Heading for the Hogwarts Express it’s time to bring this report to the final chapter. Happy November 1st!
The Backlot Cafe and Backlot
Yesterday we finally reached the halfway point. We are now at the Backlot Cafe! This is an important point in the studio tour if you are hungry or need to use the restroom. It’s the only place you are allowed to eat until you finish your tour. The Backlot Cafe is a little pricey, but like theme parks, it’s part of the experience.
The Backlot Cafe serves several specialty items including Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice cream. This is the only place I have ever been that served Butterbeer ice cream. If you have to chose between the two, the ice cream is really really sweet. Split it if you can with someone. If you’re a solo traveler, make sure you get the smaller size. All of the items on the menu they serve are particularly filling. My group was given lunch here as part of our package. We ordered an entree, a drink and had butterbeer for dessert (you chose between ice cream or the drink).
The Backlot Cafe allows you to enjoy food of your own if you brought it with you. If you are looking for a place to sit, it can be crowded. If the weather permits, sit outside! There are many things to look at including the giant chess pieces from the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Knight Bus, the wobbly bridge from Hogwarts, exterior set of Lily and James’ Godric Hollow house and the Dursley’s House!
The Dursley’s House was originally an actual house. The owner’s of the home, however, did not enjoy the fans flocking to their home and into their neighborhood. I can’t say I blame them. According to our tour guide, in honor of the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, the Dursley’s home had a surprise waiting for us inside! The set designers had gone in an recreated the living room and the letters from Hogwarts arriving down the chimney!
The Creature Shop
Once you finish your snack or your meal, you will enter the Creature Shop! The first thing you will see are the goblin hands and masks. I must admit it’s a little scary! It’s fascinating to see how the molds are created and how each goblin was given a different look and personality.
My personal favorite creature was Fawkes the phoenix! He appears so life like and is able to cry on demand. We were told a story here about the late Richard Harris and original professor Dumbledore. Richard Harris was under the impression that Fawkes was an actual bird that was the best trained animal he had ever seen. He was often seen stroking it and at one let the crew know it was the best trained bird he had ever worked it. Richard Harris wanted to see how it learned to cry. He was astonished to find out Fawkes was an animatronic.
A few other fun pieces in the creature shop include Hedwig, the head of the Hungarian Horntail, Grawp (Hagrid’s brother) and Hagrid’s head. Fun fact: Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) had an animatronic head for his stunt double. It was only filmed from a distance, but once you see it, you will never be able to unsee it. Passing into the hallway before you reach Diagon Alley is a tribute to every single hat ever created and used on set!
And now…let’s go shopping! Unfortunately, the shops will appear to be closed. Diagon Alley does not disappoint! Diagon Alley is fashioned just like it appeared in the Order of the Phoenix. You will see Darkened windows form the first few shops you pass as they are afraid of Voldemort. If you look closely in the pathway leading to Knockturn Alley, there is a Death Eater (nicknamed Derrick) hiding in the shadows.
Mr. Ollivander’s wandshop does not have many wands left for sale, but if you look closely at the writing on each box label, you will see that it is handwritten. At one point in time, according to our tour guide, several thousand boxes were created to fill the floors of the shop from top to bottom. The set design time painstakingly created a handwritten label for each box. In the Deathly Hallows, however, the director thought it would be more authentic to blow up the boxes and light them on fire when Mr. Ollivander’s shop was attacked by Death Eaters.
The most vibrant and eye catching shop towards the back half of Diagon Alley is Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. It’s unknown whether the twin on the outside is Fred or George Weasley. The answer, when I asked, was it’s the better looking one. This shop is interactive form the outside; I only wish that it was one that the public could go into and explore up close. Then again, if the Weasley twins invented an item, you never know what to expect.
One last shop I want to talk about is the Magical Menagerie. The writing on the shop is faded, but if you look up close, you will see the lettering is all done in gold leaf with animals in the name. Our tour guide pointed out to us that even she keeps discovering new things every time she walks through; there is always a hidden gem to discover.
