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WTF Merlin?

Ride availability bad at Alton towers this weekend going by social media.
Was almost going to be there this weekend. Not sure I will bother this year even though the 8 and 9pm closes looked good. No point when rides are down as often as they are.

What is it with Wicker Man constantly closing?
That is one unreliable GCI!
Again it is multi day closed till Tuesday.

Right now Enterprise closed, Nemesis closed, Oblivion closed too. Smiler was closed but reopened.
For me that would only really leave Rita as a re-rider. The others are just one time only and a bit meh for me personally.
 
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Matt N

Well-Known Member
With regard to Wicker Man, it would seem it might be something serious again, as the fences are back up: If it does turn out to be the s-bend drop once again, then that is one problematic section of track that will likely need modifications in the near future. Even though it was retracked fairly recently, many have oddly said that it’s even rougher than before.

I must say, Wicker Man’s recent problems seem rather baffling... have other GCIs had issues to this extent? And are other GCIs of similar age and intensity as rough?
 
With regard to Wicker Man, it would seem it might be something serious again, as the fences are back up: If it does turn out to be the s-bend drop once again, then that is one problematic section of track that will likely need modifications in the near future. Even though it was retracked fairly recently, many have oddly said that it’s even rougher than before.

I must say, Wicker Man’s recent problems seem rather baffling... have other GCIs had issues to this extent? And are other GCIs of similar age and intensity as rough?
I wonder if a racing GCI like Joris would have been more wise to build to ensure some more up time if one track has problems. They really need to ramp up ride capacity at Thorpe and Towers I think. It is just poor show in this day. Foreign parks don't seem to suffer from this kind of crap at this rate. Imagine going to Phantasialand for 2-3 days and Fly, Taron and Black Mamba all being closed at the same time.
 

Matt N

Well-Known Member
I wonder if a racing GCI like Joris would have been more wise to build to ensure some more up time if one track has problems. They really need to ramp up ride capacity at Thorpe and Towers I think. It is just poor show in this day. Foreign parks don't seem to suffer from this kind of crap at this rate. Imagine going to Phantasialand for 2-3 days and Fly, Taron and Black Mamba all being closed at the same time.
To be fair to them, I don’t think they can really help rides going down. Rides have problems, and as much as parks try to keep these to a minimum, they can’t always be prevented.
 
To be fair to them, I don’t think they can really help rides going down. Rides have problems, and as much as parks try to keep these to a minimum, they can’t always be prevented.
It just seems to happen a lot with Towers hence posting it in WTF?
Of course any coaster can go down, I appreciate that but I think the big problem with Towers is the vast distsances between rides. You walk all the way over to Nemesis and it's down then your choice is only Galactica or a long walk to somewhere else.
Obviously the app helps these days but it is just poor show so many rides down concurrently and the newest ride often having multi day closures throughout the season. I had one day booked in 2018 and never got on Wicker Man either till the following year.

Add the remoteness of the park in, it's just a bit of a disaster for a lot of visitors a weekend like this I reckon.
 

Tonkso

Member
We decided to run a double-bill of Thorpe on Saturday and Chessington on Sunday this weekend. The social distancing measures were good, I can't complain about that, but as usual I have a list of complaints I need to get off my chest.
It's nothing that hasn't been said here before, and it's stuff me and my partner only seem to say about Merlin parks, but here we are...

