Ben Dodson

Freelance iOS, Apple Watch, and Apple TV Developer

Harry Potter at the Warner Bros Studio Tour

I took my girlfriend to the Warner Bros Studio Tour (which is entirely Harry Potter based) on Valentine’s Day and had a few observations I wanted to write about.

  • The Tour - If you’re a Harry Potter fan or interested in how movies are made, then it is a great tour. You get to see a large number of sets, props, and artwork along with a few interactive elements such as flying on a broomstick to see how ‘green screening’ works. The things that really stood out to me were how small some of the sets were and also how much effort they go to with some things (i.e. the Dursley’s house is on the backlot.. they found it easier to build a fake house than film on location). The highlight of the tour is a huge model replica of Hogwarts which took 72 man years to build. It really is stunning.

  • Queues - This is the first attraction I’ve ever seen which only lets you buy tickets in advance (you can’t just turn up on the day). On arriving, it was evident why; the place was packed! When you order your tickets, you choose a half hour window from which you are allowed to enter the attraction. We got there 45 minutes early so milled around the gift shop and the coffee bar but there were lots of other people doing the same (I’d estimate around 400-500 people). We spent a further 45 minutes queueing to get into the attraction which is slow going as there is a 10 minute cinema piece before hand. Whilst it was irritating to wait a while, it definitely paid off as this drip feeding into the studios means you enter the Great Hall (the first stop) with around 100 other people. This is the only ‘guided’ bit of the tour with someone pointing out various aspects of the set but then you are free to walk around the next bits at your own pace. It never really felt overcrowded despite appearances from the outside and I can understand why they chose this ticketing system.

  • Digital Guide - When I bought the tickets, there was an option to pay a bit more and get a digital guide and a printed guide. I did this expecting the digital guide to be something on a website or an interactive PDF but it was actually one of those things you walk around the tour with along with a headset. I didn’t use it, but I had a good look at it after I noticed one of the videos had iOS controls. It turns out there was an iPod Touch inside just wrapped in grey plastic which most likely had a battery booster and theft detection thing in it. I don’t know how they did it, but I saw one couple who had managed to get to the iOS home screen which confirmed it (along with the giveaway 30 pin connector on the base and the slight curved shine of a metal back inside). The guide itself is simply an iOS app that you press buttons on to get audio and information about (there is a full review on the Visitour website) but it seemed pretty good. Having said that, we didn’t bother using it. I think it would have been nice if the app could have been downloaded on to our own devices to be used later on (i.e. looking through the physical guide and having some audio to listen to along with it) but I was more intrigued by the use of iPod Touches as guides rather than a bespoke device.

  • WiFi - I didn’t use it, but I was impressed that there was free WiFi throughout the tour. Nice if you’re the sort of person that wants to upload photos as soon as you take them.

  • iPads - Not really an observation of the tour so much, but I saw a lot of people taking photos on their iPads (both the 10” and 7.85” models). This strikes me as very odd as I saw most of them had iPhones or other smartphones.

  • Commercialisation - If you’ve got kids, get ready to spend a lot of cash in the gift shop. They have nearly everything you can imagine with Harry Potter plastered on it and at a steep price as well (i.e. a small bag of Bertie Bott’s jelly beans is £9). My girlfriend pointed out that there wasn’t a single item for under £2 aside from postcards at 90p each. You kind of expect it these days but I’d find it genuinely fascinating to know how much money they make each day. In terms of stock, it’s the same stuff they sell at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios (although it’s more expensive then buying in dollars - a Chocolate frog is $10 in the US but £8 in the UK).

Overall, it was an awesome day out and I’d highly recommend it. There was plenty to see and do and a lot of the sets and props are incredibly impressive. Just be ready to queue at the beginning, and empty your wallet at the end.

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