Whether you are thinking of buying a Merlin Annual Pass or wondering how is the best way to make the most of them then you may be interested in our experience as Merlin Premium Annual Pass Ambassadors. We have fully-tested ours to bring you some insight into the Merlin Attractions and things for you to think about when considering your own situation.
Is it Worth buying a Merlin Annual Pass?
I think if you enjoy Merlin Attractions then the answer for me has to be YES. The initial outlay can be a bit pricey but over its duration it will save you ££s with them pretty much paying for themselves by the time you have visited around two attractions (don’t quote me on this it is a guess, please do the maths for your situation yourself). Not only that but then you have guaranteed entertainment sorted out.
How to get the Most out of your Merlin Annual Pass
I think to get the most out of your Merlin Annual Pass you need to really stop and think about your situation in relation to the Merlin Attractions. This will take into account any likes and dislikes, ages and heights (and how this may change), how far away the attractions are from where you live/and whether you want to stay over plus any additional needs of people in your party.
Think about Who is in Your Merlin Party?
I think it is all very well planning on visiting all the Merlin Attractions in one area but actually all the Merlin Attractions may not be suitable for all – whether that is in terms of age/height or interest. Is your Merlin Party a mixed one? The best thing to do is to get to know what each Merlin Attraction has to offer and how that relates to your party.
Ask yourself what do people in your Merlin Party like? Do they like thrills or frights? Or are they more likely to enjoy the singing and dancing at Heartlake City? Do they have any additional needs (read more in the disability access guide to UK Theme parks)? Will they be better with a quick visit somewhere or does all-day entertainment suit them better? How about crowds – does it matter how busy it is? For example I have always found Madame Tussauds to be busy (both in London and Blackpool). Or if you wanted your children to learn, then certain Merlin Attractions also offer Educational Workshops.
Based on youngest to oldest (and the assumption that the older the person the more thrill seeking they are) my order of Merlin Attractions (on a normal day) are:
- Sealife Centre (there is a variety but they all have a similar basis) – plus Merlin Pirate Mini Golf at Blackpool Sealife
- Blackpool Tower – Including The Blackpool Tower Eye, Circus, Ballroom, and Jungle Jims)
- Warwick Castle
- Shrek’s Adventure
- Coca-Cola London Eye
- Madame Tussauds (London and Blackpool)
- LEGOLAND Windsor
- LEGOLAND Discovery Centre (Manchester and Birmingham)
- Alton Towers Resort
- The Dungeons (London, Blackpool, Edinburgh, York and Warwick Castle)
- Thorpe Park Resort (although Thorpe Park Resort can cater for all ages, as can Alton Towers Resort)
- Bear Grylls Adventure
How do you want to Use your Merlin Annual Pass
I guess you need to decide on which kind of Merlin Annual Pass user you are – do you want to squeeze every penny out of it, ensuring you get good use out of it? Or were you already visiting attractions and wanting to save money? Do you want to just take each area at a time and visit everything there, or are you happy to go backwards and forwards to the Merlin Attractions over time?
Merlin Attractions by Location
- Sealife with Pirate Mini Golf, Blackpool Tower (Including The Blackpool Tower Eye, Circus, Ballroom, and Jungle Jims), Blackpool Dungeons, Madame Tussauds
- West Midlands:
- Shrek’s Adventure, Coca-Cola London Eye, Madame Tussauds, London Dungeons
- Theme Parks Surrounding London:
- LEGOLAND Windsor, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park Resort
- LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester, Alton Towers Resort, The Dungeons (Edinburgh and York), and Sealife.
Then you need to think whether you can travel backwards and forwards to places or whether you wish to stay over. This also depends whether you want to visit attractions once or numerous times. Some Merlin Attractions are great to go again and again, especially with seasonal changes – where as others once you have been it can get boring to keep repeatedly going there.
The London Merlin Attractions are doable in a day (if you have booked them right and nothing goes wrong) but actually booking a night’s stay in London means you have even longer to experience them PLUS you can enjoy the Coca-Cola London Eye lit-up at night without worrying about how late it will be when you get home (especially with little ones). These are largely attractions I feel would be boring to keep visiting again and again.
