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WTF Merlin?


Mega Poster
Thorpe today:

Inferno operations were the best I’ve seen them, trains literally flew out and didn’t stack.

Trailers II is a brilliant sequel to the original- I generally found the original a little underwhelming but this one brought it.

Trailers 2.0 was funny, had some great improv moments, and had some great startle scares. It reminded me in ways of like Twisted Clowns at Tulleys. Not being completely taking itself seriously but still having scares and being a lot of fun.

The original for me didn’t really bring enough scares or laughs to be too enjoyable, but this one had such a fun but unhinged vibe to it. I dig it.

Roamers are interesting additions and the circus area is cool. I do think it could utilised in a better location tho, as it’s a little tucked away.

Only criticisms would be some of the grafitti on swarm are just borderline amusing for the wrong reasons (Amelia’s sexy Snapchat name is not for me).

Also What happened to Billy the puppet on Saw the Ride? No initial speech at all, just 10 seconds of silence while waiting for the next block to clear- sad..

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Matt N

CF Legend
It would appear that Thorpe Park may be having ride availability issues at present; a man has gone to LadBible and complained about how he got on “no rides” on his birthday trip to Thorpe Park: https://www.ladbible.com/news/man-furious-thorpe-park-birthday-party-20220728

He says that he queued for Nemesis Inferno, Detonator and Walking Dead and they all broke down, thus meaning that he left furious at 2pm as he feels he is “too old to be queueing for that time”.

The park says that they had 94% ride availability and 80% guest satisfaction (guests who said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied”) on the day he visited.


Hyper Poster
Easy to check, queue-times.com would have downtime statistics for that day.

I can also believe it, despite what official statistics say I always end up in a queue when something breaks down at Thorpe. Leaving out the day I went when it was incredibly windy and our of their control, I've found myself in the station building for Colossus 3 times in the last 4 years only to hear it has just gone down.

Every visit I've had in the last 5 years has had 3 or more big attractions down at once.

Thorpe has a serious problem and it needs resolving. On last park trip (Plopsa and Wal Bel) nothing broke down all day, or I didn't notice if they did because they were either back online quickly or the rest of the park was operational so it impacted nobody but those in the queue at the time.
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Geeky Pastimes

Mega Poster
Did our first trip to Heide Park today and had a great time. Really impressed with the theming, audio around the park, and the general atmosphere. Had a great time!

Ride operations were terrible but thankfully it wasn't too busy (probably thanks to the current heatwave) so we didn't queue more than 30 minutes for anything.


Hyper Poster
OMG, Merlin (Attractions Operations Limited) are being forced to close down and liquidate! /s

I was presented with this article by the ALGORITHM and found it weird that merlin are in a debt dispute with Experian. Did they think someone had stolen their identity and they needed to check their credit report? Did B&M refuse them another ride on credit?

The owner of Madame Tussauds and London Dungeons has been slapped with a winding up petition by Experian.

Merlin Entertainments, which owns theme parks such as Alton Towers and Legoland as well as some of London’s top cultural destinations, faces proceedings due to a dispute over debt.

A winding up petition sees unpaid creditors take legal action against the company owing them funds.

Experian’s petition relates to a subsidiary, named Merlin Attractions Operations Limited, rather than the group.

However, Merlin Entertainments has sought to quash any speculation about the leisure operator’s financial position and said Experian’s petition is “wholly inappropriate”.

The company will be applying to set the petition aside, a spokesperson said.

Experian’s claim was focused on a “very small debt” and it would be “completely false and damaging” to suggest the firm was in financial difficulty “in any way,” they added.

“Merlin Entertainments has a 20-year track record as a highly cash generative company, and supportive owners. Our 2021 audited accounts show a strong recovery from the pandemic,” they said.

Merlin’s spokesperson pointed to the recent opening of its tenth Legoland, in Korea, and said the company continued to invest in “exciting and ambitious projects.”

In the leisure firm’s half-year review published in June, the operator noted “robust consumer demand and elevated revenues per visitor” across markets including the UK.

The company had seen a revival of fortunes as Covid lockdown restrictions had been eased across different regions.

Experian did not wish to comment when approached by CityA.M.

Link to "article"


Roller Poster
Alton Towers have announced three of the four mazes for this Scarefest are returning ones: Altonville Mine Tours, The Attic and Darkest Depths. Don’t get me wrong I do think they are very good mazes but I can’t help but feel very underwhelmed. The return of AMT is a surprise as this will be its 7th season and I expected it to be retired. The other two mazes will be on their 4th season, which is a good stint for scare mazes. Hopefully the final maze will be something good but I can’t help but feel disappointed so far for the 20th anniversary of Scarefest.


