Merlin Entertainments

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Merlin Entertainments Group PLC
Public limited company
Traded as LSEMERL
Industry Visitor Attractions
Founded December 1998 (1998-12)
Founder Nick Varney
Headquarters Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom
Key people
Sir John Sunderland (Chairman)
Nick Varney (CEO)
Services Family visitor attractions and resort theme parks
Revenue £1,192 million (2013)[1]
£290 million (2013)[1]
£145 million (2013)[1]
Slogan Serious about fun

Merlin Entertainments PLC is an English company headquartered in Poole, Dorset which operates 105 attractions, 11 hotels and 3 holiday villages in 23 countries, and on four continents. Merlin focuses on developing its theme parks into short break destinations with unique accommodation and immersive second gate attractions.


In December 1998, Nick Varney, Andrew Carr and the senior management team of Vardon Attractions completed a management buyout of the company to form Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd. with the backing of the private equity firm Apax Partners. Apax sold the company to another financial investor, Hermes Private Equity, in 2004.


When the Legoland theme parks came up for sale, Varney wanted to buy it but Hermes did not want to invest more capital and sold Merlin to Blackstone Group for about £110 million in 2005 and simultaneously. Blackstone negotiated to buy control of Legoland for about £250 million and then merged it with Merlin. Part of this deal was that the investment arm of LEGO owners KIRKBI AS, took a share in Merlin Entertainments and they remain major shareholders today. [2][not in citation given]

Under Blackstone in 2006, Merlin went on to buy Gardaland, an Italian theme park, and then early in 2007 The Tussauds Group, owner of the Madame Tussauds celebrity wax attractions, for £1 billion. After the Tussauds acquisition, Dubai International Capital held 20% of Merlin Entertainment.[3]

On 15 January 2010, Merlin Entertainments bought a defunct Winter Haven, Florida-based theme park, Cypress Gardens, and reopened it as Legoland Florida theme park.[4]


The buyout of Tussauds was completed on 22 May 2007.[5] The Tussauds Group as a separate entity ceased to exist, with control of its attractions, including Madame Tussauds, The London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Alton Towers Resort, Thorpe Park Resort,Warwick Castle and Heide Park passing to Merlin.

On 17 July 2007, as part of the financing for the Tussauds deal, Merlin sold the freeholds of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle and Madame Tussauds to private investor Nick Leslau and his investment firm Prestbury under a sale and leaseback agreement.[6] Although the attraction sites are owned by Leslau, the attractions themselves to be operated by Merlin, leasing each back on a renewable 35-year lease. Chessington World of Adventures was not included in the deal. By arranging the sale-leaseback of the properties and giving Dubai International Capital a stake in the combined entity, Merlin was able to acquire Tussauds without the need for any further capital investments from Blackstone or its other shareholders.[7]


In late 2010, it was announced that Merlin would purchase approximately A$115 million worth of entertainment attractions located in Australia and New Zealand from Village Roadshow Theme Parks and Attractions. The sale would include Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World, Oceanworld Manly, Sydney Tower and the Koala Gallery in Australia, in addition to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World in New Zealand.[8] On 3 March 2011, the deal was finalised.[9] This was followed by the $140 million acquisition of Living and Leisure Australia which owned several attractions in the Asia-Pacific region including UnderWater World, Melbourne Aquarium, Falls Creek Alpine Resort, Hotham Alpine Resort, Otway Fly, Illawarra Fly, Busan Aquarium and Siam Ocean World.[10][11]

On 28 June 2013, Merlin Australia's Madame Tussauds in Sydney placed a wax figure of the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, into a mock queue of a Centrelink office in central Sydney. Deposed by the Australian Labor Party in the evening of 26 June, and replaced by Kevin Rudd, the publicity stunt drew wide attention, but was widely condemned for the disrespect shown to the office of the Prime Minister, and the first female leader of Australia.[12]


Merlin had planned to go public in early 2010, but market turbulence postponed those plans. Instead, Blackstone sold 20% of the company to the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, reducing Blackstone's holding to 34%. CVC acquired another 8% from the Dubai investment fund which is no longer involved with the company, giving it 28% in all. KIRKBI, a Danish family trust that owns LEGO, also increased its stake, emerging as the largest shareholder, with 36%. CVC paid a price that valued Merlin at £2.25 billion[13] – more than six times what Merlin and Legoland together were worth when Blackstone acquired them five years earlier. Blackstone's investment was by that point worth more than three and a half times what it had paid.[14]

On 8 November 2013 Merlin floated 30% of the company on the London Stock Exchange valuing the private equity-backed company at almost £3.4bn.[15]


Legoland Theme Parks[edit]

Main article: Legoland

Legoland resort theme parks include Legoland Billund, Legoland Deutschland, Legoland Malaysia, Legoland Windsor, Legoland California and Legoland Florida.

There are also 11 Legoland Discovery Centres, 2-3 hour indoor attractions developed by Merlin and based on LEGO bricks in Toronto, Berlin, Oberhausen, Tokyo, Manchester, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Kansas City and Westchester, New York, Boston.

