Virgin Voyages replaces cruise calls on Key West following community outcry
New cruise line Virgin Voyages has removed Key West port calls from its itineraries, citing its desire to respect locals' decision to ban ships carrying more than 1,300 passengers.
In late 2020, island residents voted to prevent large vessels from docking and to prioritize docking privileges for cruise lines with the best environmental and health records.
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In summer 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that overturned Key West's right to limit the size of ships that are allowed to call. Despite the bill, Virgin swapped Key West calls with visits to Nassau in the Bahamas, at least temporarily. The changes will be in effect on Scarlet Lady's four-night "Fire and Sunset Soiree" sailings in October.
"Part of our brand ethos is ... respecting the communities we visit and making a positive impact," the line said last week in a statement to travel agents. "We are actively working on a plan that suits the local Key West community, as well as our [passengers], and are hopeful that we'll [return to] Key West soon."
In Nassau, Virgin plans to offer activities such as snorkeling and diving, forest treks, fish fries and distillery tours, but it's not the only Bahamian port the line plans to explore. It recently developed a private beach club area for its passengers on the island of Bimini, offering water sports, Bahamian-inspired cuisine and nighttime bonfires.
The line, which makes no apologies for trying to separate itself from other players in the cruise industry, refers to its passengers as "sailors," eschews buffets, won't allow children on board and features several at-sea firsts, including an onboard tattoo parlor and a "shake for Champagne" feature that allows you to order bubbly from anywhere on the ship by simply shaking your phone.
On Aug. 18, the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships tweeted a thank-you note to Virgin:
"Huge respect to [Virgin Voyages] today for doing the right thing and pulling out of Key West," the committee said on Twitter. "A lot of cruise lines say they respect the communities they visit. Virgin is the first to back it up with concrete action."
At least two other cruise lines -- Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line, both owned by Carnival Corp. -- are scheduled to call on Key West later this year. Carnival declined to comment for this article, but Holland America said it plans to keep Key West on its ships' schedules for now.