I’m going to say it… I’m a HUGE Harry Potter nerd and like any other HP fan, there are 2 world-wide MUST visit attractions I just had to go to. So rather than between England and Iowa…this is more between England and Florida! England, UK is home to the Warner Bros Studio Tour…and Florida, USA has The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so let’s have a wizard dual between the two, which is better?!
Warner Bros Studio Tour: Making of Harry Potter (UK)
Leavesden Studios in Watford is where the majority of filming for the Harry Potter movies took place. When filming finished, the studio opened its doors to visiting guests! It showcases some of the real sets and props used during the filming of the Harry Potter series. Other than the first 10 minutes or so, the rest of the time is self guided or with the help of an audio guide for an extra charge. For me, it took around 3 hours to go round, but it could easily take longer if you were to stop and look at every little prop on display. You even get the opportunity to sit on a broomstick rig in front of a green screen background and watch as you fly through the streets of London or around the castle! It has recently expanded, they have now re-created Kings Cross train station complete with the Hogwarts Express! They also hold themed evening meals in The Great Hall for special occasions, such as: Christmas and Valentine’s Day
- It’s the REAL sets!!! The Great Hall, Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Castle model are brilliant and it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside when you stop and think how many great actors and actresses have stood on those sets too! Not going to lie, when I saw The Great Hall for the first time, I did nearly cry, I think I’m allowed to, I’ve grown up with Harry Potter! (I was 10 when I first started reading the books…I’m now scarily close to 30).
- The broomstick experience is fun…even for the adults! You get robes to wear and everything!
- For visitors in England, it’s easy to get to. Just off the M25 if driving or they have shuttle buses to and from the nearest train station that has links to central London.
- Butterbeer. It’s odd, but strangely addictive!
- It’s not too over crowded. Although they don’t try and shuffle you on, entrance is at staggered times, so it’s easy to get photos with the props and sets, without getting too many heads in view!
- I’ve visited twice now and each time I’ve been, I’ve spotted different things that I hadn’t seen on my first visit!
- Again, release your inner child, even if you’re an adult (especially if you’re a travel lover…), you can pick up a ‘Harry Potter Passport’ at Customer Services, while walking around, keep an eye out for machines to collect passport stamps!
- Having the staff in the uniforms and costumes would add to the magic! Currently they only do this during theme weeks or special days.
- Obviously some things don’t look like how they do in the films…the pictures don’t really move…you just see the green screen, props like the Chamber of Secrets door isn’t always turned on etc.
(Adult ticket – £29, Child ticket – £21.50…plus family options and packages with guide books etc available)
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (USA)
Living in the UK, it’s a long expensive trip over to the States just to go and see it. Tucked away in the corner of Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, lays a HUGE ‘Hogwarts’ castle and the snowy streets of Hogsmeade Village and train station. It has different aspects from the Studio Tour. There are 3 rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, The Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge (this one has been at Universal for a while but has since been incorporated into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter). The Forbidden Journey is inside Hogwarts castle and in my eyes, has one of the best queue lines of any ride I’ve been on. The ride itself amazed me. The technology was incredible, having a mixture of motion and picture (not like regular 4D type rides, the cars actually move around on a track) and the joins between scenes were seamless, again, I nearly cried.
The theme park next door, Universal Studios, is now home to Diagon Alley and Kings Cross. If you have a park hopper ticket, you can jump on the ‘Hogwarts Express’ and ride between the 2 parks! This half of the attraction wasn’t yet built when I visited, so my opinions are based on the Island’s of Adventure side!
- It allows you to LIVE Harry Potter, you can wander into shops and eat in the ‘pubs’ that you recognise from the books (even get an owl post ink stamp for postcards!), feel like you are walking the Hogwarts corridors (with moving pictures on the walls!) and watch performances from the frog choir and the 2 foreign exchange schools from Goblet of Fire. The staff members are all dressed in costume!
- The frozen Butterbeer is awesome. Only the regular Butterbeer is available at the WB Studio Tour, but the frozen version beats it hands down!
- You get to enjoy it as part of a trip to another country (always a winner…location dependant obviously!), plus it’s warm!
- The ticket obviously includes access to the rest of Islands of Adventure, if you buy a hopper, you can go into Universal Studios next door on the same ticket.
- Although all the cast members are dressed up in costumes and school uniforms, they obviously had American accents (being in America!) and for me this kind of ruined the affect as Harry Potter is very English and it was strange having the wrong accent in the uniforms!! (Just to cover myself, I have NOTHING against the USA accent, after all my husband obviously has one and I’ll probably end up with one after I emigrate…but Harry Potter is English so it was strange!)
- Again, the expense. Even the basic park entry is expensive, but then you do get access to everywhere in the park, not just the Harry Potter area.
- The queues for the rides can be pretty awful and there’s obviously no control on the amount of people that are let in the area so it gets crowded throughout the day.
(We flew Gatwick – Sanford with Monarch and then stayed at the Days Inn just outside of the Universal Resort…this was the cheapest we found we could do it coming from the UK)
For me, I think I preferred the WB Studio Tour, just because it’s the real life home of Harry Potter and nothing will ever take away the magic of walking into The Great Hall for the first time, it really is amazing.