Update: On March 12, Virgin Voyages announced that it will delay its launch until the summer due to the “global health crisis.” The inaugural sailing is now scheduled for August 2020.
A statement posted on the cruise line’s website said, “As a brand, Virgin has always championed our customers and, most importantly, listened to them. With those principles in mind and based on your feedback, our team has made the very difficult decision to postpone the Showcase Tour launch and inaugural sailing season for Scarlet Lady until July 15, 2020, with our Maiden Voyage taking place August 7, 2020.”
Think that the news about coronavirus has hit the cruise industry hard? Imagine launching an entirely new cruise line during what is arguably the most difficult period for cruising since the Great Recession.
That’s exactly what Virgin Voyages faces as it sets to debut at the end of this month. The Richard Branson-backed cruise line welcomes its first ship to the fleet, Scarlet Lady, as she sails from Miami on four and five-night itineraries to Mexico, Key West, and the Bahamas.
Its regular itinerary of cruises is scheduled to begin April 1, but the line will feature two preview cruises that last three nights, with visits to the cruise line’s “Beach Club at Bimini.” The first of those two cruises departs March 26.
Not Just a New Ship… A New Way of Cruising
While new cruise ships regularly debut across lines, it’s rare that an entirely new cruise line makes it debut. What’s even more newsworthy are the changes that Virgin Voyages is making to the standard model of sailing.
First and foremost, the new line is decidedly targeted at younger passengers who might not otherwise take a cruise. Onboard you’ll find features including a tattoo parlor, exclusive DJ sets, a record shop and karaoke spaces. There are also no passengers under 18 years old allowed.
But simply targeting a different audience is just the start of how Virgin Voyages promises to bring fresh ideas to the industry. For instance, there is no buffet on the ship — unheard of among other cruise lines. With more than 20 places to get a bite to eat, passengers have a lot of options on types of food, from Korean BBQ to Mexican, Italian, and more.
Meanwhile, all food, gratuities, and internet are included in the cruise fare. Single-use plastics are non-existent on the ship.
Even the design of the ship is completely different from any other cruise line. On the exterior the grey and scarlet paint job mixed with a unique hull design ensure that a Virgin ship is unmistakable from its competitors. Inside, bold and modern decor looks like nothing else at sea.
Coronavirus Already Having an Impact
Of course, as we’ve seen over the past several weeks, the fear of coronavirus is having a major impact on everything — especially cruise lines.
In response, Virgin Voyages — despite not even sailing it debut cruise — has implemented some of the most stringent measures in the industry to quell any potential outbreak.
For instance, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry group that covers most cruise lines including Virgin, implemented a ban on passengers who have been to China, South Korea, Iran, or Italy in the past 14 days.
Virgin Voyages has gone beyond that directive and will deny boarding to anyone who has been to these areas in the last 21 days before boarding.
The cruise line is also following industry policy in that passengers who have had contact or cared for anyone suspected or confirmed to have the virus in the past 14 days will be denied boarding.
Additionally, the Virgin Voyages will screen passengers who experience any symptoms of the virus before they can board.
Will Virgin Voyages Be a Hit?
While a new cruise line is exciting, and the industry has been abuzz for months with the changes that Virgin Voyages is bringing, it’s too early to tell if it will be a hit with consumers.
There are signs that the cruise line may have its work cut out to fill cabins.
Right now, there is still space available on each sailing, including its inaugural sailing on April 1 (as mentioned, there are also two “Sneak-A-Peek” cruises beginning in late March). On this debut sailing, oceanview, balcony and suite cabins are all still available.
As well, there are a number of discounts and deals offered, and they have seemingly increased over the past few months.
Passengers booking now can receive a $100 bar bonus if they buy a $300 prepaid bar tab. There is also an offer of up to $400 in “Sailor Loot” (onboard credit) that has been extended until March 31 after an initial deadline of February 14. Finally, passengers can now book “Lock It In” rates — a discounted rate that offers less flexibility as far as cancellations, but a much cheaper price.
Keep in mind that these sorts of discounts and deals are used by cruise lines across the industry as a technique to keep ships full. And with the coronavirus outbreak hitting cruising as a whole, it’s definitely a tougher task to fill any ship right now.
Big Plans for the Future
There’s no doubt that Virgin Voyages is not for everyone, nor is it meant to be for everyone. Just as super-luxury line offers a different experience than a mass-market cruise line, Virgin Voyages seems to fill a niche in the market for younger cruise passengers.
Until now, this market hasn’t been ignored, but it hasn’t been focused on as closely as Virgin appears to be doing. Given that there are about 70 million adults under 35 years old in the United States, it has the potential to be a large segment that Virgin could tap into for years to come.
And despite making its debut during a turbulent time, the cruise line already has big plans for the future outside of the U.S. The cruise line’s second ship — Valiant Lady — is already on order.
Valiant Lady will sail the Mediterranean on 7- night cruises from Barcelona. It’s set to debut in May 2021.
The good news is that if and when the coronavirus chapter closes, it should be much smoother sailing for all cruise lines, including Virgin Voyages.
For more on the cruise line and to see its upcoming sailings, you can visit VirginVoyages.com. Trips from Miami aboard the Scarlet Lady start at around $650 per person.