If you’ve got a Merlin Annual Pass, you might have some favourite places to visit with it. A lot of passholders tend to visit the same two or three attractions, but it’s good to branch out a bit if you get the chance. This year we have been Merlin Annual Pass Ambassadors and we’ve made a conscious effort to get out and about a bit more, using our passes on holidays and weekends away to get the most out of them.
There are (I think) 32 UK attractions you can gain entry to with a Merlin Annual Pass. Whilst we’ve not managed to visit them all, we’ve had a lot of fun trying. Below is a list of all the (current) Merlin Attractions in the UK along with links to a write up of a visit there, either by myself or another blogger. It’s a cracking to do list if you’ve got a Merlin Annual Pass. How many have you visited?
The Ultimate Review Round up of Merlin Attractions in the UK
We’ve had our Merlin Annual Passes for a few years now and we’ve visited a lot of attractions during that time, but for a while, high on our to visit list has been Warwick Castle. It took a bit of planning to get there, but last month we made the journey down the M6 and finally crossed Warwick Castle off our list. We had such a brilliant day that we’re already planning a return visit!
Warwick Castle is about a half hour drive from Birmingham and is really easy to get to, with plenty of parking. We visited on a not too busy day; but the walk from the car park to the castle took a good 20 minutes; so be prepared for a good walk.
We showed our Merlin Annual Passes and we were handed a map and started planning our day. Our first stop was the Horrible Histories Maze which we loved. The maze leads you through a trail through history where you can find out more about different times in history – Horrible Histories style. It was very well done and a nice way for the kids to run off a bit of steam exploring the maze.
Throughout the year Warwick Castle have an array of different shows and activities going on. Depending on when you visit, different things will be available. We visited out of season, so we managed to catch the Bowman Show. This was a highly skilled archer doing his thing and the Birds of Prey Show which was absolutely fantastic.
The Birds of Prey Show showcased a number of beautiful and powerful birds including; Vultures, a Condor, Owls and Eagles which swooped over the watching crowds and onto the Castle ramparts. The show is absolutely not something you should go to if you’re scared of birds as they swoop down low over the crowds, sometimes brushing the spectators with their wings. We thought it was incredible and worth the admission price alone.
The castle itself could take a full day to explore if you were keen. The boy loves castles but is considerably less keen on steep spiral staircases and enclosed places. There are warning signs before you enter the ramparts. It’s a one way system and once you’re in it, you just have to stick with it. The first chance of escape is at the bottom of Guy’s Tower, but to get out you first have to climb to the top of the tower and back down again. I believe we climbed about 500 steps before we made our escape. This meant that we didn’t manage to explore the whole of the castle ramparts, as the boy had had enough.
The view from the top of the tower is absolutely breathtaking. You can see for miles and miles around. It’s 39 metres tall and although I’m pretty good with heights, I did feel a bit giddy when I looked over the edge. We made our way down the stone steps of the tower and explored the other areas of the castle.
There’s plenty to do. We explored the Great Hall and the inside of the castle. There are lots of exhibits inside including armour and it’s all decorated like the castle would have been a few hundred years ago. The boy loved this, and as it was raining outside we didn’t rush around it. We gave the dungeons a miss, we might go if we’re feeling braver next time.
We spent a lot of time exploring the Kingmaker area. No, it’s not dedicated to the 90’s indie band; it’s all about Richard Neville, the Kingmaker and you walk through his preparations for war and experience the sights, sounds and smells of medieval England. It’s very well done, really interesting and gave us a real insight into castle life.
The gardens are pretty spectacular too. It was raining so we didn’t explore much; but the area around the Conservatory Cafe is especially beautiful, with peacocks roaming around the fountain and lots of manicured lawns and lovely flowerbeds.
We were genuinely sad to leave at the end of the day. I think we all agreed that it’s the kind of place we could and should visit again and spend two days exploring properly. There are lots of themed events and special days on for the rest of the year. We have plans to return in the spring so we can see the trebuchet in action and maybe see some jousting. We’ll definitely watch the Birds of Prey show again and again and try our hand at some archery.
