Sunday, 24 February 2013

Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

Harry potter castle

I guess you're reading this because you've heard about the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour but want to know whether it's worth the trip.  It is.  Here are our pictures from the day.

That could have given you all the information you wanted, but just in case you'd like to know more then read on.

Firstly it's important you know you can't do this on the spur of the moment.  If you want to go then you need to buy tickets in advance.  If you want tickets for a day in school holidays then you need to plan ahead a few weeks/months in advance.  I'm writing this during the February half term and morning slots for the Easter holidays have already gone.

I think the tickets are good value.  They are in the range of costs for a good quality family day out and a family ticket for four costs £85 at the time of writing.  There are extras which I paid for, but shouldn't have bought.

A souvenir guide can be bought in advance with no discount but you can't pick up your souvenir guide until you get to the Studios and we almost forgot about it until we were just leaving the gift shop.  My advice is get it from the gift shop after you've had an opportunity to browse and decide that it's worth the £9.95.

A digital guide is also available for £4.95.  I had spoken to friends who had told me the digital guide was definitely worth the extra money so I paid for one, figuring we could share.  If the digital guide was an app that you could download and keep and view at any time then the £4.95 might be a worthwhile investment.  Instead you are handed an iPod Touch with a pre-loaded app (not available from the App store - we know, we looked) and headphones.  The content in the app is brilliant and, if you had no other distractions, it was the only source of information as you went around the tour, you had unlimited time to spend looking at each and every exhibit, and it was on an iPad mini (to aid those whose eyes are starting to deteriorate), then it would be great.  I found I was experiencing sensory overload and couldn't cope with the digital guide.  As you walk round you are bombarded with things to look at and listen to.  Add to this an iPod that needs input and navigating as well as your full attention with both eyes and ears (and maybe it's an age thing) but I couldn't do it and I let the digital guide hang lifeless around my neck.  Additionally the guide has so much content that, if you were to watch it all, you fall behind the group that are on the tour at the same time as you.  Plus, in a world where people hesitate to spend £0.69 on an app they might use daily, to spend £4.95 on a one time use app seems out of proportion.  (It is possible to unplug the headphones for the sound to come out of the speakers but the sound is muffled.)

As you arrive at the Studios you'll walk into a massive entrance with access to the gift shop, a cafe and a Starbucks counter.  We didn't use the cafe or Starbucks so can't comment on these but I think it's strange to have a cafe at the beginning and at the end when, actually, access to a cafe during the tour would be far more convenient.  This leaves the problem of when to book the ticket.  We had a 1:30 entry and ate lunch before going in but next time I think I would try and get 10:00 tickets and survive on snacks until a late lunch.  We spent about four hours on the tour but could have spent more time if children hadn't been flagging.

We did go through the gift shop.  As with all well-managed attractions, the gift shop is positioned at the exit with patrons forced to walk to path of kiddie heaven/parent hell.  The gift shop is ridiculously over-priced and the best example is a bag of dolly mixtures in a Harry Potter branded plastic bag costing £3.95 when the cost from a newsagent would probably have been £1.  It's clear that many visitors to the Studios are extreme Harry Potter fans and we saw many gift shop bags stuffed with over-priced merchandise.  Value is subjective and many of the items in the shop could only be bought in that one location.  I would have loved some of the amazing graphic art that was available but couldn't justify the several hundred pounds being asked.  I was also tempted by the Voldemort outfit at about £175, but then I reflected that opportunities to wear it might be limited, especially as I'm past the generally accepted age for trick or treat activity.

You might think that as your ticket has timed entry that you wouldn't need to queue.  You'd be wrong.  The timed entry means that a large group of people are all admitted in half hour slots.  The large group needs to queue to be manageable (and it wouldn't be British if the queue was absent.)

If you're wondering whether it's de rigueur to turn up in full Harry Potter costume then feel free, you won't be alone.

