I spent two-days immersed in Harry Potter…
… and it was the funnest part of my trip. It's the first thing I mention when I'm asked what my favorite part of my vacation was.
My full-on Harry Potter immersion was half planned and half luck. I had no intentions of watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child because my main priority—out of everything I could have possibly booked in London—was securing a slot at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. I was so excited about it that the first thing I did after I got my visa was book my ticket, which I got for £37 directly from the WB.
But even before the tour, my first Harry Potter experience came at Kings Cross Station, where I got my photo taken (and for free!) at Platform 9 3/4. I only found out about this because my friend, Angel, had gone to London a few weeks before me and had posted a photo of herself in Gryffindor attire. (I chose a Hufflepuff scarf for myself only to find out later on that Pottermore had sorted me into Slytherin 🐍).
There was a modest line of folks waiting their turn at the brick wall (trolley, Hogwarts scarves, and all). It's a fun experience for anyone who's got some time to kill. The Warner Bros. attendants are fun and extremely patient (I would be terrible at that job). There's an option to purchase your "official" photo/s for anywhere between £9.50 and £20; I opted, instead, to make friends with the very kind Brazilian lady behind me in line so I could hand my phone over to her.
The gift shop at Kings Cross offers you a taste of what you may find at the actual tour. It was very, very packed.
On to the tour… I booked my bus tickets online—I opted to take the bus instead of the train since it seemed to be the most straightforward way to get there (taking the train means having to stop at Watford Junction and then taking a shuttle to the studios). For £31, you get round trip transportation to and from Victoria Station.
If you're worried about finding your way to the tour office, you only have to look around to spot fellow tourists in full Hogwarts regalia. (I stalked these two girls in the Gryffindor sweaters). The buses run from morning 'til afternoon so you'll most likely see Hermiones and Harrys and Rons lingering here all day.
The bus ride takes a little less than two hours, and you're required to show up at the meeting point at least 15 minutes before departure. The double decker comes in theme, which is fun and a great anticipation-builder. They also show one of the movies on the ride to the studio.
It was pretty gloomy by the time we reached the studio—perfect, since we would be spending the next three or so hours indoors.
As soon as we got through the lobby (patience required), we were ushered into a small theater where a short film about the movie-making process was shown (our guide very cheekily said we would be watching all eight films for the rest of the night). It was interesting to see the entire Harry Potter crew go from the Sorcerer's Stone to the Deathly Hallows. Now that the entire stretch of books and movies is over, you forget just how long it took for all of it to unfold.
The film wraps up and the screen rolls up to reveal a wooden door—the same one used in the movie to step into Hogwarts' Great Hall. (cue: oohs and ahhs!)
I had no expectations for the Harry Potter tour except that I'd be seeing a couple of sets. I had no idea we would see ALL THE SETS. When I was planning for the trip, I was a little disappointed that there would be no Wizarding World for me. But it was nice to discover that the studio has its own charms (that I'm sure cannot be replicated by a day at the theme park).
The first thing I noticed full stop were the architectural details. It's amazing how much study went into the set design! Next travel destination: Oxford and Gloucester and Scotland to see the real deal structures.
There are vignettes everywhere you look, each one presenting pertinent fine print from hair and makeup to costuming, from props to special effects. You see the dormitories, the classrooms, the laboratories, and OMGEVERYTHING. BTW, I love Fleur's dress :)
One of my favorite design elements of the Harry Potter movies are the paintings. Now obviously, these ones don't move, but I found them fascinating just the same. I spent a couple of minutes just sat at a bench staring up at these faces.
If you're a stationery junkie (🙋), you'll have the ability to stamp pages from a notebook (or from a staff-supplied official HP passport). There are seals from different houses scattered all over the studio. Clue: I spotted one right in front of this Gryffindor display.
The Hogwarts Express is another one of my favorite pit stops. It's a tight squeeze to get in, but walking into the train offers you a peek into individual cabins, taking you down a history of the Hogwarts Express from start to end.
