Christmas at Hogwarts.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

“Christmas was coming. One morning in mid-December, Hogwarts woke to find itself covered in several feet of snow. The lake froze solid and the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban.” - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

In lieu of a heavy introduction about my love of Harry Potter that started at age seven, which I could write a small novel about in itself, we'll cut to the chase: I finally went to Hogwarts during Christmas. From the 14 of November of this year to 1 February 2015, The Making of Harry Potter, Warner Bros Studio, Leavesden is blanketed with snow and holiday decor just like they had in the movies. Crackling fireplaces and all.

I visited the studio tour for the first time in the summer of 2012, where I choked my way through tears at the tour introduction – I won't give any spoilers for those who haven't been, just know that Potterheads will be emotionally fried – and my return in 2014 was no different. Blubbering like a true nerd.
This makes me laugh so hard for some reason. I feel like I look COMPLETELY different and it's only a 2.5-year difference.

The basic (non-spoiler) synopsis of the tour is that you begin in the Great Hall, work your way through soundstage J, the backlot, then onto soundstage K (yes, J and K...the eeriest coincidence of all), and exit via the amazing, pocket-burning gift shop. The tour allows a certain number of people to enter at once, but once in, you are allowed to take as long or as little time as you want exploring. Once you leave a section however, there's no turning back. So take your time and don't rush through things! I spent about 3 hours on the tour both times I've been, and I still feel like my eyes haven't seen it all. There is just so much to see that it's hard to focus!

I don't want to waste time explaining what each aspect of the tour offers because A) This post would be longer than the Order of the Phoenix B) I don't want to spoil the surprises for people who haven't gone! Fair warning that this is going to be outrageously long and picture-heavy, but without further ado...

Something else that wasn't there last time I visited is the new permanent exhibit showcasing bits from the Dark Arts – Borgin & Burkes, Death Eaters, Voldemort, Umbridge, everything a Slytherin like Sara could dream of, right? ;)

To complement the Hogwarts in the snow experience, they have a kiosk situated in the middle of J lot with employees showcasing how filmmakers and creatives create fake fire, glowing embers, snow, and ice. I was amazed at how much detail went into something that you barely see in the background of scenes. They had 4 different methods for ice alone!

Whew! Still there? Onto the backlot for a sit-down break and some much-needed refreshments...

...of Butterbeer, obviously. Some people love it, some hate it. I generally like the first half (the foam topping is the best part in my opinion) and then feel a little over-sugared before reaching the bottom. This patented, JK Rowling approved version was first crafted for the theme park in Florida. In the books, Butterbeer is a warm, alcoholic drink much loved in the winter months. No one in their right mind is going to drink a warm beverage outdoors in Florida, so cold it is! At the theme park they actually sell a "frozen" version which tastes like a hybrid milkshake/coke float and is my favorite. It's one of those things you just have to try on principle, but I think they could make a warm version for the London tour – our hands got pretty chilly!

In addition to drinks and snacks, the backlot is home to Privet Drive, the Potter's house from Deathly Hallows, Knight Bus, the Hogwarts Bridge, Ford Anglia, Sirius's motorbike, and chess pieces from Sorcerer's Stone. It's one of my favorite areas in the entire tour – it's practically a playground! They were even blowing fake snow into the air every few minutes, but it wasn't really showing up on camera.

Onto studio K we go...

Setting aside a day to go out to Leavesden is a must for any Harry Potter fan visiting London – the amount of stuff to do and see is almost overwhelming, making sure you get your money's worth! The gift shop is the most comprehensive Harry Potter merch store I've been to (and I've been to a lot), the staff are some of the most polite, friendly, and helpful around. I can't imagine a happier place to work.

The site is about a 10 minute bus ride from Watford Junction, which is an easy train journey (if you do it correctly, see below) from Euston Station. If you're unfamiliar with the train system and don't want to faff around trying to figure it out, in 2012 I booked my ticket through Golden Tours, which departs from Buckingham Palace road right across from Victoria Station. The cost of a ticket with them includes your entry into the studio and a roundtrip bus fare, shuttling you right to the entrance. The only downside to the bus tour is that you do have a specific time you need to leave, but they allow several hours.

If you are taking the train out to Watford Junction, make sure you take the London Midlands nonstop train and NOT the Overground. Our trip from Euston Station was the slowest train I think I've ever been on, and it stopped about every minute, clocking our time in at nearly an entire hour. The return journey took about 15 minutes.

If you made it to the end of this post, 50 points to whatever Hogwarts house you claim as your own. And do let me know in the comments which house that is...


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