WB Harry Potter Tour, London

A visit redux.

Welcome to Hogwarts. WB's Harry Potter Studio Tour, Leavesdon, England. September 2015.
Welcome to Hogwarts. WB’s Harry Potter Studio Tour, Leavesdon, England. September 2015.

WARNING: MAJOR FANGIRL ALERT AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

A few weeks back, I was once again so lucky to hit the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Studio Tour, which is amazing. I talked about this once before back in June 2014 (after my first visit), but it was a brief mention hidden in my nerd/fandom post about traveling around the fandom-centric sites of the UK.

This post is going to get more specific, but I won’t tell too much and give anything too big away—you’ll have to visit and experience it for yourself!

First to explain where I’m coming from (because, no, Harry Potter is not just for kids, DA’s honor! too far? too far…) :

I’ve grown up with these books, these characters, and this world. We listened to them on cross-country road trips narrated by Jim Dale, I’ve gone to book and film midnight releases dressed in Potter-bound apparel (I’m not a full out costume person), slept curled around the seventh book during my mid read nap so no one in the house could steal it, been to the Los Angeles’ WB Harry Potter/Costume/Lot museum, the London tour twice now, the theme park in Florida and can’t wait for the opening in LA. There are probably more—including the Ravenclaw cardigan I am currently sporting and its Slytherine double hanging back at my flat which have begun to grace my work and everyday wardrobe—but this list feels sufficiently long enough.

I’m technically a Ravenclaw (through and through—thank you, Pottermore), but I have a not so secret desire to fall a bit more on the green side, and that streak is strong. There is a whole theory I have behind this (which doesn’t even touch on my high school feminism and Harry Potter thesis), but alas, I digress (feel free to ask me about it, however!).

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Anyway, as one of the cast members explained to a nearby group, where Florida is a theme park, The lot tour in London is a giant museum—and I emphasis giant.

Filling two large sound stages and some of the outdoor space between them, this is really The Harry Potter museum. Each of these sound stages is filled with the real costumes, props, hair pieces, and sets used to film the film adaptations. While you can’t walk onto (most of the sets) you can take as many pictures as you want of everything you see and a few bigger sets even have small interactive aspects.

You are led through the tour by videos playing across screens throughout the tour as well as large information signs, but you can buy (either with your ticket or before entering the tour) a personal media tour guide which will give you more digital commentary on what you are seeing, behind the scenes stories, and image galleries you wouldn’t see otherwise.

My suggestion: if you are a big fan, you’ll want to get the earliest entry time available. We went in at 10 am and left the lot at around 5-5:30 pm; they announced the last tour entry when we still had a few rooms left to go—rooms where we spent the most amount of time as well! This being said, we listened and read absolutely everything, stopped for a quick bite at the midway point, and spent more time than I’d ever considered in the wand room (which I’ll get to in just a minute).

The second half of the tour is great for anyone interested in the design aspects of film making from prosthetic work to models while CGI falls near the end of the first soundstage. This second half also showcases artists’ renderings and concept art which are so beautiful you’ll want them for your house—again, you can take pictures of all of this!

Before we get to the wand room, as promised, I want to touch on the food situation. This was updated from the first time I’d gone on the tour three years ago, so it’s a fully enclosed area. There are two areas you order from: one is everything (food and drinks) and the other is the Butterbeer stand. The set up gets crowded so if you have a few people, after ordering, leave one or two to grab the food (party size depending), a few to pick up the drinks, and anyone else to grab a table.

This is one of only three places in the world that carry Butterbeer and, if I may say, the taste has definitely improved from my first try. There are different variations depending on where you go—Florida had warm, cold, and frozen when we visited—and here in London the Butterbeer is served cold or in ice cream form. If you just go to the drink stand, you won’t see the ice cream option so be aware it’s there because it is absolutely worth it! (I can’t say the same for the Mac’n’cheese, however, just so you know.)

But onto the Wand room.

My other post touched on the beauty and awe of the large scale castle model—again, I almost burst into tears and probably spent a good hour in this particular room on each of my visits—but I never even considered until this last trip, how long a person could find themselves wandering the wand room—the last room you enter before hitting the gift shop.

