“ Dickens World / Leviathan Way / Chatham Maritime / Kent / ME4 4LL / Tel: 01634 890 421 / „
Dickens World, created 2 years ago and located in an odd little complex in Chatham, Kent, doesn't seem like much from the outside in the middle of a car park surrounded by an Odeon cinema and shopping mall. However, when you step through the doors the modern world suddenly slips away and you are transported back in time to the dark and dingy Victorian times that all of Charles Dickens' novels so graphically portrayed.
A word of warning - if you are expecting a theme park similar to Disney World you will be disappointed, but if you want the world of Dickens brought to life before your very eyes you will not be disappointed here!
As you first enter Dickens World you step into a large courtyard and as you take in your surroundings you'll find a lot of fun reminders of the past. There are posters dotted around the walls offering the delights of a two-headed, five-legged horse or warning about master criminals skulking around the area, and even the dangers of cholera - all very subtle and indicative stories from the Victorian time period. Also lurking round most corners are some real life actors, all in their best Victorian garb and characters to help guide you round Dickens World.
To add to this authenticity there were some very realistic shops in the courtyard to help you imagine yourself in a genuine street in Dickensian times (at least from the outside as the insides were used for other purposes) and those were Peerybingle's Pawnbrokers and Collard's Grocery. There was also a little Crime and Punishment Area with a nice little hangman's noose just reminding you to stay on the right side of the law.
With the scene firmly set you could then move on to the main attractions. Dickens World is clearly aimed at children and as a result the attractions are all suitable for children, but there is plenty to be enjoyed by adults. There are a few timed events which include some Courtyard and some Britannia Theatre shows, but you are free to wander the world at your leisure in between these events (none of which are mandatory!).
Dotheboy's Hall is in fact an old Victorian boarding school and the first thing you are greeted by upon entry is a stern schoolmaster. With a viper tongue and very disapproving look and after much profuse apologising for your tardiness you are allowed entrance to the school room.
Once you have found a seat at one of the very uncomfortable benches you will be confronted by a game of snakes and ladders with the questions being on - you've guessed it - Charles Dickens. The schoolmaster will be meandering around all the pupils silently like a ghost ready to pounce on any failure and severely reprimand you in front of the class.
If you fail to score 20 points you will be cruelly punished - but thankfully (or unfortunately depending on your personality type) this never happened to anyone in my classroom!
This attraction is clearly aimed at children as the questions were rather easy to answer, but I personally think it was a good way to get them learning about Dickens and a variety of his novels as well as the Victorian times and how school life must have been so very different for those children "lucky" enough to get the chance of an education! Plus, there's something humbling as an adult to be told off in front of a room full of people - it makes you remember the good old days at school again which is always good for the soul.
Whilst Dotheboy's Hall was a good way to cover a wide variety of Dickens topics, the Boat Ride is aimed at telling the story of Great Expectations. At bust times you may have to wait for up to 45 minutes to get on, but I was fortunate enough to arrive before anyone else and managed to get straight on (there were quite a lot of interesting adornments and posters on the walls to allow you to pass a long wait with some entertainment).
There are a few warnings that people with back or neck problems should not attempt this ride, and an even bigger warning that you could get seriously wet, so this actually made you a little tense at the start just through the fear of the unknown which is always good for any ride. The ride starts slowly enough with a gentle flow through the streets of London on either side of the river banks as a narration begins from speakers within your boat to retell the story of Great Expectations.
Then as the story starts to heat up, so does the ride with a sudden change of tempo which actually gives you a bit of a thrill (I won't tell you how as that would spoil it) and a lot more moisture to contend with. Then the ride returns to normality and you continue round the streets of London for the remainder of the story.
I thought this was a very nice and simple way to get the story across to children - to tell it whilst they were experiencing some excitement could be a good way to make the story stick - in fact the same may apply to adults!