Once you are released from the queue that passes the cupboard under the stairs, you enter a holding area before moving into a cinema.  After a short film you enter the amazing Great Hall.  As with most of the exhibits the level of detail is astounding.  From the Great Hall you can proceed at your own pace.  It's a self-guided tour which effectively means you wander around spending as much or as little time at the different exhibits as you'd like.  If I were to return I'd be tempted to visit alone as children don't have very long attention spans and always want to see what's around the next corner.  I'm tempted to go back on a school day when it's less crowded.  Maybe it's because my parents were avid actors on the "am dram" scene or maybe it's because I took 'O' Level drama but I found the whole thing fascinating and didn't feel I had the time to adequately absorb everything because I was accompanied by an engineer and two eager children.  I felt that it was a little too crowded and the volumes admitted at one time could have been reduced just a little to make the experience more comfortable.  

After the Great Hall you enter a vast room full of sets and props and costumes and, around the corner, a green screen photo opportunity.  It wouldn't be a commercial enterprise without the obligatory £10 photo so if you must, and we did, you can have your photo taken on a broom or in a Ford Anglia.  I opted for the witch shot for obvious reasons.  This is another queueing opportunity but you can see what you're getting while you're queueing which makes it less of a chore.

Once you reach the Ministry of Magic you're ready to step outside for a Butterbeer.  It is possible to step outside and stay under cover but still exposed to the outside temperature.  However, if you want to take pictures of the Knight Bus, Privet Drive or the house in which Harry's parents were cruelly dispatched by he who must not be named, then you won't be undercover. The Butterbeer is non-alcoholic and my two loved it.  It is sickly sweet but does have a buttery taste.  We bought the £2 disposable beaker but you can upgrade to get more volume and have a choice of two different varieties of plastic take home drinking vessels. Next to the Butterbeer bar is a counter selling snacks and refreshments.  It didn't look like there was much more than a choice of soft drinks, crisps and chocolate.  Whilst my two would be happy if this formed the basis of lunch, I wouldn't.

There is much more to see after the Butterbeer stop including animatronics, Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts castle, the models and drawings for different sets, some impressive graphic art and Olivander's wand shop which leads you to the exit via the gift shop.

I used to wonder how a film production could cost as much as it does.  I now wonder how on earth they achieve productions for the meagre sums involved.  It is an industry that I find fascinating and, if I had a creative bone in my body, I would love to be a part of it.  Who doesn't want to see their name in the credits?

For more information, click here

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Ethan's Volcano Pudding

This is a fun recipe that can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be.  Ethan created a simple version a couple of years ago at a Beavers' session, probably earning him a cookery badge. He wanted to re-create it today and we made a slightly more complicated version.
Volcano pudding
I'll outline the simple version and then provide details of the more complicated options.
  • Chocolate muffin
  • Chocolate sauce - the kind that goes on ice cream
  • Strawberry or raspberry sauce - the kind that goes on ice cream
  • Icing sugar
  • Chop the muffin top off the top of your muffin.
  • Upturn the main body of the muffin and crumble the top you've chopped off around the base of your forming volcano.
  • Pour or squeeze chocolate sauce over your volcano (this is the cooled lava flow)
  • Pour or squeeze strawberry/raspberry sauce over chocolate sauce (this is the hot lava flow)
  • Sprinkle with icing sugar (snow atop your volcano)
  • Admire and devour
More complicated options:
  • Make the muffins.  I have a couple of recipe suggestions, here and here.
  • Make a chocolate sauce.  I found a bar of chocolate containing honeycomb pieces and chucked that in the microwave gently, until it melted.  I figured the honeycomb would add an interesting texture.  It was more spoonable than pourable but a cooled lava flow moves more slowly so it was quite authentic.
  • Make a compote.  This sounds posher than it was.  I found a few left over raspberries, red currants and blackcurrants in the freezer and heated with a bit of water and neat blackcurrant squash.  I then blended the resultant goo.  The great thing about using this whilst warm is that when you sprinkle on your icing sugar at the end, it will dissolve on the compote in the same way that snow would not settle on hot lava.