There’s quite a celebration when the cruise ships dock in Plymouth, as Chrissy Harris discovers when she joins the Cruise Ambassador volunteers who are there to greet the Silver Dawn passengers arriving in Devon’s coastal city.

Thursday, 8am, and the Barbican Landing Stage is set for the arrival of more than 500 passengers, about to disembark from the Silver Dawn on the first stop of their 15-day luxury cruise around the UK.

Douglas Kerr and his fellow Cruise Ambassador volunteers have been here since sunrise, setting up their information trailer, sorting out maps of the city and making sure the arrivals, who have come from all over the world, get a proper Plymouth welcome.

‘The drummers should be here any minute,’ says Douglas, referring to two immaculately dressed members of the Plymouth Maritime Corps of Drums who have just arrived to take their positions by the railings to herald the new arrivals.

Great British Life: Plymouth Cruise Ambassadors (l-r) Paul Roberts, Janet Goulty, Douglas Kerr and Jayne HockingPlymouth Cruise Ambassadors (l-r) Paul Roberts, Janet Goulty, Douglas Kerr and Jayne Hocking

‘Here they are and here comes the first tender – right, ok Janet, hit the bridge.’

Volunteer Janet Goulty now takes her position on the landing stage bridge, ready to meet and greet the first batch of passengers as soon as they set foot on Plymouth soil.

‘Welcome to Plymouth, welcome to Plymouth, welcome to Plymouth,’ comes the smile-filled chorus to match the rhythm of the drumbeat as the visitors, many already filming the spectacle on their phones, make their way up the steps towards the coaches waiting to take them on organised day trips across Devon and Cornwall.

This spirit-lifting scene is part of a now well-rehearsed process to boost Plymouth’s growing reputation as a city that welcomes cruise visitors in style.

The Silver Dawn is the fourth cruise ship to visit these shores so far in 2023, with other high- profile visits including the Spirit of Discovery, MS Rotterdam and the Ocean Nova.

Even more liners are due later this year and next, bringing boatloads of visitors to explore Plymouth and the rest of Devon, boosting the local economy and raising our profile in the prestigious cruise industry. The pressure’s on to make sure everyone’s happy and has a memorable visit.

Great British Life: Cruise ambassadors Annmarie and Douglas KerrCruise ambassadors Annmarie and Douglas Kerr

‘You’ve got to get the welcome right,’ says Douglas, the driving force behind Plymouth’s Cruise Ambassadors. A former cruise ship steward, Douglas initially pushed the idea of a volunteer welcoming committee nearly eight years ago when the first ships were coming into the city’s Millbay area to slightly more muted fanfare.

‘I thought we were missing a trick,’ says supermarket worker and dad-of-seven Douglas. ‘A lot of ports like Liverpool, Edinburgh, Dublin, I’ve seen it, they put on some entertainment and make a real effort to welcome all the passengers and members of the crew.

‘With that, you can get a massive return for the city. They come and spend their money here. We’ve also had passengers saying that they’d like to come back here on holiday or that they didn’t realise Plymouth was so nice. One passenger said her first impression was how clean the city looked,’ adds Douglas, on stand-by to sort an overflowing rubbish bag on the Barbican just this morning.

‘I said to my wife Annemarie (also a cruise ambassador), if that’s not gone by 8am, me and you are going down there to sort it.’

This proactive approach also extends to keeping the cruise ship visitors suitably entertained. Organised acts along the Barbican landing stage include the local town crier, a ukulele band and even a piper (planned for 1pm today). Sometimes, however, the fun is more spontaneous.

Great British Life: On the approach to the Silver Dawn. Photo: Richard AllanOn the approach to the Silver Dawn. Photo: Richard Allan Cruise ambassador Janet has joined us to remind Douglas of the time they danced the conga with a load of German passengers who were having so much fun, they didn’t really want to go back on board. Then there was the time they bid farewell to their cruise visitors bound for New York with an enthusiastic rendition of the Frank Sinatra song.

‘Oh yes, I’d forgotten about that!’ says Janet, in her lovely local accent. ‘I promise I’ll behave myself today, though.’