  • Break downs. They happen, we accept that, but at Merlin parks we actually expect it. Our first attempted ride of the day was Saw, which went down immediately. As usual, there was no communication regarding how long this would be, very frustrating as we're maybe the fourth group in the queue. We waste 20 minutes then decide to ditch for Colossus, good call as it was still down 40 minutes later when we left the Colossus photo shop. Rides went down multiple times during the day as usual, flats included, which means big queues elsewhere. At least Thorpe has its collection of flats as well as the coasters, but Logger's Leap would have been an appreciated extra on a day like that as we ended up riding the tug ride at one point as it was our only real option.
    Vampire broke down whilst we were waiting at Chessington too, and was down for a significant chunk of the morning. Tiger Rock went down several times throughout the day, I know it's old but was it not redone a few years ago or did they not touch the ride machinery during the retheme?
  • The Clientele. This is probably unfair to include, as it isn't really the fault of the park and it is dealt with when seen or reported, but it does put a dampener on your day. When we eventually queued for Saw, the group behind us (despite being in their late 20's) were acting like chavvy teenagers, and I don't know how their behaviour was not spotted. They were smoking in the queue, one finished their bottle of drink and decided to smash it into the fencing with a couple of running kicks. They did not give us our yellow circle distance (95% of people followed this very simple rule), until we eventually said something. This just lead to us being taken the piss out of by them repeating what we said in a child's voice. Two of them were doing push ups, with their hands on one queue fence and feet on another. Just all around ****ty behaviour. We had several instances of queue-line smokers throughout the day, and a few social distance failures too as some people just do not give a toss about anyone but themselves.

  • Maintenance. Some parts of the park are desperate for at least a paint job, come on Thorpe... Other parks don't let their parks get to this state. I'm not asking for a Disney level of 'there's some graffiti, get the team out as soon as the park closes to repaint', but at least do it every couple of months or even annually. It's a shame seeing some really great theming left to rot, and really gives the impression that Merlin just don't care as people keep on coming anyway. Vampire is an interesting one though, the station has clearly been refurbished recently and is looking great. They haven't cleaned the track and supports in about 20 years, but could you argue that it actually adds to the theme being dirty?

  • Communication. Back to the break downs, they happen, but tell us if it's not worth staying in the queue, or this is going to be a 5 minute fix-up. If you don't know, say. Chessington staff actually did a good job here to be fair.
When rides break down, it is very frustrating. We get it happens, we accept it happens, but its the frequency in which it seems to happen in Merlin parks, coupled with the often lack of other alternative rides to do that both limits your options and increases queues on the rides that are open. What I cannot understand is why we don't seem to have the same complaints when we visit somewhere like Phantasialand, the experience is very different one to what Merlin offers, but why? What is it about Merlin parks that is actually run so poorly? I just don't get it. My visit to Phanta last year was on two of the park's busiest days that season, thanks to an unexpected period of hot weather. We still rode everything, many things multiple times, still had time to comfortably sit down for some food without rushing, were not left frustrated, didn't pick up on any vandalised or poorly maintained scenery and yes, in that period Taron did go down, Chiapas did go down, but not repeatedly.

Sigh, I don't want to leave this post overwhelmingly negative, so I will put here that the Covid-19 measures Merlin have put in place are actually really good, and when people were ignoring them in the queue for Dragon's Fury, I contacted Chessington and they did send over their social distance marshals to resolve it.

Vampire's station is looking like new, and the ride team there were absolutely hurling trains through to keep that throughput up (seriously, kudos to the Vampire team yesterday!!). The Thorpe Oktoberfest was actually quite good and not overly expensive, so pleased with that. Also, Stealth was absolutely hoofing it, I think the launch was dialled up for cold and windy weather that didn't necessarily happen, as we were getting discernible air-time on the top hat. The Stealth ops team were also really on point, so kudos to them too. It isn't ALL bad, but the bad bits really do put a dampener on your day. Merlin's have some good parks in their portfolio, they just need to manage them better as they have world class potential, but fall short in key areas. Alton's lack of flats (RIP Ripsaw, Bon Voyage Boneshaker*, So long Submission, Ta-ra Twirling Toadstools) is really starting to impact on the experience too, especially with the downtime issues faced by the coasters.

* yes, I know this and Dynamo went before the Merlin takeover, but Bon Voyage Boneshaker worked too well to not include.
 

