Review of Virgin Voyages
Virgin Voyages (formerly named Virgin Cruises) is a cruise line headquartered in Plantation, Florida (USA). Virgin Voyages was created in a joint venture between Virgin Group and Bain Capital, with the latter having a majority shareholding. The establishment of Virgin Cruises was announced by Virgin Group on December 4, 2014. The new cruise line it is scheduled to start operations in 2020.
In 2020, Virgin Cruises officially starts operations from Miami Florida with a 2800-passenger vessel. Two additional sister-ships will follow in 2021 and 2022. The announcement was made in the end of June 2015 in Miami, during a press conference (media event "making waves") for the new cruise brand. Richard Branson - founder of Virgin Group, arrived on a helicopter landing near Miami's Museum Park. According to Mr Branson, the total building cost for the 3 vessels is USD 2,13 billion (USD 710 million per ship).
The President and CEO of the cruise company is Tom McAlpin. He is a founding member of Disney Cruise Line's launch team and later its president. Prior to heading Virgin Cruises, McAlpin has served as CEO of The World cruise ship.
Earlier in 2016, Virgin Cruises settled an USD 300 million lawsuit filed by former Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Colin Veitch, who claimed Virgin had stolen his ideas and moved on with the cruise line concept without him.
In the promo video for the new cruise line, Virgin Voyages promises a "holiday you can's predict" that will "celebrate your curiosity, not force you to follow one itinerary".
Tom McAlpin shared they did not see themselves as a big player in cuise industry, but as "a small boutique line that will offer different experiences.”
In October 2016, "Virgin Cruises" was rebranded as "Virgin Voyages". At the time it was first announced, the company's founder Branson said his goal was to create a brand cruising experience that is more likely to appeal to millennials and other people who don’t normally take cruise ship vacations.
McAlpin and Branson hinted that those experiences might take some cues from other successful Virgin ventures, like Virgin Hotels. The hotel chain is popular for offering free WiFi, minibar drinks at street prices, privacy doors allowing guests to go on about their business while room service brings requests, pet-friendly amenities with no weight or size restrictions.
Virgin cruise ships
On June 23, 2015, the cruise line announced it had signed a letter of Intent with Fincantieri (Italian shipbuilder based in Trieste), for the construction of 3 ships scheduled for delivery in 2020, 2021 and 2022 (entering service in 15-month increments). The shipbuilding order was officially finalized on December 21, 2016. The cruise ships are of the so called "Lady-class", mid-sized (gross tonnage 110000 GT), capacity 2750 passengers (1430 cabins, 90% of which with balconies) and 1150 crew. Each vessel will be named via an online contest.
The shipbuilding contract was valued at approx EUR 2 billion. All the 3 vessels will be constructed at the Sestri Ponente shipyard (Genoa). The first ship's construction started with the steel-cutting ceremony held on March 22, 2017. For the vessel design and construction, Virgin Voyages contracted the marine architecture and naval design companies Roman and Williams (New York), Concrete Amsterdam, Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio (London UK), Gem Srl (Italy), Softroom (London UK), WORKac (New York), Knibb Design, HL Studio (UK), HKS Architects (Dallas USA), PearsonLloyd (London UK).
The first vessel's keel-laying ceremony was held on October 31, 2017, attended by Sir Richard Branson, Tom McAlpin (the company's President and CEO) and Boy George UK singer, songwriter, fashion designer) who performed as superstar DJ. During the ceremony were also revealed the ship design and hull art of the future Virgin "Lady Ships".
Next image shows the ship's signature funnel shape - designed to be a major part of its exterior design. The aft of the ship's superstructure also shows the Promenade Deck with panoramic cabin balconies towering above.
Each ship has a high percentage of balcony staterooms. The new ships greatly differ from other cruise vessels (as design) and target younger and more adventurous travelers (called "sailors"). Each of the ships is adults-only as passengers under 18 yo (teenagers and kids) are not allowed. Among the vessel's signature facilities and venues (officially revealed so far) are:
- Athletic Club is a top-deck aft located sports deck (with raised jogging track colored in red and white), sundeck with open-air lounge (double daybeds, semi-circular loungers), triple netting area (overlooking the below decks), 10 private cabanas, beverage service (from an adjacent bar).
- Pink Agave is a Mexican restaurant with metallic lighting fixtures, large tables, porthole windows, an elongated curved area with tables for two, separate bar (in the foyer), private dining room.
- The Manor is the ship's 2-deck high disco nightclub with large open spaces for dancing.
- The Dock is an outdoor lounge area (aft on on Deck 7) with cushioned wooden furniture (loungers, deckchairs, daybeds).
- Test Kitchen restaurant features lab-like design (metallic furniture, beakers, test tubes),
- Richard's Rooftop (top-deck located VIP area / Suite passengers only outdoor sundeck with daybeds, deckchairs, circular loungers, umbrellas, colored crystals)
One of the ship features is the advanced clean energy system via partnership with Swedish company Climeon Ocean. The new technology allows reducing CO2 emissions by converting the generated by diesel engines heat into electricity for shipboard use. Each of the newbuilds has 6 such Climeon units, saving approx 5,400 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The ship's waste processing system is provided by Scanship,
Next image shows another signature detail - the Virgin ship's hull art. The Mermaid design (by Toby Tinsley) is Inspired by the traditional figureheads mounted on the bows of historic wooden ships, and symbolizes the vessel's feminine spirit.
In July 2017, was announced that Wartsila (marine technologies Finnish corporation / former shipbuilder) was selected to provide the power plants for the 3 Virgin ships. Among Wartsila's core products are large diesel engines for cruise and ferries.
Each Virgin ship is powered by two 8-cylinder plus two 12-cylinder "Wartsila 46F" marine diesel engines. Wartsila's Hybrid Scrubber System operates in both open and closed loop and uses seawater to remove SOx from the ship's exhaust. It also significantly reduces NOx emissions.
The Virgin ships' navigation and automation control systems are also Wartsila-made (NACOS Platinum series). Next image shows one of the initial vessel designs.
Virgin cruise deals bookings will open in the end of 2018.
Itinerary of Virgin Voyages
Details on Virgin cruise line's itinerary program have not yet been announced. However, Branson mentioned one destination that was on the list - the Caribbean. When asked about Cuba being a potential port, he immediately replied "Yes!". This also means roundtrip departures from Florida ports.
In 2017 was announced that the first-launched Virgin cruise ship will be initially homeported at Port Miami and will operate on 7-day Caribbean itineraries departing each Sunday.
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