Virgin Voyages fleet
Review of Virgin Voyages
Virgin Voyages (formerly named Virgin Cruises) is a new cruise line company headquartered in Plantation (Florida USA). Virgin Voyages was created as a joint venture between Virgin Group Ltd (British multinational holding company) and Bain Capital LP (multi-asset investment company), with the latter having a majority (51%) shareholding. The establishment of Virgin Cruises was announced by Virgin Group on December 4, 2014. The new cruise line is scheduled to start operations in 2020.
Bain Capital (1984-founded) is based in Boston (Massachusetts USA) and specializes in private equity, venture capital, credit, public equity, life sciences and real estate, with assets (under management in FY2018) ~USD 105 billion. Virgin Group Ltd (1970-founded by Richard Branson and Nik Powell) is based in London (England UK) and specializes in global investments and branding via numerous fully- or partially-owned subsidiary companies in businesses like travel (cruises, hotels, tours, airlines, trains), hospitality, health, banking, retail, communications, entertainment, publishing, charity. Among Virgin Group's best-known brands are Virgin Holidays, Virgin Voyages, Virgin Megastores, Virgin Hotels, Virgin Care, Virgin Trains USA (Brightline), Virgin Airlines (Australia, Atlantic, Connect, and Galactic / spaceflights).
Virgin Voyages plans to operate a fleet of four fully-owned cruise passenger vessels (currently on order or under construction in Italy) by the shipbuilder Fincantieri SpA. In FY2018, Fincantieri reported revenue of EUR 5,4 billion. Currently ranked Europe's largest shipbuilding company, Fincantieri has 8 shipyards (all in Italy), in 2013 acquired VARD (Norway-based company with 9 shipyards) and in 2018 purchased 50% of STX France (Chantiers de l'Atlantique Shipyard in St Nazaire). Fincantieri builds both commercial and naval ships.
In 2020, Virgin Cruises officially starts operations from Miami (Florida USA) with the 2800-passenger Scarlet Lady. Three additional sisterships will follow in 2021 (Valiant Lady), 2022 (TBN3) and 2023 (TBN4). The announcement (initially for 3 ships) was made in late-June 2015 in Miami, during a press conference (media event "making waves") for Virgin Group's new cruise travel brand. Richard Branson arrived on a helicopter landing near Miami's Museum Park. Branson announced that the total building cost for the 3 vessels is USD 2,13 billion (USD 710 million per unit). The announcement for the 4th ship was made in late-October 2018, with order value ~EUR 700 million.
Company's President and CEO 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 MS The World (residence cruise vessel). Earlier in 2016, Virgin Cruises settled USD 300 million lawsuit filed by former NCL-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 brand, Virgin promised a "holiday you can's predict" that will "celebrate your curiosity, not force you to follow one itinerary".
Tom McAlpin shared they didn't see the company as a big player in the cruising industry, but as "a small boutique line that will offer different experiences". 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.
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.
In regard to onboard gratuities, the company has "No Tipping" policy, which means all gratuities are included in the base cruise fares. Also included in basic fares are beverages, all eateries, group fitness classes. The company also doesn't charge penalties or change fees. Customers are able to hold staterooms for 24 hours with no money down once they've placed a 20% non-refundable deposit. They also have a 7-day grace period allowing them to change bookings for any reason. Cruise departure date and names on bookings can be changed without fees or penalties. Shortly before opening the bookings on Scarlet Lady (Feb 14, 2019), Virgin announced all-inclusive deal policy by which cruises are sold "by cabin price". Fares are also inclusive of dining (shipwide / 20 options, some 24-hour), unlimited WiFi, all fitness classes. Cabin pricing only varies by the number of occupants. For 5-day itineraries, fares start from ~USD 250 pp per day (excluding taxes-fees).
Virgin Cruises' "non-commissionable policy" allows travel agents to earn across customer's entire transaction, including on add-ons (hotels, flights, travel insurance, spa treatments, tours/excursions, premium packages, onboard credits, taxes, fees). Travel agents receive 10% base commission on the transaction. "Red Hot Bonus" program additionally offers annually paid revenue up to 6% (in case certain production thresholds are met).