Crazycoaster

Active Member
I would actually argue that the clientele at Thorpe Park IS their fault. It’s a direct result of the path the park has taken since Merlin took over. It’s gone from Theme Park to Amusement Park, it’s gone from adventurous home grown IPs to “Love Island”, “ministry of sound”, “angry birds”, “Saw”. They ****ed up their family and thrill dynamic to invite the teenagers, and the people that think Love Island is great tv.

But the track record of all of Merlin’s parks regarding rides breaking down is utterly atrocious. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I visited Europa Park for three days last week, and there wasn’t a single “noticeable” breakdown the entire time. Rides may have stopped for 10 minutes here and there, but there was nothing ever “oh wow it’s still down”. I didn’t notice a single break down in 3 days. If Europa Park can do it with the sheer amount of attractions it has, what is Merlin doing? Howcome every single time I visit, are multiple attractions closed for lengthy periods of time? Are they cheaping out on maintenance and therefore guest safety?
 

Tonkso

Member
I guess you do have a point there, with the loss of the family tracked rides, the Octopus Garden (and its predecessor themes) Logger's Leap etc, there is very little to entice family groups in. I get the removal of the farm as it's something more suited to Chessington, and other bits were lost to the fire well before Merlin took over, but the family offerings now feel... token?

The Thorpe of my childhood is long dead, and that's fine, but it should be something better now. There's no reason a thrill park and family park cannot co-exist. Europa, Phantasialand, Astérix, Port Aventura etc all manage it after all.
 
Totally don't understand why Thorpe Park is managed the way it is. London is on your doorstep, well IS your doorstep and you market the park only towards teenagers. Why? Have they seen the Charles Lindbergh hotel prices? Imagine the Shark Hotel actually being nicely themed rather than just a collection of blue and white cupboards on a cheap ferry.

The family market is where it is at I reckon, that is where the BIG money is.

Paulton's Park has the highest season ticket price for a theme park in the UK right now. There is a reason for that. It doesn't even have a single coaster over £7-10 million. If Paultons are smart they would go down the hotel market too.

Thorpe Park / Merlin aren't right in the head if you ask me. Constant cheap scare maze garbage, Love Island ITV crap tie ins and theming several new rides after horror events. Merlin lack ambition when indeed compared to Phantasialand who is stealing the show. Even more impressive than Disneyland Paris I would say now.

Merlin, definitely with regards to Thorpe, seem to want the quick, the now, the easy way out, the high return for minimum effort. Let's bring in bloody Derren Brown, he is popular right now. Shove a VR headset on people, done! But what about in 10 years time? There is a reason Fly took 4 years to build and is ingrained with a hotel. Phanta knows it will last. It does not tie it in with a magician or a bunch of numbskull ITV presenters or braindead shows. It surprises me they haven't done a Britain's Got Talent ride / experience yet.

I think it is definitely costing Merlin in reputation this lack of imagination.

Towers is definitely better but as many have pointed out it is the lack of flat / indoor rides that is letting them down. When it rains, the rides are mostly painful. A state of the art indoor trackless dark ride and a massive part indoor themed log flume like Chiapas would go down well and an indoor coaster if they find the space.
 
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Satanspropaganda

New Member
I visited Europa Park for three days last week, and there wasn’t a single “noticeable” breakdown the entire time. Rides may have stopped for 10 minutes here and there, but there was nothing ever “oh wow it’s still down”. I didn’t notice a single break down in 3 days. If Europa Park can do it with the sheer amount of attractions it has, what is Merlin doing? Howcome every single time I visit, are multiple attractions closed for lengthy periods of time? Are they cheaping out on maintenance and therefore guest safety?
I was at Europa for two days the other week and sadly, Wodan was down on our second day, a real bummer (we were hoping to marathon it all day). The staff were very sure it'd be a multi day downtime and they stationed some guys out front to tell people as they walked up to the gates. They had quite a few people on site working on it, then amazingly an hour before closing they fixed the issue and opened it, so they kept Wodan running after the park closed so we all got some rides/re-rides in. It was handled so well, considering there was a train stuck on the lift hill without movement till an hour before they opened it!

