Merlin Entertainments is a British-based company headquartered in Poole, Dorset (England), which operates 127 attractions, 19 hotels and 7 holiday villages in 27 countries. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.
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. In May 2005, the company was acquired from Hermes by a division of The Blackstone Group  which later started a major expansion. Over the years, Merlin acquired Legoland, Gardaland, an Italian theme park, and The Tussauds Group. The company was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2013.
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. As part of the deal, KIRKBI AS, the investment arm of LEGO owners, took a share in Merlin Entertainments.
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. 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.
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. Although the attraction sites are owned by Leslau, they are operated by Merlin based on a renewable 35-year lease.
Reports in early October 2017 indicated that Merlin Entertainments was considering a takeover of Sea World in Tampa but on 11 October, the company said it was no longer involved in such discussions.
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. On 3 March 2011, the deal was finalised. 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.
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.
Merlin had planned to go public in the early 2000's, 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 – 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.
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.
In October 2013 mental health campaigners accused Merlin's Thorpe Park attraction of putting profit before the welfare of those with mental illness. Its Halloween attractions included mazes which 'draw on classic horror film content' including one called The Asylum, which mimicked a mental health institution. 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. Thorpe Park issued a statement indicating the subject would be reviewed.
|Name||Location||Year Opened||Year Acquired||Notes|
|Alton Towers Resort||Staffordshire Moorlands, UK||1980||2007||Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.|
|Thorpe Park||Chertsey, Greater London, UK||1979||2007||Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.|
|Chessington World of Adventures Resort||Chessington, UK||1987||2007||Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.|
|Gardaland Resort||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||Nagoya, Japan||2017||-||New-build theme park.|
|Legoland Malaysia Resort||Johor Bahru, Malaysia||2012||-||New-build theme park.|
|Legoland Windsor Resort||Windsor, UK||1996||2005||Acquired in Blackstone deal.|
|Warwick Castle||Warwick, UK||1978||2007||Acquired in Tussauds Group deal.|
|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|
|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|