In early-April 2019, Virgin Voyages signed an exclusive 7-year partnership deal with OSW (OneSpaWorld Holdings Ltd) - provider of health-and-wellness services and products on cruise vessels and in destination resorts worldwide. OSW provides all the wellness staff, services and products onboard Virgin ships, including yoga and gym trainers, massages, medispa treatments, salon (manicure-pedicure-hairdresser) services. Each ship has a 29-person OSW-employed professional staff. The served facilities include Crow's Nest (outdoor yoga studio), Redemption Spa, Dry-Dock (blowout bar), B-Complex (Fitness Center).
In April 2019, Virgin and Intelligentsia Coffee signed a deal for providing Intelligentsia coffee (Virgin Voyages Blend) and made-to-order beverages at all venues, including the specialty coffee bars ("Ministry of Ground" and "Ministry of Ground Too") served by expert baristas.
On April 1, 2020, launches company's "Jet Transfers Direct to Ship". The exclusive "fly-cruise" deal is for RockStar Suite passengers only, allowing them to arrive and depart the cruise liner via chartered or private aircraft. The planes land at The Runway - a top-deck open space (Deck 17 aft) surrounded by a raised Jogging Track.
In June 2019, Virgin expanded the list of RockStar Suite-only perks with RockStar Agents (dedicated butlers per stateroom), specially dedicated hair and makeup crew (upon request), complimentary laundry service, complimentary Thermal Suite access (Redemption Spa), all-inclusive premium drinks (in all shipboard eateries and bars), personalized bottomless in-room bar (free of charge), option to curate in-port activities.
In late-October 2019 was approved the agreement for Brightline Miami to be rebranded "Virgin Trains" and Virgin Group to build a train station (Virgin Trains PortMiami) at the cruise port. The new station serves high-speed trains and connects PortMiami directly with the USA's intercity railway system and Orlando International Airport.
On November 12, 2019, Richard Branson announced that the second Virgin ship (Valiant Lady) will be seasonally homeported in Sydney (NSW Australia). Branson was in Sydney to launch a partnership between Virgin Australia Airlines and Virgin Voyages and promote affordable Australia-Caribbean flycruise deals on Scarlet Lady.
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. Vessels will be named via online contests.
The shipbuilding contract was valued at ~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 (NYC), Concrete Amsterdam, Tom Dixon's Design Research Studio (London UK), Gem Srl (Italy), Softroom (London UK), WORKac (NYC), Knibb Design, HL Studio (UK), HKS Architects (Dallas USA), PearsonLloyd (London UK).
First ship's (Scarlet Lady) 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 stern (aft) and the signature funnel shape - designed to be a major part of its exterior design. The aft of the superstructure also shows the Promenade Deck and 7 decks of cabin balconies towering above.
Each ship has 86% balcony staterooms and 93% oceanview (outside) cabins. 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. All Virgin ships are Bahamas-flagged (registered in Nassau).
Dining on Virgin Voyages ships is ticket price-inclusive - no extra charges are applied to any of the 20-plus onboard dining options. The cruise company doesn't believe in "paying more for great food", so it ditched traditional surcharges levied in specialty restaurants. All eateries offer "exceptional made-to-order eats" - complimentary.
As part of the company's sustainable travel policy, Virgin banned single-use plastics and there is no buffet food on the ships. All shipboard food is made-to-order - to reduce waste and lower energy consumption and emissions. Savings are reinvested into fresh (locally sourced) top-quality products, exotic ingredients, highly trained staff, and clean technologies. In April 2019 was signed a partnership with Emerald Brand for supplying the fleet with "Tree-Free" (disposable) paper products, including facial-bath tissues, paper towels, napkins, hot cups. Those are made from 60-100% Tree-Free materials via technologies that use by-products of agricultural crops usually wasted or burned.
