Last year I heard about Friends Fest too late to buy tickets. They were all sold out. This year, I was on that waiting list and I bought tickets as soon as possible the Blenheim Palace Friends Fest. It was a shame children’s tickets were the same price as adults – the general admission was free, it was the timed slots for the set tours that you had to pay for (£26 a ticket).
If you’ve not heard of Friends Fest, I’d hope you’ve heard of the tv show Friends. Running for 10 years, Friends made stars of its 6 lead actors/actresses. And it was a brilliant comedy series. It was on when we were at university and for many years later we’d be watching the reruns. The shows are still on tv, but now on Comedy Central on Sky, so unfortunately I don’t get to watch them anymore.
But I got my fix with Friends Fest. The irony being that N didn’t want to go with me, and none of my friends were free that weekend, so I went on my own.
Friends Fest is basically the set and props on tour. It visits 5 or 6 locations across the country, and you get to experience some of the locations that were in the show. Yes the real set and locations.
At Blenheim you had to pay for entry to the grounds as well. I had to renew my annual pass otherwise it would have been free for that part. It was a really warm day so it was busy but there was plenty of parking right outside the area used for Friends Fest. The short queue moved quickly through the security bag checks and then we were in and free to wander until our tour slot.
Aside from the big screen showing excerpts from the show, there is enough to see and do for a couple of hours if you’re getting food. There’s Phoebe’s taxi and the police car from the show. You can get married at Ross and Rachel’s Vegas chapel or get dressed up to go to the high school prom.
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As it was quite quiet when I arrived I headed over to the café Central Perk. It really did feel like you were there on set. What was great was that the crew were willing to take photos of everyone, so you didn’t need to worry about not getting photos if you were on your own. I did take my selfie stick* too which worked out brilliantly, but in many places there was no need to use it.
You could also sit on Phoebe’s stage and play her guitar. While we were there, we also had a performance of some of Phoebe’s songs. They really did make it feel as real as possible.
As I had plenty of time I stopped and bought a hot chocolate from the coffee shop kiosk at the side of Central Perk. It was nice to sit and relax, and watch everyone else enjoying their memories of Friends.
I then got in the queue to recreate the title scenes. This was well organised with 2 crew members on hand to alternate taking photos with your camera. Yes, they weren’t doing official photos and then charging a bucket load for them like most attractions. They were happy to just take your photos for you. You could do 2 poses – I just wish I’d thought more about it. But it was still fun to watch the big groups doing theirs, and then get the chance yourself.
There’s obviously a gift shop for Friend Fest merchandise. Yes, I had to buy a mug. I fancied an umbrella but I couldn’t see what the small umbrella designs were which was a shame – I’d have liked a rainbow one.
I wanted a quick lunch. Being quite a walk from the main part of Blenheim Palace, it was good there were a few places to eat. As well as the New York hot dog stand, ice cream stall and Chick and Duck cocktail bar, there was a coffee stand, and then Monica’s Moondance Diner. The food was simple – burgers, hot dogs, macaroni, or NY deli style sandwiches, all the types that you see on Friends. My cheeseburger wasn’t anything special for around £5, but it was ok for needing to get a quick bite and have a sit down.
I then mooched over to watch a bit of the big screen where it was busy as the area was filling up with more people arriving. The time slots worked well, meaning people arrived a little before or stayed a little after. The place never seemed over busy and there was plenty of chances to get photos taken where you wanted with everyone being patient to take their turn.
The time slot queues for the tour was also well organised. 4 queues, for 4 different 10 minute slots, with everyone moving through in 10 minute timings at each point on the set.
The first area was the props and pictures. You got to see some of the outfits the stars wore, some of the props including letters, and Ross and Rachel’s wedding vows etc. It was all free flowing, alongside being able to watch the final interviews with the cast and crew about the final show.
Then it was through to the apartments. As we walked through you could see the set notes and instructions stuck to the outside of the sets.
Joey and Chandler’s apartment was first. It felt a little surreal to be standing or sitting in a set you’ve seen on tv, but cool to be able to have a nosy round and see what and where everything is. Yes, I sat in one of the recliners, opened a few cupboards and took plenty of photos. Once everyone’s had chance to look around the apartment, everyone is asked to clear the floor so you can all take an empty apartment shot.
The corridor shots were essential too – plenty of amusing poses going on, and plenty of time for everyone to do so.
Then it was Rachel and Monica’s apartment. There was the chance to pose in front of the purple door and keyhole frame. To sit down at the kitchen table, or laze in front of the apartment windows. And then the chance to take the empty apartment shot again. The tour only lasted around 30 minutes, but I never felt like I wasn’t ready to move on to the next area. If I’d been there with more people to take photos together it might have felt a bit more rushed.
So was it worth the hype and excitement? I think so. Yes it would have been great to find a friend to tag along with – annoyingly when I told my brother I’d been it turned out he was a Friends fan and would have loved to have come along too, which was a shame I’d not realised or checked with him beforehand. But even going on my own it was easy enough to get photos and enjoy being there. I was surprised to see people there with their young children – I think N would have been pretty bored once he’d seen the first thing. You probably have to be a fan either of the show, or just tv and how the sets work, to enjoy something like Friends Fest. But I’d definitely recommend trying to get tickets for future years if you’ve not been before.
Have you been to Friends Fest before? Or been to a tv set?