Although Sir Richard Branson has raised about £2 billion to launch a cruise line, he admitted this week that he has yet to set foot on a cruise ship.
He doesn’t even like the word “cruise.” With three years still to go before the first Virgin passenger (or “sailor” as he wants to call them) steps across one of his gangways, he has changed the name to Virgin Voyages.
Fifteen months after first announcing the Virgin brand was taking to the seas, Branson joined his Voyages CEO, Tom McAlpin, at a press conference in Miami to confirm that Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri would be constructing his three ships in Genoa.
In typically flamboyant style, Branson appeared on stage flanked by dancers in red two-piece swimming costumes. After pausing for breath, he announced he wanted to change cruising for good.
“Thousands of future sailors and travel professionals shared their thoughts with us and tasked us with delivering the most irresistible vacation at sea. I’m excited to reveal we are now Virgin Voyages, and while we have lots of work ahead to build our three ships, we can’t wait to welcome you aboard the ship of things to come.”
Little detail was forthcoming, apart from the fact that they would each be about 110,000 tons (roughly the same size as P&O’s Azura) and would carry 2,700 passengers (400 fewer than the P&O ship), plus 1,150 “spirited” crew.
Keel-laying for the first vessel is likely to take place in about 12 months, and it is scheduled for delivery in 2020. Sister ships will follow in 2021 and 2022.
The first ship will be based in Miami, sailing seven-night cruises to the Caribbean. The promise that destinations will include ports offering “unique and very sociable experiences” hints at the possibility Cuba might be on the list.
McAlpin, who was part of the management team that created Disney Cruise Line, said Virgin Voyages would be unlike any other cruise or holiday. “It will be a transformational experience delivering a very Virgin-style of adventure.”
The company’s updated website (www.virginvoyages.com) promises: “We’re on a mission to build a bold new cruise line just for you. One that makes sailing the ocean blue exhilarating. After all, that’s how travel should feel. Virgin Voyages will be the place where irresistible style has finally found its sea legs.”
Before they get much further, perhaps Branson should take a trip from Necker Island for a first sea cruise with one of his new competitors. Just to see what he’s up against.