The company doesn't follow any traditional cruise dining concepts. Virgin ships don't have the main dining room, buffet restaurant, dress code (formal wear policy), assigned dining times or seating. All these concepts were replaced with intimate (boutique hotel-type) eateries offering 20+ dining options - all of which are included in cruise fares.
Among Virgin ships' signature facilities and venues (officially revealed so far) are:
- Athletic Club (training center) is an outdoor gym area with a boxing ring and gym club equipment) located top-deck aft. Part of the Sports Deck is also the raised jogging track (Runway track, red-white colored), sundeck with open-air lounge (furnished with double daybeds and semi-circular loungers), triple netting area (overlooking below decks), 10 private cabanas (cushioned bed, low table, 2 lounge chairs), beverage service (from the outdoor Sports Bar), foosball tables, swimming pool, showers.
- MyBeast is an outdoor playground / poolside gym area.
- The Crow's Nest (aft sundeck) offers 360-degree views and is furnished with loungers and mats colored in Virgin's signature red. Here are also hosted sunrise and sunset outdoor yoga classes.
- The B Complex in an indoor fitness center with Technogym ARTIS equipment, floor-ceiling windows and separate rooms (studios) for cycling, yoga, cardio and spinning classes.
- Gym and Tonic Bar serves cold-pressed fresh juices.
- Pink Agave is a Mexican restaurant with porthole windows, metallic lighting fixtures, large tables, elongated curved area (intimate seating with 2-seat tables), separate bar (in the Lobby), private dining room (can be booked for parties and other private events).
- The Manor is ship's 2-deck high Disco Nightclub with a large dance floor.
- The Dock is an outdoor lounge (aft 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 is a top-deck VIP area (Suite passengers only sundeck) furnished with daybeds, deckchairs, circular loungers, large umbrellas, colored crystals.
- Redemption is ship's Spa complex (on Deck 5) consisting of Reception, Mud Room, Salt Room, Hydrotherapy Pool, cold plunge pool, Jacuzzi, Thermal Suite (indoor spa with porthole windows, plunge pool and Jacuzzi), treatment rooms (for massages and treatments) with quartz-mattress beds, Dry Dock Salon (hairdressing services), Stubble and Groom (barbershop), Blow Dry Bar, Male pedicure Spa, Mani-pedi Spa. At night, the wellness complex transforms into a dancing lounge with live DJ music.
- Razzle Dazzle is the vegan-vegetarian restaurant. Part of Razzle Dazzle is Red Bar - juice bar for fresh-squeezed juices and tonics, as well as crafted cocktails from a menu that varies every night. In two days per voyage, at Razzle Dazzle are hosted Drag Brunches featuring live entertainment by "sassy drag queens".
Via the Sailor App (when your phone is shaken), a secret Champagne button allows ordering Moet-Chandon Champagne (Brut Imperial, 750 ml bottle) delivered in an ice bucket and with two glasses. The service is called "Shake for Champagne" and provided anywhere on the ship. The premium wine can be also enjoyed at The Sip - the ship's wine lounge (Virgin's champagne house).- where also is available traditional British Afternoon Tea service.
Virgin cruise passengers are offered complimentary water (filtered and sparkling) at all onboard bars and restaurants. Throughout the ship, there are also complimentary water stations.
Next image shows another signature detail - Virgin ship's hull art. The Mermaid design (by Toby Tinsley) is Inspired by traditional figureheads mounted on the bows of historic wooden ships. It symbolizes the vessel's feminine spirit.
One of the cruise ships' features is the advanced clean energy system provided by the 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 ~5400 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The ship's waste processing system is provided by Scanship.
On April 30, 2018, Virgin Voyages signed with Wartsila (marine technologies Finnish corporation / former shipbuilder) a 10-year "Optimised Maintenance Agreement" giving the corporation extensive and exclusive responsibility of fleet's technical maintenance. Wartsila's "Dynamic Maintenance Planning" system allows maintenance works to be scheduled based on remotely (real-time) monitored and analyzed vessel performance data. This allows extending service intervals (when onboard equipment doesn't require maintenance).
