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WTF Merlin?

Will

Strata Poster
Short, yes - but with the lack of queues, if you have a decent knowledge of where everything is so you're not doing something daft like Smiler Galactica Nemesis Oblivion, it's fine.

From what I saw this week, the bulk of those there are young children having a few hours in CBeebies or school trips which leave around 3. After that, it's a ghost town.

We'll see how that changes into the Easter holidays.
 

Nicky Borrill

Strata Poster
I honestly think 10-4 is really not okay, as stated above, a smaller park would be fine. But Alton Towers is one of the largest parks in Europe, 6 hours is really not enough. A big problem i have with Alton is that The Smiler to Nemesis without Skyride is about a 20 minute walk, that is a good chunk of your day gone right there. And i'm a fast walker!

I think 10-4 can get you a good day but it makes you have to seriously run a regime to get those things done. Which is not something i want when i go a theme park. I know the locals pose an issue, but at least another hour would make a lot of difference. Even on quieter days 6 hours is a really short operating day.
Trust me… From ‘plenty’ of experience this week and last week alone… 6 hours is more than ‘enough’ at Towers midweek.

I can (and regularly do) get more done in 3 or 4 hours midweek March to May than I do in 11 hours at Scarefest!

This was just yesterday…
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As was this…
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60A7E4F2-5DF9-4351-9662-964ECADA7647.jpeg
 

Sandman

Giga Poster
The 6 hour operational window is partly why I tend to avoid a visit.

It's not worth a 5 hour round trip - essentially I'd be sitting in a car nearly as long as I'd have on park.

I s'pose if you're a local or frequent the park semi-regularly, there's no much issue with the 10-4 schedule.

For me personally, I can't be arsed with the effort.
 

Nicky Borrill

Strata Poster
I guess it depends what you value more. Time on park, or getting more attractions done…

If you value actual time on park then go when it’s busy enough to warrant the extra costs of staffing the park for extra hours. I generally avoid these times, except for a couple of scarefest days and fireworks. I do not visit during any school holidays, because, despite the extra park hours, I know I’ll spend most of them stood queueing up to 3 hours for attractions I can often walk onto.

If you value getting more done, as I do, then go midweek now, and during September… You can easily do everything, at least once, and without queueing much, if at all. But accept that it’s a short day, as there simply isn’t a business case for paying extra costs to keep the park open longer. This is, for me at least, the much better option.

And I treat Thorpe Park and BPB the same way, although much less frequently. Thorpe is open an hour longer right now, (10-5) so is BPB, Still very short days. Despite a 5 hour round trip, I prefer to visit these parks at quieter times like now and September too. I generally avoid later openings, as it means a busier park, and a tedious amount of waiting in queues. I’ve not attended a BPB late night riding in donkey’s years!!!
 

Bentleya

Mega Poster
@Sandman - this is the main reason I’ve been avoiding going recently, but I’ve told myself I need to make a conservative this year to tick a few things off and then I don’t need to worry till nemesis is sorted / something new and noteworthy needs my attention.

@Nicky Borrill - I’m aiming for Monday 25th April, fingers crossed it’s as quite as your photo!
 

Nicky Borrill

Strata Poster
@Sandman - this is the main reason I’ve been avoiding going recently, but I’ve told myself I need to make a conservative this year to tick a few things off and then I don’t need to worry till nemesis is sorted / something new and noteworthy needs my attention.

@Nicky Borrill - I’m aiming for Monday 25th April, fingers crossed it’s as quite as your photo!
Boo… Would have joined you but I’m at my second home 25th - 28th :/

(Can’t say I’ll be that disappointed marathoning Zadra and Hyperion though!)

Edited to add: P.s it should be, all schools will be back then, and best of all, they’ll not have been back long enough to be having trips. :)
 

Benenen

Hyper Poster
I was at Towers today and yesterday (6 hour round trip and an overnight stay). 10 to 4 left a sour taste as I didn't feel I had an actual day out. On the first day I sat down for lunch at 2:30 then by the time I was finished it was time to leave almost immediately. Yes it was dead, yes I rode every major coaster multiple times but I didn't feel fulfilled. I spent more awake hours in my hotel room than the theme park. The global standard off peak for a park of this scale is 7-8 hours open, 6 is below par and not something you see anywhere else in the world.

