Virgin Voyages to name first ship Scarlet Lady

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Virgin Voyages will name its first ship Scarlet Lady as it plans to launch a programme to recruit more female crew members in male-dominated roles.

Sir Richard Branson revealed the name today at the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa where it is being built.

The name, which also appeared on one of the earliest Virgin Atlantic planes, “reflects the brand’s iconic mermaid image”, according to the line, which will appear on the hull of the adult-only ship due to launch in 2020.

Virgin Voyages will launch a “Scarlet Squad” initiative aimed at recruiting and mentoring female crew in onboard areas such as marine, technical and hotel management, which statistically show low numbers of female staff and senior management.

Travel Weekly joined Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard and Virgin Voyages president and chief executive Tom McAlpin in Italy where the line was celebrating construction milestones, including the flooding of the ship’s drydock and a ceremony to cut the first pieces of steel for its second ship, due for delivery in 2021. Virgin Voyages will launch the third ship in 2022.

More details of the ship’s onboard features were also revealed.

“Across the maritime industry, we can do better in onboard recruiting and leadership representation for women,” McAlpin said. “I want all future crew to know that Virgin Voyages will create an onboard environment that is fair, inclusive and where everyone has an opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Sir Richard and McAlpin also announced the company will eliminate the use of passenger-facing single-use plastics, including straws, bottled water, other beverage bottles, condiment packets, shopping bags, food packaging, stirrers, and take-away coffee and tea cups.

The company will emphasize the use of recyclable and reusable materials across the ship.

Complimentary filtered still and sparkling water will be available at all bars and restaurants, as well as at Natura filtered water stations on the ship.

“Nothing makes me prouder than seeing companies like Virgin Voyages striving to make a positive impact on the world we live in,” Sir Richard said. “Business is a force for good and can and must be the catalyst for global change.”

“We believe that in order to fulfil our purpose of creating an ‘Epic Sea Change for All,’ we must make a commitment that is bigger than just eliminating straws,” added McAlpin. “We must make a commitment to building ships and experiences that do everything possible to look after the well-being of our precious oceans. We are delighted with what we’ve achieved so far and will continue to push ourselves to look for innovative ways to do things that will make a difference.”

Richard Branson’s cruise venture named Virgin Voyages

Richard Branson, accompanied by dancers, makes his entrance during Tuesday’s Virgin Voyages event. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

MIAMI BEACH — The Virgin Group cruise line will sail under the name Virgin Voyages, the company said Tuesday.

“I’ve never fancied going on a cruise ship but I do fancy going on a voyage,” said Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, shortly after making his characteristically flamboyant entrance to the press conference at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach.

The line had been going by the name Virgin Cruises since the venture was announced in the summer of 2015.

Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin said that the company remains on track to take delivery of the first of three 110,000-gross-ton ships that it has on order from Fincantieri in 2020, with the next two ships to follow in 2021 and 2022.

Fincantieri will begin cutting steel in February, he said, and keel laying will come toward the end of 2017.

Virgin didn’t reveal many details about the vessels, which are each slated to carry 2,700 guests and 1,150 crew members. But the company is promising a transformative product that will differentiate the Virgin Voyages experience from other cruise lines.

“It’s incredibly exciting. It’s under lock and key,” Branson said of the design specifics and ship offerings, noting that he didn’t want Virgin’s competitors to learn too much too soon.

One thing McAlpin did reveal is that Virgin Voyages is the first cruise line to enter into a partnership with Climeon, a Swedish green energy solutions company.

Together the companies will install a system on the Virgin vessels that will convert the heat the ships produce into clean energy. Each ship will have six Climeon engine units, which will save an estimated 5,400 tons of carbon dioxide annually per vessel.

“It would take 180,000 trees 30 years to absorb this much CO2,” McAlpin said.

He said that Virgin has all but completed a multibillion-dollar financing deal with lead lending partners CDP and UniCredit, backed by the Italian export agency SACE.

“We just need the final rubber stamp from the Italian government,” McAlpin said.

Virgin Cruises tasked with offering distinctive experience on smaller ships

Virgin Cruise Concept Drawing.

Virgin Cruises’ decision to order ships that are smaller than those commissioned recently by its future competitors has prompted questions about whether it will have enough room to fashion a distinctive onboard experience.

The line, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group business empire, in June ordered three ships from the Fincantieri shipyard for delivery after 2020, when it plans to launch weekly Caribbean cruises.

The ships will each be about 110,000 gross tons and carry 2,860 passengers at double capacity, Branson revealed at an appearance in Miami last month along with Virgin executives.

That capacity is far less than recent orders, for example, for as much as 6,000 passengers for Carnival Corp.’s Aida Cruises brand in Germany, 5,400 for Royal Caribbean International, 4,500 for MSC Cruises, 4,200 for Norwegian Cruise Line and 3,954 for Carnival Cruise Line.

All those lines sail at least one ship from Miami, the homeport where Branson said Virgin will launch its line.

When it comes to setting prices, larger ships provide economies of scale that can help reduce fares while still generating profits.

“Virgin is in a very difficult position to differentiate themselves from everybody else. The key for their success is how they differentiate their onboard product.” — Art Rodney, Crystal Cruises founder

Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Cruises, said that while pricing has not been disclosed, it will likely be above the cheapest fares advertised for seven-day itineraries.

“We’re not going to be a budget brand,” McAlpin said in an interview. “What Virgin has done in the past has been to give you a better experience at the same price point.”

To do that, it helps to have a generous amount of public space to work with. Virgin has not disclosed its onboard activities or designs yet but has emphasized that it will stand apart from the pack.

A key measure for new ships is the space ratio, which divides gross tonnage into the number of passengers carried. The higher the ratio, the more room for larger cabins and public spaces.

Mark Conroy, who helped design several ships as president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises in the 1990s, said the key question is how big the cabins will be on Virgin Cruises.

“There is only so much square footage, particularly outside space, that needs to be divided between technical space, public spaces and staterooms,” Conroy said. “The technical space is pretty standardized, so then it becomes a balancing act between public space and suites and cabins. The larger you make the suites/cabins, the less space you have for public room.”

Art Rodney, one of the founders of Crystal Cruises, said that at 38.5, the Virgin ship’s space ratio is “no better than and in some cases worse than other large ships,” such as the MSC Divina or Royal Princess, both of which have space ratios of 40.

“Virgin is in a very difficult position to differentiate themselves from everybody else,” Rodney said. “The key for their success is how they differentiate their onboard product.”

McAlpin agreed, saying the “different programmatic elements” will set Virgin apart.

He said the ships are still in the design phase and urged potential passengers to weigh in on Virgin’s website to say what they would want to see and do on a Virgin vessel.

But McAlpin also said that if the ship is smaller than its competitors, that will make it different too.

“If everyone out there is building ships of one size and you have a different size, it does provide a level of differentiation,” he said.

McAlpin cited consumer research as the main factor in deciding how big to build. He said those surveyed expressed concerns about being on a mega ship with thousands of fellow passengers.

“We believe a slightly smaller ship gives us a good platform,” McAlpin said. “It’s big enough to provide us with a variety of experiences but small enough to provide a more intimate atmosphere.”