Madame Tussauds[edit]

Main article: Madame Tussauds

The world's premier celebrity wax attraction. There are currently 18 Madame Tussauds attractions around the world including the original flagship Madame Tussauds London, Blackpool, Sydney, Vienna, Berlin, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Shanghai, Bangkok, Hollywood, Las Vegas (at the Venetian Resort), New York City, and Washington, DC, San Francisco, Beijing, Sentosa Resort in Singapore with Orlando also opening in 2015.[16]

Resort Theme Parks[edit]

Resort theme parks include:[17]

  • Alton Towers – UK's largest theme park and with over 40 rides, 9 roller coasters, live shows, waterpark, spa, golf course, high ropes course, two hotels, new woodland lodges and historic ruins.
  • Chessington World of Adventures – Theme park with 10 themed lands, over 40 rides and attractions, live shows, Zoo, Sea Life Aquarium, two hotels with swimming pool complex and spa and historic mansion. Currently celebrating the Year of the Penguins.
  • Gardaland – Italy's largest theme park with 32 rides, live shows, a hotel, and Sea Life Aquarium.
  • Heide Park – over 40 rides and attractions, 9 roller coasters, live shows and hotel and holiday village.
  • Thorpe Park – South-East England theme park, with 25 rides including 7 roller coasters and temporary pod hotel.

Sea Life Centres[edit]

Main article: Sea Life Centres

Sea Life Centres are sealife-themed attractions. As of December 2013 there were about 45 stand alone centres located around the world, with others under construction.[18] Sea Life locations include: Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium, UnderWater World Sea Life in Mooloolaba, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium in New Zealand, Busan Sea Life Aquarium (acquired 2012), Shanghai Chang Feng Ocean World (acquired 2012 from Living and Leisure Australia Group), Siam Ocean World (acquired 2012), TurkuaZoo in Istanbul, National Sea Life Bray in Ireland, National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham and Sea Life London Aquarium. Sea Life Centres can also be found as part of Legoland Billund, Legoland Deutschland, Legoland California, Gardaland, Chessington World of Adventures and Alton Towers resorts.

Other Sea Life locations include Blankenberge in Belgium, Helsinki, Val d'Europe (near Disneyland Paris), Berlin, Hanover, Königswinter, Konstanz, München, Oberhausen, Speyer, Timmendorfer Strand, Jesolo in Italy, Scheveningen (Netherlands), Porto, Benalmádena in Spain, Blackpool, Brighton, Great Yarmouth, Manchester, Scarborough, Weymouth, Loch Lomond, Phoenix, Mall of America in Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte Concord, and soon to be opening in Orlando and Great Lakes Crossing Outlets Auburn Hills, Michigan, both in Spring of 2015.

Additionally, Merlin operate two Wild life centres in Australia, Hamilton Island Wildlife Park and Wild Life Sydney Zoo, and a number of Seal sanctuaries: Gweek (Cornish Seal Sanctuary), Hunstanton (Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary), Oban (Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary), Manley Sea Life Sanctuary, Australia

Other attractions[edit]

Further attractions include:[19]

Hotels and business centres[edit]

Merlin operates eleven hotels and three holiday villages in conjunction with the Legoland parks and resort theme parks.

Resort Theme Parks
Legoland Parks
Conference facilities

In addition, the group owns and operates glamping in the grounds of Warwick Castle, which opened in 2013.

Pass systems[edit]

Merlin has many annual pass systems, which offer multiple visits within a one year period, the annual passes can either provide entry to one or all attractions.[20]



In October 2013 Merlin's Thorpe Park attraction was involved in controversy when mental health campaigners accused it of putting profit before the welfare of those with mental illness. Its Halloween attractions included mazes which 'draw on classic horror film content'. Sitting alongside 'The Cabin in the Woods', 'SAW Alive', 'My Bloody Valentine', 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'You're Next' was 'The Asylum' maze, complete with 'scary patients who had taken over the Asylum'. Coming just weeks after controversies involving supermarket chains Asda and Tesco[21] the attraction was contrasted unfavourably in some media, Twitter and by mental health campaigners who believed The Asylum perpetrated stigmatising and damaging images of mental illness [22][23] Thorpe Park said "No offence was ever intended, it is not nor was it ever intended to be a realistic interpretation of a mental health or any other institution. We have taken this debate extremely seriously, and will take all of the points raised into account when planning any future events for 2014."[24] It was announced in September 2014 by Thorpe Park that The Asylum will not be returning for the 2014 Fright Nights. [25]


  1. ^ a b c Annual Report 2013
  2. ^ David Carey and John E. Morris, King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone (Crown 2010), pp. 311–12.
  3. ^ "Tussauds firm bought in £1bn deal". BBC News. 5 March 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  4. ^ "Cypress Gardens Sold to Legoland". 15 January 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2010. 
  5. ^ Merlin Entertainments, leading name in location based, family entertainment – A New Force in Global Leisure[dead link]
  6. ^ "Alton Towers sold in £622m deal". BBC News. 17 July 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  7. ^ King of Capital, p. 313.
  8. ^ AAP (17 December 2010). "Village Roadshow sells Sydney Attractions". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 December 2010. 
  9. ^ AAP (3 March 2011). "Plans for a Madame Tussauds in Sydney". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  10. ^ Ooi, Teresa (20 December 2011). "Merlin Entertainments Group conjures $140m James Packer bid". The Australian. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Danckert, Sarah (13 February 2012). "Merlin ready to wrap up Living and Leisure deal". The Australian. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  12. ^ "A wax figurine of Julia Gillard at Centrelink isn't a publicity stunt, it's just plain stupid - and offensive". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 June 2013. 
  13. ^ CVC Capital Partners press release[dead link], 24 June 2010.
  14. ^ King of Capital, p. 314.
  15. ^ Why you shouldn't buy shares in Legoland owner Merlin Entertainment The Telegraph, 30 October 2013
  16. ^ Midway attractions
  17. ^ Resort theme parks
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ Midway attractions
  20. ^ Merlin Annual Pass
  21. ^ Asda and Tesco withdraw Halloween patient outfits BBC News
  22. ^ Thorpe Park defends Halloween asylum attraction BBC
  23. ^ Dear Horror Fans
  24. ^ Thorpe Park ‘considering changing Asylum maze over name row’ Metro
  25. ^

External links[edit]