Mega Poster
Alton Towers have announced three of the four mazes for this Scarefest are returning ones: Altonville Mine Tours, The Attic and Darkest Depths. Don’t get me wrong I do think they are very good mazes but I can’t help but feel very underwhelmed. The return of AMT is a surprise as this will be its 7th season and I expected it to be retired. The other two mazes will be on their 4th season, which is a good stint for scare mazes. Hopefully the final maze will be something good but I can’t help but feel disappointed so far for the 20th anniversary of Scarefest.
I am a huge scaremaze fan and have been going to Alton as part of my halloween trips since FOTS and Boiler Room by the hotels, the fact they are still dragging these mazes out and charging £32 for them screams budget cuts for the other investments!


Mega Poster
Not sure if this is the best thread but did anyone get the Merlin T&C email update today?

"From 1st April 2023 we reserve the right to discontinue any Merlin Annual Pass product provided we serve you with at least 45 days’ notice."


Hyper Poster
Having been to Merlin’s three major parks (not including Legoland) over the past week, I’ve come back with strong opinions on all of them, and of Merlin as a whole.

Merlin’s strangehold over the UK theme park market is a shining example of why monopolies are uniformly terrible. I’m of the opinion that Alton Towers, Chessington, and Thorpe Park are all far too expensive for what are ultimately sub-par products — it is frankly infuriating that they can charge more than the likes of Europa Park, Phantasialand, Liseberg, Efteling, Walibi Belgium, Toverland, Parc Astérix, etc., only to offer lesser experiences in return. Even Heide-Park costs more than Hansa (though still cheaper than the UK parks) when half the park looks dilapidated by comparison.

Price aside, let’s start with Alton, since that’s the park I visited first: In terms of general upkeep, it is the nicest of the three parks, but it still has its problem areas. What sinks it is the horrid operations — I’m sorry, but Ride Access Pass is simply out of control and should be reined in. I waited FIFTY MINUTES for Thirteen ON FASTTRACK because TWO out of the five cars on the train were allocated for Ride Access Pass riders only, which is frankly ****ing absurd. Fasttrack in general seems to be treated as a secondary priority despite how much they charge for it (there is no point to using it on Smiler when Single Rider is that much faster), and I couldn’t help but feel my blood boiling to see how haphazardly it was handled on some rides (they didn’t even bother checking to see if I even had fasttrack on either Thirteen, Galactica, or Rita).

I tried to start the day on Wicker Man, but was told it wouldn’t open on time. That was understandable at that point, as not everything is always going to be ready, so I went over to Thirteen, only to be told it would be delayed also. Bit annoying at this point, so I went to Rita, which was finally running by ten minutes past ten.

Half an hour after the park was open, the following rides were still down:
- Wicker Man
- Thirteen
- Congo River Rapids
- Octonauts
- Battle Galleons
- Runaway Mine Train (which wouldn’t open until about 4 P.M)
- Hex (which would be closed all day)
- Raj’s Bouncy Bottom Burp

As you’ll see later, this would not be a coincidence, but rather a pattern. Spinball Whizzer still hasn’t opened for the season either, which would be another pattern with Merlin parks.

Because so many rides were down, the lines for the open ones (bar Oblivion, thanks to the by far best ops in the park) quickly grew horrendous. It took until about 11 for Wicker Man to open, and Thirteen I think didn’t start up until noon.

Oh, and the SkyRide was closed all day too, because there weren't enough closed attractions.

Quick aside on Curse of Alton Manor: I had to ride it twice because my first ride was ruined by the announcer constantly blaring ”please put your phones away” every ten seconds, which for reasons that are beyond me would cut out ALL music and sound effects for a good few seconds at a time, making it nearly impossible to actually enjoy the ride. My second ride only had it happen a couple of times, but the graveyard scene would be spoiled by a service light being left on.

So I walked away from Alton mostly frustrated. It was Easter Saturday, so I knew it was going to be crowded and I bought a gold Fasttrack to prepare for that, but it was barely worth it because of the poor ride availability and how Ride Access Pass’s poor implementation made things worse for everyone. I have nothing against RAP as a concept, but it’s clearly being handed out to far too many people and severely sags operations for everyone else, including those like me who paid a good chunk to avoid all of that.


Onto Chessington: Ride Access Pass was less of a problem here, since limitations were put in place, but ride availability was somehow even worse. Scorpion Express would make the second coaster I came across that wasn’t open for the season yet, but I was willing to look past that as long as the other three coasters were running as intended.

