Dickens World opened at Chatham Maritime in 2007 and is located in part of a regeneration complex with outlet stores, a large cinema and over 1,000 parking spaces. It is a day trip from London.
Dickens World - How It Came About
It was theme park designer Gerry O'Sullivan-Beare's idea and he wanted to create an entertaining attraction based on the life, books and times of Charles Dickens. Dickens lived in Chatham, Kent, when he was 5-10 years old and his father worked at the Royal Dockyards.
Dickens also returned to the area later in his life so the location is well chosen. You can also visit Historic Dockyard Chatham in the same day as its opposite.
When Gerry O'Sullivan-Beare died, Kevin Christie, the Managing Director, took over and made sure the dream became a reality. The Dickens Fellowship was involved and ensured the production of authentic story lines, characters and atmospheric streets, courtyards and alleyways were true to the period.
What To Expect
When I visited it was possible to wander around and stay as long as you like but there are now 90-minute tours. Dickens World The Grand Tour is a 90-minute interactive guided tour experience that takes visitors back in time to the Victorian England that Charles Dickens knew and wrote about in his novels and short stories.
Don't be put off by the exterior of this attraction as it's all going on inside. It's a huge space and you feel like you've entered a Dickensian London movie set as it's incredibly atmospheric and there's a real 'wow factor' when you arrive.
There's low lighting so you can imagine the darkness of the narrow alleyways of the era.
Once in the Courtyard, you'll see shops and feel like you're in a 19th-century urban setting, especially with the actors wandering around. This is the location for daily shows which last around 15 minutes. I found the afternoon show much more fun as the audience was larger and some children got to dress up and join in.
The audio is pre-recorded and the actors perform the roles which seem a bit odd at first but does mean they don't have to project their voices in such a large space and everyone can hear. (Note, it can be cold inside as it's essentially a huge warehouse.)
There are two levels to explore and there are toilets on both floors. Also on the ground floor, you'll find Dotheby's Hall Victorian Schoolroom which has a touch screen snakes and ladders game at each desk. Most weren't working when I visited but I expect this would be a great room for a school visit.
For the brave, there's the Haunted House where you enter in groups with the sound of thunder before heading upstairs to find three scary Dickens stories projected as life-size ghosts.
The most popular attraction on the ground floor is the Great Expectations Boat Ride. Yes, an indoor boat ride! The idea is to carry you through the depths of London sewers to a flight through the rooftops of the city. Be warned, you will get wet as there's one almighty splash and let's just say you don't go down the slope facing forwards. The boats are mopped between rides but you'll probably want to bring a waterproof jacket or buy a poncho. I found sitting on a plastic bag and putting my coat hood up helped but you have to enter into the spirit of things.
While the ride is fun I think it could be improved with a narrative as it wasn't totally clear what exhibits we were passing and why.
Moving upstairs, there's the Britannia Theatre which has an Animatronic Show at the weekends which lasts about 25 minutes. As a former teacher, I know many people learn well through a more visual context so I can see why this was created. Charles Dickens is on the stage and interacts with some of his characters. The show focuses on where he got his inspiration from for his characters but it is confusing and it's not clear which story each is from. But I saw young children and adults watch the full show and enjoy themselves so visitors do like it.
Fagin's Den is a 'hidden' soft play area for younger visitors and there's also the Peggotty's Boathouse 4D Show which is an animated film about Dickens' travels throughout Europe.
You wear the 3D glasses provided and extra effects happen in the room. The animation could be improved but the 3D effect is good. For younger visitors, be aware there are a few gruesome moments but that's real history. I expect they'll enjoy getting 'spat' on which is part of the 4D effects.
On the top level, there's the Porters Pub which serves well-priced meals and drinks. There are also picnic tables available in the Courtyard and a cafe there for drinks and snacks.
As is traditional, you exit through the Gift Shop which has Dickens books suitable for all ages, traditional toys and 'pocket money' small souvenirs too. Do note, the gift shop is on the top level.
I spent four hours here quite easily. I tried everything on offer and didn't rush but I think you would need at least 2 hours to see it all, especially during school holidays.
Opening Times: Dicken's World is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays. and open from 10 am to 5:30 pm.
Address: Dickens World, Leviathan Way, Chatham Maritime, Kent ME4 4LL
Tickets: Call 0844 858 6656 or book online on the official website.
Transport: The nearest train station is Chatham. There are public bus routes that go to Chatham Maritime with a journey time of around 10 minutes, or you can walk there is around 30 minutes.
Official Website: www.dickensworld.co.uk