Virgin Voyages’ first ship Scarlet Lady will set sail for UK shores for a fleeting visit before it heads across the Atlantic to sail Caribbean itineraries, group founder Richard Branson has revealed.
Speaking at a press conference at the Fincantieri shipyard Branson said: “We like [the Virgin group’s] UK heritage. We will bring the ship to the UK to showcase it to our travel partners. We may pop up the Thames, although we wouldn’t want to get it stuck,” he joked.
“I want to show the ship off to the UK where we were born. Maybe it will be Southampton, I don’t know. But I would definitely love to come and show her off to everyone.”
It came as Branson confirmed the adult-only line may look to build child-friendly ships in future as he acknowledged the decision to initially go adults-only was a bold one.
“The first three ships are likely to be adult-only, and stay adult-only,” he said. “But at some stage we’ll definitely have ships for kids.
“We were the first airline to stop people smoking cigarettes on our planes in the ‘80s - people thought we were mad but people came all over to fly on our planes. And so we wanted to do something radical in this way [with the cruise line].”
Chief executive Tom McAlpin added the line had conducted extensive research which led to the decision to have adult-only ships, but he agreed with Branson this could change in future.
“We love kids but our research showed us that people, especially mums, want some time away from their children as well”.
“Not having children onboard means everything can be orientated towards adults, including the experiences when the ship calls at cities,” Branson added. “But in a few years time we’ll have a lot of fun developing the best kids ships.
“We want to keep this shipyard busy for decades to come.”
Elsewhere TTG quizzed Branson and McAlpin as to why Virgin Voyages ships were not being built to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), perceived by many to be a greener fuel.
“We’re using scrubbers [an exhaust gas cleaning technology]. We looked at LNG but it didn’t fit for us,” McAlpin explained. “It’s an up and coming fuel but it’s not available in ports around the world. We couldn’t have ships that you can’t take around the world.”
Branson added that Virgin Voyages was also working in partnership with Virgin Atlantic which is exploring turning waste steel gases into jet fuel. “If we get enough then we will use as a fuel on our cruise ships as well”, he said.
Meanwhile Branson confirmed he expected to see the second Virgin Voyages ship placed in the Mediterranean.
However he and McAlpin remained tightlipped when asked by TTG what sort of excursions – and their pricing - would be offered.
“Our ships will be more inclusive than what we see in the market”, McAlpin said, but suggested excursions wouldn’t be included in the price, adding: “I think excursions are personable and the experience needs to be different and unique for each person”.
He also refused to reveal the line’s plans for WiFi and whether it would be an additional cost, adding news of this would be revealed at a later date.
Elsewhere Branson dismissed questions as to whether the line was aiming to attract an average age of passenger, insisting only that the line’s customers be “young at heart”.
“If you’re getting on our ship and you don’t want a good time then don’t come on. We want the young at heart – and those who can dance on tables!”
On the company’s focus on championing women as part of its Scarlet Squad programme, McAlpin said: “We are looking to step in and do things differently – we want to attract more women.”
“If there was a female captain and a male captain, and both were equally qualified, we would choose the women,” Branson added. “That’s the only way things are going to change.”
Meanwhile Branson didn’t mince his words when asked by TTG if he was concerned about launching a new cruise line at such a time of uncertainty in the UK as the country braces for Brexit. “I’m worried about the UK generally, because of Brexit. Personally I think it’s a dreadful mistake, and for people’s earning power going forward.
“We had the biggest GDP in Europe - now we have the weakest. But it is what it is. And if people can’t afford to come on our cruises because of Brexit, then at least there is a whole world market out there we can look to.”