Merlin Entertainments

Merlin Entertainments Ltd is a British entertainments company headquartered in Poole, England. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange until it was acquired by a consortium of Kirkbi A/S (the investment arm of the Christiansen family, controller of The Lego Group) in November 2019.

Merlin Entertainments Ltd
TypePrivate company limited by shares
IndustryVisitor Attractions
FoundedDecember 14, 1998 (1998-12-14)
England, UK
Key people
Nick Varney (CEO)
Revenue£1,688 million (2018)[1]
£327 million (2018)[1]
£230 million (2018)[1]
Number of employees
27,000 (2017)[2]


In December 1998, Nick Varney, Andrew Carter and the senior management team of Vardon Attractions (Vardon plc) 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.[3] In May 2005, the company was acquired from Hermes by a division of The Blackstone Group[4] which later started a major expansion. Over the years, Merlin acquired Gardaland, an Italian theme park, and The Tussauds Group. The company was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2013.[5]


When the Legoland theme parks came up for sale, Varney wanted to buy it but Hermes did not want to invest more capital. After the sale of Merlin to Blackstone Group, the company negotiated to buy control of Legoland for about £250 million in 2005, then merged it with Merlin.[6] As part of the deal, Kirkbi A/S, the investment arm of LEGO owners, took a share in Merlin Entertainments.[7][8]


In May 2007 Blackstone purchased The Tussauds Group, owner of the Madame Tussauds celebrity wax attractions, for US$1.9 billion; this company was merged with Merlin and has since been managed by Merlin.[9][10] After the Tussauds acquisition, Dubai International Capital, the previous owner, received a 20% stake in the combined entity as well as £1.03bn in cash.[11][9][12]

On 17 July 2007, as part of the financing for the Tussauds deal, the freeholds of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle and Madame Tussauds were sold to private investor Nick Leslau and his investment firm Prestbury, with a subsequent leaseback agreement.[13] Although the attraction sites are owned by Leslau, they are operated by Merlin based on a renewable 35-year lease.[9]


On 15 January 2010, Merlin Entertainments bought Cypress Gardens, a defunct theme park in Winter Haven, Florida. It was reopened as Legoland Florida theme park.[14]

Reports in early October 2017 indicated that Merlin Entertainments was considering a takeover of Sea World in Orlando but on 11 October, the company said it was no longer involved in such discussions.[15]

Australia and New Zealand

In late 2010, it was announced that Merlin would purchase approximately A$116 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.[16] On 3 March 2011, the deal was finalised.[17] 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.[18][19]

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 the unemployed at 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 received some criticism for the "disrespect" shown to the office of the Prime Minister, and the first female political leader of Australia.[20]


Merlin had planned to go public in the early 2000s, 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[21] – 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.[22]

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.[23]

In June 2019 the company's board agreed to recommend a takeover offer of £4.8 billion from Kirkbi, CPP Investment Board and The Blackstone Group.[24] The takeover was approved by the high court in November 2019.[25]

eOne's multi-territory partnership with Merlin

On 5 December 2019 Entertainment One announced a new multi-territory partnership with Merlin that will open an interactive PJ Masks nautical-themed trail throughout the company's Sea Life aquariums worldwide starting February 2020.[26]

Further tying into the collaboration between Merlin and eOne, select episodes of PJ Masks season 4 will feature underwater adventures.[26]


Theme parks

Name Location Year Opened Year Acquired Notes
Alton Towers Resort Staffordshire Moorlands, UK 1860 2007 Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.
Thorpe Park Chertsey, Surrey, UK 1979 2007 Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.
Chessington World of Adventures Resort Chessington, Greater London, UK 1987 2007 Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.
Gardaland Castelnuovo del Garda, Italy 1975 2006 Purchased in 2006 under Blackstone.
Heide Park Resort Soltau, Lower Saxony, Germany 1978 2007 Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.
Legoland Billund Resort Billund, Denmark 1968 2005 Acquired in Blackstone deal.
Legoland California California, USA 1999 2005 Acquired in Blackstone deal.
Legoland Deutschland Resort Günzburg, Germany 2002 2005 Acquired in Blackstone deal.
Legoland Dubai Resort Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates 2016 - Opened as part of the Dubai Parks and Resorts development in Jebel Ali.
Legoland Florida Resort Winter Haven, Florida, USA 2011 2011 Cypress Gardens acquired and rebranded.
Legoland Japan Resort Nagoya, Japan 2017 - New-build theme park.
Legoland Malaysia Resort Johor Bahru, Malaysia 2012 - New-build theme park.
Legoland New York Resort Goshen, New York, USA 2021 - New-build theme park.
Legoland Windsor Resort Windsor, UK 1996 2005 Acquired in Blackstone deal.

