When I first read the Harry Potter books I found myself imagining the characters and the magic, and of course Hogwarts, but many aspects were fuzzy. That is, until I watched the first film. Suddenly the actors cast became what I saw in my head when I read the dialogue. The details were beautifully filled in by the elaborate costumes and props.
Sometime after the movies began debuting, I was in Chicago and there was a special exhibit of the Harry Potter film props and costumes. I loved it so much I was even inspired to copy the knitted blanket on Ron Weasley’s bed. I had toured movie studios and I knew that seldom do they spend so much time or money on getting to this level of reality!
So when we were planning our Harry Potter adventures in London, I was enthusiastic about taking the train to the outskirts of London to the Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden for the “Making of Harry Potter” tour. It is around $60 a person for a ticket to enter the world of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley and No. 4 Privet Drive. The greeter tells you that it takes about 3.5 hours to walk through (at your own pace) with a lunch stop about 2/3 through. In fact, we explored most of the sets and exhibits and stopped for a quick lunch and it took about 5.5 hours. Not that we are complaining! Plus there is shopping at the end of the tour.
We got some great advice: ask the interpretive hosts if they have a favorite fun fact for the room they are stationed. All of the hosts were very enthusiastic about all things Harry Potter and usually gave us more than one fun fact. This is how we learned that 17,000 wand boxes were created for Olivander’s wand shop. And that many of them are still charred from the scene when Olivander’s shop explodes–a shot they only had one chance to capture. Or that Rupert Grint who played Ron asked to keep the number 4 from the house on Privet Drive.
We went on a weekday and there were lots of school trips. The staff said it is actually less crowded on the weekends. It was a fantastic day.
Our Harry Potter holiday was planned around the Wednesday performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One & Two. The tickets said Part One starts at 2:00 p.m. and to arrive an hour early to get through security. We met up at my hotel, Mimi’s Hotel Soho. We had a short walk to the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. We didn’t know what to expect but we thought it might be best to eat a light lunch to avoid feeling sleepy or hungry. I suggested the cafe at Foyle’s Books and we had a yummy kabab with salad. When we arrived at the theater it took a few minutes for us to realize the line to get in already wrapped round the building. Good thing we had assigned seats!
The play is based on JK Rowling’s story. I’d read the script when it first came out and didn’t remember the plot. UK Sarah had just read it. We both were most curious about the staging and how the director will portray the magic.
The play is now in New York City as well. The Palace Theatre is a beautiful older stage with steep rows in the balcony. We got to know our neighbors well as we helped each other navigate to our seats. In our row everyone was committed to both parts on this day. We all bought our tickets for March 13 at the end of November.
I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll just say that it was a hugely satisfying experience. We loved the staging and the special effects. The play was well-acted and much more entertaining when performed (than when read as a script).
Some actors stole their scenes–Ron and Moaning Myrtle–overall it was very entertaining. The break in the middle was about 2.5 hours, and again we had to return an hour early to go through security again. We had about 1.5 hours to sort out dinner.
UK Sarah was craving soup so we walked 15 minutes to Shoop Soup. We had a lots of choice and we were able to score two seats on the limited bar seating at front. There is also outdoor seating for fair weather. The soup was yummy and the sourdough bread just right. We enjoyed a conversation with a taxi cab driver who regularly stops here for dinner.
We returned for the second half and cheered for the performers at the end. The walk to our hotel was easy and we were full of happy chat over Harry Potter characters.
I recommend this play for any fans of Harry Potter. I am not sure how it’d go down if you had not read the books. I also am not sure if children under 11 would find it too scary. We were frightened a couple of times ourselves (and we are too old to politely ask our age.)
It was an excellent start to our Harry Potter holiday.
I am going to England in March to visit UK Sarah and we are going to spend the first 2 days geeking out over Harry Potter. We will see both parts of The Cursed Child at the theater and then the next day visit Warner Bros.’ The Making of Harry Potter.
In preparation I am re-reading all 7 books by JK Rowling. I will probably watch all the films again too. My close reading of the Harry Potter series is so much more enjoyable and meaningful because as I read a chapter I am pausing to listen to the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. The co-hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile created a unique format. Each episode has a theme, such as friendship, commitment, fear or other values/ emotions. They begin with a short story from one of them that illustrates the theme. Then they compete in a friendly competition of recapping the chapter in 30 seconds. This is followed by a discussion of the chapter through the lens of the theme. They then apply a spiritual practice, such as lectio divina, to part of the text, finally they each give a blessing to one of the characters. Often there is also an interview with a guest rabbi or professor. Or they play a short message from a listener. I am LOVING the whole experience.
Vanessa and Casper met at Harvard Divinity School. Vanessa is up front about her Jewish background and nonbeliever status. Casper is a little more enigmatic. He has a lovely British accent and can share his boarding school experience. They are both very empathetic, mature people with a strong moral compass. It all adds up to a fascinating podcast.