None of them were.

Dragon’s Fury, Vampire, and Rattlesnake were all down. So was Croc Drop, Kobra, and Tiger Rock. Essentially, the park’s entire thrill catalogue wasn’t running when the park opened, which was ****ing absurd. The weather was lovely that day, so that couldn’t be used as an excuse. This is a maintenance and operations issue, and it would keep persisting as rides kept breaking down all day (Dragon’s Fury couldn’t stay open for more than half an hour at a time until they finally said **** it, and removed one of the cars from the track). Those who’ve read the ”Small News” thread in the past few days are probably already aware of the ”Safe Mode” put in place on Rattlesnake, which combined with the fact that it wasn’t open until like 2 P.M. made it nearly impossible to ride. I even had to wait through another breakdown just to get my one ride on it.

I was actually excited to get on Zufari, but it ended up being pretty underwhelming. A few giraffes, gazelles, one rhino, and then a water effect that took way too long to finally happen, and then the ride was over. Despite taking longer than six minutes to complete the course, I walked off thinking ”that’s it?” and wondering why Chessington even bothered implementing it. Maybe it used to be better at some point, but I found it as it was to be pretty lame.


Thorpe Park. By this point, my expectations were rock bottom, especially since Thorpe is generally regarded as the worst of the three. Colossos was another coaster that wasn’t open for the season yet, because it apparently takes half a year to replace a single section of track, and the lack of communication from the park makes me wonder if Ghost Train’s vague ”Spring 2023” window will even be met. Surely, there’d be an opening date for that by now?

The weather at the start of the day was dismal. Standing in the middle of Amity Beach, shivering from the cold winds and hard rain, I figured I’d be running into more closed rides and terrible ops. I don’t understand why the Fasttrack kiosk is all the way back at Nemesis Inferno and not inside the dome at the front of the park, but after acquiring my wristband and making my first ride on the day on Nemesis I discovered that, to my honest surprise, all the coasters actually opened on time. Despite the terrible weather, Thorpe managed to do what Alton and Chessington could not. The Swarm did go down a couple of times because of heavy winds, but that’s understandable. It did seem like it was struggling to even make it through the course in a few spots. I don’t know if the weather scared enough people away so the RAP queues weren’t flooded, but I actually ended up having a good day at Thorpe.

That said, the park is a total dump.

It wasn’t just the weather that made everything look dismal and tired, as the park’s best days were clearly far behind it (Project Exodus can’t come soon enough, I suppose), and nearly every ride was in desperate need of a facelift. Swarm had a bad bounce going on regardless of seat, SAW had a few unpleasant jolts and was littered with broken effects, Stealth had a bad rattle in the back (but was pretty smooth in the front), and I would’ve assumed Flying Fish had been left abandoned if there weren’t people riding it, it looked that terrible. Tidal Wave kept testing all day but never opened, and a few smaller rides were also down, but nothing I was planning to go on anyway.

Walking Dead was actually a pleasant surprise, and the major flats were all running decently. Pretty sure if Rush, Zodiac, Quantum, and Vortex were all at Alton, they’d be taken out and replaced with another Retro Squad by now.

I again have to mention the price point. For a park that charges as much as Thorpe does, how does it get away with looking so dismal? The place made Bobbejaanland look like Europa Park.

Frankly, despite my good day at Thorpe, I am in no rush to get back to any of those parks in the near future, even if new investment is coming in. There’s frankly too many fundamental problems with each of these parks that could take years to fix even if they started today, and there are so many better places in mainland Europe I could be spending my time and money on and get a much better experience in return. Combined with how I feel about Heide-Park, I continue to be left underwhelmed with Merlin at almost every turn, and despite it apparently having the best reputation out of the five, my interest in visiting Gardaland at the moment is pretty low. Maybe all these problems I encountered was because it was Easter and early in the season, but I still feel like had I hopped over to Paris and gone to Disney and Asterix instead, I’d have a much better time at both. The UK Merlin parks just aren’t doing it for me.
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Hyper Poster
Thanks @cookie for the briliant review. Reading it makes me realise even more how lucky we are in Sweden, with well run parks.