Midway attractions

Name Location(s) Year Opened Year Acquired Notes
Australian Treetop Adventures Australia 2005 2010 Canopy walkways acquired in MFS Living and Leisure deal
Blackpool Tower Circus Blackpool, UK 1894 2011
The Dungeons Alton Towers
San Francisco
Eye Brand Blackpool
Dreamworks Tours: Shrek's Adventure! London London 2015 - Uses characters from the Shrek franchise, licensed from DreamWorks Animation.
Falls Creek ski resort Victoria, Australia 1946 2011 Acquired in MFS Living and Leisure deal
Hotham Alpine Resort Victoria, Australia 1925 2011 Ski resort acquired in MFS Living and Leisure deal
Madame Tussauds London
Las Vegas
New York
San Francisco
Washington D.C.
Hong Kong
New Delhi
Sea Life Birmingham
Great Yarmouth
Castelnuovo del Garda
Loch Lomond
Timmendorfer Strand
The Hague
Mooloolaba (Sunshine Coast)

Iskandar Puteri

Shopping Centre Manchester (Trafford Centre)
Paris (Val d'Europe)
Arizona (Arizona Mills)
Charlotte-Concord (Concord Mills)

Grapevine, TX (Grapevine Mills)
Kansas City (Crown Center), MO
Michigan (Great Lakes)
Minnesota (Mall Of America)
San Antonio, TX (Rivercenter)
New Jersey (American Dream Meadowlands)
Bangkok (Siam Paragon)

Theme Parks Alton Towers
Chessington World of Adventures
Legoland Windsor
Legoland Billund
Legoland Deutschland
Legoland California
LEGOLAND Discovery Centres Birmingham at Arena Birmingham
Manchester at the Trafford Centre
Berlin at the Sony Center
Phoenix at Arizona Mills
Atlanta at Phipps Plaza
Bay Area (San Jose) at Great Mall of the Bay Area
Chicago at The Streets of Woodfield
Columbus at Easton Town Center
Dallas Fort Worth at Grapevine Mills
Kansas City at Crown Center
Michigan at the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets
New Jersey at American Dream Meadowlands
Philadelphia at the Plymouth Meeting Mall
Westchester (New York) at Westchester's Ridge Hill
San Antonio at the Shops at Rivercenter
Toronto at Vaughan Mills
Melbourne at the Chadstone Shopping Centre
Mt Hotham, AZ at Hotham Alpine Resort
Hong Kong

Under Construction

The Hague
Miami, FL at American Dream Miami
Pittsburgh at The Mall at Robinson

Peppa Pig World of Play Auburn Hills, Michigan
Grapevine, Texas
Chicago, Illinois
Warwick Castle Warwick, UK 1978 2007 Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.

Bus operation

In February 2016, Merlin purchased a 15% shareholding in Big Bus Tours.[27]


  1. "Preliminary Results 2018". Merlin Entertainments. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  2. "Merlin Way". Merlin Entertainments. Archived from the original on 21 February 2017. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  3. "Blackstone Acquires Merlin Entertainment". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  4. "Blackstone Acquires Merlin Entertainment". 23 May 2005. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  5. "Merlin Entertainments Group acquires Italy's Gardaland". Coaster Buzz. 16 October 2006. Archived from the original on 5 April 2016. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  6. "Troubled Lego sells theme parks". BBC News. 13 July 2005. Archived from the original on 2 October 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  7. "Why you shouldn't buy shares in Legoland owner Merlin Entertainment". 30 October 2013. Archived from the original on 27 March 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  8. "Tour Legoland California". Archived from the original on 5 February 2016. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  9. "Merlin conjures up leaseback deal". The Daily Telegraph. 18 July 2007. Archived from the original on 14 November 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  10. "Blackstone Buys Madame Tussauds Chain". Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  11. King of Capital, p. 313.
  12. "Tussauds firm bought in £1bn deal". BBC News. 5 March 2007. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  13. "Alton Towers sold in £622m deal". BBC News. 17 July 2007. Archived from the original on 23 August 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  14. "Cypress Gardens Sold to Legoland". 15 January 2010. Archived from the original on 17 January 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  15. "Legoland and Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments waves goodbye to SeaWorld deal | City A.M". City A.M. 11 October 2017. Archived from the original on 1 February 2018. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  16. AAP (17 December 2010). "Village Roadshow sells Sydney Attractions". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 20 December 2010. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
  17. AAP (3 March 2011). "Plans for a Madame Tussauds in Sydney". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 7 March 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  18. Ooi, Teresa (20 December 2011). "Merlin Entertainments Group conjures $140m James Packer bid". The Australian. Archived from the original on 27 December 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  19. Danckert, Sarah (13 February 2012). "Merlin ready to wrap up Living and Leisure deal". The Australian. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  20. "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. Archived from the original on 30 June 2013.
  21. CVC Capital Partners press release, 24 June 2010.
  22. King of Capital, p. 314.
  23. Why you shouldn't buy shares in Legoland owner Merlin Entertainment Archived 27 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine The Daily Telegraph, 30 October 2013
  24. "Legoland owner Merlin Entertainments agrees £4.8bn offer". BBC News. 28 June 2019. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
  25. "Court approves deal for Merlin Entertainments". Insider Media. 1 November 2019. Retrieved 2 November 2019.
  26. "eOne & Merlin to launch PJ Masks trail in 2020". Entertainment One. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  27. Merlin eyes Big Bus Tours takeover following £24.6 million state deal Archived 27 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine The Daily Telegraph 25 February 2016
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