We recently spent the most unforgettable weekend in London watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre, organised and paid for by the charity Rays of Sunshine for Caroline’s cancer wish.
It was an incredible weekend of magical memories, much needed after her cancer trauma and a wonderful treat for a brave little girl who’s still having regular MRI scans to ensure she remains cancer-free.
Rays of Sunshine Cancer Wish
Both Rays of Sunshine and Make a Wish charities offer dream-come-true experiences for children with life-threatening and terminal illness.
Many children choose a Disneyland visit or to meet a favourite celebrity but being an ENORMOUS Harry Potter fan, Caroline’s number one wish was to watch the Cursed Child, something we couldn’t otherwise afford (the play is in two parts, watched either on consecutive weekdays or in two parts the same day at the weekend) let alone get tickets for, as it’s booked up to two years in advance.
Our trip involved a 2-night stay in London. Read our itinerary and learn how to book tickets in my 3-day London itinerary with kids.
Number 1 Harry Potter Fan
Caroline has read all the books twice including the Cursed Child, seen all the films at least twice, we’ve been to the Warner Brothers studios and Universal in Orlando and even had a Harry Potter birthday party at the beach 2 years ago (read more here and try our home-made butter-beer recipe too).
Watching the Cursed Child was her ultimate dream and the icing on her Harry Potter cake (which was a Firebolt at her party by the way!)
The mounting excitement in recent weeks has been palpable and Rays of Sunshine topped it off just before the show with a fabulous Wish Pack detailing the itinerary and, to Caroline’s amazed delight, a surprise gift of a wand. Not any old wand, but the Elder Wand, as owned by Dumbledore himself. Wow!
Kings Cross on the Hogwarts Express
Wand safely stashed in suitcase, along with her Harry Potter cloak, Caroline was thrilled to be dropped at the station by taxi for the four-hour journey south.
It might have been the Hogwarts Express itself, despite the lack of chocolate frogs on the food trolley (though Caroline & Evie enjoyed cake from a fellow traveller’s 21st birthday celebrations!), and of course we arrived at Kings Cross station for a glimpse of Platform 9¾. We stocked up on goodies at the 9¾ shop where Caroline bought a Deathly Hallows bead to add to her Beads of Courage string.
The girls refused all offers of help with luggage, stoically lugging suitcases up and down escalators and on to tube trains – all part of the adventure apparently.
Leaky Cauldron Premier Inn
Rays of Sunshine had booked us a family room at the Premier Inn, Leicester Square, at the heart of London’s buzz and a perfect base for our activities with everything a 10-minute walk away. It was no Leaky Cauldron (although the entrance was a rather random hole in the wall on a Leicester Square side street!) My concerns about street noise in such a busy area were soon allayed due to the triple glazed windows. I have genuinely not stayed in a quieter city hotel.
After unpacking and some over-excited Macarena and Conga on the two double-beds, we headed into the big smoke for our evening meal at the Rain Forest Café.
It was the perfect end to a rather surreal day. We sat in a liana-draped corner near some resting elephants, with a dubious monkey hanging over wild Daddy’s head…
The food was epic. We over-ordered despite a warning from the waiter but ate everything in sight!
Between courses the girls explored and photographed the entire restaurant, enjoying the giant fish tank, animatronic jungle animals and of course the half-hourly rainforest storm, complete with thunder and lightning.
Street Entertainment London-Style
Returning to the hotel after dark in the midst of the tourist-charged, neon city was adventure in itself, topped off by the rather awkward experience of watching a street entertainer strip to his underpants, dislocate his shoulder, and squeeze his entire body through a tennis racquet frame! Bloody hell, as Ron might say, only in London.
Photos necessarily censored!
Somehow the girls slept, collapsed into the contented sleep of the exhausted traveller.
Within 30 seconds of waking next day, Caroline had calculated the exact time until the first Harry Potter performance began! The excitement had clearly not diminished!!
We enjoyed a huge hot and cold buffet breakfast (to get us through until after the first show) with balloon animals made for the girls by the lovely Italian manageress before a walk in glorious sunshine to the London Eye.
The rest of the UK was under a dark and torrential raincloud (rogue Death Eater activity?) but we were blessed with a triangle of Mediterranean sun in the South-East, and we made the most of it.