The Haunted Man
The name for this attraction is based upon one of Dickens' Christmas novellas "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain" but isn't actually about this story. This attraction concentrates on the darker more chilling and supernatural elements from a mixture of Dickens' novels including the three ghosts visiting Scrooge, an unsettling suicide from Nicholas Nickelby and many others as well as an introduction to many characters from his novels - all displayed by using some kind of holographic technology.
You will venture some stairs onto a rickety floor of a Victorian decorated house where through a series of winding dark and slightly claustrophobic passageways you will visit a screen with a chilling or macabre tale which is further emphasised by the ethereal quality of the holographic images.
I found this attraction to be my favourite as it was slightly more aimed at adults though I'm sure children would enjoy it and it was a unique way of telling the stories that I'd never come across before.
The Courtyard Shows
On the day that I attended there were three shows running throughout the day - Oliver Twist, a Tale of Two Cities and then a repeat of Oliver Twist. I only saw the Oliver Twist one, but I would imagine that a Tale of Two Cities would have been performed in a similar manner.
The style of the show required a lot of audience participation (a mob of Fagian's children were required) and was actually a kind of mime show where the words from the story were pre-recorded and the actors in the show would mime along to it rather than speaking the words themselves.
This was a style of show I'd never come across before, but I was given the impression that it was used in Victorian times but had died out today so again this was a lovely little piece of history to be gained.
The show was very entertaining and was yet again another quick and simple way to get the essence of one of Dickens' novels across, particularly to children, especially as they get to act in them as well.
This attraction is a 4D HD cinema experience (no they haven't somehow mastered the art of quantum mechanics and broken through into a universe consisting of four dimensions - it's actually a 3D cinema with some surround sound and wind) covering the travels that Dickens took in the latter part of his life.
I actually think this was one of the best 3D (sorry 4D) cinema shows that I had been to as the story was a very interesting and informative one and some of the images literally flew towards you, and I found myself flinching on several occasions due to how realistic it all was. Adults and children would both enjoy this show!
Other areas to visit at Dickens World include Fagin's Den, The Britannia Theatre, the shop and the restaurant (6 Jolly Fellowship Porters).
Fagin's Den I believe is only for very tiny children as you had to be 1 metre or less to enter, and even by walking on my knees they still wouldn't let me in but I suspect this would be an area that toddler's or very young children could enjoy.
The Britannia Theatre holds a variety of different shows - there was an animatronic stage show on whilst I was there - which unfortunately I failed to catch, and it looks like in the evenings there are many other shows available, for example the Jongleurs comedy circuit arrives on certain nights which if you're interested are worth looking out for. I did peer in to the actual theatre which looked quite nice, with only a row of seating around the outskirts of the floor so the main show will take place in the centre, with a velvety looking red decor to give it an authentic theatre feel.
I really liked the shop as it had a nice array of products to buy, from jigsaw puzzles to ships to build, and lots of DVDs and books, but some were a little steeply priced, e.g. the make your own ships at £200 plus, but I guess that was due to the quality of the product and for all I know that could have been reasonable. Having said that, they were offering the box set of all of the Wordsworth published Charles Dickens novels at a reduced price of £25 from £36 which was very good value for money.
The 6 Jolly Fellowship Porters Restaurant has a nice range of hot and cold light lunches and a bar - all which are very reasonably priced. Your food and cutlery is brought over to you with a minimum of fuss and the staff are very friendly. No complaints here!
Daytime - 10am - 5:30pm
Children (5-15) £7.30
Children (Under 5) FREE
Evening - 3pm - 5:30pm
Children (5-15) £6.00
Children (Under 5) FREE
At being only 2 years old, Dickens World still has some room for expansion as there are only a limited number of attractions, but with diverse and imaginative ways to tell the stories of Dickens which will appeal to both adults and children, Dickens World is a realistic and atmospheric place, with friendly (except when they're in character) and helpful staff and an attention to detail to be proud of - it is the perfect way to bring to life the world of Charles Dickens.
Just don't expect a theme park!!