Today was a bad visit through no fault of Towers. Only Rita and Oblivion opened at 10 with the rest of the coasters opening gradually throughout the day as it was cold and snowing. Unfortunately by 1 when half the coasters were still closed the queues for the ones open were huge as there was nothing else to do. Queues ranged from 20 to 55 minutes (Nemesis was external at one point) however once majority of coasters opened the crowds spread and the queues became more what you'd expect for an off peak day. Still multiple rides close to an hour queue on a 10 to 4 day is objectively poor and the day would have felt smoother and generated less complaints if it had been open until 5 which in my eyes should be the bare minimum anyway.

Like many of us on this site I'm quite anal and militant when visiting parks and I've never felt relaxed and not stressed when at Towers. Even this week when it was dead and I knew I had two days I was still in such a rush. I'm not like that at other parks, it's just a Towers thing.
 

Nicky Borrill

Strata Poster
I was at Towers today and yesterday (6 hour round trip and an overnight stay). 10 to 4 left a sour taste as I didn't feel I had an actual day out. On the first day I sat down for lunch at 2:30 then by the time I was finished it was time to leave almost immediately. Yes it was dead, yes I rode every major coaster multiple times but I didn't feel fulfilled. I spent more awake hours in my hotel room than the theme park. The global standard off peak for a park of this scale is 7-8 hours open, 6 is below par and not something you see anywhere else in the world.

Today was a bad visit through no fault of Towers. Only Rita and Oblivion opened at 10 with the rest of the coasters opening gradually throughout the day as it was cold and snowing. Unfortunately by 1 when half the coasters were still closed the queues for the ones open were huge as there was nothing else to do. Queues ranged from 20 to 55 minutes (Nemesis was external at one point) however once majority of coasters opened the crowds spread and the queues became more what you'd expect for an off peak day. Still multiple rides close to an hour queue on a 10 to 4 day is objectively poor and the day would have felt smoother and generated less complaints if it had been open until 5 which in my eyes should be the bare minimum anyway.

Like many of us on this site I'm quite anal and militant when visiting parks and I've never felt relaxed and not stressed when at Towers. Even this week when it was dead and I knew I had two days I was still in such a rush. I'm not like that at other parks, it's just a Towers thing.
Hey you should have given us a shout, would have been nice to meet up.

Today was a strange day, this is my 2:30 snapshot…

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But that would have been close to the 3pm departures, and sadly a bit too close to your 4pm close.

Could have been worse though, At Thorpe most of the coasters were down every time I checked.

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Weather can’t be helped I guess.

Out of interest, you state that you rode every major coaster multiple times on your first day, and yet still felt unfulfilled. Genuine question, would you have preferred a busy day, with 8 hours on park, but having to queue 2-3 hours for each coaster?

Another question, you were there yesterday, as were we, you saw how dead it was. What would you suggest that they do to open longer hours without losing money?

I ask because honestly, the amount of people on park midweek lately makes me wonder how they can even afford to open on days like that at all.

BTW, this subject is a bit personal for me, not because of some loyalty to Alton Towers (I’d be defending any park, or any business against criticism like this under these circumstances) but rather because it’s an issue we have had to overcome in our own business.

We are a country food pub, with very few local drinkers. We’ve been here for 7 years. When we first arrived the pub closed at 12am every night! Yet once food finished at 9pm, everybody would filter out between 9 and 10, as we’re a drive to location. Except for 3 or 4 regular blokes. After a couple of years of this I calculated that staying open those extra 2 hours was costing us a considerable amount of money. And had to explain to those 4 blokes why the gross profit from their 2 pints each in that time doesn’t pay staff wages, electricity, heating, VAT, and everything else that staying open those 2 hours costs us.

