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WTF Merlin?


CF Legend
I think we can all safely agree that there have been a lot of...well, odd decisions by everybody's favourite Theme Park owners of late, and I thought it should have its very own topic because to me it is a very interesting subject to vent about, if nothing else.

So the latest WTF comes in the form of the I'm A Celeb attraction at Thorpe. I don't think any of us (except those in the know of course) could have seen that coming and the general reaction was a mixture of face-palming, struggled justification, desperate optimism and confusion. But that's not all, this year we have also found out that Chessington aren't adding a thrill-based attraction for yet another season and seem set on focusing on their hotel/zoo (WTF?), and Alton has sprung a cred on us out of bloody nowhere (WTF) alongside damning evidence surfacing in the enthusiast community that seems to prove that the park are hellbent on crushing local competition with their latest accommodation offerings (WTF). It's just all gone a bit weird, hasn't it?

I've always been a Merlin sympathiser, and I am one of those who will genuinely try and squeeze every last bit of good out of an attraction, but the start to this season has found me really struggling to justify these decisions to myself and I'm just more and more confused with every emerging 'New for 2015' attraction. That, and I read a post recently on TowersStreet comparing the average gate figures for parks across Europe against their most recent investments. Firstly, it really highlighted to me how dismal the additions at the Thorpe, CWoA and Alton really are, but then I spoke to somebody else who reminded me that Merlin, with their 105 attractions do as Sea World with their 11 attractions. Those sums just do not add up. Merlin are **** up in a big way somewhere along the line, and clearly with that many attractions they're going for a quantity over quality approach, but even then barely scraping anything near successful if you look at the performance of each attraction individually.

So, what do you think Merlin are doing wrong? What would you change? Am I the only one really irked by this? Discuss!


Hyper Poster
There's nothing wrong with Alton's additions. More accomodation (attracts guests) and an adequate family coaster add to and replace parts of Alton's attraction lineup.

However, Thorpe's decisions do seem to be awful. No new flats in 11 years, with 2015 being a perfect time to install even just a family-ish flat, but they add yet another maze, which will last about 2 years at most, before being replaced with something equally as tabloid and branded. The worst though is the £30 million dark ride for next year. OK fair enough, they had to push their next major investment a year back, but to blow Merlin's ever biggest investment (I think?) on a ride that won't cater to the park's natural audience (adult thrill-seekers), seems like an extremely risky move. The worst thing about this investment is that Thorpe now probably won't see another major coaster until 2019, with Alton's next big investment (hopefully a coaster) coming in 2017 and each major ride coming around 3 years after the last. 7 years without a new coaster at one of Europe's busiest theme parks is ridiculous, to be honest.

Martyn B

CF Legend
Yeah the Alton kiddy cred is a good move IMO. They still need to add kids rides the other areas, but a kiddy coaster was needed.

The thing that really gets me is how they don't appear to invest much into Chessington. I absolutely adore that park, but it just hasn't changed much at all over the last few years.

The lack of theming on Dragon Falls just makes me sad :(


Hyper Poster
Merlin want to focus on midway stuff, low capital expenditure, high throughput and easy revenue!

The fact that Dragon's Falls new theme has been scrapped just highlights how little they care for improvement compared to turnover.


Giga Poster
Great topic! Just up my street ;) At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here I go...

I personally think, with the exception of colour schemes, Alton has been managed superbly in recent years, but still has some of the chain-wide symptoms of Merlin nonchalance. These include, but are not limited to: Universal lack of flat rides, gimmicky coasters, monotone colour schemes since 2009 and general disrepair. It annoys me that Thorpe and Chessie, which have so much potential, are just neglected with poor attraction choices in the way they are. They just own too many attractions to make the ones they have quality.

A few 'howlers':

-Removing GL's perfectly good Huss Condor for a tiny children's play area which nobody seems to use, leaving them now with just 1 flat ride.
-The whole of Chessington really, as said above. It's great that they're rejuvenating some of their attractions, but to a limited extent. They of all people should know new attractions keep guests returning...
-Angry Birds Land. Horrendously misplaced, carnival dodgems, awful rethemes and anything to just cash in on a successful IP.
-Colossus. Ruined completely by a lack of maintenance and investment in new trains.
-And finally, don't get me started on their 'long term development plan'...or lack of it. (Ahem I'm a Celeb and Dark Ride). I can bet you Kentucky Kingdom, Cedar Point and Holiday World have established plans going into the 2020s...

