Merlin Entertainments Group isn't a household name, but you've probably heard of—or even visited—some of its attractions. The British company, majority-owned by U.S. private equity giant Blackstone, operates 60 venues on three continents, including Madame Tussauds wax museums, Legoland theme parks, and miscellaneous sites such as the popular London Eye ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames facing Big Ben.
No wonder, then, that Merlin is second only to Disney in the number of annual visitors passing through its turnstiles. After expanding aggressively in Europe, the company now has turned its sights towards the U.S. and Asia, where it expects to open four or five attractions during the next 18 months. That includes a Legoland theme park near Orlando, Fla., which chief executive Nick Varney announced on Jan. 21.
Merlin's growing global presence has got markets salivating that it will go public sometime in 2010. Executives won't comment on the speculation, but investment analysts figure an IPO could raise $3.5 billion and might happen as soon as the second quarter of 2010. To learn more about Merlin's world, click on for an introduction to its attractions—and a summary of its main competitors.