With our daughter starting school in September and all of us keen to scratch our theme park / days out itch following our recent trip to Disneyland Paris, we made the decision to purchase Premium Merlin Annual Passes. We took some time deliberating whether to get one now or wait until our daughter was a bit older, but the opportunity to visit some of the attractions outside of school holidays before July clinched it for us.
A Merlin Annual Pass gives you entry to 32 attractions across the UK including Legoland, Alton Towers, Chessington, London Eye, Sealife Centres and the Dungeon attractions. As I work in central London I decided to choose the Sealife Centre on the South bank as my home attraction, and therefore we caught the train to London to collect our passes and to visit one of the attractions.
We arrived at the Merlin annual pass desk at the Sealife centre where they created our passes for us and gave us our Premium annual pass privilege pack which includes a lanyard, a pop badge, three £5 off fast track vouchers and some share the fun entry tickets to give to a family member to get into certain attraction for £15. We then took a short tube journey over to Madame Tussauds to use our passes for the first time.
Now I’m usually a very good planner, but choosing Marathon Day to visit London wasn’t one of the best decisions I’ve made. Nonetheless Madame Tussauds did not look too busy and with our passes we got fast track entry to the attraction. It was extremely satisfying to bypass the queue outside!
We weren’t sure whether our daughter would get much out of Madame Tussauds as she probably wouldn’t recognise many famous people (and I myself had no idea who these ‘Youtube stars’ were), but nonetheless we thought we would give it a go as it was included with our pass.
Madame Tussuad’s is a walkthrough attraction where guest follow a set path through the attraction and there is no real opportunity to go back once you’ve been through a certain area.
The first room focused on celebrities from the world of music and film (including a specific Bollywood area). Where in the past you couldn’t get too close to the waxworks, nowadays you are encouraged to get close for photographs and selfies. We were impressed with the likeness of the majority of the models in the room and took a few photos with a couple of film stars we liked. The room was very busy and as our daughter didn’t really recognise any of the people we decided to move on after a quick look around.
The next section was the newly opened King Kong experience, which was basically a walkthrough area themed like Skull Island with a giant spider above you, before you come face to face with a giant animatronic King Kong head with moving eyes and mouth, you could also feel his breath when he roared. I was impressed with the animatronic, it really did look real to the extent that our daughter was quite scared and would not go near it. Before we met Kong we had our photo taken as a family in front of a green screen with a waxwork model of Tom Hiddleston (Mrs Geeky Dad’s favourite actor).Throughout the attraction we came across a number of green screen photo opportunity but at £13 (before our annual pass discount) a photo we didn’t purchase any.
Following our confrontation with Kong, the next area focused on stars from the world of sport, famous artists, scientists and world leaders. We took a great picture of our daughter next to sprinter Usain Bolt whilst attempting to copy his famous victory pose. Again we were impressed with the waxworks in this area and there were lots of photo opportunities including one with Donald Trump in the Oval Office and outside 10 Downing Street next to the political buffoon Boris Johnson.
A recent addition to MadamaTussaud’s is the Sherlock Holmes experience, which appeared to be in what was the old Chamber of Horrors (an experience I still have scars from after being subjected to it at around the age of 6). We chose to bypass this part of the attraction as we did not think it would be appropriate for our daughter (I had read online that part of it takes place in a morgue), however we plan to revisit without our daughter on a ‘date day’ as it sounds like something we may enjoy.
After skipping the Sherlock Holmes experience we came to a dark ride called ‘The Spirit of London’. You boarded a typical London black cab and were taken on a brief history of London told via scenes with animatronics. This included the building of St. Paul Cathedral, the Plague, the great fire of London, the blitz and 60s London. Despite some scenes being quite dark (“Bring out your dead”) our daughter enjoyed the ride. It reminded me of the dark rides they have at Epcot in Walt Disney World. It’s a fun addition to the experience and adds a bit of variety to the attraction.
The penultimate section of Madame Tussaud’s is a Marvel Superhero themed area. There are lots of photo opportunities with life size models of the Hulk, Captain America, Spiderman and other Marvel characters followed by a 4D Marvel movie that takes place in the old planetarium building. The 4D show was about 12 minutes long and included water effects, vibrations and other surprises. Our daughter was a little scared at some points in the film; especially some of the 3D effects which made her take her 3D glasses off. I guess it’s hard to explain to a 3 year old what 3D is and why it isn’t really there.
The final part of the attraction was a Star Wars area with scenes recreated from all seven films of the Star Wars saga. We enjoyed having some photographs with Chewie on the Millenium Falcon and my daughter particularly enjoyed giving her favourite droid BB8 a hug. This was a nicely themed area and a good way to end the attraction, although if your not a fan of Star Wars I’m not sure you would get much out of it.
Overall we enjoyed our visit to Madame Tussauds. Out of all the attractions Merlin offers this was the one we were unsure of. Waxworks seem like quite an old fashioned concept these days and the attractions marketing is clearly trying to appeal to the celebrity culture, which doesn’t really interest me or Mrs Geeky Dad. However, the wax models were very impressive and I liked how close you could get to them. Our daughter didn’t get much out of models of people as she did not recognise them, but she enjoyed the dark ride, Marvel and Star Wars areas despite the occasional mild scare. Taking just under 2 hours from start to finish I’m not sure I would want to pay full price for the attraction, however it was a good first time use our annual passes and we especially liked getting priority entry to the attraction. I’m not sure we will return with our daughter within the next year (she may like the attraction more when she is older) but Mrs Geeky Dad and I plan to go back on our own and experience the Sherlock Holmes experiences, which I’m sure I will write about.
Now we have our Merlin Passes we have a whole year of fun to look forward to. We have already had a trip to Legoland Windsor (trip report coming soon) and have dates in the diary to visit Chessington, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle and the other London based attractions. We plan to do as much as we can before we are restricted to school holidays and even then we look forward attending Legoland and Chessington’s Halloween / Fireworks offerings during October half term. As Merlin annual pass holders we no longer have an excuse for weekends to be boring!