If you love castles, Warwick Castle is an absolute must. It’s packed full of history, presented in an interesting and entertaining format and there’s something for everyone. There is a lot of walking and not a great many places to sit down. The walk to the car park and back really adds an extra 40/45 minutes onto your walking time, so do factor that in if you visit.
We loved the history, we loved the castle, the maze, the birds of prey. It’s the kind of place you need a good day to explore. We’ll be back!
We are huge fans of SEA LIFE Centres. We are regular visitors to our local one in Manchester and we’ve wanted to visit National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham for several years now. In September we had a whole weekend in Birmingham, so we couldn’t resist a paying a visit to the biggest and possibly best of the SEA LIFE Centres.
National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham is often quite busy, the advice is to book ahead, but we arrived as they opened and we didn’t have any problems getting in. We showed our Merlin Annual Passes and we were waved through.
The National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham begins with a visit to the Penguin Ice Adventure. Penguins are always great fun and they did not disappoint. The area had lots of Gentoo Penguins, swimming and woddling about. They’re super-cute and very popular. They’re also the last thing you see when you leave, so you get double the penguin fun.
From the penguins you go up the windy walkway, through all kinds of different zones, passing tanks containing all kinds of creatures. The Tropical Lagoon was very popular and we just managed to coincide with feeding time, which was pretty interesting to watch.
The boy loved the every popular Clownfish Kingdom, which is a must for all Finding Nemo fans. The Octopus Hideout was a bit of a treat, whenever we’ve seen octopus before, they’ve always been tucked away in a corner. The octopus at National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham was really active during our visit and we got to see him walking all over the tank and swimming around.
As well as the octopus, we always love to spend some time admiring the jellyfish and the seahorses. Jellyfish are among my favourite sea creatures and they’ve just unveiled a new jellyfish exhibit. You can see the life-cycle of the jellyfish and see several different kinds of jellyfish. Jellyfish are absolutely beautiful and it’s well worth stopping by and admiring them for a few minutes.
Also new to the National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham is the 4D cinema. There was a small queue for this, but we didn’t have to wait long. We were each handed a pair of 3D glasses and we took our seats for the 4D experience. The film was a cartoon based on the adventures of a group of sea creatures, it was aimed at children and my 7 year old was completely engrossed throughout. He especially enjoyed being sprayed with water and the bubbles which blew at us. You don’t get soaked, it’s actually quite refreshing.
The Ocean Tunnel is always a treat and the one at National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham is exceptionally good. You get an almost 360° view of the tank and the creatures in it. There are lots to look at, turtles, sharks, rays and of course, lots and lots of fish.
The National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham is huge. You need at least a couple of hours to look at it all. I’d love to go back by myself and take my time over everything, my boys tend to want to rush through things which is a bit of a shame. It’s very well done with lots of different zones to visit and enjoy. The Amazon section was especially interesting, I didn’t know fresh water rays existed until our visit!
It’s a great place to visit and worth setting aside some time for if you’re visiting Birmingham!
We’re currently holidaying in Cornwall, and keen to make the most of our Merlin Annual Passes, this week we had a drive down to Gweek to visit the Cornish Seal Sanctuary which this year is celebrating 60 years of seal rescue, rehabilitation and release.
The Cornish Seal Sanctuary is part of the SEA LIFE group of attractions and set in the picturesque Helford Estuary, by the village of Gweek, in Cornwall. It’s probably the most southerly Merlin attraction in the UK; but well worth remembering to pack your passes for if you have them.
One of the most exciting reasons to visit the Cornish Seal Sanctuary was that I’d spotted on their website that it was dog friendly. It’s harder than you’d think to find attractions which are genuinely dog friendly, so were delighted to get through the door and see so many happy dogs on days out with their families.
The sanctuary is located on the fairly steep side of the Helford Estuary. There is a safari bus to take people from the top to the bottom of the steep hill, but it isn’t by their own admission the most accessible of attractions; though they’ve tried their best and help is always at hand if you need it. Me, being unsteady on my feet took the safari bus option with my son, whilst my husband walked the dog down to the bottom. He beat us there and back both times, but the bus is brilliant for little legs, or unsteady adult ones.
