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In late October in Genoa, Italy, Virgin Voyages unveiled its adults-only cruising concept and provided an initial look at the features of its first ship during a keel-laying ceremony for the vessel.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Voyages president and CEO Tom McAlpin hosted a “ship tease” after descending onstage in a basket lowered by a 200-foot crane. Branson described it as a big day for the new line, adding that Virgin is committed to having the happiest crew at sea as well as delivering an irresistible "sailor” experience to guests 18 and older with its Adult By Design concept. (In the Virgin lexicon, passengers are called “sailors,” and all employees, including executives, are termed “crew,” while travel agents are "first mates.”)
McAlpin, who previously served as president and CEO of The World, a privately owned residential yacht, and president of Disney Cruises, is not the only cruise veteran coming into Virgin Voyages. Diana Block, who held key roles in revenue management, deployment and newbuild projects for 19 years at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., has taken the position of vice president of pricing and proposition.
Virgin Voyages has three vessels on order that will be known as “Lady Ships,” a name that reflects the company’s British heritage. Each will carry 2,800 passengers and 1,150 crew, and the vessels are being built at an estimated cost of $710 million each. The first will debut in 2020.
“The entire ship will be built with an attention to detail, reflecting the craftsmanship and materiality inspired by super yachts,” said McAlpin at the celebration. “Virgin Voyages is creating a sophisticated ship and a transformational experience that offers our sailors a place where rejuvenating day life meets exciting nightlife and everything in between.”
Executives also displayed the ship’s livery, which features a silvery hull; a mermaid icon by artist Toby Tinsley that was inspired by figureheads on historic ships; and a signature “Virgin red” funnel.
The company is currently accepting refundable $500 deposits for the choice of any available accommodations on any cruise, once bookings are open.
Virgin Voyages is positioning itself with its 18-plus adults-only concept, as well as underlining its commitment to the environment through a partnership with Scanship to explore new technology that turns waste into energy.
“They’re placing their clientele right under Viking’s age demographic, with the same all-inclusive, 18-and-over policy,” said Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer of Cruise Planners. “With Viking, it’s not so noticeable, because the older group isn’t expected to bring youngsters along.”
Garcia thinks Virgin is actually aiming for 30 to 55 year olds who have disposable income and who are interested in something hip, playful and informal, she says. Garcia also notes that Virgin executives consulted with travel agents about the best length for its first cruises; she advised no shorter than six to eight days.
And Garcia will be among the first to see the ship.
“I’m not waiting for an invitation; I already put my deposit down,” she said.