Dover: the gateway to all that England offers

Sonia Limbrick explains how heritage, natural beauty and infrastructure combine to deliver amazing cruises

Dover: the gateway to all that England offers
The iconic Dover Castle is one of the breathtaking sights that greets cruise passengers (Image: English Heritage)

By Sonia Limbrick |

This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

The 2019 season has been a hugely successful year for Port of Dover Cruise, and the team has received widespread global attention for its incredible new partnerships with some of the world’s biggest cruise lines. Driven by huge investment, Dover is one of England’s most popular and innovative cruise ports, attracting over 25 individual cruise lines and around 250,000 passengers each year.

This year, Port of Dover’s Cruise Berth 1 was transformed to host a garden party for the naming ceremony of Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery. The newbuild was also the first ship to be docked at the port’s newly developed Berth 4, which is part of its state-of-the-art infrastructure.

The port also hosted the Royal British Legion’s ‘D-Day 75th Voyage of Remembrance’ itinerary onboard Fred. Olsen Cruise Line’s Boudicca, which sailed from Dover to Normandy, France.

2020 promises to be just as exciting. Virgin Voyages will be hosting exclusive media and VIP events as Port of Dover receives the line’s first vessel, Scarlet Lady, for her first-ever port of call after leaving Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard.

Dover will also become a year-round cruising destination as the official homeport for Norwegian operator Hurtigruten, when the cruise line offers winter sailings from the UK for the first time in its 126-year history in 2020.

For many years, the Port of Dover has developed a partnership with Visit Kent, the destination management organisation for Kent, and leading local attractions. Partners now include: Dover District Council, Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, English Heritage’s Dover Castle, Deal Castle and Walmer Castle, the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, Dover Marina Hotel & Spa, Hush Heath Estate and transport providers – Southeastern Trains and YMS Travel coach company.

The partnership is dedicated not only to ensuring cruise visitors experience the very best that Kent has to offer – from a friendly welcome to organising luxury VIP visitor packages, specialist experiences and bespoke tours – but also to engaging with the travel trade to develop inspirational itineraries that include off-the-beaten-path experiences not available to the general public.

Cruise passengers arriving at Dover are treated to the breathtaking sight of the White Cliffs of Dover and iconic cliff-top Dover Castle. Just 10 minutes from the cruise terminal, the White Cliffs offer unforgettable walks along one of the most famous landmarks in the world. Meanwhile, Dover Castle (star of many feature films) allows visitors to delve into centuries of history and enjoy thrilling immersive experiences within its walls and wartime tunnels.

The three character towns of ‘White Cliffs Country’ are also close by: the timeless seaside town of Deal with its rich smuggling and seafaring heritage and range of independent shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants; Dover, which interweaves nationally and internationally important heritage, landscape and pursuits and is home to the world’s oldest known sea-going vessel; and Sandwich, one of Britain’s most complete and well-preserved medieval towns and the golfing capital of Kent, which will welcome the 149th Open in 2020.

The nearby gardens of Walmer Castle offer a scented, scenic retreat and the castle – the former home of the Duke of Wellington and a favourite of the late Queen Mother – has an impressive exhibition on the Battle of Waterloo.

A short drive from the Port of Dover, the Battle of Britain Memorial brings to life perhaps the most important battle fought by the country in the 20th century. While the tranquil clifftop site offers a chance for quiet reflection and remembrance, the Scramble Experience in The Wing is an exciting, multimedia attraction that tells the story of the Battle of Britain.

Excursions and VIP tours of Canterbury Cathedral give passengers the chance to explore this Unesco World Heritage Site and visit the tombs of King Henry IV, the Black Prince and the site where former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett was murdered. Canterbury itself is a historic, yet cosmopolitan, walled city and was the setting for Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Cruise visitors can also enjoy regal treatment at Leeds Castle near Maidstone, known as the ‘loveliest castle in the world’, which offers year-round entertainment from falconry displays and flower shows, to romantic river trips and open-air concerts.

Further afield, the 400-acre Hush Heath Estate is set amid Kent’s Wine Garden of England, offering tours of its vineyards, orchards, ancient oak woodlands and a state-of-the-art winery, along with a tutored tasting of its wines, cider and beer.

Getting to, and around, Kent couldn’t be easier. From the cruise terminals, passengers love to take the YMS Travel shuttle services. YMS works closely with the Port of Dover and cruise agencies to ensure the best experience possible on arrival and departure. Its double-decker buses shuttle large numbers of guests around the town while its executive coaches transport passengers further afield. For special occasions, a fully restored London Routemaster bus can be hired to provide a touch of nostalgia.

Southeastern operates the UK’s first domestic high-speed train service with Javelin trains taking guests between central London and Dover in just over one hour. It offers discounts and special offers for cruise passengers and the ticket includes a shuttle from the cruise terminal to Dover station.

With so much to see and do in Kent, many passengers enjoy a pre-cruise stay. Conveniently located near the cruise terminals and town centre, the Dover Marina Hotel & Spa offers four-star accommodation with views across the English Channel towards France. Guests can enjoy amazing food in two Marco Pierre White restaurants and re-energise at the Waterfront Bar & Lounge and Waterfront Spa & Health Club. The Port of Dover team looks forward to meeting visitors on stand 1211 at the Seatrade Cruise Global event in Miami, Florida in April 2020.

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