I know it's easy for me to say, but sometimes, I genuinely feel some of us could do a better job of running their parks for them.

Martyn B

CF Legend
I've always been a bit confused by Merlins (apparent) lack of repainting coasters.

Colossus is WELL over due a repaint. Like 8 years over due.

And lets face it, they only done Sonic coz of the IP. Oblivion is the only exception, and that still took them long enough.


Hyper Poster
Chessington's 3 year plan is for major works on car parks. Toilets and I'm hearing strong suggestions of the total removal of Tomb Blaster and Dragon Falls for 2016/2017. Wtf?


CF Legend
^ the fact that they're just not bothering with the retheme they assured us would happen heavily supports those rumours.


Hyper Poster
There's a lot more to it than that. Feel free to contact me on Facebook for more info Jordan. It's all to do with Dragon Falls mostly.


Hyper Poster
Air DESPERATELY needs a repaint. Speaking of repaints, Nemesis appears to have had red paint applied to some parts of the track and bolts holding track pieces together.


Strata Poster
No real UK based competition meaning standards are slipping?

Or have they just settled on a quick and easy formula that short term expenditure means short term gains and they're stuck in that cycle?


Hyper Poster
nadroJ said:
^is the trademark river of blood showing any signs of reappearing this season does anyone know?

As far as I understand it, the red river is probably never coming back due to issues with the local watercourse. The dye cause issues with the water, so there are procedures in place to remove the dye before releasing the water. However, a couple of times through lack of proper training for the right staff and flooding from the storms we've had the past couple of years , the dye has been leaked into the watercourse.

In typical Merlin fashion, rather than get new dye or implement proper procedures with fail safes, they decided to just forego the dye altogether.

Of course, I'm hoping that I turn up on opening day and it's back to it full red glory and I'm proven totally wrong!


Giga Poster
Perhaps they feel more inclined to invest more into Heide Park and Gardaland, where there's actually some competition?

Thorpe and Alton (not so much Chessington) are probably exactly where Merlin need them, so with the only competition, BPB, stuck in a rut also, perhaps they think there's not point putting so much in way of resources into the UK parks.

Gardaland has Mirabilandia and compete with and Heide is not only in Europa's shadow, but has a 200ft+ coaster being build 95 minutes up the road.
Not like here where there's nothing from nobody in way of competition.

That's not to say they they shouldn't provide basics like cleaning up and repainting knackered rides or doing anything to CWoA.


CF Legend
Anyone curious about the "Merlin's 105 attractions make about the same money as Seaworld's 11"...

Here's a chart!


This chart shows that in 2011 Merlin had an insane attendance figure. Well done Merlin!

But that they attained that figure with 99 attractions.

Ninety nine.

They made $1.6 billion in revenue. The same rounded figure as SeaWorld managed with their 11 attractions.

Granted, SeaWorld's attractions are all pretty big major things, but Merlin do have 11 theme park resorts including the Legolands, so I whilst I don't expect the likes of Chessington to compete with Busch Gardens, you would think with all the added Midway the revenue would be above SeaWorld's. Or am I missing something?

Here's another fun chart...


Weird isn't it.

These charts are from http://www.blooloop.com/features/by-the ... OvYbLCsV74

I'll comment more on other stuff another day when I have an awake brain.

Nemesis Inferno

Strata Poster
The change into being a PLC and all the shares I think is the biggest difference to the more recent additions/planning...

To tie in with this, rather than each park act separately on a financial basis, they all get given budgets from one big pot... So if say one ride is suffering and needs more money ploughed into it because of major construction issues, another park's new ride gets the budget snatched away because it's not as important...

And to top it all off, it would appear that the following is happening with each park:

Thorpe - In a weird place in regards to it's current branding, as they FINALLY realised that the thrill market didn't sit well with the park actually making any form of money... The addition of Angry Birds could be seen as a plus point if they hadn't bothered to make it desperately fit into an IP to be 'marketable', rather than sensible... Seems as well that the maintenance side of things needs a boost, what with the pitiful excuses of 'saving energy' behind the one train operation...