This room looks—at a simple glance—like a neater version on Ollivander’s Wand Shop. These wand boxes, however, are not real props and do not contain wands—instead, each box end has a name of a person who worked on the film in some way over the course of the 8 films. this rangers from actors and directors, to prop designers and camera crews; if a person was listed on the workers books, they have a box.

Most visitors fly through this room without a second thought, however, inside this room, there is always a robe employee who you can ask to point out anyone whose box you’d like to see. We spent probably the same amount of time in this room as we did with the castle model, asking the employee about everyone we could possibly think of and she pointed out a few extras we hadn’t even thought to ask about (don’t forget, J.K. Rowling has her own box as well!).

If you are lucky and really give the employee some tough things to remember, they may even give you some extra stories they’ve learned for the sets and about people named in the room. This room was truly so much fun!

Once you are out of the wand room, you enter the most dangerous room in the whole tour: the gift shop. A neat tip we got from the girl in the wand room: You can try on and take pictures with anything without buying it—robes, sorting hat, ect—though I’d note, within reason! This is great if you can’t afford to buy these items but want to instagrm a picture souvenir.

My go to purchases are the house sweaters and cardigans, and this is the place I’d go to buy them because, unlike the shop you will find in King’s Cross station (another thing I missed from fandom locations I’ve visited), these sweaters do not have house logos!

There are pros and cons to this fact, however, both dealing with the fact that they look like normal clothing. This means you can get away with going Potter-bound anywhere and no one is the wiser. It also means that your cosplay is closer to the films where they aren’t patched. Unfortunately, this means that the sweaters look like your everyday, inexpensive sweater, but with a fandom price tag which (at least) doubles the cost.

With that in mind, it’s a tossup. Since I’m not growing anymore, I’m fine with what I have now, but I’d be wary about buying for kids.

Also, make sure you get the washing instructions from the checkout; the sweaters shrink up a lot in the wash so the directions are very important since you are paying so much you don’t want to ruin them!

For all the other logistics from prices to how to get to the lot (plan well ahead for this; if you are late and miss your window, they say you may not be allowed in), check out the site. And a final note from me: be aware of the season and times you are going. Tourist season has heavy traffic through the tour as do various times through the school year (like in September!) when school trips come through!

And with that, I think this post has gone on long enough. If you have anything to add, questions to ask, whatever, comment below!

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

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WB Harry Potter Tour, London

On top of the World…

…Kind of…

Gloomy but lovely. Jungfrau, Interlaken, Switzerland. June 2015
Gloomy but lovely. Jungfrau, Interlaken, Switzerland. June 2015

So, today is a little bitter sweet.

This morning, I dropped my family off at the train station where they began making their way back to the states to finish the last weeks of travel without me, while I returned to the reality of my slowly falling apart flat in London (no internet connection or air conditioning, along with other continuing problems, is really not helping my mood), and I can’t believe how quickly this month has flown by!

And I’ve only written about my first few days traveling!

So, while I stew in a little bit of post-family homesickness before starting back to my routines tomorrow, telling you all about our big adventure in Switzerland and a little bit of our Frozen themed family love and singing on top of snowy Jungfrau seems like just the ticket.

For this stop, we stayed in a great hotel in Interlaken, Switzerland with views which my sister just kept describing as simply “not real.” It’s really true. Everything on this trip looked more like paintings than actual places, which explains the continued Disney soundtrack that also seemed to follow us around.

While Arendelle is not a kingdom in Switzerland, this was definitely the music that followed us up the picturesque mountain to the Top of Europe…

Or more like inside it…

If you decide to go up this mountain, I advise checking the weather.

Why do I advise this? We didn’t.

The round trip ticket to get you up the mountain isn’t cheap (prices vary depending on ticket packages, ages, ect.) and time varies up and down depending on which path(s) you take (averages 50 minutes up and 40ish down, but you can choose different paths up and down the mountain if you want to see more). On each leg of the journey, you stop at about three viewing points where you are allotted time to jump out of the train and take a few pictures, as well as slowly acclimate to the elevation (3,454 meters/11,332 feet at the final rail station).

Each of these stops, I’m sure, has a great vantages of the valley and surrounding Alps, but I wouldn’t really know: we pretty much just got grey fog!

This isn’t to say that even in less than ideal weather a trip up isn’t worth the money or time—simply, if you have the wiggle room in your schedule, plan with the weather in mind.

Like I said, if all you see out is grey, your trip isn’t a waste.

