Adult by design: Virgin voyages sets out to shake up cruising
Virgin Group’s cruise business, Virgin Voyages, sets out to shake up the cruise sector with an adults-only, superyacht inspired format. With the first liner now in construction, Callum Tyndall takes a look at the vessel’s design, and asks whether the brand will succeed in carving out a new niche in a highly competitive sector.
irst announced in 2014, Virgin Voyages, then known as Virgin Cruises, is the first major new entrant into the cruise industry since 1996. Recruiting former Disney Cruise Line president Tom McAlpin to head up the venture, the company revealed in 2015 that it was partnering with the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy and ordered three ships. The first vessel is expected to arrive at PortMiami in 2020.
With room for 2,700 passengers, the ships, according to Richard Branson, represent an investment worth just under $2bn.
More notably, however the Voyages venture will cater exclusively to passengers aged 18 and above. By making the enterprise ‘Adult by Design’, Virgin is hoping to capitalise on a niche in the cruise industry that has not been fully explored.
The company is also aiming to attract passengers who have not previously been interested in cruising. According to Branson, market research showed that roughly 85% of those surveyed who had never taken a cruise would seriously consider it if it was on a Virgin Voyages ship.
Samsung-designed smart bracelets connect to the MSC for Me system. Image courtesy of M SC Cruises
Samsung-designed smart bracelets connect to the MSC for Me system. Image courtesy of MSC Cruises
Ships inspired by luxury yacht design
Construction on the first of the Virgin ships began in March 2017. At 110,000 tonnes and with capacity for 2,700 passengers, the vessel will be considered mid-sized compared to the 4,000 passenger ultra-ships the three major cruise lines currently sail from South Florida.
Rather than trying to match these heavyweights, Virgin seems to be aiming at a more boutique experience. Aside from the obvious removal of any sort of family packages, Branson and McAlpin are making efforts to ensure that Voyages bears little resemblance to what’s traditionally expected of a cruise line.
"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.”
Progressive when it comes to technology, Virgin will use clean energy start-up Climeon’s equipment to convert the heat generated by the ship’s engines into electricity for onboard use, saving 5,400 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The ship’s exterior, designed by a ‘Creative Collective’ that included designers for Ace Hotels, The Standard High Line, and Mondrian Hotels to name a few, takes inspiration from luxury yacht design in a bid to break away from the mass-market offerings.
“The entire ship will be built with an attention to detail, reflecting the craftsmanship and materiality inspired by super yachts,” said Virgin Voyages president and CEO Tom McAlpin said. “Designed to feel more intimate and connected to the sea, 86% of all cabins will feature a sea terrace and 93% an ocean view.
“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.”
Can a new cruise philosophy shape a new market?
Built on experience gained from Virgin Hotels the launch fleet, named Lady Ships, seems set to distinguish itself from the other cruise lines largely by rejecting accepted industry philosophy. Even the name of the company itself was changed due to Branson’s distaste for the name ‘cruise’.
By targeting the adult market only, and creating an experience that can only exist for that market, Virgin is targeting consumers who would never consider a cruise by promising something the company itself doesn’t consider a ‘cruise’.
“There is room for more ships, and adding the Virgin Cruises brand into the mix will help drive healthy competition and consumer demand.”
Many details are still to be revealed, but it seems safe to assume the launch of Virgin Voyages will shake up the cruise industry. Even if it is no threat to the major established players, the brand may well change perceptions of the cruise industry among a new target audience.
Speaking to the Sun Sentinel, Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner of Cruise Planners, said of Virgin’s new venture: "There is room for more ships, and adding the Virgin Cruises brand into the mix will help drive healthy competition and consumer demand. Also, Branson's creative marketing may attract new cruisers to the industry."