Saturday, 15 April 2017

Harry Potter - Warner Bros Studio Tour Review - is it worth a second visit?

I've always loved Harry Potter. I am from the generation that grew up with the Hogwarts adventures running almost parallel to my own life (although sadly without the magic and decidedly fewer owls). I borrowed the first book from the school library in my second year and was hooked... then when the final book drew closer to hitting bookshelves, I was of those fans that queued all day for the midnight release.

My love of HP crossed mediums - one of the first evenings out that that Hubby and I went on together was to see the Chamber of Secrets at the cinema for a mutual friends birthday... And so it continued, with the films taking us through uni and beyond.
Then back in 2013 after the last film wrapped, a friend and I decided to continue our exploration into the Wizarding World with a visit to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. We had a great day finding out more about how the films had been brought to life... but since then our Harry Potter journey has been a bit patchy. We've been lucky enough to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the theatre and Fantastic Beasts at the cinema (in fact Hubby and I have nicknamed our bump after one of the characters...), so to scratch the HP itch was friend and I  decided to revisit the Studio Tour, and see what had changed in 4 years.

What are the differences?  And is The Warner Brothers Studio Tour worth a REvisit?

Fewer people 

The Tour has always been very clever at managing crowds, with staged entry times, and a clear clockwise momentum.  When we visited originally, everything was shiny and new and drew lots of excited PotterHeads. Directions were clear; once you left a section you could not revisit, you must continue forwards.  However our second visit was much more relaxed. Want more time in the Great Hall? No problem, just clear the staging area when requested hang around a bit, wait for the next group to enter and simply step back into the room. The story was the same throughout the Tour. Staff  were more than happy to accommodate visitors that wanted to spend a little more time on their favourite sets, as well as take photos for that all important group shot!

More interactivity 

Anyone who has visited WBST will be aware of the green screen area. Ride a broom through London, have a photo as you hover over Hogwarts - explore the magic of film. We actually skipped this on our first visit as the queues were just too long, but this time we donned our cloaks and were on a broom in under 5 minutes.  And the interactivity is not just restricted to the one area - the interactive elements have been built further into the exhibits. Want to try your hand at broomstick lessons? In the right area simply put your hand over a broom and say 'Up'. Wonder how they made Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid so big on camera? Take a seat in the perspective set. Even the Creature Effects area has become more dynamic. Stand on a square on the floor and see how Dobbie  the House Elf can be made to mimic body movements.

More security  

I don't remember security checks being quite so  extensive the first time we visited. Maybe they were, but they certainly don't spring to mind... Maybe that just says a lot more about how the world has become a bit more fearful in the last few years. Expect a thorough bag check and a body scan before you enter.

New exhibits 

The Warner Brothers team have dusted out a number of additional sets/props in the last four years. New to us were the impressive Hogwarts Express (which you can climb aboard and look at carriages dressed for 6 different films), and why join the often lengthy queues at Kings Cross for a photo at Platform 9 3/4 when the Studio Tour offers you the same opportunity (in fact three different photo call opportunities!).  The newest area that opened at the end of March is the Forbidden Forest - a place where many naughty Hogwarts student would spend detention - wander through the Hogwarts gates and see a model Hagrid lighting the way, bow to a Hippogriff under the trees, and have a guided tour through the darker areas to experience some of the Creature Effects.  To be honest, this new area was a bit disappointing... it seems as though the team have moved some of the exhibits from the 'Creature Effects' area to the new 'forest' - so really apart from a bit of window dressing very little felt 'new.'  In fact, we noticed in the Creature Effects area that the explanation video still mentions the giant model Aragog, with the recording of Warwick Davis  indicating to wear the model had previously lived, before the giant spider had be found a new home in the Forest. Maybe the team will update the video at some point...

New Butterbeer 

Only 4 places in the world sell Butterbeer so the queue is always long. Personally I wasn't a fan, and decided not to spend £3-6 on a second experience of the creamy fizzy beverage... however Butterbeer too has evolved over the last few years, with your menu choice now including Butterbeer ice cream. At nearly £5 a cone though it's not cheap

The old stuff 

To be honest, the old exhibits are still just as fascinating as they were before. We didn't spend as long gazing at the Griffindor Common Room or hanging out in Diagon Alley, but at the same time we did get the chance to experience different things. We were able this time to go into the Privet Drive set  (rather than just peek through the windows) and seeing  Alan Rickman's old Shape costumes took on a much more poignant tone after his death last year.


So really, was it worth a second visit? With a £40 ticket price, it's not a cheap day out, and the second visit was a lot of the same stuff. But actually we found that there was enough new to keep us interested. The team have clearly worked hard to evolve the Tour to make it less of a passive museum experience (with some greenscreening) to something where the guest has the opportunity to be a lot more actively involved in the exhibits.

Would I go a third time? Probably not. I think 2 times is my limit. But would I recommend a second visit to people that have been before? I think it would very much depend on when you last visited. It worked for us because there were enough changes, and new things to do. And I can't imagine what else could be added to  justify forking out another £40 for the ticket price.

This post has not been written in collaboration with Warner Bros Studio Tour London or any other third party.  No incentive has been received for writing this post and is completely based on my own experiences and thoughts.

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