The Virgin-Wartsila deal includes Remote Operational Support Services, Specific Fuel Oil Consumption, spare parts, engines technical advisory services, comprehensive technical support, personnel training. Wartsila-made ship equipment includes 46F diesel engines, Hybrid Scrubber System, SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction/exhaust gas cleaning) and NACOS Platinum series (navigation and automation control systems).
- 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.
- Propulsion is based on ABB Azipod XO system (electric drive motors with off-hull submerged azimuth thrusters / 360--degree rotating propellers). These units provide best maneuverability (allowing in-port navigation without tug assistance) and minimal vibrations/noise. By placing the propulsion units outside the hull, the Azipod system frees up space for more lower-deck staterooms.
- ABB Ability technology is based on a network using real-time data transferred to remote centers monitoring and analyzing the propulsion system data and also offering remote technical support.
- In July 2017, was announced that Wartsila (marine technologies Finnish corporation / former shipbuilder) is the provider of vessels' power plants. Among Wartsila's core products are large diesel engines for cruise ships and ferries.
In April 2019 was contracted V-Ships Leisure USA (ship management company) which is part of V-Group Ltd (vessel management and support services provider, industry's first with a dedicated cruise ship division). V-Ships Leisure is responsible for Virgin ships' technical support-management and crew sourcing. Staff and crew uniforms were designed by Gareth Pugh.
Next image shows one of the initial (train-like) Virgin ship designs.
Virgin cruise bookings on Scarlet Lady were opened on February 5, 2019 (for customers with pre-sale deposits) and on February 14 (for the general public). Beginning February 5, 2019, at FirstMates.com (dedicated website), the cruise company offers all booking tools and information for travel agents (called "First Mates"), including downloadable and digital materials, interactive learning and more. For February 6th was planned the learning campaign "Cabin Fever" on Scarlet Lady staterooms as they went on sale. The website allows travel agents to make bookings on inaugural cruise season 2020 deals (from February 14) and to contact company's Sailor Services (from February 5) in case they have customers with pre-sale deposits.
Bookings for Valiant Lady cruises (Mediterranean 2021) will be opened on December 19, 2019.
Virgin Cruises' private island resort "Bimini Beach Club" (Bahamas)
The liner Scarlet Lady is the first cruise ship to stop at "Bimini Beach Club" (Virgin Group's private island resort in Bimini Bahamas). The exclusive destination allows Virgin's Sailors to enjoy world-class entertainment from a rotating cast of DJs led by Mark Ronson. Virgin's Bimini Beach Club offers premium food with locally sourced ingredients and traditional Bahamian favorites like banana leaf-wrapped queen snapper, conch and mango salad, Bahamian rum cake. The complex has 6 bars, outdoor lounge areas with hammock groves, beach loungers, watersport activities, (optional/at extra cost) private poolside and beach-side cabanas for rent.
RockStar Suite passengers benefit from complimentary food service, exclusive bar and outdoor terrace lounge, VIP beach cabanas. The 7-mile (11-km) long island offers extraordinary activities like boating, snorkeling, wreck diving. The partially sunk wreck of SS Sapona (concrete-hulled steamship that ran aground in 1926) is located just a few miles off island's southern coast.
Virgin's private resort is located on North Bimini Island and at a short bus transfer from the docking pier. It was built via partnership with Resorts World Bimini. This is a 750-acres (3 km2 / 1,2 ml2) beachfront resort-casino-marina-hotel complex operated by Genting Group (Malaysia-based multinational corporation). North Bimini is approx 68 km (42 ml) east of Miami. Resort's building cost is USD 220 million. Virgin's Bimini Beach Club overlooks the sea and features a large lagoon-style swimming pool. The "resort experience" also features morning open-air exercises (yoga and meditation), afternoon DJ poolside parties, night beach bonfires and live musical performances.
