“WELCOME to Hogwarts,” says our grinning guide.
She pushes open the huge wooden doors, revealing what wizarding fans the world over would recognize as the Great Hall, decorated exactly as it was when Harry Potter first visited. And it really is magical.
The magnificent film set is set with the same long tables covered with plates and cutlery as if waiting for the Hogwarts students to arrive.
This is not my first visit to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Leavesden, Herts. (Try the ninth… I’m a huge Potter fan.)
But it’s the first time I’ve seen the Great Hall like this, with 400 candles magically hovering overhead, casting a dappled glow over the soaring walls.
This extra pinch of magic was added for the Discover Hogwarts feature, which launched this week.
The latest addition to the behind-the-scenes experience is designed to give die-hard Potter fans a closer look at the first films in particular.
All the usual tour elements are still there – real costumes, a journey through Aragog’s lair, green screens to ride on a broomstick, goblin facial prosthetics, and more.
But during the summer months there will be craft workshops where you can make your own origami “sorting ceremony gibberish” and special pop-up booths will be dotted around the sets with local experts on hand to explain how the magic works – and even show some of the tricks.
For example, did you know that it’s late? Robbie ColtraneDid , who played the friendly giant Hagrid, have a body double?
We learn that many Hagrid scenes were shot with Martin Bayfield – the 1.8m tall former England rugby player – who wore an animatronic head.
And remember the famous Wingardium Leviosa scene where Hermione levitates a white feather?
Now we discover how the background wizards gracefully glided it through the air.
However, I will not reveal all the secrets. And these pop-up stands are just one tiny splash in a whole cauldron of fun.
You can switch between mind-bending details and interactive fun that even muggles would enjoy.
Pose for snaps with Hagrid’s bike and sidecar, or take home a souvenir video of you battling a dementor from your carriage on the Hogwarts Express.
Celebrate your victory with a butterbeer—but maybe only one, because this buttery, syrupy juice with a runny marshmallow sure has a sugar boost.
Take your time to go through everything, because according to Warner Bros., the tour lasts an average of three and a half hours (or at least four in my experience).
And don’t spend all your money on photo memorabilia and food from the café – the huge gift shop at the end will make little eyes pop and the wands, capes and stuffed animals don’t come cheap.
My advice is to opt for treats like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frogs.
They’re still expensive, but they’re fun and tasty, and the frogs come with trading cards.
Also, it keeps the kids calm on the way home. That’s a win.
- Discovering Hogwarts runs until September 4th. Tickets start from £51.50 per person. See wbstudiotour.co.uk.