Talking of best behaviour, Port of Plymouth and Cattewater Harbour Commissioners

Harbour Master Captain Richard Allan has come over to ask if I would like to go aboard the Silver Dawn and meet its captain.

Richard is a key part of this very multi-disciplinary welcome team. Along with Destination Plymouth, local business groups, the council and other organisations, Cattewater Harbour Commissioners works hard behind the scenes for years in advance to organise these big arrivals.

Great British Life: A taste of the on-board luxury A taste of the on-board luxury

Richard’s role here today is crucial, sorting out the arrival logistics and ensuring the Port Pilots safely delivered the 40,700-tonne, 11-deck Silver Dawn to the Plymouth Sound anchorage at 6.30am. Richard is also responsible for security and safety on the Barbican Landing Stage, managing a restricted area where only ships’ staff and passengers can pass for “onward tendering to the ship”.

He looks remarkably calm and fresh faced. And to think I was worried about parking on the Barbican…

‘So, do you fancy coming aboard?’ he asks again.

‘You’ve got to do that,’ says Douglas, still a huge fan of these majestic vessels and the glamour associated with a life on the ocean waves (the cruise ship screen saver on his phone was a giveaway). ‘We’ll still be here when you get back.’

With that, I’m off to do the necessary security checks and to text my dad to say I might be a bit late for our lunch meet-up.

Richard and I climb aboard ship’s tender vessel – the shuttle boat between here and the Silver Dawn – and head towards the horizon.

Great British Life: Captain Luigi Rutigliano of the Silver Dawn and Port of Plymouth and Cattewater Harbour Commissioners Harbour Master Captain Richard Allan exchange giftsCaptain Luigi Rutigliano of the Silver Dawn and Port of Plymouth and Cattewater Harbour Commissioners Harbour Master Captain Richard Allan exchange gifts

Richard is holding a box with an official wooden plaque from the City of Plymouth, which he’ll present to Captain Luigi Rutigliano in a traditional exchange of gifts between ship and port for an inaugural visit.

‘It takes a number of years of planning and it feels like thousands of emails and calls,’ says Richard, explaining just what goes in to securing these high-profile visits. ‘This is a new ship and its first time coming to Plymouth.’

I barely hear him though because I’m too busy looking at this looming tower of boat that’s suddenly filling the window.

We pull up alongside and climb aboard, helped by a smiley team of crew members. Everyone is good at this whole welcoming thing.

Captain Rutigliano is a bit bleary-eyed after a busy morning but happy to see us. He and Richard spend a few minutes swapping small talk about the journey: it was a good run…nice weather… bit of traffic with the international military and cargo ships at buoy in the Sound. Pulling in was a “piece of cake” says Captain Rutigliano (easier than Falmouth, apparently).

Gifts are exchanged while Captain Rutigliano, from Bari in southern Italy, says he’s delighted to be here.

We are then taken on a whistle-stop tour of this year-old luxury liner, part of the Silversea fleet, which has an outdoor pool, spa, eight dining options, bars, shopping boutique, arts café and more.

Yep, one could get used to this. But what was also a real treat was looking back from the 8th deck, towards Plymouth Hoe in the bright sunshine. Everyone on board must surely agree that this city is a pretty good pit-stop.

Great British Life: Plymouth's Cruise Ambassadors welcome passengers from MS Rotterdam, earlier this year. Photo: Scott GrenneyPlymouth's Cruise Ambassadors welcome passengers from MS Rotterdam, earlier this year. Photo: Scott Grenney

‘I’m looking forward to seeing it,’ says seasoned cruise ship passenger Michael Musgrave, from Brisbane, Australia. ‘I love to get a sense of place and walk through the streets,’ he adds, as we sail across the water in the tender. ‘Good food is important too, of course.’

Pasties, fish and chips and a Capn’ Jasper half-yard hotdog – it’s all here waiting. As are Douglas and his cheerful team, by now consisting of the afternoon shift of volunteers.

‘How was it?’ he asks, in-between sorting out taxis for 16 Mexican passengers who fancy going to the Eden Project in Cornwall for the day. I tell Douglas my cruise experience was a real taste of luxury but, really, I’m quite happy to be welcomed back into Plymouth. They’ve even started up the drums again.