Tag Archives: Harry Potter

USA ’18 – Day 3 – Not so Fast not so Furious

Our drive along the 192 into the parks takes us past numerous eating establishments but at the very end there is a formal looking building with the words “Bob Evans” above the door. Initially I thought that it might be an estate agents or a realtor in the local parlance but a quick search identified it as a restaurant. I then made the mistake of suggesting to the rest of the occupants of the car that as it had Evans’ name above the door it must be a more up market restaurant. This was quickly shot down in flames as it was pointed out to me that if having your name above your eatery was a mark of good quality that would make Wendy’s, Denny’s and McDonalds all fine dining. They had a point so I quickly drove on. I’d like to say that nothing was said of it again but these things have a way of coming back to haunt you.

Today’s park was Universal which is actually two parks but they are so small (compared to Disney) and so close together that we consider them as one. Universal feels a lot more adult in its theme with rides based on the likes of Harry Potter (of which there are many), Transformers, Simpsons and Fast and Furious.

We made our way straight to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride for which the signs said there were 10 minute wait times. I can only assume that was the wait time to secure a locker because beyond that and the long walk to the ride itself there were no delays (as seen below). In keeping with many of the more recent rides in Universal this makes use of screens to display action as you are moved from scene to scene in some sort of cart. This is a lot more effective that I have made it sound here. The best example is probably the Transformers ride which seems very immersive.

Next stop was to Hogsmeade station where a trip on the Hogwarts express awaited us. This is what appears to be a real steam locomotive pulling four carriages. It is incredibly realistic. Once you are seated inside you really could be on your way to Platform 9 3/4 as the windows are replaced with TV screens projecting images of your journey including a number of iconic movie places and a very realistic run into London. It was very impressive. You step out onto Kings Cross station which too is very realistic.

That is not an accusation you could lay at Universal’s newest ride Fast & Furious — Supercharged. It had only been open a week and today was the official opening. Despite this, like the rest of the park, it was pretty quiet and we got on it easily albeit slowly. We all came off the ride saying the same thing – “is that it?” It was very short and pretty tame compared to the high octane films. I don’t think we’ll be rushing to go on it again.

Today was the first time ever (I think) that I have gone completely camera free on holiday. Instead all the pictures were taken with my phone and don’t seem to have suffered any for that. I did feel a little naked not carrying the camera round though and it is much easier to hold and use than a phone so I may yet still take it out with me.

For our evening meal we went to The Cheesecake Factory. I was feeling bloated from all the other meals we have had so I ordered off the skinnylicious menu where the salads were under 600 calories. What turned up was the biggest plate of salad I have ever seen and while it was delicious I could still only manager half of it!

Harry Potter: A History of Magic

I was lucky that my boys were exactly the right age for the phenomenon that was the Harry Potter books. Each time a new one came out they would eagerly await their arrival from Amazon on the day of their release. We would order two copies to ensure that they could be read in parallel.

For me the books were an entertaining work of fiction from an inventive mind that inspired my children to read for which I was grateful. I didn’t think much about the detail that was written in them, dismissing it as nothing more than a work of fiction, until today that is.

Today we visited the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition that is on in the British Library. Like everything else that is Harry Potter related it was sold out a while ago and having been I can say that’s with good reason.

The exhibition merges the fiction of JK Rowling with the “factual” magical history from centuries of books and other artifacts. There were historical records including a six foot long scroll with the recipe to make your own philosopher’s stone and the first known reference to a hippogriff in print alongside original drawings and pages from notebooks from JK Rowling.

What came as a surprise to me (apart from that Rowling is a pretty good artist) was just how much of what you might describe as the background detail in the books is based on “fact”. I had assumed that the books were just a product of her imagination but, no, there is much there which is based on hundreds of years of mythology. Obviously not Quidditch or Hogwarts but much else and there must have been so much research that went into it to give the books an air of authenticity.

The event was very well laid out with rooms dedicated to lessons, so divination, potions etc. with each having a number of related and relevant artifacts in cabinets around the walls with one centerpiece. This layout, however, presented the biggest problem for me because while it wasn’t overly crowded everyone was crushed against the wall cabinets. Patience was required as you queued to get access to the next cabinet.

The whole thing was fascinating and I would have loved to have gone round alone to get better views of some things. Best bit? The empty cabinet with just a simple hook at the top and the card saying “Invisibility Cloak”!

And yes, when you have finished, it does exit via the gift shop where you can buy a copy of the official book at twice the price that you’ll find it on Amazon!

A Wizarding Anniversary

So you know that each year that you have been married is associated with a certain gift? So year one is paper, five is wood, 25 is silver and so on. It turns out that the gift for 27 years is wizard wands and so Helen and I decided that we would have to go to Watford to pick a couple up.

If Watford doesn’t seem like a very likely place for magical wands then let me explain that it is home to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, although that is a complete misnomer. The Warner Brothers Studio Tour is about one thing and one thing only and that is Harry Potter. And yes we have been there before (whisper it – “three times”!).