The Cornish Seal Sanctuary is the first port of call for local seals who have been injured or who are ill. Each year around 50 seals are taken in by the sanctuary and given the care they need to get better. Most go on to be released back into the sea, but some have life changing injuries or conditions which can be best managed at the sanctuary.
At the sanctuary you can find common seals, grey seals, penguins, otters, sea lions as well as ponies, sheep and goats. There is also a rockpool area to explore and a wildlife walk through the woods. There’s a lot of learning to be had, from conservation work, to things we can do at home to help the plant. We found this very interesting and a great talking point.
The self-led tour begins at the seal rescue hospital. We skipped the hospital as there were no seals in there, which is a good thing and carried to the bottom of the hill where there are a number of different pools; the common seals were in a new-ish looking pool next to the nursery pool which held the youngest pups in the sanctuary.
There were various talks and experiences throughout the day. The feeding sessions seemed to be the most popular; watching the resident seals in the convalescent pool get fed their fishy lunch whilst we were given a talk about the seals and what had happened to bring them to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary was especially interesting. The feeding of the penguins was also great fun.
The woodland walk was a really great addition. There’s a 500 metre walk to Otter Creek, but along the way there are lots of signs with facts and activities on. It’s also great for dogs (on leads) to stretch their legs in the cool shade of the woods.
There are both permanent and temporary residents in the seal sanctuary, so the number of animals to visit can vary. However it is really well done, there is always a programme of events and a permanent selection of seals, penguins, sea lions and otters to see and learn about. The wildlife walk was great, very informative and a great place for kids to run off a bit of steam.
We were also really impressed with the cafes on site. They were not wildly expensive and we enjoyed a good lunch, though you can take a picnic if you’d prefer.
We had a really enjoyable and informative visit to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary. It’s a genuinely dog friendly family attraction in Cornwall which we all really enjoyed visiting.
When we heard that SEA LIFE Manchester were unveiling a new exhibit, we had to go down and check it out. SEA LIFE Manchester is one of our favourite places to spend a few hours and we were keen to meet the new resident – a Japanese Spider Crab!
Japanese Spider Crabs can measure over 5 metres claw to claw, and can live to up to 100 years old! There are three Japanese Spider Crabs at SEA LIFE Manchester in a huge new tank area. Given they can grow up to the size of a small car, even though they seem huge, they still have plenty of growing to do.
The hard shell of the Japanese Spider Crab helps to protect them from larger predators such as octopuses, but giant spider crabs also use camouflage. The crab’s bumpy shell can help them to blend into the rocky ocean floor. They really are incredible creatures. Almost nightmarish in appearance, but apparently they are quite placid creatures. It felt really special to see these deep-sea creatures close up.
SEA LIFE Manchester has been given a bit of a makeover since we were last there just before Christmas. A few things have been moved about or refreshed, with, I’m pleased to say, another jellyfish tank in the building. You can crawl through the fluorescent world of the floating moon jellyfish in their brand new 360-degree doughnut tank. I adore jellyfish and we always spend lots of time watching them swim about. They’re very relaxing to watch.
We also stopped by the Jurassic Ranger area to have a look at the fossils. The Ranger expertly told us all about the fossils she had on display and let us touch some. She also gave the kids a sharks tooth each to take home with them as a souvenir. It was really interesting to find out more about sharks and sharks teeth, especially as that’s one of his topics at school this year.
SEA LIFE Manchester is one of our favourite places to visit. I’m pleased to see it’s been given a little makeover in parts. The centre is packed full of beautiful, weird and wonderful creatures; it’s well worth a visit for a few hours if you’re wanted a few hours of wonder and awe.
Find out more about what’s on at SEA LIFE Manchester on their website.
Disclosure: We are Merlin Annual Pass Ambassadors this year. All images and opinions are our own.
I don’t know about you, but Sunday evenings are Blue Planet time in our house. We all snuggle on the sofa and spend an hour being wowed by the wonders of the deep. With SEA LIFE Manchester virtually on our doorstep, we decided to take a trip and discover some of the amazing creatures who live in our oceans.