Once you reach the top of the mountain, there are plenty of things to run around and do from seeing the chocolate exhibit (free samples in the shop where you may end up with multiples if you hang around long enough!), visiting the Ice Palace, the viewing station, and taking a jaunt outside, just to name my highlights.

Just like the mid-mountain viewing platforms, we couldn’t see much at the top either. Well, except that it was starting to snow. Luckily, there are pictures and paintings all over the station which show you what the views should look like on a clear day so you aren’t completely without a clue as to what you climbed up to see. My mom took a picture of each of these walls to coincide with the grey clouds we were actually seeing, just for comparison.

Even in cloudy weather, sunglasses are a must—it’s bright up there and glasses also keep the elements from attacking your eyes.

My two favorite parts were the Ice Palace and walking around on the actual mountain (in the outside activity area). Can you guess what this fangirl was doing during both of these parts?

Yes, singing Let It Go under my breath, but I’ll have you know I passes many others doing the same thing and a few Do You Wanna Build a Snowman’s to boot.

Ice Palace sculptures. Jungfrau, Interlaken, Switzerland. June 2015
Ice Palace sculptures. Jungfrau, Interlaken, Switzerland. June 2015

The ice palace is nothing like a castle; instead, we referred to it as the catacombs under Elsa’s Ice Palace. Almost everything here is ice from the floor to roof to walls. There are multiple passageways, ice sculptures, and alcoves to explore and it’s not hard to find yourself skating along in your shoes. This said, it’s all ice so everything is slippery with kids and adults alike moving at different speeds and levels of coordination: wear good shoes and keep your eyes peeled!

This area, because of a few tighter corridors and various structural space necessities, tends to get especially crowded and (because of a few reasons like those listed above) passing people to get around can be more than a little hazardous. If you get anxious easily or crowds freak you out, this may be an issue. Still, approach with caution, but I still recommend it—even if you aren’t a Disney/Frozen fangirl about it.

While everything else, except the uppermost platform, is located within the mountain top station, there is an area where you get to go out onto the actual mountain either for a quick stroll or picture, or one of the family friendly activities offered (ie sledding—however, this seems to be weather permitting, obviously).

While the gloom and light snow meant no sledding for us, my fellow adventurers and I definitely had a blast running and rolling around in the snow, attempting to take pictures with our selfie stick, dancing and singing, as well as a good measure of shivering from the cold and wet. We loved every minute of it. (As a bonus, three cheers for mom for not falling once!)

A few pieces of advice for a day like this, just to wrap up: patience is key and go early as possible (on a regular ticket).

Jungfrau seems to always be crowded as they are a huge draw for individual tourist, tour groups, as well as those who want to get away from the world for a while. Getting in early and hitting the popular areas, like the Ice Palace, will let you do more with less people hanging around or jumping in front of your pictures. This means you probably won’t get clear pictures on the way up the mountain but hopefully the gloom burns off on your stops down!

There are early bird tickets that help save you money, but they do restrict how much time you have up on the mountain. We spent more time on the mountain that these tickets allot you on a hazy day, so I can only imagine the time you might spend out there on a good one (especially with outdoor activities open)!

So, that’s the top of the world. Not sure if I’d have done it alone, but with a few loved ones, you are sure to have some fun!

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

ps. Any Harry Potter fans, one of the paths up or down the mountain stops at a sweet little spot called Grindelwald. We passed through for the sign but on my next path, I’ll definitely be stopping by for a wander!

On top of the World…

So here comes the Geek-out…

…like, a whole mess of it.

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Hogwarts Castle, Film Model. London, England. Summer 2013.

So, I know back in March (wow that feel like forever ago!) we were talking about planning and themes. I ran a through a few but here we’re going to delve in a little deeper; a little further into the levels of geekdom and where it can take you.

Once again it just has to do with research… though at other times it seems to be simple dumb luck. And of course geeking out can and often does has to do with much more than tv shows and movies—we hit cemeteries and “murder tours” because my sister is a criminology student who is a geek about her major as well as literary locations because I’m a geek for all things language and literature. But following are a few of our big geek-outs that range in widespread notoriety and we’ll talk what we saw and how to find your very own Nerd-spaces.

