This is a warning to any Harry Potter fans, or indeed anyone, thinking of going to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Watford. In particular, anyone thinking of going to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour from London. Don't take the bus from Victoria, the price is extortionate, you'll be wasting your money.
Getting into the Warner Brothers Studio Tour isn't cheap. Tickets currently cost £30 for adults and £22.50 for children - more even than for London's most expensive tourist attraction, The View from the Shard. But let's assume that the Harry Potter tour is worth the money and you really want to go. That's fine, but please think twice before you double the price by taking the direct bus.
The Warner Brothers Studio Tour isn't in London, it's in Leavesden in North Watford, which might sound like a particularly difficult place to get to. But don't let that tempt you to take the heavily-plugged "hassle-free" option, which is to get on the official bus at Victoria and let the driver take you there. And that's for two reasons. Firstly it's up to 50% more expensive. And secondly it's at least an hour slower.
Take away the price of your entrance ticket, and the cost of a Golden Tours bus transfer from Victoria to Warner Brothers Studios and back is £29. That's an outrageous amount of money, no matter what your currency, for a journey between two places less than 20 miles apart. OK, so you get an air-conditioned bus, and you get to sit and do nothing, and you get the opportunity to see what the M1 motorway looks like. But there's also a direct bus from Watford Junction station to the studios, and taking that route costs considerably less.
Here's the cheaper way to do it. Take the bus or tube to Euston station, not Victoria. Get a train to Watford Junction. Use your Oyster card, it'll be cheaper than buying a paper ticket. And then waiting outside Watford Junction will be another official bus service, this time run by Mullany's Buses, and this time the fare is only £2 return.
I'm assuming that it costs the same to get from your home or hotel to either Victoria or Euston in the first place, so those fares cancel out. And if you have to travel before 9.30am or after 4.30pm on a weekday, then your train journey will cost more. But what's clear is that taking the train to Watford and then Mullany's shuttle bus costs up to £17.60 less per person than taking the official Golden Tours bus. That's £17.60 you could be spending later on a Gryffindor keychain and a Chocolate Frog, rather than donating to a coach company.
And what about the time taken?
The Golden Tours bus is slow because it has to make its way through Central London traffic and up the M1 motorway. The bus therefore departs two hours before your tour time, and passengers are asked to check in at Victoria fifteen minutes before it leaves. That's an astonishing 135 minutes in total, meaning you need to be ready at Victoria at 9.45am for a 12 noon tour.
Unsurprisingly, heading to Watford by train is considerably quicker. The train journey takes 15-20 minutes, and then the bus at the other end takes 12 minutes. Even if you time things badly and have to wait 29 minutes for the next half-hourly Mullany's bus, you're still going to complete the whole journey in under an hour. You could even leave Victoria at 10.45am, a whole hour later than the check-in for the official bus, and still attend the 12 noon tour on time.
So, the official Golden Tours bus for £29 in two and a bit hours?
Or the ordinary train and the other bus for £12.20 in one hour.
Harry Potter-going tourists, it's your choice.