Or you may want to experience the theme parks’ hotels whilst you have a Merlin Annual Pass discount on them – maybe even as a birthday treat. We stayed at the LEGOLAND Hotel during February half term for Junior Brick Builders Week when the park was closed so that we got the most of the hotel but then stayed again for Halloween so that we did not have to worry about travelling after the fireworks (this provided many benefits for our son with sensory processing disorder, which you can read more about here). You need to think about what the experience is you are after – do you want luxury – or the added bonus of extras like the Spa and/or Water Park at Alton Towers (this can be used with or without staying at Splash Landings or other Alton Towers hotels)? Or a Coaster Climb at Thorpe Park Resort and stay in the Shark Hotel for ease?
Or maybe you want to stay somewhere cheaper – perhaps even explore non-Merlin Attractions nearby at the same time (like the Sandcastle Waterpark or Blackpool Pleasure Beach). We made a whole holiday to Blackpool with a Merlin Annual Pass staying cheaply at Haven’s Marton Mere. I also recommend The Ely Hotel near to LEGOLAND Windsor which we found by looking at a budget hotel comparison site. Or what about finding somewhere to camp?
When to visit Merlin Attractions
The time of year can alter how busy some of the Merlin attractions are, with obviously being busier during school holidays, Bank holidays and weekends – but others have a maximum capacity, and so it will not make as much difference (such as the new Bear Grylls Adventure where Merlin Pass Holders receive a 50% discount when booked online). Some attractions you can pay extra to guarantee entry and you may want to consider the time of year and how busy you feel the attraction may be when considering whether to pay this or take the risk or not. Also keep in mind that for £5 (each) visitors to the Blackpool Tower Circus not only are guaranteed a front row seat but also have a drink and snack within that price.
Not all Merlin Attractions are open all the year round – with theme Parks being open March-November (and partially opened at Christmas for an additional cost). I would definitely plan visits to the West Midlands, Blackpool, London Merlin Attractions during November to March if wanting to get the full value from a Merlin Annual Pass – or plan a holiday around using your MAP.
Then there are some seasonal differences at the Merlin Attractions – with Halloween and Fireworks being BIG events in the Merlin Calendar. Personally we have never had to pay extra to secure entry for the fireworks at LEGOLAND Windsor by arriving first thing in the morning; the fireworks at Alton Towers however sold out within the week before they happened, and some of the scariest Halloween Attractions at Warwick Castle (which are free for Premium Merlin Pass holders to book) sold out quickly before the actual days that they were on.
The order of the attractions for scare-factor I would say is slightly different in that I feel Warwick Castle has the most spook-factor (and I didn’t even get to do it all or do it at night!). This is personal opinion however and you may find that Thorpe Park Resort is scarier. Alton Towers and Thorpe Park Resort both open later during these periods (as do they in the summer holidays) allowing you to ride in the dark!
- Halloween at LEGOLAND Windsor
- Fright Nights at Thorpe Park: The Walking Dead
- Top tips for Fright Nights at Thorpe Park
- Halloween at Warwick Castle
Other things to Consider with your Merlin Annual Pass
Other things to consider when making the most of your Merlin Annual pass is that you get discount of food/drink and merchandise (including photos). That if you plan in advance you can make the most out of your pass – remembering that the theme parks are not open all year round. Merlin Pass holders are invited to the celebration weekend – which means that you can go to Thorpe Park Resort and Chessington World of Adventures the weekend before they open to the general public (but you have to apply for free tickets).
Other things to think about are whether you have a Standard or Premium Pass – which can affect whether you have free parking as well as if you are restricted with dates you can visit certain attractions.
There are Facebook groups for Merlin Pass Holders and another for those with additional needs – these are the best place to keep up to date with information, as well as being a place to ask questions.
I am a Merlin Pass Ambassador for which I received a family Merlin Premium Annual Pass in exchange for blog posts. Opinions are honest and my own.