SEA LIFE Manchester is our nearest SEA LIFE Centre and as such we tend to go there quite a lot. It’s great to spend a couple of fairly chilled hours there. We’ve met most of the creatures in the centre before, but this time there had been a couple of changes.
I have my own favourites, namely the jellyfish, this time they were much smaller, so I think these were new to the centre. It was quite interesting to see their relatively small bodies floating and undulating in the water.
Te other big change was that Ernie, the huge green sea turtle has found himself a lady friend – Cammie. I think the hope is that they will find love and produce some baby turtles of their own.
Despite us being regular visitors to SEA LIFE Manchester, we did manage to experience a few things we’d never seen or done before. The boy felt brave enough to touch a starfish in the Rockpool Zone. Then I put my hand in to say hello to a shrimp. I was told the shrimp would nibble my fingers, taking away dead skin and it found a nice meal and gave my finger a bit of a tug I wasn’t expecting. I may have squealed in a most unnecessary way.
We also spent quite a lot of time talking to some of the Jurassic Rangers who were on hand to talk about fossils and show off some specimens. The boy is a massive dinosaur fan, so this was a bit of a treat for him.
Best of all, towards the end of the day we managed to catch the Ray Talk. We watched them being fed while a very knowledgeable man told us all about them. There are three species of ray at SEA LIFE Manchester including the lovely Blue Spotted Stingrays. The Ray Talk is well worth catching if you’re interested in these graceful creatures.
The boy went all around SEA LIFE pointing out creatures he’d seen on Blue Planet and telling us a bit more about them. The same is true when we’re watching the TVseries; every so often he pipes up “I’ve seen that at SEA LIFE”!
If you’re a fan of Blue Planet then a visit to your local SEA LIFE Centre is a must. It’s really helped to connect the dots for my son. Seeing things in real life that he’d seen on the TV suddenly made everything extra wonderful and real for him.
Find out more about what’s on this Christmas on the SEA LIFE Manchester website.
I’m a Merlin Annual Pass Blogger Ambassador. I was given a Merlin Annual Pass to do this review with my family. I was not paid to write this post.
Over the summer we travelled down to North Devon for our two week holiday. We knew that the weather would not be fabulous, so we tried to plan a few wet weather activities. With that in mind we took our Merlin Passes and decided to choose a rainy day and drive over to Weymouth in Dorset to visit the Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park.
What we’d not realised (and a quick visit to their website would have told us this) is that Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park is a largely outdoor attraction and on rainy days you will get very wet.
It was a 2 hour plus drive from our holiday cottage, but we arrived late morning and promptly got soaked to the skin as we walked to the entrance. The fast track queue which Merlin Annual Passholders use was outside, so by the time we got into the park we were completely sodden.
Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park is separated into several zones. Some of which are indoor, some are outdoor. As you can imagine on a very wet day the indoor zones were particularly crowded.
The zones were – Harbourside; Nursery; Penguins; New Ideas Zone; Breed Rescue Protect; Ray Lagoon; Rockpool; Turtle Sanctuary; Seals; Rainforest; Shipwreck; Otters and Ocean Tunnel. In addition to these attractions, there is also a Wetlands Conservation Trail, a Splash Zone and Caribbean Cove – an outdoor adventure playground.
We love Sea Life Centres and we’ve seen a lot of the indoor habitats before at other Sea Life Centres. Once we realised there were other exciting attractions we’ve never seen before, despite the heavy rain we made a beeline for them. Ben loved the penguins and the seals. The Turtle Sanctuary was in its own building complete with a huge turtle over the entrance.
The otters which are Asian Short-Clawed Otters were a big hit. We both really enjoyed watching them run about, diving in and out of their pool and the dashing inside to tumble about in their beds.
We were particularly impressed with the outdoor Rockpool area. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The indoor Rockpool areas at other Sea Life Centres are usually a series of supervised tanks you can put your hands in and touch the creatures. The same is true here, but it’s outside, partially under cover and every so often an artificial tide crashes out and floods the area. There is a warning, so you can step out of the way and not get wet, but it’s a great addition. The Rockpool area is home to creatures native to the UK, including starfish, shore crabs, anemones and sea urchins.