Merlin on the other hand don't communicate well with customers in regards to breakdowns or anything of the kind. I've been spited many times even on the more reliable rides such as Nemesis. Over many years on my 20+ visits, I've only gotten on Spinball whizzer 3 times total, because of how bad the downtime is plus then the resulting queues when it's back up. Been in the queue for it to break down over 12 times now...
 

toofpikk

Member
I was at Europa for two days the other week... The staff were very sure it'd be a multi day downtime and they stationed some guys out front to tell people as they walked up to the gates.... It was handled so well, considering there was a train stuck on the lift hill without movement till an hour before they opened it!

Merlin on the other hand don't communicate well with customers... I've been spited many times... because of how bad the downtime is...
I visited Europa Park for three days last week, and there wasn’t a single “noticeable” breakdown... If Europa Park can do it with the sheer amount of attractions it has, what is Merlin doing?

There are so many reasons why I hate this comparison with merlin parks, but also I think it's important. Just a few reasons off the top of my head as to why the experience of availability and attraction quality varies between the parks:

1. The vast majority of rides at Europa, the owners of the park literally created and ingrained into the park to run as a show piece to sell them as units. If they're not operating correctly at its home park, who would want to buy it?

2. Culture. British culture is totally different to German culture. Entitlement. Expectations. Efficiency.

Things like breakdown information should be no different from park to park to be honest, it is a matter of an employee getting on a microphone and updating everyone, however when you have a lot more people to control, people asking you whats going on who're higher up, and things to get on with yourself, simple things like communicating with guests can simply slip your mind. The best excuse here is some parks simply do not distribute their PA systems properly and some attraction queues are speaker-less, but also priorities in these moments lay elsewhere, right or wrong.

And point 2 up there^ applies to guests and employees too. If you're told as a worker you'll close your gates at 5, you make plans. If you are then told that park opening is extended by an hour on the day, you will obviously be somewhat upset. Parks like Europa which don't set their closing time until the day don't set up this expectation for their staff.

3. This is the big one - procedures. The way Europa is ran is (i'm fairly sure) unlike most parks. From what I know each major attraction permanently has an engineer stationed at the ride, along with at least 1 team leader, and the attractions team are given a lot more responsibility than those found at other parks. Troubleshooting before there is even trouble. This means things like E-stops can be reset in a matter of seconds, rather than in comparison at merlin parks where it must be overseen by a member of rides management and/or engineer, and potentially park management. Trains can be added or taken off without you even noticing. Paperwork is much more simplified due to the procedures that take place through day to day operations, and there just seems to be more trust and freedom for employees to get on wither their job compared to the scripted out roles found at many other parks. Rather than a group of roaming engineers and park management who's responsibility lays across the park, this constant presence of relevant employees at places where they MAY be needed works much better than those who wait about until they ARE needed, and then may fall in demand if they're needed in more than 1 place at once.

4. Finally, Merlin was a floating company up until recently. Europa is family owned. The quick business angled investments of merlin were never going to satisfy us as nerds, they were made to make money. Europa makes rides to showcase what they can do for other investors in the industry, and to maintain their families established quality in the industry. The way the parks are ran follows a similar ideology. Of course ultimately the aim is the same; to attract guests to the park to spend money, and come back in the future, but ultimately the way about it is where a lot of the difference lies.
 
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Fi

Member
The family market is where it is at I reckon, that is where the BIG money is.
Thorpe is managed the way it is because at the end of the day Merlin is a business out to make money. Legoland 30 mins down the road does an excellent job bringing in the family money to Merlin. Chessington is another Merlin family park less than 30 mins away, so if Thorpe also went down the family route it would just cannibalise visits from those parks, and also have to compete with Paultons who do a very good job at the family park.

