As some of you who know me will be familiar with, I have never been one to shirk away from communicating feelings of despair, worry or frustration with any of the Merlin theme parks, nor head office itself. I think I have, in the past, written directly to senior leaders in Poole on a couple of occasions - once following the Fantagate episode with Oblivion - and once following a previous cutting spree, when Alton Towers closed selected rides on selected days many years ago. Back then, whilst I wouldn't ever take the blame for halting these decisions, through the power of the internet, online web forums and others taking similar action, things were often righted. We came to 2016, and it was fair play that it was always going to be a difficult year. Not only were visitor figures plummeting to all-time-lows in 2015, but other Merlin parks were also suffering for one reason or another. Whether it was Chessington's world-beating queue times (not in a good sense, of course), Thorpe Park's appalling ride reliability, Heide-Park's obvious cuts across the board or indeed those at Alton Towers, which we have all come to know so well. So, to summarise - I wrote to Merlin in mid-September with the following key points: Entertainment in the parks is almost non-existant compared to large non-Merlin parks in Europe, and has slowly been cut back since Merlin took charge. There is none whatsoever in some cases Ride quantity at a number of Merlin parks has been reduced, in some cases significantly, whilst the admission prices have risen. Presentation and maintenance at some of the parks is entirely inadequate. Alton Towers have made an effort to address this with their TLC programme but, in truth, this sort of attitude is needed across all parks and the money available for such projects massively increasing to make the parks first rate In most cases, special events at parks outside of the Halloween period is almost nil and has slowly reduced since Merlin acquired them in 2007 Park opening hours at the Resort Theme Parks are poor compared to other major theme parks in Europe – and this was the case prior to The Smiler effect and has continued to be the case after it Food and beverage choice is limited and, on the whole, uninspired in many of the Merlin theme parks compared to competitors Ticket prices are so erratic, that guests pay £20 but think they are due a £50 product. Cutting the headline price, offering a small discount online and using the brand to get people in rather than the price would be a sure fire way of sorting this, and predicting guest flow to boot I waited 2 months for a reply, but finally had one. I will summarise the key points: They were sorry to hear I felt the parks had deteriorated They know they are 'not perfect' but [...] continually strive to improve the guest experience TripAdvisor and other KPIs have improved in 2016 Alton Towers and Heide-Park have achieved 'excellence' awards in 2016 They 'will not always meet the expectations of all theme park enthusiasts' Merlin believe 'they are moving in the right direction' with their theme parks They told me that my comments are useful (in spite of previously saying that enthusiasts' POV are not possible to be met) Therefore, I think it is safe to infer that: Merlin believe they have, and continue to, improve the parks. This, i entirely disagree with. In fact, I believe it is delusional for the company to even make these suggestions. The parks are 'better than ever' - hence improved KPIs and online scores. This is quite clearly a load of cobblers. Theme park enthusiasts have too high expectations and are an irrelevance. Their experience of visiting many theme parks is unhelpful. Other theme parks clearly are not part of the picture and Merlin seem to not care about them. The direction of travel (e.g. closing rides, cutting entertainment, cutting food) is dressed a positive. How this is the right direction I have no idea. Delusional is the name of the game. It is a race to the bottom. As a result of the response from Merlin, I have replied again to discuss the points they made and refuted many of them. Due to the fact that they failed to re-assure me that they would be seeking to buck the trend of closures and reductions, I do not, as it stands, plan to purchase a Merlin Annual Pass in 2017. My own view is that Nick Varney has presided over a complete collapse in quality at most of the resort theme parks. It would be entirely unfair to blame The Smiler crash for all of it, too - because a lot of this was already beginning to trickle through beforehand. - Chessington has suffered a complete lack of investment - Alton Towers is being downsized, with massive cuts to all departments - Thorpe Park continues to be one of the worst parks I have ever seen for ride availability - Heide-Park is starkly poorer in all but rollercoaster quality to all other major German theme parks I would be keen to know your thoughts.