The Model Rooms
The next area of the backlot is dedicated to the art department. There is a desk with original artwork and concept sketches on the walls. Dobby was the most difficult creature to get right. In the corner of the office is a model of Voldemort’s robe from the final film.
The robes range from a dark green to a white. It was explained that this is representative of Harry destroying the horcruxes. Voldemort is so disconnected from his soul he doesn’t feel the horcruxes being destroyed. The lighter the robe is, the closer Voldemort is to death. The color dyes were created especially for the film and took months to perfect. So much goes in to creating the right color to fit the background, and lighting of one scenel it’s surreal.
Before you reach the last room, there are several extremely impressive miniature paper made models of the Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade. With a film that requires so much CGI, every film shot has to be pre-planned. I don’t know how someone is able to have the patience to put these together and work with a miniature model. I wanted to stand there and stare at every nook and cranny of the models, but our tour guide did not want us to miss the last room!
The Hogwarts Model
The penultimate moment of the tour is the moment you walk into this room and see the Hogwarts castle used for sweeping shots, exterior shots and more of the castle. I’m not going to lie, I cried (not like a baby). The castle is beautiful and every single stone and speck of the giant model is sculpted to perfection. You have the chance to stand and watch the sunrise and sunset on the castle to see how it would look throughout the day. The music playing in the background really ties your emotions to being there.
I found myself spending about 45 minutes taking pictures and trying to figure out where each room is within the castle itself. This is the closest you will ever be able to get to the real Hogwarts Castle. Having been a crazy person who flew to Edinburgh, Scotland for the final Harry Potter book release in 2007 and walked up to the castle at midnight to sit outside the Edinburgh Castle gates to read the book everything came full circle for me in this moment. I can’t put into words my thoughts here, but I just hope you understand that this room makes the entire tour worth while ten fold.
The Gift Shop
Exiting the model room, you pass through the wand room and into the gift shop. Every person who worked on the Harry Potter movies (1-8) has a wand box dedicated to them. Look for your favorite actors; they are spread out all over the room and could make for an excellent scavenger hunt. You will see one last picture desk where can look and and purchase and photos you have taken on the tour. Make sure you do this before entering the gift shop. You can’t go back into the attraction after you exit.
Then there is the gift store, you will find every single item you can pretty much imagine here. The prices are a little better than Universal Studios in the US, but keep in mind, whatever you buy you will need to be able to fit in your suitcase. I settled for a postcard, chocolate frog and some earrings. Most of what I wanted was just to experience the tour and take as many pictures as I could. When you finish your purchases, you will find yourself in the lobby with the Goblet of Fire again where you started your tour.
Deluxe Tour Thoughts
If you can afford it, have the time and want to splurge, the deluxe tour is worth every penny. I didn’t know what to expect going into it, but I really really appreciated being able to walk through the studio sound stage with a knowledgeable guide first so I knew what I would want to see again after lunch. The photos and food options are an added bonus as is the VIP and front of the line treatment from all of the staff members there. Every tour is different and every guide has their own unique touches to their tour. I would do this again in a heart beat.
Return to London
Don’t forget to use the restroom and claim your items from coat check before you leave! You will exit through a long hallway the way you came in and find yourself looking at several different buses. Ensure you have your receipt from your payment on the way in. This shows you paid for your return trip already! Also ensure your bus (if you came by bus) is going to where you intend to go. The bus should be labeled Watford Junction Station is you took the train in.
It’s a quick ride back only taking about 10-15 minutes. When you reach the station, check the boards carefully to figure out which platform you need to be on. I came through London Euston on the way in, but on the way back, I was able to take a direct train to my hotel near Kensington Olympia. I would avoid the London Overground if you can from Watford Junction as it’s a lot slower than the other train services. If you are using an Oyster Card also keep in mind you can’t use it on any Virgin trains. Hope this helps you plan your next trip to experience the Harry Potter Studio Tour London! Until next time, happy travels!