I’m not the biggest fan of Merlin and agree that Thorpe in particular isn’t maximising it’s potential, but think it is absolutely right to differentiate itself very and go for the thrill market. Could be cynical and say that having Thorpe as the designated Teenagers Park keeps them away from the other southern parks allowing them to foster the nice wholesome family atmosphere which encourages parents to splash out more.

While we would all love to see Thorpe get a nice RMC or whatever a cheap maze combined with a popular IP gets the GP interest, and easy to rinse and repeat to keep the money rolling in. This course might cost Merlin a hit to its reputation among enthusiasts, but actually we’re not their target market, GP will get bored of attraction after theyve riden it once, cheap gimmicks give them a reason to return year after year.
 

Pokemaniac

Mountain monkey
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
While we would all love to see Thorpe get a nice RMC or whatever a cheap maze combined with a popular IP gets the GP interest, and easy to rinse and repeat to keep the money rolling in. This course might cost Merlin a hit to its reputation among enthusiasts, but actually we’re not their target market, GP will get bored of attraction after theyve riden it once, cheap gimmicks give them a reason to return year after year.
While I mostly agree with it, I also think the GP would not come to a park full of cheap IP mazes. Sure, their novelty factor may be a draw, like a novel sauce or spice at a favourite restaurant, but the park needs a "backbone" of rides as well. Their bread and butter, to continue the food metaphor. Thorpe needs to have the coasters and thrill rides to be an enticing place for people to visit, as the novelty of a new attraction mostly serves to give people an excuse to return.

And while Thorpe isn't doing half bad with its backbone lineup at the moment, it does have the issue that a lot of it was built in a few short years between 1998 and 2006. If memory serves correctly, this period introduced three of the park's biggest coasters and all of the thrill flats. If these attractions all age at approximately the same rate, it means they will all be due for replacement within a few years of each other. If Thorpe isn't willing to take that enormous expense in such a short order when that time comes, it better start spreading out the replacements already. When Colossus one day kicks the bucket, no amount of The Great British Bake Off horror mazes will be able to replace it. By then, Quantum, Zodiac, and Rush will also soon be ready for the scrap heap, and Tidal Wave might start spluttering and coughing at the same time. They can't throw up a Britain's Got Talent bouncy castle and pretend it will draw in as many guests.

It's the big rides that make up Thorpe in the eyes of guests. The cheap IP attractions are just the new flavour of the year, to be tried once. They're not worth returning for to the same degree. For related reasons, they're not nearly as long-lasting either. Say, a coaster or flat ride lasts 30 years, while a cheap IP attraction will draw people in for 5. If the park wants to maintain 20 attractions at all times, they can either build a mechanical attraction twice every three years, or four cheap IP attractions every year. Either they must commit to offering a lot of new stuff every year, or downsizing will be inevitable. Right now, they are relying on their backbone of big attractions, but they are doing little to add to it and it won't last forever. If I were in charge of Thorpe, I would at least start looking into the implications of that.
 

CSLKennyNI

Active Member
There are so many reasons why I hate this comparison with merlin parks, but also I think it's important. Just a few reasons off the top of my head as to why the experience of availability and attraction quality varies between the parks:

1. The vast majority of rides at Europa, the owners of the park literally created and ingrained into the park to run as a show piece to sell them as units. If they're not operating correctly at its home park, who would want to buy it?

2. Culture. British culture is totally different to German culture. Entitlement. Expectations. Efficiency.

Things like breakdown information should be no different from park to park to be honest, it is a matter of an employee getting on a microphone and updating everyone, however when you have a lot more people to control, people asking you whats going on who're higher up, and things to get on with yourself, simple things like communicating with guests can simply slip your mind. The best excuse here is some parks simply do not distribute their PA systems properly and some attraction queues are speaker-less, but also priorities in these moments lay elsewhere, right or wrong.