It was at the end of the summer when we were on our way to the continent, that we needed an activity as a distraction en-route to our overnight hotel. You might think that Southampton to Dover is not too far but it is just so boring a journey that we like to break it up if at all possible. A trawl of the internet for something suitable came up with Dicken's World as a relatively new and novel attraction, and being in Chatham it could loosely be described as being en-route.
Fortunately, we were not greeted by the long queues bemoaned by many other visitors and there were acres of car park spaces. This should have told me what to expect, but without a second thought; and just pausing to admire the animated clock with its hint of the exciting boat ride to come, we entered the foyer.
We walked straight up to the ticket desk around 2pm; again no queues, so I was beginning to like this place; then even more so when I got a reduction of £3.00 on an adult ticket of around £12.00 for my disabled brother. We went through and down the steps into the courtyard. Spotting refreshment I headed straight for the cafe area which would afford us a good view of the themed central area. Cradling a reasonable cup of coffee we sat down to enjoy the playlet, which we quickly discovered was set around ' A Tale of Two Cities'.
Consequently, I think the subject matter for this playlet could have been chosen better; the action was confusing, the language 'high brow' and it dragged on without really engaging the audience. Most of the 30 or so people sat in the cafe area seemed unfamiliar with this particular Dicken's tale. However we were able to gaze around and be impressed by the excellent scenery and effects, and I was able to indulge in a little people watching; but overall my brother was bored.
Playlet finished we headed next to the Haunted House which was frankly pathetic, save for the Scrooge scenario which most people could relate with and enjoy. Many of the other exhibits were just holographic features uttering Dicken's speak, and not ghostly at all. The boat ride was our next goal, billed as a thrill it was completely bland and unexciting, not even a rat jumped out at me; but at least there was no wait.!! Certainly not a patch on the Pirates of The Caribbean ride in EuroDisney. The best indicator of it's entertainment value was that nobody wanted to go again despite there being no queue whatsoever.
We ventured into the learning area set in a Dicken's type schoolroom, but the desks and inert computer screens did not attract us to stay. A few people were tapping at keys; but I noticed that not many stayed for very long, so yet another opportunity to engage with visitors was not being effectively exploited.
The 3D show in a cinema area was good, enjoyable and actually brought Dickens to life as a historic icon. You could even begin to feel queasy as the animation took you on the Atlantic crossings to his US tours, and I did learn some facts about the man rather than the writer that I had not appreciated before. We were ready to leave around 4.30pm, having seen all we wanted to see, so this would not constitute a good day out for a family in my opinion.
Naturally, as you exit the place there is the inevitable gift shop with a range of goods and prices. Most of the items ( from books to chocolate bars and rubber tipped pencils) seemed a reasonable price and quality but we did not purchase anything.
All the staff throughout the venue were exceptionally friendly and helpful; clearly trying their utmost to bring the concepts to life for the few visitors that were there. I would estimate there were fewer than 100 visitors during the time that we were there.
It's just a pity that the attraction does not have enough charisma and adventure to generate the respect and admiration which Dickens should command. A wasted opportunity which I am sure will not survive the current economic downturn.
Thanks for reading.
Updated and enhanced from an earlier review published on Ciao.
From the moment I arrived I was moved to an emotional state. I rareley experience such a reaction, previously my first visit to Dreamland when I was about 6 years old, then Disney in Florida and Paris. Now, Chatham!
The difference though is the emotions I experienced at Dreamland and Disney were big WOW factor excitement emotions. Dickens World in Chatham generates a whole new level of destination attraction amazement.
Awe inspiring, tummy churning expectation, dizzy making excitement, the fun of a new experience, all of these descriptions are nothing to do with the feelings generated by Dickens World.
This monumentally dull Chatham dockyard dirge of a concept-less poorly excecuted shed was about £10 milion and an imagination short of what was needed to make this naff piece of tatt work.
