple, yet sweet (and did I mention it’s free?) souvenir to enjoy for years to come.
Try to pick a time for earlier in the day. We were there for four hours – until closing time – and we would’ve stayed longer if we could; there is so much to take in! Which brings me to my next tip…
Shop for souvenirs in the large gift shop before you start your tour. Simply drop your purchases off at the cloakroom. This service is free, and the stewards will hold onto them until you’re ready to leave.
Order a round of butterbeer at the café half-way through. Enough said.
Bring your stroller. We saw plenty of parents making their way through the tour infants and toddlers. It’s definitely a family-friendly tour. On that note, however…
Be aware of The Forbidden Forest. If you think your children may be too frightened to walk through it, there is an alternate path you can take.
Leave plenty of wiggle room in your budget. The cost of snacks, beverages (butterbeer!), souvenirs and photo opportunities adds up quickly.
As we were leaving the studios, a quote by J.K. Rowling caught my eye.
“No story lives unless someone wants to listen.”
I chewed on that for a little bit on the drive back to our hotel, in awe of the fact that Rowling created a story that has captured the hearts of millions of people – adults and children alike – all around the world.
Why is Harry Potter’s story so captivating?
I believe it’s because we all face hard times in our lives, and we are inspired by Harry’s courage, his kindness and his ability to rise above his circumstances.
The action and adventure is pretty awesome, too.
Let’s talk! I would love to hear…
What adventure stories have captured the heart of your family?
If you could visit the film set of one of your favorite movies, what would it be?