So the picture above is one of the exhibits you can see as part of the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour London—Making of Harry Potter. This is one of the filming models and I swear I almost cried upon seeing it. I mean a serious nerdy moment of awe. If you are a fan of a specific tv/movie/book/ect, most of the big tours through official channels are worthwhile to visit. They also tend to be very easy to find. I suggest (before simple googling the title + film locations) going straight to the main studio or company who produced them and see what they have on their websites; official source means official products/ tours. However, they can cost… a lot; I mean, more than an individual’s budget may allow for. Each person has to weigh their options, but what I can say about this tour (equally, if not more than, the BBC’s Doctor Who Experience; the Doctor Who equivalent though to a smaller scale) is that you get to see tons of real props and costumes as well as screen and audio commentaries that really make the cost worth it, at least for a girl who grew up reading (read: devouring) the novels.

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Ianto Jones’s Memorial. Cardiff, Wales. Summer 2013.

Once you’ve checked out the official channels for your geeked-out travels, go ahead and work on that Google search (country/city + title + “film locations”). You’ll find tons of lists, especially if you are visiting one of the cities you are aware of your interest being filmed in. For example, if you like BBC shows, Cardiff has tons of stuff to see as well as most of wales as it has become like the US’s Canada… an area where you can live, film and produce easily and cheaply while making great tv or movies. Then work through some blogs—we talked about this approach when we were working with “walking like a local”—to see fan based locations. Thinking about it, looking through travel and your fandom on sites like Tumblr will probably give you tons of ideas as well (beware of being sucked into that black hole, of course).

For our trip, these location really focused on Torchwood locations in Cardiff, Wales. You can do tours for these locations (unofficial usually) but they tend to range in both price and quality. Once you have the list of locations (go marathon the scenes before you head out, if you need to jog your memory), go off on your own; at least that’s my suggestion. It was when we were looking for Ianto Jones’s entrance to Torchwood Three headquarters when we ran straight into the wall above. Ianto Jones was/is a beloved character in the show who (spoilers!) died saving the children of Earth in 2009. This memorial was erected and was still being kept up and added to when we were visited in 2013 and is still standing strong. That’s the fun of going to these filming locations; you never know what fantastic nerdy adventures and monuments you’ll be able to experience!

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Tombstone of John Winchester—no, not the Supernatural one! Necropolis, Glasgow, Scotland. Summer 2013.

Which leads us to one of my favorite fan experiences you can have while traveling (you know, besides stumbling onto a set where all of your favorite actors happen to be… You know, accidentally.), the totally surprising and (yes) accidental ones. These are the ones you can’t or don’t research and you don’t see coming. Instead you turn around and BANG, there it is. We had this a few times on our trip. Ianto’s Wall was one, but it wasn’t as subtle and hard to come by as others.

One we almost missed but had my sister running through a Scottish cemetery excitedly is featured in the image above. We were in Necropolis—Glasgow’s huge city of the dead (a little morbid but a really lovely place)—just wandering and looking out for Angels (as Who fans are wont to do and, no, we did not take pictures of those!), when Bex did a double take. John Winchester is the father of the two protagonists on the Warner Brother’s show Supernatural and Bex is a huge fan. Yes, it was sad that the name was on a tombstone, but what were the chances of walking past and actually reading that one out of the thousands surrounding us? That’s what made it so special.

Then, as we exited the cemetery, we got another fan moment. Across the street, just sitting on the corner, was an old blue box; a police box. To say we ran toward it is an understatement. For anyone who does not understand the significance, The Doctor (the namesake of the BBC’s Doctor Who) travels around time and space in an old blue Police Box called the TARDIS. To say our hearts broke a little seeing it sitting outside a graveyard is an understatement but we also were more than ready to jump on in and go on adventures with the loveable (if not incredibly broken) Timelord. Alas, the Doctor was not in but it was a huge moment of unscheduled fandom hysterics that seemed to amuse the passersby.

The only advice I can give when it comes to these experience is: Just keep your eyes open! Oh, right, and of course, embrace them.

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We found the TARDIS! Outside Necropolis, Glasgow, Scotland. Summer 2013.

So below let me know where you have found/seen/discovered some awesome nerdiness on your travels or those spots you really want to see! Also, if anyone has a specific question or topic the want to see covered in the next few weeks, feel free to drop a line about that as well.

Anyway, until next time, let your freak flags fly and I love you awesome nerds,

I’m Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

So here comes the Geek-out…