Chessie - The mis-treated park since the DIC days, the new solid branding is fine enough, but it just doesn't get given the budget it NEEDS to actually push forward with life... Let alone the H&S incident which proved Merlin's reactive approach to life in general... The zoo updates however are fine in my book, as they've needed that sorta thing for a long, long time, but the park is suffering at the expense of this... However, the MAP side of things is a big success, so Merlin don't seem to care...

Towers - Gets the most investment that's for sure, CBeebies Land being a giant success following on from Smiler's commercial success... But a LOT of the park looks tatty, Nemesis' station being a good example of it, with Towers Street as well... Towers probably is in the best position of the lot by a long mile...

But then we look at the quality of the additions, and it just seems that Merlin don't know how to make a full high-quality attraction... Each one seems to have some fantastic ideas and concepts behind it, but very rarely do they make it to the final version... Zufari is a perfect example of a great idea somehow made terrible, whether through the original pre-show, the dodgy loading procedures, the tacked-on story or the infamous DANGER CAVE... I mentioned Thorpe's addition to some non-enthusiast friends the other day and they had a look of confusion upon their faces, which shows that they as a park appear to be aiming at the lowest common denominator...

It's also weird that a company which managed to actually create a strong creative IP in Smiler are obsessed over external IPs for everything else... But then again, they full-out blamed Swarm for being crap as a result of a poor 2012, so what else can we expect from them...

Perhaps the lack of competition is the issue, hopefully with Paultons going full out over the next two years I can see Chessie being directly affected by this, with a kick up the arse... Buuuuut given Merlin's blase attitude to Paramount's potential construction happening an hour odd away from two of their parks, you do have to wonder what they're actually in this for...


CF Legend
I'm firmly of the opinion that they don't really give a **** about theme parks anymore. They were acquisitions made a long time ago, they're not about to get rid of them because they sell Annual Passes for the company nicely enough, but I feel that given the opportunity to buy theme parks now (with the exception of Lego) they'd steer well clear. They love their copy & paste style of attraction, slowly but surely turning the tourist traps of the world into carbon copies of one another. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a bloody Pigeon Forge Dungeons in our future.

The way they split budgets is totally unfair and a real communist way of looking at things. Like, one of you did quite well, one of you did **** so you all can't have nice things until we sort this mess out. I'm also extremely critical of the 'budget' they dish out. Surely they can afford to spend more than they do? I wouldn't be surprised if somebody is just being greedy somewhere along the lines.

Also, with regards to IP, like Benin said, they're perfectly capable of pulling off good, ORIGINAL, IPs and marketing them effectively, and it doesn't take up half their bloody budget to do so!

Bring me the person who sealed the I'm A Celeb contract, I'd like to slap them round their stupid face.

Chris Brown

Mr CoasterForce 2016
I think this all comes down to the monopoly merlin control. They know that if the GP want to visit a themepark it will more than likely be Thorpe, Alton or Chessie. These are heavily marketed themeparks that are known throughout the whole of the UK. Pre enthusiast i simply hadnt heard of Drayton, Oakwood, flamingoland and lightwater perhaps due to my location but primarily down to advertising. These 'smaller' parks are simply stuck in a loop. No money for advertsing, no increase in revenue, no money for new attractions, no increase in revenue and until a substantial investment comes to these smaller parks then this will always be the case. Given this Merlin simply dont have to spend money to maintain the customers they already have each year. At the end of the day if they can get away with not spending big bucks to attract vistors then they sure will. If there were to be competition from other parks then things would be very different, as shown with Heide park and Gardaland.


CF Legend
Okay so.

I think Alton's random new cred they've pulled out of nowhere isn't as weird as it seems. Because, on the Alton dedicated forums apparently the rumour has been circulating for a while and you have to remember it is just a kiddy, so it going under the radar for so long isn't that weird. It's perfect for the park and I rather like the whole use of a British children's IP thing, because it fits with the park's overarching theme of authenticity.