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 (Scarlet Lady) will be initially homeported in PortMiami for 7-day Caribbean itineraries departing on Sundays. During the inaugural season 2020-2021, the liner will also visit Cuba. Company's decision was influenced by conducted customer and travel agency research in the UK and North America. All cruises to Cuba offer overnight stay in Havana, allowing passengers ("sailors") to explore the country's capital and its unique nightlife.
- 5-day "Mayan Sol" itinerary visits Havana (overnight) and Costa Maya (Mexico). In Mexico, shore excursions include scuba diving (coral reefs) and Mayan ruins.
- 5-day "Dominican Daze" itinerary visits Havana (overnight) and Puerto Plata (Amber Cove, Dominican Republic) where shore tours include trekking, surfing, shopping.
The second Virgin ship (TBN) will be also homeported in Miami during the winter 2021-2022 season.
On November 28, 2018, Richard Branson and Tom McAlpin officially announced in Miami company's plans to build a new (Virgin-exclusive) cruise terminal in PortMiami. To be named "Virgin Voyages Terminal", the new facility is sized 100,000 ft2 (9300 m2) and will be located on seaport's northwest side. Approval for the project is pending, with subsequent berthing agreement. Construction works could start in 2019 and be completed by November 2021.
Virgin Voyages passengers benefit from an impressive variety of cruises to choose from in the inaugural 2020 season of the line's new build. The 4- or 5-night "Havana After Dark" itineraries allow Sailors to explore the Cuban culture and include an overnight stay in Cuba's capital city.
- The 5-night Mayan Sol itinerary visits Costa Maya, where travellers can dive at the coral reefs or explore the ancient ruins. The Mayan ruins are just a short distance from the port and colourful coral reefs lie just off-shore. Virgin Voyages partnered with ITM Group to bring its Sailors to the incredible paradise.
- The 5-night Dominican Daze journey takes Virgin guests to Puerto Plata. On the island, they offer trekking, surfing class or shopping trips for handicrafts. Puerto Plata is the perfect place to explore trekking through canyons, catch waves at surf school, or catch a cable car up the mountain.
All Virgin Caribbean cruises depart from homeport Miami Florida. Virgin ships are also seasonally deployed in Europe (via Transatlantic crossings), with planned visits to several major Mediterranean and UK ports (including Dover and Liverpool).
However, following the 2019s (June 5 issued) US Government restrictions on USA to Cuba travel, Virgin Voyages revised all scheduled itineraries to exclude Havana. The new itineraries offer late-night call port departures (including a midnight departure) on all revised Caribbean voyages.
- 5-night "Riviera Maya" itinerary visits Playa Del Carmen (across Cozumel Island), with opportunities to explore archaeological and ecological sites or touring the neighbouring Tulum (walled Mayan city).
- 4-night "Fire and Sunset Soirees" (short-breaks) visit Key West Florida (sunset departure) and Bimini Bahamas (with a late-night beach bonfire party and midnight departure). The line's sailors can experience the cultural paradise of Key West, paired with an exclusive late-night beach bonfire soiree. The artistic fire installation draws inspiration from the fireball sculptures on Branson’s Necker Island.
- 7-night itineraries (for 2020 Xmas holidays) include the themed cruises "Holidaze and Nights" and "New Year’s Ahoy" visiting Puerto Plata (Amber Cove, Dominican Republic) with Bimini Bahamas and San Juan Puerto Rico.
All Virgin Caribbean cruises visit Bimini Bahamas as a private island destination. In August 2019 were announced the Caribbean itineraries for season 2020-2021 (April 1, 2020 through March 2021). They are themed "Mayan Sol", "Dominican Daze", and "Fire and Soirees" and all visit Bimini Island.
Virgin's second cruise ship (Valiant Lady) starts its inaugural cruise season (2021) with 7-day Western Mediterranean roundtrips leaving from homeport Barcelona Spain. The 7-day itineraries (Sunday departures) will feature overnights in large port cities in France, Italy and Spain. Valiant Lady cruise bookings will be opened on December 19, 2019. Valiant Lady will be also seasonally homeported in Sydney (NSW Australia).
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