Eventually they understood, and now come in earlier, and we close earlier.

I see AT (and other businesses since covid) doing the same thing. Looking at their costs, their demand, and trying to minimise those costs during low demand times.

If we’re able to do every major coaster multiple times, it’s because there aren’t many people at the park. Without people in the park, expenses need to be kept in check, or Crash Coaster’s (K)nightmare may come true!
 

Benenen

Hyper Poster
What a shame I didn't realise there was potential for some Coasterforce meet and greet action! Hopefully catch you on the next one.

It's an interesting discussion and I like your closing the pub earlier analogy as it is the exact same scenario but backed up by stats and numbers. And in that scenario it's the correct thing to do for your business and isn't being a dick to those punters.

It's probably a discussion bigger than the 'wtf Merlin' topic but I've often wondered how much it costs to run a theme park for say an hour and how much proportion of that each paying customer contributes to. On Wednesday the rides were quiet but there's lots of them and they're high throughput. I noticed the gift shop was crammed at the end of the day and Galactica held a 30 minute queue on the app for a good chunk of the day so it certainly wasn't just the two of us presumably lapping Nemesis that day who the park was open for. Won't have been more than a few thousand on park but people have payed for the park to be open. Unfortunately I can't even begin to calculate where the line is of the park making profit so it's a moot point.

My disappointment stems from the fact that Towers is never a chilled day. I've visited at Scarefest in the past where the hours are longer but the queues are huge and absolutely I did not find that more relaxed and fulfilling than my visits this week even though I spent longer in the park. It feels deflating to book a hotel and drive up from the South and then not spend most of my holiday at the theme park. On Wednesday I got to my hotel room at 4:30 and it was like 'now what?' When I'm at a park and I can sense myself shifting into that state of rushing between rides I try and slow down and smell the roses but at Towers I find it hard and a 6 hour day plus the long walks between rides contributes to it.

I wonder how other parks consistently stay open later on off peak days? If you look at the opening times for Phantasialand, Efteling and Portaventura the minimum is 8 hours. Europa is 9. I couldn't find even a regional park with less than 7. Last time I was at Phantasialand during Winter it was open 11 until 8 and the park was dead. How can these parks offer this level of customer service but Towers can't? Would Phantasialand have made a profit that day? It's so tricky to speculate on with our limited knowledge as punters.

Appreciate you adding to the discussion Nicky and for challenging my points in such a non confrontational chilled out way. Love seeing posts like that on here.
 

Nicky Borrill

Strata Poster
What a shame I didn't realise there was potential for some Coasterforce meet and greet action! Hopefully catch you on the next one.

It's an interesting discussion and I like your closing the pub earlier analogy as it is the exact same scenario but backed up by stats and numbers. And in that scenario it's the correct thing to do for your business and isn't being a dick to those punters.

It's probably a discussion bigger than the 'wtf Merlin' topic but I've often wondered how much it costs to run a theme park for say an hour and how much proportion of that each paying customer contributes to. On Wednesday the rides were quiet but there's lots of them and they're high throughput. I noticed the gift shop was crammed at the end of the day and Galactica held a 30 minute queue on the app for a good chunk of the day so it certainly wasn't just the two of us presumably lapping Nemesis that day who the park was open for. Won't have been more than a few thousand on park but people have payed for the park to be open. Unfortunately I can't even begin to calculate where the line is of the park making profit so it's a moot point.

My disappointment stems from the fact that Towers is never a chilled day. I've visited at Scarefest in the past where the hours are longer but the queues are huge and absolutely I did not find that more relaxed and fulfilling than my visits this week even though I spent longer in the park. It feels deflating to book a hotel and drive up from the South and then not spend most of my holiday at the theme park. On Wednesday I got to my hotel room at 4:30 and it was like 'now what?' When I'm at a park and I can sense myself shifting into that state of rushing between rides I try and slow down and smell the roses but at Towers I find it hard and a 6 hour day plus the long walks between rides contributes to it.

