Last time out, I reviewed the Merlin Annual Pass and gave my verdict on whether it was worth the price, and if so which pass was more desirable. But not only does the Annual Pass let you into the Merlin parks and attractions all year, it also comes with a large number of other additions to sweeten the deal. Theme parks can be very pricey; and no one likes to have a downer put on their day when the cost of food, merchandise and "fast track" queue-jumping ticketrs mounts up. So this time I’ll give you a rundown of my opinion of the top five perks and discounts you get with your Annual Pass.
Halloween event entry
If you have the Premium Merlin Annual Pass (not the Standard pass) then this is one of the best bonuses; entrance to the theme parks for no additional cost during the festive Halloween events. Alton Towers’ Scarefest and Thorpe Park’s Fright Nights are both events that simply cannot be missed. The parks are open until 10pm, which not only gives far longer to get all of your favourite rides in, but also allows for riding them in the pitch black (personally I think Stealth and Oblivion are the best rides after-dark). Both parks also provide the legendary horror mazes; last year Alton had three and Thorpe five, which are loaded with make-up adorned actors ready to jump out at you at every corner.
Alton Towers perks
It seems like the UK's most popular theme park, Alton Towers, gets the biggest share of all the perks. This is, of course, a great thing as it is probably the very best attraction in the Merlin Empire, and as a resort it is perfect for overnight holidays for all ages. Aside from the discount at Halloween, there are three other big deals.
First off, your Annual Pass will shave 20% off of your stay at either of the two on-site Hotels (in my opinion, the Alton Towers Hotel is better than the Splash Landings Hotel). Once once you’re there you’ll also get 20% off of entrance to the Alton Towers Water Park, which is well worth a visit, featuring the Master Blaster, one of the largest flume rides in the world.
Finally, the pass allows access to the park for what they call “Early Ride Time,” meaning you can get into the park at 9am, an hour before it opens to the general public. At this time nearly all of the big rides are up and running, meaning you can jump on anything you want to before the queues start to build up. For those really in the know, this is actually available for any hotel guest, however, if you were visiting just on the day, it would be extremely useful to make sure you can tick everything off your ride list.
Everyone knows that holidays are expensive; and once you’ve paid for your flights, accommodation and food the last thing you want to do is to dish out another huge wad of cash to get all of the family into a theme park. Although the majority of Merlin attractions are in the UK, the firm also hasa decent line-up elsewhere around the globe. Your annual pass will get you 50% off of entrance to international attractions such as LEGOLAND Florida and Berlin, Madame Tussaud’s Berlin, Italy's Gardaland and - probably best of all - Heide Park; one of Germany’s top theme parks.
The London Eye
The London Eye was installed at the turn of the Millennium as a temporary attraction on London’s Southbank, but it has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. The incredible views and serene isolation mean that, quite understandably, you’ll never see it without a large queue. Since becoming part of the Merlin family, the firm has tried to do something about the waiting time for all of the loyal customers.
First off you can get yourself a fast pass for £7.50, which Merlin claim will turn the often hour-plus line into a maximum of 15 minutes. To me this seems a little steep, but the really good part is that for just £2.50 more (yes, that’s £10) you can upgrade to the “Champagne Experience,” where you not only get a fast pass but also champagne served by your capsule host. What could be more romantic?
Food, Drink and Merchandise
Refreshments are often the most complained-about aspect of theme park trips; poor quality and high prices. In the past few years Merlin has been on a real drive to improve the range and standard of food outlets at its park, and with the Annual Pass you’ll drop that price right down too. You’ll get 20% off at all Merlin restaurants, (it doesn’t apply to branded chains, but they are all but non-existent now) and also at the merchandise stores.
At LEGOLAND you get 10% off at all the shops, which is particularly good if you have young children, as LEGO can be pretty pricey. There is also a scheme for the unlimited refill drinks; with your pass you can buy a capsule and refill it for free for the whole year. The £10 price tag may sound steep for a drink, but this will provide you for the entire year, so it’s actually a great deal.
Renewing the Pass
Ok I admit, this is a sixth point, but it’s just a passing one. If you get to the end of the year and you decide to get another Annual Pass, already having one will get you 25% off the price. Certainly a good way to keep you coming back!