I'm not sure who was responsible for this particular example of what is amusingly described as 'fun' in 2008, but whoever it was he should not be treated as a grown up or given any more money to make any more Dickens Worlds. Please. In fact, if you are near him when he says 'I've got a great idea', have him put down. And for Gods sake don't invest in it.
And value? If the average per head for your average destination is £30 then Dickens World should be charging no more than £5. Hell, they should be paying you to enter reading some reports.
If you are advertising for an person whose job description reads 'bad ideas expert required' this is y'man. In any event,he has WAY more money than good ideas, and he should have asked proper imagineers and taken fewer of the concept descisions himself. Way fewer.
And if he has any money left folks and you are looking for a mug, sorry, investor, he's a major mark.
As we live in the heart of Kent, we had waited with great interest for the opening of the new Dickens world that was due to be opened in May 2007.
It had be given a lot of publicity. The kids had all been talking about the new theme park that was opening just up the road!. Well not quite, 15 miles but to them I suppose it is very near.
Dickens world is the new indoor family attraction. It took approximately 3 years to build. It is privately owned and cost £62 million. How could you not want to visit it when it is only 20 minutes away?
Chatham docks closed over 20 years ago, over the last 5 to 10 years there has been alot of regeneration work going on down there, a large outlet centre, housing, a multiplex cinema. With Dickens world finished recently.
Charles Dickens spent part of his childhood in Chatham as his father worked in the Navy payoffice in the dockyard.
We planned our visit for the week after it opened. We set off with extended family and were really looking forward to a great day out, the sunny was shining what a great start.
As we walked towards the building, which I can only describe as an aircraft hangar, huge and stainless steel.
The first thing I spotted was the queue from the back of the building. We joined the end and two of us went to find out how long we might be waiting. As we turned the corner to the front of the building we were met by a manager from Dickens world, he told us that from the back of the queue it was approximately a 2 and half hour wait.
Okay, we didn't want to spoil things for the kids, after all it was a lovely sunny day, everyone was in good humour and we were literally yards from the huge retail outlet centre, not just bargains in the Next and Clarkes shoes stores, but plently of places to grab some food and drink and so we sent half of us off to do some shopping while the other half stayed in queue. We then all swapped over and did it again. Slowly but surely the queue was moving. My other half was not impressed and insisted that people were giving up and going home rather than getting in. But I had promised the kids the day here and so be it.
Eventually after 2 hours and 10 minutes later we were inside the foyer. Still in a queue for the ticket desks we were constantly being told by managers due to the volume of visitors and a few minor technical hitches they were sorry for the delay.
Well we were now through and going up the stairs to a set of double doors into Dickens world.
As we entered the first thing that struck me was the stark change of lighting, from a modern brightly lit foyer to the darkness of night, the only lights were gas lamps. It was so sudden my 9 year old niece grabbed my hand and said I don't like it! After some reassurance she was fine, we were crossing a bridge with boats going underneath it.
The led us to the main victorian courtyard.
As we stood and look around there seemed to be alleyways leading off of it, we had no map or guidebook and there were people in every direction, then one of the kids spotted a sign for the Great expectations boat ride.
Having a brief look around the courtyard I must say we were very impressed. The victorian shopfronts and the lighting along with the general atmosphere were very impressive.
But the kids were dying to get on the ride, and considering that they hadn't complained about waiting to get in, off we went. We found ourselves at the end of a queue that went into an alley. Hey ho another queue, after 5 minutes into the alley a printed sign on the wall that said WAITING TIME FROM THIS POINT APPROXIMATELY 1 AND AND HALF HOURS. I must admit at this point I wanted to scream. But I took a deep breath, keep calm surely it would be worth it.
We slowly worked our way through the passageways of the Newgate Prison, the walls occasionally broken up by prison cell doors, which the kids hoped to be able to peer inside and see something gruesome, but no such luck, nothing to be seen here. So we were stuck in alleyway with lots of other people waiting to get on. The nearer we got the louder the sounds of water and laughter, sounds good !
Then we were issued with plastic disposable macks.