The outdoor areas were brilliant and a real treat. There was so much to see and do and we learned such a lot. On a dry day I know we would have made so much more of them. It was such a shame it was so wet, but that didn’t seem to bother the penguins, seals and otters quite as much as it did us.
We would absolutely visit the Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park again, just maybe on a dry day.
We’re on holiday in Devon this week and the weather hasn’t been great. We’d brought our Merlin Annual Passes with us, so when a wet day was forecast we decided to drive to our nearest SEA LIFE Centre in Weymouth. We were also drawn to Weymouth because we wanted to visit the Jurassic Skyline tower which promised 360° views across the Jurassic Coast.
We arrived at the Jurassic Skyline tower which is on the end of Weymouth Pier. The staff in the ticket office did warn us that due to the weather we wouldn’t be able to see much, but we’d driven for three hours (130 miles) to get here, so we had to try it. Unsurprisingly given the weather, there was not a queue. We showed our Merlin Passes and we were waved through to a sheltered area where we waited for a few minutes for the gondola doors to open.
We were ushered in and we were the only people in the Jurassic Skyline gondola. The gondola has a bench to sit on and windows all around, so on a clear day you should be able to see for miles. Sadly it was raining heavily and visibility was very poor. Apologies for the really dull, dark photographs, but they are a true representation of the day we visited.
The Jurassic Skyline gondola rises smoothly up the tower and does a full 360° rotation twice with an informative commentary throughout. You can buy an information pack for £1 which can help you pinpoint the sights along the coast and it gives you some more information about the Jurassic coastline.
It costs £7.50 per person and the whole experience took around 20 minutes. On a good clear day I think it would absolutely be worth the money. If I could have seen more of the coastline I probably would have done it twice just because I enjoyed the experience so much. The ride up the tower was smooth and even though I’m quite scared of heights I felt perfectly safe, even with strong winds buffeting the tower.
It’s a shame the weather was so bad and the visibility so poor on the day we visited the Jurassic Skyline. Better luck next time!
The small boy and I love visiting Sea Life Centres. We share a love of jellyfish, stingrays and sharks so wherever we go in the UK, if there’s a Sea Life Centre nearby we will be there! Earlier this year we had a couple of days in Blackpool and while we were in town we took the chance to visit the Blackpool Sea Life Centre.
Blackpool Sea Life Centre is on the promenade, about five minutes walk down from Blackpool Tower. There are ticket deals to be had, so if you’re planning to go buying tickets in advance, or multi-attraction tickets are a good bet. We have a Merlin card, so we just showed those on the way in and we were given a guide and waved through.
Like all Sea Life Centres, Blackpool Sea Life Centre is laid out in zones – Rockpool, Atlantic Depths, Quayside zone, Stingray Adventure zone, Kingdom of the Seahorse, Submarine Explorer, Rainforest Adventure zone, Shark Mission and Ocean Tunnel and lastly the Jurassic Seas zone.
We have been to Blackpool Sea Life Centre before and we really like spending time in the Ocean Tunnel and the Stingray Adventure Zone. When we visited this time, we spent quite a lot of time with the octopus.
Whenever we’ve seen octopus before they’ve always been hidden away in the back of the tank having a sleep. This time the octopus was curled up in the corner at the front of the tank. We stopped to have a proper look at this amazing creature and we caught its eye. We’re not sure if we spooked it (we don’t tap on tanks or anything) or if it just wanted to show off for us, but we had a good five minutes with it swimming around and puffing itself up for us. Thank you Mr Octopus.
We also spent quite a lot of time watching the stingrays. There was a really good viewing area where you could pop your head in the domes inside the tank and watch all the fish and stingrays swim by. Sadly we’d just missed the stingray feeding session, but it did mean we had the area almost entirely to ourselves for a little while.
Blackpool Sea Life Centre is a really good sized aquarium with a fantastic collection of weird and wonderful creatures. It’s slap bang in the middle of Blackpool prom and the perfect place to take the family if it’s raining, or too sunny, or if you just want to spend a couple of hours feeling chilled out watching the creatures.