I wonder how other parks consistently stay open later on off peak days? If you look at the opening times for Phantasialand, Efteling and Portaventura the minimum is 8 hours. Europa is 9. I couldn't find even a regional park with less than 7. Last time I was at Phantasialand during Winter it was open 11 until 8 and the park was dead. How can these parks offer this level of customer service but Towers can't? Would Phantasialand have made a profit that day? It's so tricky to speculate on with our limited knowledge as punters.

Appreciate you adding to the discussion Nicky and for challenging my points in such a non confrontational chilled out way. Love seeing posts like that on here.
I think Alton Towers is perhaps a victim of it’s own size. The sheer number of ‘none ride’ staff it takes to run that park would, I think, surprise a lot of people, at least that always surprised me back in the early noughties during my time working there.

Having said that, back then they seemed to be more flexible too. Busier day, or a poor day for operations, (like yesterday) add an hour or two on and stay open later. Quieter day than anticipated, close some services / attractions and send all none essential staff home at 1pm. Of course back then it was usually busier than expected, not the other way around, with annual figures around 2.5M. But I did get ‘sent home’ a few times.

I worked in Guest services, one of our jobs for that role was handling guest complaints. By far the most common complaint was ‘I queued x hours for this, x hours for that and only got x rides done.’

I’ve noticed that other parks are doing similar things during off peak times at the minute. Plopsaland is an example that springs to mind, I think they were 10-4 during the off season, if I remember correctly. But similarly, they were extremely quiet, and I’d be surprised to see them try that again.

I do think a lot of parks lose money on quieter days, of course, as you alluded to, there’s no way to be sure without a breakdown of costs and revenue day by day.

A lot of the major European parks do not have the added complication of Merlin Annual Passes. That’s certainly a factor that would make for some interesting reading. We’ve been 6 times in the last 2 weeks, we’ve done Thorpe and Legoland too. We haven’t paid a penny more than our £20 per month membership fee. (Other than food in wc/rcr.) I wonder how many visitors at this time of year actually pay for entry?

The only solution to this that I can see is to reduce the amount of opening days midweek. But that pisses off a whole different bunch of customers (like me) as they reduce the ‘spur of the moment’ opportunities, and make the other days busier. That being said, I’d still completely understand if they took this route.
 

Tonkso

Mega Poster
I think they need to change their business model. I've actually not paid for an Alton Towers ticket in years, getting in on Tesco Clubcard instead. That cannot make them much money as whilst I'll eat on park, I won't spend a whole lot more with just the occasional T-Shirt (though none of the shirts in recent years have appealed to me).

I'm an enthusiast, yet likely a non-profit making customer, and that's an odd situation. I wouldn't be against them closing for two days mid-week again either if it lead to greater opening hours on the days they do open. Not sure how they get over local opposition however.

Benenen really hit home with their assertion that they never have a chilled day at the park. I totally get that, I do. Now, I LOVE towers, it holds a very special place in my heart, but I constantly worry I won't get everything done, and when I end up ditching a queue for a break-down I know I've wasted a significant portion of my day and end up scrapping the rapids or something. I don't get this in non-merlin parks, why is that? Surely my own input doesn't help, I tend to do 2 days at Phantasialand for example, whilst only one at Alton, but I've never struggled to do Phanta in one day either, even when I was there during a heatwave and the queues all hour+, multiple rides on all the big ones too. I have never found the right trade off with Merlin parks in my adult life, it's either a quiet day where I can't relax, have some lunch and enjoy the scenery, or a busy day where I'm stuck in queues all day.

The fact that at Thorpe I've now, for three years running, got to the front of the Colossus queue, only to be sent out because it's broken down really doesn't help.
 

Tonkso

Mega Poster
I did actually have another idea, which is a little bit more positive so I felt warranted a separate post.

I think it's time the gardens were fenced off from the rest of the park, and given their own entry. The gardens are a huge asset to the park, but also a huge burden. Most people who visit probably never step foot in them, and that's a real shame, they're gorgeous. On top of that, grade 2 listed gardens attract a market that probably doesn't want to pay for Theme Park entry.

