Whatever you do, don’t call it a cruise. Call it a voyage.
In fact, Richard Branson, founder of the world-renowned Virgin Group, was so inclined to stress the difference that he changed the original name of Virgin Cruises to Virgin Voyages in October 2016, less than two years after establishing his entrance into the cruise market.
“I have never been on a cruise, and never wanted to,” admitted Branson. “[Cruises] sound stuffy and dull. But I would love to go on a voyage — they sound adventurous, exciting, and glamourous.”
The British billionaire, who’s had his hands in other industries from music to banking, fitness to communications, said that he’s wanted to start a cruise line since he was 27 years old. When that dream finally turned to fruition and he set out to attract non-cruisers like himself, cruise fanatics were on the edge of their Lido Deck chairs waiting to see what Richard Branson was planning to do to change the course of cruising.
For starters, he assured future sailors — not passengers or guests — an at-sea experience unlike any other, promising to “make waves” by creating “an epic sea change for all,” a statement that has come to be the brand’s cruise purpose.
Branson’s Brand Influences
A risk-taker in every sense of the word, Branson never does anything subtly. Take the 2007 launch of Virgin America’s inaugural flight, when he created buzz by bungee jumping off the Palms Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. Or that he made Guinness World Record history in 1987 when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon. Then, in 1991, he crossed the Pacific Ocean the same way.
So it was apropos when he arrived to the first Virgin cruise line press conference in June 2015 in his true style: via helicopter, which flew over Miami’s Biscayne Bay and landed on the waterfront lawn in front of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, where he announced to the crowd that PortMiami will be the homeport for Virgin’s first ship.
But the revelations didn’t end when the chopper blades stopped spinning. Branson went on to truly drive home his outlook on work — and life — when he actually cut off the neckties of several government officials and port and shipyard executives, later writing in his blog that he did it to “show the crowd the way we do business at Virgin.”
Adults Only Cruise
To kick off its epic sea change, Branson and Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Voyages, revealed the first major difference: Its first ship will be adults only. Less kids’ clubs and waterslides, more spaces to wind down or party it up. The line calls it “adult by design,” saying that eliminating the unpredictability of kids will provide a more stress-free experience. (No word yet whether those pesky little passengers will be allowed on subsequent sister ships, which are set to debut in 2021, 2022, and 2023.)
The first fleet, known as the “Lady Ships,” is a play on the term “your ladyship,” a nod to Virgin’s British heritage. And the name of Virgin Voyages’ first ship, Scarlet Lady, was inspired by Virgin Atlantic, originally appearing on one of the airline’s earliest planes. The hull of Scarlet Lady features the name, as well as the brand’s iconic mermaid image, which “reflects a powerful spirit guide who is creating a whole new way to travel.”
During the course of shipbuilding, Virgin slowly released other details of its highly anticipated first ship. From the world’s first tattoo parlor at sea to a drag performer brunch, Branson was certainly driving home the point that this is not your ordinary onboard experience.
Other brand influences that have taken to sea can be found in the décor and design, including lots of modern accents in that renowned, vibrant Virgin red. Forget White Hot theme parties and pack your red instead for the Scarlet Night party. Then take a seat in The Red Room entertainment venue for the evening performance.
Music at the Forefront
Since music was at the forefront of the start of the Virgin brand (in 1970, Branson launched a mail-order record business that would become Virgin Records), his musical roots infiltrate as well. The Manor nightclub, named after Branson’s first recording studio; The Groupie, a private, Japanese-style karaoke room; and the Voyage Vinyl record shop, complete with music magazines and listening stations, are all venues where you can get your jam on. And those fancy accommodations you dream of splurging on are not just suites — they are RockStar suites and come with perks that include access to Richard’s Rooftop, an exclusive outdoor deck space for parties and cocktail hours.
Even the crew uniforms reflect Branson’s relaxed style by providing casual yet fashionable comfort, which he says is key to being confident and doing your best work.
Virgin’s relaxed company culture and dedication to its employees exudes diversity, equality, and inclusiveness. The line supports LGBTQ+ and Pride celebrations and is clear that all are welcome on board. It also launched the….
By Elizabeth Berg
Photo: Virgin Voyages