If you time your visit carefully you might catch them feeding the sharks. Or you could go backstage to find out more, or maybe catch a special talk. My tip is to go as soon as it opens when it’s quiet and it feels like it’s just you and the fish.
I wonder which Sea Life Centre we’ll visit next?
For more information about Blackpool Sea Life Centre visit their website.
I’m a Merlin Annual Pass Blogger Ambassador. I have been given a Merlin Annual Pass to do this review with my family. I wasn’t paid to write this post.
Blackpool is the Vegas of the North. As a Manchester lass, Blackpool has always been my first port of call for days out, trips to the beach, or for a fun mini break. There is so much do see and do in Blackpool, it’s very easy to fill a couple of days. I recently took my son on a trip to Blackpool and amongst all the traditional bucket and spade fun, we visited Madame Tussauds Blackpool.
The last time I visited Madame Tussauds Blackpool maybe 30 years ago and I don’t really remember much other than the Princess Diana waxwork. I know they keep their waxworks up to date, so I was interested to see what, or rather who would be there.
We got our tickets and we were ushered through to see Simon Cowell. Lots of people were having pictures taken with him and we don’t watch talent shows so we just walked past him and to Paddy McGuinness, John Bishop, Gok Wan and Chris Tarrant. We didn’t linger as my son had no idea who these people were and I don’t watch their shows either.
Through the doors and by the stairs stood John Thaw and Helen Mirren being good cop, bad cop. We paused for a photo with John Thaw, who grew up near where I live and my Grandma knew him when he was a boy.
Up the escalator we found more reality TV stars (we don’t watch those kind of shows either). We managed to spy Ben Fogle and David Attenborough amongst the elaborate I’m A Celebrity areas, which we mostly skipped because it was busy. That said, we did enjoy looking at the frogs.
Once you’ve escaped from the I’m A Celebrity area, you move on to the sports zone, which was a bit more like it. Even I recognised a few faces, Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Lewis Hamilton, Mo Farah, Gary Lineker etc.
From the sports zone, your next stop is the Rovers Return, which is a working bar where you can get drinks and snacks. Bet Lynch is behind the bar looking fierce. It’s an ideal stopping point if you need a break. But my son has never seen Coronation Street and was keen to move on. So we did.
I was pleased to find myself in the music zone. Where Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson were the most notable stars. Again, talent show singers dominated, with Olly Murs, Susan Boyle and Leona Lewis featuring.
Moving on to “Best of British”. We met Hugh Bonneville as he was in the Paddington movie. Plus Morecambe and Wise, some of the Ab Fab gang and Her Majesty and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Ben was very pleased to be standing next to the Queen.
I was hoping my son would enjoy the “Family Favourites” area a little more, which he did. He enjoyed seeing Spider-Man, Bob the Builder and Sooty and Sweep. I would have liked to have seen a bit more in this area, but it was good there were some things he recognised.
One area my son really enjoyed was the mirror maze and funny bendy mirrors. It’s worth taking a few minutes to enjoy rather than rushing through.
At the end of our tour of Madame Tussauds Blackpool was a room full of classic comedians. Ken Dodd, Tommy Cooper and The Two Ronnies were probably my highlight of our visit.
There was a small display about how they make the waxworks. I would have liked a bit more on the behind the scenes aspect really. It was also very loud in some areas. If you are troubled by loud noises, music and cheering then you might want to wear earplugs. My son who has sensitive hearing walked around with his hands over his ears for most of our time there.
The attraction is dominated with reality TV and talent show waxworks, so we whizzed by them quite quickly. We are probably very much in the minority of visitors to Madame Tussauds Blackpool, but if you watch those kind of TV shows, then you will enjoy Madame Tussauds.
The staff were excellent, very helpful, friendly and smiley. They are a real credit to Madame Tussauds Blackpool. The waxworks were well done, some of them were quite eerily lifelike. I loved the comedians at the end of the tour and it was worth it just to see them (for me at least).
Tickets to Madame Tussauds Blackpool cost from £10.50, but entry is free with a Merlin Annual Pass. If you are visiting several Merlin Attractions in Blackpool you can get multi-attraction tickets which will save you money.