Separate them. Maybe have a point of entry from the park with a paper wristband or hand stamp for the few that do want to take a look, but otherwise operate them as a separate attraction with their own entry fee. There's a huge market of holidaymakers who take to the Staffordshire Moorlands for the walks, stately homes and other non-thrill attractions which I know would love to visit the gardens.

Turn them into a profit-making attraction in their own right.
 

rob666

Hyper Poster
Yup, though as an old git gardener with many years of wandering the gardens, they are not maintained very well down through the valley...lots of blocked paths and weed plants down the landscaped section.
They really used to keep them in a stunning condition.
Still try to do the stepping stones at the top of the gardens every year, they had put the effort in with them last year.
 

Nicky Borrill

Strata Poster
I have never found the right trade off with Merlin parks in my adult life, it's either a quiet day where I can't relax, have some lunch and enjoy the scenery, or a busy day where I'm stuck in queues all day.
That's a very good point. I'm here discussing the merits of quiet vs busy days, when in actual fact I probably should be asking why it is that they just cannot seem to find that balance at Alton Towers. I think it does come down to the size, individual circumstance (location etc) and expenses of a park like Alton. But I've never felt like I'm spending my entire day in just 3 or 4 queue lines, or had to rush around Energylandia or Phantasialand, unless I 'want' to.

Why can't Alton Towers find that balance where they can afford to be open until 6pm, but not have queues over an hour long?
 

Coasterfreck

Mega Poster
Back in the days when I used to work at a theme park, on the quiet days, were some of the most fun days of working at a theme park especially in rides. I do remember one day in particular where we only had 500-600 guests on park, that day was a weird one, I think we had a pre-book of 150 guests.

But I do wonder if their would actually be more of a benefit for the Merlin parks especially on Fridays for the parks to open later at say 12 or 1 and close at 7 or 8 which would allow for people to visit after work/school/college, which I’ve personally done before at Fright Nights.
 

Will

Strata Poster
I did actually have another idea, which is a little bit more positive so I felt warranted a separate post.

I think it's time the gardens were fenced off from the rest of the park, and given their own entry. The gardens are a huge asset to the park, but also a huge burden. Most people who visit probably never step foot in them, and that's a real shame, they're gorgeous. On top of that, grade 2 listed gardens attract a market that probably doesn't want to pay for Theme Park entry.
The gardens are a route between rides - particularly short-cuts from Forbidden Valley/Dark Forest, so while a good idea in theory, wouldn't work in practice - in my opinion.

IF there were a way of doing gardens only entry, but keeping those paths open to full-price guests, then I'd be very much for it - the gardens looked great in the time when they were all that was open, meaning they received extra TLC, but I'm not certain how it could be done.
 

Tonkso

Mega Poster
Back in the days when I used to work at a theme park, on the quiet days, were some of the most fun days of working at a theme park especially in rides. I do remember one day in particular where we only had 500-600 guests on park, that day was a weird one, I think we had a pre-book of 150 guests.

But I do wonder if their would actually be more of a benefit for the Merlin parks especially on Fridays for the parks to open later at say 12 or 1 and close at 7 or 8 which would allow for people to visit after work/school/college, which I’ve personally done before at Fright Nights.
Port Aventura attracts quite a chunk of the local crowd doing exactly that, does it not? Some passholders go in just for a meal.
 

Will

Strata Poster
It might work, particularly later in the year - but it would be irritating for the staff.
More Scarefest days, but with a later opening time however, could be a very good shout.
 

JoshC.

Strata Poster
Spent Tuesday Wednesday at Alton Towers; stayed onsite too. Won't bother with a trip report because effort, but just wanted to highlight three annoying things.

1. On the Tuesday, the park closed at 4pm. So did the waterpark. The onsite mini golf closed at 5pm. So what was there to do from 5pm? Well, nothing, aside from have dinner and listen to a singer in the bar. It's mental to think that a resort like Towers, which has loads of things to offer built in, has nothing noteworthy to offer after 5pm...