Chessington's fundamental problem is the planning permission issue, I think. Once Tussauds realised quite how bad it was there they sort of just gave up on the place when it was in it's prime. They concentrated on Thorpe doing things they wanted to do at Chessie and as a result Chessie lie stagnant from 1998-2004. That's a heck of a long time. I don' think anyone's actually stupid enough to repeatedly tell the park "No, you can't have nice things!" for no legitimate reason. I think their current brand stability has naturally evolved out of their inability to build stuff, concentrating instead on animal attractions and generally trying to improve the place as a resort for families. But with no new substantial ride additions which hold the theme park together, I that can't go on forever, surely? Without the planning woes, I think Thorpe wouldn't be as significant and Chessington would still be king, having developed into the Atlon of the south. I also think that half their current lineup would be gone or rethemed, specifically Falls and Runnaway, way earlier. They left Runnaway until the very last minute I suspect because they weren't brave enough to risk taking it down for a season and retheming it with a small budget when so many people loved it. I say brave but... They'd have been crazy to risk it. Had they a substantial lineup of other attractions, it wouldn't have been so mad. Their retheme of Bubbleworks happened at a time when the company was waaaay more WTF than they are being now. That retheme was brave and they'd never do something like that now. We may miss old Bubbles, but the nostalgia is covering up the fact that it was a state and really needed doing. Vampire's new trains would have never happened if the park could just build new stuff, but the fear of Vampire nearing the end of it's life like the rest of it's kin is very, very real. What on earth will they do when the time comes for that to close? No coaster can take it's place with current plans, as far as I gather.

Chessington's behaviour isn't so WTF as it is depressing.

Thorpe's, on the other hand...

Where did it all go wrong? Swarm, I guess. Attendance climbed and climbed and climbed and... didn't as much as predicted with Swarm? So corporate is panicking? Is that it? The whole Swarm/Zufari thing blew my mind. 2012 was a terrible year for theme parks in general with the olympics and weather. 2013 started cold and there were fears Zufari wasn't doing that well, then suddenly it's the greatest success of the century because the sun came out practically all summer long. I think Thorpe's "woah guys we need family stuff" is sound, I just don't see how Angry Birds land fits that description at all? You can't take adult rides and theme them to a kids IP and call it family, it makes zero sense. It's as if Angry Birds land only exists to satisfy the fact that marketing said "LOOK WE HAVE ANGRY BIRDS KIDS LOVE ANGRY BIRDS LOOK WE ARE A FAMILY PARK!" SO weird. And I'm a Celeb is weird in ways people have already been over like - why not Chessington? Why are we making a cheap attraction that requires actors thus making it expensive in the long run? Terrible throughput? Did someone literally go "hm, I guess saw alive failed cuz it was too halloweeny, make something summery instead!" Oh and they must have thrown in "and DONT FORGET THE IP! Here, have £5 to make it! Include your own design staff budgets! GOOD LUCK BYEEEEeeeee!"

*breaths* Ya know, replacing X's trains to massively lower the height restriction was one of the best things Thorpe have done in recent years. Smart move. Weird how they didn't try and whack on a mini retheme and plug that as a new family attraction, because it actually was one.

Alton I don't think are being that weird either. In fact I think Smiler was the result of some heads being seriously screwed on right. Yeah the opening year technical woes were hilariously bad but we ended up with a ride that, despite not actually liking that much, I think is utterly fantastic. On brand, substantially huge, 14 inversions - thats mental! It's cool as a thing, just existing there. The new hotely village thing I'm in two minds about - I think it's hilarious that they literally say they want to steal custom from local B&Bs - good luck with your obscene prices. Are they really deluded enough to think people stay off site for any reason other than cost? Very few people stay in a B&B because they want a B&B style stay, it's just local and cheaper than your hotels. Weirdos.

Re: caring about the parks - it does come across that way, but I think were we Sealife or Tussauds enthusiasts, we'd say the opposite. Look at how much theme park resorts make compared to midway, on average. I spose Theme parks are higher costs to run and revenue isn't profit, but I'm still skeptical. Look at the money Legoland makes by comparison - like $20m more on average per park than the rest of their theme parks, yet do we see quality Legoland additions? No. If anything, the better it's doing, the less they seem to try. I spose that makes sense, really? I don't know. I can't help think that they're a successful business and they know what they're doing and who am I to really comment, but that whole comparison with attraction number to revenue thing does seem like madness. Either way, the C&P midway stuff is doing very well for it's genre, I suppose. They seem to know what they're doing there, I just question the longevity of a million identical aquariums and waxworks the world over.