Cruise passengers and locals talk about a wonderful visit to Ilfracombe and North Devon

ILFRACOMBE rolled out the welcome mat in style on Friday to great its first cruise ship visit for several years.

As the MS Prinsendam appeared off the town just after 7am, final touches were put to the eagerly awaited visit, with local dignitaries, music and entertainment waiting to greet hundreds of the ship’s 700-plus guests as they arrived on shore aboard the ship’s motor launches.

All were met by Ilfracombe Mayor Rod Donovan and the Mayoress, Councillor Janice Donovan, together with Town Crier Roy Goodwin in full regalia and his wife Bea, plus the vice chairman of North Devon Council Geoff Fowler.

The 38,000 liner is sister ship to the larger MS Rotterdam, also owned by the Holland America Line, whose visit on May 29 had to be cancelled because poor weather was forecast.

A number had pre-booked excursions to North Devon attractions including Exmoor, Woolacombe and Chambercombe Manor and they were the first to arrive onshore before setting off in coaches for their destinations.

Mostly American, Canadian and New Zealanders, the guests were delighted with the welcome they received.

“It’s a delightful town, it really is,” said American visitor Mary-Ann Browning.

“We didn’t go on a tour, we just ventured around and we saw that people have a lot of pride in their town, it’s very admirable.”

New Yorker Vera Root added: “I think Ilfracombe is very charming and that’s why people come here, because everything is so unique and is how it’s always been. The people we met all talked to us and were very friendly.”

As she queued with husband Nick to get back on board the cruise liner, Maureen Brixius from Florida said: “We loved it – what’s not to love?

“Even with the rain it was perfect and it is England, so you should have some!” The couple went on an excursion to Exmoor and especially enjoyed their visit to Woody Bay Station and its heritage railway.

Len Saran, from Buffalo and a member of the Buffalo Launch Club, took the time to visit liked minded opposites across the pond at Ilfracombe Yacht Club, where he and wife Marcia plus daughter Melinda enjoyed a Devonshire cream tea and Cornish pasty! Len is hoping to stay in touch and returned with an IYC burgee, or pennant.

* CLICK ON THE LINK TO THE RIGHT OF THIS PAGE FOR A PICTURE GALLERY OF THE PRINSENDAM’S VISIT.

WE WILL BE BACK: Several passengers said they would definitely return one day, having enjoyed a successful visit, Harbourmaster Rob Lawson told the Gazette:

“It was absolutely wonderful, to see a ship of such size at Ilfracombe finally,” he said.

“The visit went extremely well and all the visitors I spoke to said they had a fantastic time, what a beautiful town we had and what a warm welcome they received.”

Mr Lawson said the town will work with Destination South West – which was central to winning the bid – to put together an aggressive marketing campaign in a bid to drum up more visits, hitting industry conferences in Miami and Hamburg in the new year.

Philip Webb, town and district councillor as well as chairman of the Tourism Marketing Group, said: “It’s a great relief to the people of Ilfracombe to see the ship here. The first thing I did at 7.10am was look outside and the ship was sitting there!

“It’s great to see the Mayor, the Town Crier and the Victorian Committee giving such a warm welcome to all the guests.”

NDC vice chairman Cllr Geoff Fowler added: “It shows the type of hospitality we can lay on to attract cruises here. They seemed pleased to be here and look forward to exploring the town and surrounding attractions – I think Devon cream teas were also high on their list!”

Rita Clews, along with the rest of the Ilfracombe Victorian Celebration Committee met passengers arriving from the ship, much to their delight:

“It’s been absolutely fabulous,” she said, “we have met many people from America, Canada and New Zealand and they have all seemed really pleased to be here.”

A TRIP ABOARD: The Mayor and mayoress went on board the Prinsendam, where they met

Captain Tim Roberts, presenting him with a framed copy of the Ilfracombe Windows poster created by local architecture enthusiast Bob Mannings. The captain presented them with a Holland America Line plaque.

“We have a lot of guests who we call ‘port collectors,’” Capt Roberts told the Gazette.

“Ilfracombe is top of their list because it is considered so unusual. The access is slightly challenging but apart from that it is very scenic and a part of England that can be accessed from the coast.”

After the presentation there was excitement as the RAF Seaking helicopter from Chivenor began hovering over the ship but as crew members appeared in fire fighting attire, the Captain explained they were assisting a training exercise.

Mr Donovan said: “I think it has been very successful and all the visitors said they were very pleased to be here in Ilfracombe and enjoyed the welcome they had.

“It’s been a big day for Ilfracombe and certainly there’s a really nice atmosphere in the town.”

HIGH STREET VISITORS: Nick Pedlar at Chas N Pedlar in the High Street and leading member of the High Street Traders said there had been a steady flow of visitors from the ship throughout the day.

“We were very pleased with the day, it was a good exercise for Ilfracombe and I think the town showed its best as it was absolutely lovely,” he said.

“It was interesting talking to them about their trip and what they thought of Ilfracombe. Quite a few went to the parish church and Pip and Jim’s. They also liked that they could see a bit of Exmoor and then come back here top do the High Street and seafront.”