There was also a fake Hogwarts Express where you could sit and be filmed with a green screen. I felt ridiculous for getting myself filmed by myself, but I did it anyway because when in Hogwarts, you DO the thing you want to do.
Diagon Alley was another fun spot. Beware the Death Eaters lurking amidst the shops—they really freaked me out.
All the graphic design in the Harry Potter movies was created by the folks from the House of MinaLima, whose Soho Gallery is an easy walk from the Cursed Child theater. My favorite props on display were the hand lettered envelopes addressed to Harry.
At this point, I was well near Harry Potter overload and thought the tour was about to end (when you spot a cafeteria, you just assume that the exit is a few steps away). I WAS WRONG. Right past the cafeteria was an outdoor space where the famous bridge, the Knight Bus, the house at Privet Drive, and Hogsmeade were all on display and walkthrough-ready.
It started to rain at this point, so I took a couple of photos and went straight into the next (there was a next!) studio.
They saved one of the most arresting props for the second half of the tour. First you walk in and see some scale models, a couple of special effects props, creatures, and bits and bobs. And then suddenly, you walk into this dark room with a MASSIVE Hogwarts Castle. MASSIVE! I got literal goosebumps… I mean, LOOK AT IT!
Exhaustion had taken over by the time I reached the end of the tour. I could have probably spent more time there, but I was all Potter-ed out. I grabbed a snack, waited for the bus, and got back to Victoria by around 9:30 PM. Whether you're a Potter-head or just a dabbler, the tour is not to be missed. It was MAGICAL.
Because I had gotten properly schooled on all things Harry Potter at the tour, I felt super prepared to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child the next day. I didn't think I'd ever get to see that play, but SURPRISE! I came, I saw and I conquered the box office.
I had read about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on my friend, Angel's blog. I had no idea that the theater was just a short distance from Monmouth Coffee, which was one of the first places I visited on my first day in London.
With nothing better to do with my time, I decided to take a stab at the box office and as luck would have it, there were incredible Dress Circle seats available for Act One and Two for a single afternoon. The play cost me £140 which is a lot of money, yes, but the seat was really good and I was on a high from the caffeine so I bit the bullet. The whole production takes a full five hours—I handed over my credit card. JK Rowling, take my money!
There's a long queue to get into the theater. I always make sure to get to my destination early, so it was a pretty substantial wait. The theater's also under construction so there's a bit of scaffolding around the area. I was eavesdropping on the family queued up before me and the dad said the theater belongs (belonged?) to Andrew Lloyd Weber (this is Wikipedia-verified information, btw!).
I didn't read the book so I had no idea what I would be watching—I think that made the play-watching experience actually better. Overall, I found the story "Back to the Future"-ish. Entertaining but a little predictable (but also… not). What ties everything together and makes this a Harry Potter extravaganza for the senses are the props, the music (I had no idea Imogen Heap was part of the production!), the costumes, the set design, and the five-hour investment.
Because I saw both acts in one day (some people prefer to split the play up and watch on different days), I took a short dinner break in Soho before heading back to the theater. The cherry on top of my Harry Potter experience was how I had someone walk into the toilet I was using at the sushi restaurant I had picked to eat in. YEP. To make myself feel better, I decided to grab a scoop at Ben & Jerry's (I never have ice cream, so this was a big deal) when another unexpected, unpleasant thing happened at the ice cream shop involving me and my underwear (details shall be spared).
It was back to the theater after that kerfuffle—luckily the coat room and toilet at the Palace are both in great working order, so I was able to put myself together again before the second act and forget the embarrassing details of my evening.
There is a lot to say about the play but at the same time, there is a lot to NOT say about the play. I don't want to ruin the experience for anyone who has yet to see it—I think the element of surprise is one of the things that makes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child such a wonderful experience.
To quote the little Canadian girl who sat behind me during at the theater, "This is the best play slash movie slash anything I've ever seen."
AGREED! If you're going to do Harry Potter while in London, a two-day back to back bonanza between the WB tour and the Cursed Child is, imho, the best way to do it.