And point 2 up there^ applies to guests and employees too. If you're told as a worker you'll close your gates at 5, you make plans. If you are then told that park opening is extended by an hour on the day, you will obviously be somewhat upset. Parks like Europa which don't set their closing time until the day don't set up this expectation for their staff.

3. This is the big one - procedures. The way Europa is ran is (i'm fairly sure) unlike most parks. From what I know each major attraction permanently has an engineer stationed at the ride, along with at least 1 team leader, and the attractions team are given a lot more responsibility than those found at other parks. Troubleshooting before there is even trouble. This means things like E-stops can be reset in a matter of seconds, rather than in comparison at merlin parks where it must be overseen by a member of rides management and/or engineer, and potentially park management. Trains can be added or taken off without you even noticing. Paperwork is much more simplified due to the procedures that take place through day to day operations, and there just seems to be more trust and freedom for employees to get on wither their job compared to the scripted out roles found at many other parks. Rather than a group of roaming engineers and park management who's responsibility lays across the park, this constant presence of relevant employees at places where they MAY be needed works much better than those who wait about until they ARE needed, and then may fall in demand if they're needed in more than 1 place at once.

4. Finally, Merlin was a floating company up until recently. Europa is family owned. The quick business angled investments of merlin were never going to satisfy us as nerds, they were made to make money. Europa makes rides to showcase what they can do for other investors in the industry, and to maintain their families established quality in the industry. The way the parks are ran follows a similar ideology. Of course ultimately the aim is the same; to attract guests to the park to spend money, and come back in the future, but ultimately the way about it is where a lot of the difference lies.
Just popping in to second everything here about Europa.
 

JoshC.

Active Member
While we would all love to see Thorpe get a nice RMC or whatever a cheap maze combined with a popular IP gets the GP interest, and easy to rinse and repeat to keep the money rolling in. This course might cost Merlin a hit to its reputation among enthusiasts, but actually we’re not their target market, GP will get bored of attraction after theyve riden it once, cheap gimmicks give them a reason to return year after year.
Wholeheartedly disagree.

A cheap, short term 'thing' with whatever IP is semi-popular and reasonably cheap for them to buy will grab a bit of attention. But it won't get the masses in. You'll get people who are interested by the IP, and others will no doubt be interested too, but none of it gets people through the gates like a big new ride. People want new roller coasters - THAT is what the general public like to think of when they think of Thorpe. The flavour of the year might make people remember Thorpe exists, but ultimately they'll go because of the coasters and other major rides.

With no big, proper rides in many years though, people will eventually just not bother.

The park's visitor numbers have steadily decreased over the past few years because people simply are less interested in going. A big new ride would be an instant hit in my eyes, regardless of what it is.


I've got nothing against the park using IPs either. Saw did wonders for the park. The Lionsgate stuff at Fright Nights was brilliant and was just what the park needed at the time imo. Derren Brown could have been great if executed properly. But things like I'm A Celeb, Black Mirror, Love Island, even Angry Birds and Walking Dead all feel like short term flash-in-the-pan ideas that either fizzled away as quickly as they arrived, or will not be missed by the public the second they disappear.

If you treat the public as people who get bored of an attraction after they've done it once, then that's how they'll act, and you build a rod for your own back. That's the big problem.


As for the whole family market vs thrill market thing, I think if you look at Walibi Holland, that's how you execute a more thrill park vibe, whilst still keeping families interested enough. Okay, they're not the best example in the sense of they've openly said they haven't got as many visitors as they would have liked over the past couple of years, but I genuinely think they're on the right track. Create a park which focuses on thrills, but have enough of a family offering to not deter them.
 

Crazycoaster

Active Member
I did say they were at opposite ends of the spectrum. But I’m also not going to make excuses for Merlin. The amount of downtime that rides have in their parks is unacceptable.

For the prices being charged at entry (don’t give me the “there are enough bogofs out there” shtick) the sheer amount of rides they have constantly closed should have been sorted. It is poor management that has ignored these growing problems rather than working towards a solution.
 
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