Can the golden boy of British commerce find success at sea? Richard Branson has announced the first details of Virgin Cruises – which he expects to emulate earlier instances of the brand, like his records, planes, and trains. And hopefully prove easier to get off the ground than his Intergalactic space travel venture.
Branson arrived by helicopter at the Perez Art Museum in Miami for today’s press conference, dressed in trademark Virgin red shorts and with a red captain’s cap over his flowing blond locks.
He announced a deal had been struck with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri for three ships to be delivered in successive years from 2020. The first will sail each Sunday from Miami on seven-night cruises to the Caribbean.
Rumours of what Branson’s Virgin Cruises was planning since he first announced last year that he had secured financing, and that he had hired Tom McAlpin, the executive who helped launch the Disney Cruise Line.
Stylish computer renderings have been leaked in recent months, but no detailed plans were put on show today.
There was some surprise at the press conference that the three ships will be relatively small by today’s standards. At 110,000 tons and with 1,430 cabins, they will carry 2,800 passengers and 1,150 crew. They are twice the size of Viking’s new builds, but much smaller than ships being built by mainstream rivals such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian.
“We are sailing against the trend to build smaller, boutique vessels,” said McAlpin. “Megaships didn’t make sense to us. We want our customers to be part of the design planning. We want feedback.” The newly-launched Virgin Cruises website invites customers to share their own ideas.
Also on the website, Branson says: “This is a very exciting day for Virgin and travellers around the globe. We now have the right partners in place to build a world-class cruise line that will redefine the cruising experience for good. The Virgin Cruises approach will appeal to cruisers and non-cruisers alike, and we look forward to being in Miami and delivering an experience for people who want a new way to cruise.”
McAlpin added: “Today’s announcement brings together important ingredients in our future success – Miami’s vibrant culture paired with the excellent port infrastructure and Fincantieri’s expertise in prototyping, their creativity and understanding of our vision.”