It was a dreary day outside but inside was full of wonder. The Harry Potter tour, as I’m going to call it from now on as it is more accurate, you can visit multiple times as it is constantly changing. Last time we visited they’d added the Hogwarts Express and new for this visit was the forbidden forest complete with Aragog the spider. Something that I hadn’t noticed on previous visits was that there are now two additional shops (by said train and  forest) where you can buy items that are only available in those shops. Talk about applying additional pressure on parents as they go round.

That aside it is an incredible place if you are into Harry Potter as it not only includes sets on a large scale (such as the great hall and Diagon Alley)  but also offers a look at the making of that you wouldn’t see otherwise. The best example of the latter is a series of videos featuring Warwick Davies showing how the animatronics were done. The time, effort and money spent is mind-boggling.

The last part of the tour is an interior of, one assumes, Olivanders which is full of boxes of wands. The end of each box is labelled with the name of someone that worked on the film, which is a nice touch. Then, inevitably, you exit via the gift shop. And what a gift shop! You name an item and they’ll have stuck a Harry Potter logo on it!

I’d like to say that we celebrated 27 years of marriage by buying each other his and hers wands but Helen was very restrained and decided one wand wielding person in the house was sufficient. So only I will be able to turn on the lights through voice alone. Unless Helen talks to Alexa of course!


About 18 months ago tickets for the Harry Potter plays went on sale and I found myself in an online queue waiting patiently to get to the front. When I did I managed to secure tickets for March 2017. That seemed like such a ridiculously long time away and, it was, but eventually it did come round and we finally went last weekend.

The reason that this post is called #KeepTheSecrets is that is what you are asked to do when seeing the play so I will try and not give any spoilers in this post but if you are at all concerned look away now, as they say.

I’d wondered how well the Harry Potter universe, which covers such a geographically spread and diverse set of locations, would translate to the stage. I was even more curious when I saw what was, to all intents and purposes, an empty stage. The designers has decided that there was no way that they were going to recreate the scenes such as Hogwarts or Diagon Alley and so went for a minimalist look that worked incredibly well. There were a number of stage tricks that were used to perform some of the better known tricks that appear in both the books and film – travelling by floo being simple but incredibly effective. Movable staircases and trunks are made good use of to cover all sorts of situations.

The story itself takes place 20 years after the last book and centres around the friendship of the sons of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy – Albus and Scorpius respectively. Neither seem to live up to the expectations of their fathers and Harry in particular just seems to spend all his time with Albus shouting at him.

Again without giving too much away I was pretty disappointed with the story which I thought was pretty weak and just an excuse to go over lots of old ground, sort of like a greatest hits of the books/films. Of course die hard Harry Potter fans will welcome this but to me it seemed a wasted opportunity.

Oh and I really don’t think that it needs to be spread over two parts – unless you are the promotor of course…

So an enjoyable experience yes and incredibly well staged but let down by a weak story that didn’t do the books justice.

The Making of Harry Potter

As a birthday treat we went to the glamorous setting of the outskirts of Watford at the weekend to visit The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros. Studios. There was much excitement!

Caution – spoilers if you read on.

The tickets are for a timed entry that ensures that there isn’t an overwhelming flow of people through the exhibits. I was a bit concerned that this would mean that we would be herded through but this wasn’t the case. We were told that we could go through at our own pace and that the record for time spent there was 13 hours, set by a couple of Canadians!

As you queue at the entrance you can see the cupboard under the stairs. I’m going to have to watch the films again as I don’t remember there being so many gas and electric meters under there. Taking a leaf out of Disney this was the first of three holding areas. The next was where we were given instructions on what we could and couldn’t do and then the next room was a short film introduced by Harry, Ron and Hermione. Then, in an unexpected move, the wall shot up and we were in front of the doors to the great hall. The hall itself is enormous and pretty impressive even without the enchanted ceiling! This was the only part of the tour where you were herded through to ensure that it was clear for the next party. That wasn’t an issue as you still got plenty of time walkthrough.

The next area was a huge open space containing loads of sets including the bedroom and common room from Hogwarts, the clock from the entrance to Hogwarts, the rather unsettling centerpiece from the hall at the ministry of magic and much much more. This also included the only interactive piece in the whole place – a change to ride a broomstick or enchanted car on a green screen background followed by the opportunity to purchase a photo of video of your ride. You really could spend hours in this area looking at all the props that have been created – the number and the detail really is mind boggling.

Then you outside with the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and other larger props. Here you can get to take a rest, grab a bite to eat and try out the butter beer.

Next you are back inside for Diagon Alley with all it’s quirky charm and a selection of scale models of some of the major buildings used in the films. The detail in these and the concept artist paintings was amazing, it’s no wonder that these films cost so much to make. The paintings by concept artist Andrew Williamson are good enough to hang in a gallery.

The penultimate treat was coming into a darkened room where the centrepiece was a scale model of the whole of Hogwarts which I assume was used for the overhead and fly-through shots.

Finally (before the obligatory gift shop) was the interior of wandmakers Ollivanders. Here were thousands of wand boxes all individually made and labelled each with the name of a cast or crew member. It was fun wandering through to see how many people you could spot.


A cynical view might be that this was Warner Bros. making back some money by opening up the sets used but it was brilliantly done and for us well worth the ticket price.