2. The Wicker Man pre show is a god awful faff. They cram way too many people into the pre show room, so that there's a queue of people waiting to be batched which extends into the pre show room. Honestly the whole thing should be scrapped and the Covid-style presentation should be reintroduced.

3. The Wednesday was very quiet; most coasters were walk on all day. So why does the park need staff to batch guests into rows, and make people sit next to each other? For example, going on Nemesis: a group of 2 gets batched into Row 3, and then the next group of 2 also gets batched into Row 3. I'm all for batching when there's a queue; it can help improve the utilisation of number of seats per train and ultimately get more bums on seats per hour. But on a day where there's no queues anywhere, surely it's just a bit nicer to let people choose where to sit, and give freedom to not sit next to a stranger?

Maybe a little bit of this last point is me still adjusting to post-Covid Merlin parks. But equally, I don't have a problem sitting next to strangers on rides. It's just I don't see the need to when half the train is empty for no good reason.
 

coasteraddict10

Roller Poster
Spent Tuesday Wednesday at Alton Towers; stayed onsite too. Won't bother with a trip report because effort, but just wanted to highlight three annoying things.

1. On the Tuesday, the park closed at 4pm. So did the waterpark. The onsite mini golf closed at 5pm. So what was there to do from 5pm? Well, nothing, aside from have dinner and listen to a singer in the bar. It's mental to think that a resort like Towers, which has loads of things to offer built in, has nothing noteworthy to offer after 5pm...

2. The Wicker Man pre show is a god awful faff. They cram way too many people into the pre show room, so that there's a queue of people waiting to be batched which extends into the pre show room. Honestly the whole thing should be scrapped and the Covid-style presentation should be reintroduced.

3. The Wednesday was very quiet; most coasters were walk on all day. So why does the park need staff to batch guests into rows, and make people sit next to each other? For example, going on Nemesis: a group of 2 gets batched into Row 3, and then the next group of 2 also gets batched into Row 3. I'm all for batching when there's a queue; it can help improve the utilisation of number of seats per train and ultimately get more bums on seats per hour. But on a day where there's no queues anywhere, surely it's just a bit nicer to let people choose where to sit, and give freedom to not sit next to a stranger?

Maybe a little bit of this last point is me still adjusting to post-Covid Merlin parks. But equally, I don't have a problem sitting next to strangers on rides. It's just I don't see the need to when half the train is empty for no good reason.

I was there on Wednesday and echo the point about batching guests into rows, it was fine for most of the day but when I asked for back on Rita some jobsworth c*** decided to put us in the middle instead and decided to have a go at my mate as he saw him having a toke of his vape in the q before we got to the station.

Also 4pm close sucks, traffic meant we didn't get there until 11 so I ended up spending more time in the car than in the park and if it stayed open later we 100% would have spent way more money as we were there for my mates birthday and the lads wanted to have a bit of a drink but Bar & Grill were slow af to get our drinks out to us which when you're already fairly pressed for time puts you off ever going back. Also it wasn't even 12 by the time we went to get the beer and they were already saying 40 minute wait for food so god knows how long the waits were at 1pm. Wtf does the park expect people to do? Just not eat? Overall with all the ****ing about we did we probably only had 4 hours of actually getting on rides so managing to get 13 done was good but this was with skipping Gloomy Wood and Katanga canyon completely and most of the new flats we could have easily done another 3 hours on the park and what makes it even worse is the weather in the morning was miserable but turned out pretty nice in the afternoon, how does this help guest satisfaction?

Speaking of the new flats, we only did the waltzers but speaking of **** operations, wtf are they doing on this? Why do they have to rotate the platform individually batching each carriage instead of batching into a pen with 10 groups of riders (or however many carriages there are) and they just opening the gate and letting people walk around the ride to find a free carriage? Queues for this must be dreadful when the park is busy as even though the park was dead this had the longest wait all day due to the backwards way they get people on and off the ride. Also they need to get a goon to walk the platform to give people a spin!
 
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