Taking the tourist trail through Trafalgar Square, we watched the changing Guards at Horse Guards, saw Downing Street and the Cenotaph, passed a heavily disguised Big Ben and crossed Westminster Bridge. I was surprised to see Verona’s love padlocks craze has become a firm, if unwelcome, fixture on the bridge.
10am on a sunny Sunday was disconcertingly quiet for London and the perfect time for a wander. I guess party-goers were still in bed, locals at home and few tourists up so ‘early’. I’d highly recommend it for sight-seeing without the crowds.
Happily there was no queue for the London Eye – I have waited 90 minutes before now. Tickets aren’t cheap (this was the only part of our trip not included in the charity wish package) but given the weather it was a perfect day to fly!
The girls were nervous but once on board they had a fantastic time pointing out landmarks and marvelling at the height. They did spend quite a while working out a novelty escape plan in case of emergency, which obviously required the need for broomsticks…
It was a great way to do London on a tight schedule without ‘doing’ London.
We walked back via Jubilee Bridge for a quick change into theatre gear and then we were off to see the wizard, the girls brimming with unsuppressed excitement.
Keep The Secrets
I collected tickets from the box office while the others joined the queue (around the entire perimeter of the theatre) for security checks before entering – hence arriving the recommended 45-60mins early!
And then we were in!
Golden tickets and programmes in hand, drink and snacks purchased, marvelling at the intricately decorated theatre interior and the fantastic tableau on the open stage. Spells were cast during a trip to the ladies and the minutes dragged until the performance finally began. And I can say no more!
To avoid spoilers, the audience is asked to #keepthesecrets, though I’m not sure why since the book is out there to read and the theatrical magic is frankly so polished it’s hard to tell exactly how the illusions are created anyway.
The Magic Was Magical
The shows are truly spectacular! Stunning effects and lighting, excellent acting (Scorpius Malfoy was exceptional, Caroline’s favourites were Delphi, Scorpius, Albus and Rose) with simple but staggering scenery and backdrops. My particular favourites were the polyjuice transformation, the Dementors, the lake scene and the portraits but there were too many remarkable special effects to mention, even if I was allowed.
Outdoor Food at Jamon, Jamon
After the performance we left the theatre slightly shell-shocked and sat outside in hot afternoon sun to process the whole experience at Jamon, Jamon tapas bar. More delicious food (and a Mojito) had us ready for the second installment.
Equally as bewitching, with a deeply emotional scene at Godric’s Hollow, we sat entranced to the end and didn’t want to leave.
The evening’s finale was a stage door visit where the girls were thrilled to meet some of the actors; “I’ve never got a famous person’s signature before” remarked Caroline.
What an unrepeatable experience from start to finish. We meandered back through Chinatown and then the girls slept the sleep of newly sorted wizards on their first night at Hogwarts.
Monday morning saw us tuck in to another hearty breakfast, enjoy a quick half hour at the Lego shop (with the entire Hogwarts castle available to buy for a mere £350) before travelling back to Kings Cross for the journey home. Check out our itnerary and learn how to book Harry Potter theatre tickets in my 3-day itinerary post.
I cannot thank Rays of Sunshine and Harriet Hemmings enough for this chance of a lifetime to make Caroline’s Harry Potter dream come true.
Every detail was catered for. Caroline and Evie whole-heartedly adored every second. For me, it was genuinely one of the most fun, relaxing and enjoyable family weekends we have had for many years and certainly since Caroline’s cancer.
To witness the joy it brought to Caroline after all she has been through was quite heart-bursting.
THANK YOU RAYS OF SUNSHINE.
That night I think the girls slept the sleep of euphoric adventurers at the end of an intrepid expedition. Only one word, Magical!!
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month so I’ll be posting lots about Caroline’s cancer journey and kids cancer care as well as the health benefits of organics (since it’s National Organic Month too!) and getting outdoors despite cancer or other serious illness.
Read her story at Children with Cancer UK who we support to help raise awareness, and learn more about cancer in children
Learn about Rhabdomyosarcoma, Caroline’s cancer type, at the UK Sarcoma charity
Donate to Rays of Sunshine for their amazing work making children’s wishes come true
To book your own trip, read my 3-day London family itinerary.