Gardaland is my favourite Merlin Park. The park itself, is not kept to the same maintenance or cleanliness standard like some other European parks, certain pieces of theming do look worn and some areas can be a bit dirty. Otherwise, it's actually a pretty good mid tier park for me. Oblivion: The Black Hole is my favourite dive coaster. The park is generally pretty well themed, although some older theming is quite worn, it seems to be a Merlin trend to install theming and never maintain it. They would rather replace theming than recondition it. Mammut's theming/rock work looks to be falling apart on some sections, compare that to Colorado Adventure at PHL, which looks brand new. Operations at Gardaland are average, food is pretty bad, staff dont seem to care too much.

That's usually what I never understand with Merlin. Their issues are usually pretty easy to fix but they in some infuriating way refuse to fix them. I just dont get why. Even weirder is that some of their Legoland properties are great, why not keep amusement parks to the same standard?


Mega Poster
Merlin for me is a love/hate, I believe they do some things right (build good quality coasters, invest in their properties equally unlike Cedar Fair), but they always fail to keep those investments in good shape.

Colossos at Heidi is a good example, alongside things like general theming. I like some of the moves forward they have done with Thorpe this year, though it still is dire and heavily problematic due to Merlin’s horrible investments to it. Chessington probably got the best deal in my opinion, the investment in such a small property over the last few years has given the park a new charm to it IMO. The B&M wing is honestly just gonna help this seemingly nice stream of new stuff/refurbed stuff over the past 5 years.

The RAP is horribly overused as mentioned on the thread, and on my last visit Alton is indeed the WORST offender. There was bigger RAP queues than the main queue at points. I’ve been a RAP user in the past, back when I was in a wheelchair it was a fine system, but now it seems everyone and their brother has it.

I think a lot of it comes down to entitlement and exploitation, I know I could still claim one with my minor disabilities, but I choose not to because I am capable of queueing. A lot of people have a broken wrist and claim a RAP, have a small disability- claim a rap! Why not bring 7 friends with me while I’m at it too.
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Roller Poster
I'm a lifelong user of the RAP and I definitely struggled a little bit at Towers last year standing around waiting to get on a couple of things. The same thing has happened with blue badges in the last few years. They've widened the net so far in terms of what counts as a disability that it's made it 10 times easier for people to take advantage of the system, and means people with physical disabilities are now really struggling to find a spot in what was already an extremely limited space.

Before anyone shouts at me I'm not against these systems being more inclusive to those with mental health problems, but a lot of people are taking the p!ss out of them because of it. Things need tightening up across the board in this respect.

Another (slightly off topic) example is that literally anybody can walk into Primark and bypass the often mammoth checkout queues by telling them you're disabled. I was really shocked to learn that they're not allowed to question you and have to take you on your word. I don't shop there but I went and tried it out, I offered to prove my disability and was told it wasn't needed. It wouldn't have been even slightly inconvenient for me to do so. My bus pass is always right there in my pocket 😂
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Mega Poster
They've widened the net so far in terms of what counts as a disability that it's made it 10 times easier for people to take advantage of the system

Having worked at one of the parks and dealt with the RAP system from the other half. This is a known issue with the system but, as far as I can tell, they've extended the net to cover their own backs from a media firestorm in case the wrong disability isn't accounted for and causes the entire chain to be cancelled. It's such a delicate issue nowadays that they've swung as far as they can in the other direction to keep their heads above the water. That is, until they get the inevitable backlash from an ineffective accessibility policy.


Mega Poster
My son does struggle with queuing due to his condition and this saddens me. 15/20 mins he can deal with much more than that and I'm in trouble. If something had a small enough queue I wouldn't even try to use anything. The idea that this system is abused makes if difficult for people who genuinely need assistance.

I'm in a similar position with my son. I'm hoping now Merlin have outsourced the RAP qualification to Nimbus that the numbers will go back down but we'll see.

At Paultons they have a system where you can only use the pass once per ride, which seems fair to me but then they have far far more rides than the Merlin parks, they're all always running in my experience (or there's advance notice of maintenance published on the website) and it's rare that any ride queue goes over 30 minutes.


Hyper Poster
We've just come back from Walibi, their RAP system works really well. I'm a RAP user (but only really use it if the queue for the regular ride is huuuuge). At Walibi you have an app on your phone, it says how long the queue time is for a ride (say 35 mins), you then select the ride and have to wait 35 mins, THEN you can join the RAP queue. As opposed to going in and having to wait for ages within the actual queue. Where as Merlin retrospectively add the queue time when you get to the front, which makes no sense as you often wait 15/20mins before you get to the front, to then have them add the actual queue time in addition.
That sounds very similar to the option at WDW which worked excellently for our family when we were there, certainly took out a lot of stress. Now all Disney need to do is add some covered play areas and they'll be a decent park...