By the way, just to be on the safe side, I am flying back to California before the deadline for hard Brexit.
Last time I went to Universal Studios was around 1980. I don’t remember much except the tram ride including an encounter with the Jaws‘ great white shark and the Ten Commandments‘ parted Red Sea. For the next 30 years I thought “everyone should go once to see how fake everything is that looks so real on film.”
Filmmaking has come a long way since then including the magic of the Harry Potter movies. Once while I was in Chicago I trekked to a special exhibit of Harry Potter movie props and videos explaining how they filmed the quidditch match, and so on. I loved it. The weird part is while the magical world of Harry Potter is completely imaginary, everything about the sets and props were very real. The knit sweaters and blankets were exquisite and I was inspired to knit my son a blanket like the one Mrs. Weasley made.
I was in Los Angeles on other personal business but I decided to take the plunge to see the Harry Potter experience at Universal Studios in Hollywood. I didn’t want to go alone so I asked my son’s friend Glen. I know he’s as enthusiastic about the books as I am. He said yes immediately.
I went to the AAA website to check out any available discounts. I got the first of many rude price shocks: $105 per adult with a discount. How do families afford it? I looked at Costco and they had a $200 deal for a yearly pass; however, it is not a deal if you only plan to visit once. As I’m checking out of the site with the AAA passes and they ask if I want to pre-purchase my parking for $20. Oh yeah, the $105 doesn’t include parking!
Glen and I met outside the Hard Rock Cafe, which is in a shopping area outside the official amusement park. (Imagine an outlet mall on steroids.) All the facades are supersized–it’s a little Times Square, a little Vegas and completely boring. Does anyone really pay $20 to park and shop for Sketchers and go to the movies?
We managed to enter the gates minutes after the 10 a.m. opening. There were plenty of people joining us–many already in their Hogwarts robes. We went straight to Hogsmeade for the Harry Potter experience. Immediately we felt transported. The energy and the excitement is palpable. Glen and I looked and each other and we knew we were ready to get our Harry Potter-geek on. The conductor of Hogwarts Express was there to greet us, the whole place was just what you’d imagine Hogsmeade to be.
We moved on to Honeydukes candy shop and then on to more shops that combined movie sets and souvenir shops. Universal Studios does not miss an opportunity to sell you branded stuff. You can buy Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Gryffindor hoodies, quidditch shirts, socks and more. You can buy full robes and a quidditch broom ($300).
Friends had suggested we try the butterbeer. It froths like a rootbeer but is twice as sweet. The butterscotch flavor is delicious but I could only drink half of my $7.20 standard plastic cup of butterbeer (yes there is a souvenir option). I am used to the hyper-marketing that is ubiquitous in the USA, but I couldn’t help contrasting it with Hobbiton in New Zealand, where the real beer at the Green Dragon is complimentary and the only souvenirs are sold at the entrance/exit. Ah New Zealand.
We stood in line for about 40 minutes to enter Olivander’s Wand emporium. First we entered a small room lined with wand boxes and then we were invited into a larger room with a counter for wand fittings. The shopkeeper selected a small girl in Hogwarts robes to come forward. She was adorable in her excitement and awe. He proceeded to have her try 3 wands. With the first two the spells backfired. The third wand “chose” her. He called the girl’s family forward for a chat and the rest of us were ushered into the shop for fans to make their own purchases with cash or credit card. Part of me experienced some sympathy anxiety for parents who after shelling out wads of cash were going to feel considerable pressure to purchase a $50 wand for each of their children. Fortunately, Glen and I can afford to splurge and we each bought an interactive want so we could try out “spells” at designated spots around the park.
We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks where we both ordered the fish and chips. It was tasty and filling and $20 for lunch. It was good to sit down briefly.
We experienced almost all of Hogsmeade and so that left us with the virtual ride and the roller coaster. I get motion sick quite easily so I knew the roller coaster was out. But I was curious to see the Hogwarts classrooms that are part of waiting in line for the virtual ride. Glen stowed our wands in a locker (stow everything you can!) and I breezed past the sign that says no pregnant women or people prone to motion sick. And hour later and we were ushered to our ride seats and locked in. I was optimistic for no good reason, within a minute I was starting to feel queasy. I shut my eyes for most of the ride. You’ll have to ask Glen for ride details. He was quite pleased. I was just relieved I didn’t actually throw up. I sat down gulping in fresh air for a few minutes before I was ambulatory.
We went back and did the shopping that we didn’t want to carry through the park. We stepped out of Hogsmeade and looked around at the rest of Universal Studios: Shrek 4D, something with zombies, an animal show, and then at each other. Interested? Nah. Me neither. Four hours in Hogsmeade and were were ready to leave. Was it worth it? Yes!