Richard Branson is sailing in new waters with the launch of his first cruise ship, taking a bold step for younger travelers in an undeniably embarrassing moment for the industry.
The founder of Virgin launched Scarlet Lady on Friday, hoping that its modern design and an adult-only rule will prompt younger vacationers to take a look at the cruises.
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The ship has docked at the port of Dover in England and will enter service in April, mainly offering trips around the Caribbean from a base in Miami.
“The Scarlet Lady is truly special and we have worked with some of the world’s most sought after designers, artists and architects to create an extraordinary experience,” said Branson as he presented the ship to the media on Friday.
But the launch comes as another liner – Diamond Princess – comes to the end of a 14-day quarantine amid the coronavirus outbreak.
A total of 624 confirmed virus cases were linked to the ship during its isolation in Tokyo bay, with 79 new cases confirmed Wednesday.
After testing the waters of almost all other travel activities over the course of his long career, setting his name on trains, planes and spaceships after initially launching Virgin as a record store, the entrepreneur claims that the launch of the ship marks the realization of a long-standing ambition.
“I have dreamed of starting my cruise line since I was 20 and I am thrilled that that moment has come,” he said.
Branson’s quest for young vacationers has produced elements not found on many other cruise ships: there is a striped drinking place called Razzle Dazzle, a Korean restaurant called Geonbae and a tattoo and piercing salon called Squid Ink .
The ship also features 78 luxurious RockStar Suites.
These include 15 Mega RockStar Suites, which are further divided into Massive, Fab, Posh and Gorgeous Suites. Prices for those come to around $ 19,000 per cabin, while cheaper cabins start at around $ 1,600 for three and four-day tours.
In the meantime, Branson has been busy bragging about the liner’s “most programmable spot”, a dark room with multiple mirrors decorated with hundreds of white lights.
Aside from fears about the coronavirus, the cruise vacation industry is catching on. In 2019, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, 30 million passengers should have sailed, compared to 17.8 million a decade earlier.
However, this rapid growth has its own problems. Congestion in ports around the world has raised complaints from locals and the environmental impact of high-pollution ships is under renewed scrutiny, particularly among the younger travelers Branson hopes to attract.
Branson promotes “a journey like no other”
Branson is heading out with a wind behind him; the shares of his Virgin Galactic company have skyrocketed nearly 200% since the company was made public last October, reinforced by optimism about the company’s plans to launch a commercial space service.
Forbes, on his most recent annual list of billionaires in the world, estimated Branson’s net worth at $ 4.1 billion.
Scarlet Lady is the first of three ships scheduled by Virgin Voyages, the cruise arm of the Branson empire, which she set up in late 2014.
Two more are scheduled for delivery in 2021 and 2022.
The ship weighs 60,000 tons, according to the Virgin Voyages website.
According to the ship’s builder, Fincantieri, it extends for 278 meters in length and 38 in width. With 1,430 cabins, it will carry over 2,770 passengers and 1,160 crew members.
The designers behind the suites claim to have appealed to Virgin’s rock and roll heritage, with rooms that mention icons including Grace Jones, and that sailors can expect a retro-futuristic vibe throughout the ship’s accommodation.
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For customers with particularly deep pockets, the Massive Suite will present a music room equipped with guitars, an amplifier and a special private panoramic point in the front of the ship.
It also has a private terrace with a standing hot tub, a large “walkway” table for entertaining guests and an outdoor “Peek-a-View” shower that offers sea views.
And all suite guests will have access to Richard’s Rooftop, an “exclusive chic outdoor living room”.
Branson hopes to mitigate environmental concerns by banning disposable plastic on board the ship.
He says his corporate expertise informed the project from the start. “The advantage of our fifty years of activity in so many sectors is that we can offer a trip like no other,” he said in a press release on Friday.