There were warnings for people of a nervous dispositions or heart complaints not to take the ride. I'm not so sure the queue would be good for people with either of the dispositions ! So finally we climbed into the ride. Up we went very slowly, bearing in mind we are supposed to be sailing above victorian rooftops, up to a peak, then quickly turned around, in the dark, then backwards, down through a dark tunnel, sprayed with water and so then gently along past more victorian dwellings. We did laugh alot and scream abit. But I must say that It was over in less than 5 minutes.
So back to the main courtyard. People seemed as lost as to where to go next as we were.. Spotting a street entertainer, dressed in victorian clothing we asked where we should go next. Try Dotherby's victorian classroom he suggested so we did, again off of the main courtyard we were greeted by a very stern looking schoolmaster, ' Your late get into class' he yelled, much to the amusement of the kids, we all sat in the very authentic looking classroom, we then noticed built into the desks were interactive snakes and ladders. We played on these for while, computer games, at Dickens world. I thought this was very strange.
We did have fun though, especially when he called my nephew into the corner to wear the dunce cap, for laughing too loud.
Back to the courtyard, we then went into see a 4D HD cinema show on the life and times of Charles Dickens, this was really interesting, although the kids got a bit bored, but it wasn't too long so they were okay with it.
Time for a drink. Off of the courtyard were some steps which leads up to the Six Jolly Fellowship porters restaurant. We'd already had lunch in the first queue so we only wanted a drink, had we been hungry I think that we may have been a little bit disappointed. There was nothing unusual here, Sandwiches, baguettes, some traditional English food, nothing special really.
The drinks weren't too expensive although I can't remember exact prices.
Along from the restaurant is Fagin's play den, this was a huge let down, its really just a Kids soft play area in a tiny room , this only really suitable for pre-school children. It was empty when we looked in.
At this point I think we were all really hoping that there ws more to come and that we would stumble across something that we hadn't already seen.
The toilets are very central and immaculate. There are baby changing facilities.
Back to the courtyard, in case you hadn't noticed this where you end up everytime! we had a little chat with one of the Dickens characters, who said we should see the last place we hadn't seen, The haunted house of Ebenezer Scrooge. I asked how long the wait was he said 'only 5 minutes.' Well we got up to the house and were told to wait at the top of a flight of stairs. Groups of people were to be escorted in by one of the guides. While we were waiting I decided that this so called house looked more like something out of a spaghetti western, not victorian times.
Twenty minutes later after much dicussion on her walkly talkie, which she kept pulling out from under her really beautiful victorian dress, she apologised for the delay due to a technical hitch. At this point we decided not to bother.
The only bonus to this part of the day was that due to almost everyone else having gone home, the kids went back on the boat ride 5 times with no queue and no waterproofs as there were none left, they got drenched to the skin but had a great time.
Exit Dickens world is through the Olde curiousity shop, which is full of overpriced rubbish, It doesn't resemble olde at all , with its bright lights, laminate floor and automatic doors.
Overall I feel very let down by our day out. Although I think it was very educational, it certainly is not what Dickens world advertise, Yes it was fun in parts, Its not the day out of a life time as they advertise. They haven't thought about the queues. The scenery and the costumes are amazing. But the whole place is lacking a certain something.
Opening times 10am - 7pm ( exc. Christmas day )
Children £ 7.50
Thanks for reading.
Dickens World is a themed attraction located at Chatham Dockyard, Kent. Privately funded, it cost £62 million to create, and was opened to the public on May 25, 2007. It is based around the life of author Charles Dickens, briefly a resident of Chatham as a child and who, as an adult, lived at Gads Hill Place in nearby Higham. Many of the locations and characters in his novels are based on buildings, places and people of the Medway Towns; for example Holcombe Manor was the inspiration for Dingley Dell, the house in Pickwick Papers. Although Dickens World is often referred to as a theme park, this is a misconception, given that the attraction is more about recreating a Victorian atmosphere for the experience of Dickens' world, rather than rides.