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Sir Richard Branson has never been on a cruise. Yet on Thursday, Feb. 14, reservations opened for Branson’s very own cruise line, Virgin Voyages.
Since he was 27, Branson has dreamt about creating a cruise ship he would actually like to sail on. During a morning press conference, moderated by The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly, at the One World Observatory in New York City, we learned new details about what Virgin Voyages will offer its so-called sailors.
A New Loyalty Program Will Debut
The cruise industry is not known for having especially valuable loyalty programs. Branson, Virgin Group’s founder, said he wants to change that.
“I don’t think we’ve done it very well at Virgin,” Branson admitted of Virgin Group during the press conference. “We are setting up something called Virgin Red, which will pull the various Virgin companies together.” And that means one day soon — potentially this year — you’ll be able to collect points from your Virgin Atlantic flights, your Virgin Voyages sailings and maybe even your travels to space on Virgin Galactic.
And as Branson pointed out during a Talking Points podcast late last year, there are 13 Virgin companies right now, including Virgin Hotels and Virgin Trains.
So, theoretically, sailors could earn miles on a Virgin Voyages trip (or a Virgin mobile plan) to cash in on a Virgin Atlantic or Australia flight or even toward a trip outside Earth’s atmosphere.
The Secret Destination Is in the Bahamas
Sadly, you won’t be able to visit Branson on Necker Island during a Virgin Voyages sailing. Instead, the cruise line’s secret island getaway will be an exclusive experience on an island in the Bahamas. And we’re pretty sure it won’t be a Fyre Island repeat.
During the press conference, Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin said the seven-mile-long island of Bimini will be home to The Beach Club at Bimini, inspired by the famous beach clubs of Ibiza, Saint Tropez and Mykonos.
Grammy-Award-winning and mega-producer DJ Mark Ronson will play the first set on Bimini for Virgin’s DJ residency program. He will play four times in 2020.
There Won’t Be Any Buffets
“One thing I hated [about cruise ships] was buffets,” Branson said. As a result, sailors won’t find a trace of the traditional cruise ship buffet on the line’s first vessel, the Scarlet Lady. Instead, they’ll be able to dine at more than 20 restaurants, bars and more (think: Korean barbecue, upscale Mexican).
“We got rid of the buffet, dress codes, assigned seatings, main dining hall,” said Virgin Voyages’ CCO and head of sailor experience, Nirmal Saverimuttu. Instead, there will be a food truck lineup, specialty restaurants, almost 24-hour dining for sailors with late-night munchies, extended eating times, glam brunches. And it will all be included with your stateroom.
It’s for People Who Don’t Cruise
While Branson, who left school at 15 to start his own business, argues that 16-year-olds can be grown-ups, Virgin will be exclusively for travelers 18 and up. (Branson said he dreamed once of starting a cruise line for under-30 travelers, but that people who are young at heart will fit right in.)
“We have done a ton of research really trying to create a sophisticated experience,” said McAlpin. “I’ve done some personal research. We found that when you put kids in the pool, they scream, and we don’t want that.”
According to Virgin’s research, there’s an enormous amount of people who would never dream of going on a cruise ship — but would consider sailing with Virgin Voyages. “I don’t think [we’ll necessarily be] taking people away from other cruise ships.” Instead, Virgin Voyages hopes to sail directly into a brand new, untapped market.
There Won’t Be Any Broadway Shows
And don’t call it cruise ship entertainment, either. On Virgin Voyages, travelers can expect “events and gigs,” according to Saverimuttu. “We heard from our sailors they really weren’t people who wanted watered down Broadway productions.”
Instead of a traditional main theater, there will be The Red Room: a “transformational theater” with four different configurations where people can be immersed in the entertainment. There will be interactive dance parties, contemporary theatrical experiences, DJ sets, “micro-plays,” games of dodgeball at 1am … You get the idea.
Wi-Fi Will Be Included
Virgin Voyages also hopes to disrupt the traditional cruise market by offering fares that include Wi-Fi (Saverimuttu said “Wi-Fi is a basic human right”), basic beverages, group fitness classes, gratuities and service charges. All those specialty meals and late-night munchies will also be included, though certain excursions and liquor will be extra.
What you won’t find onboard? Any single-use plastics. As in, zero. Another tweak the Virgin team has made to the standard cruise itinerary is that all sailings will feature overnight or late departures at the ports of call, letting travelers experience a destination’s nightlife scene.
Best of all, you can join Branson onboard the Scarlet Lady for a four-night Birthday Bash Voyage to Cuba in July 2020.
All photos courtesy of Virgin Voyages unless otherwise noted.
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