Getting off a coach in a scorching Fincantieri shipyard in Italy last Friday, we were greeted by the towering gray bow of the first member of the Virgin Voyages family. Pinned to her side, a red curtain fluttered in the breeze, ready for the big reveal – the name of the ship.
There was more glamor than expected but here is a brand which, like its founder, knows how to put on a show. We were greeted at the dock in Genoa by a young team dressed in ‘Vitamin Sea’ brand t-shirts, waving ‘Vitamin Sea’ flags and handing out Vitamin Sea fans – ‘Vitamin Sea’ is the name of wellness on-board program, also announced that day.
It wasn’t long before Virgin Voyages founder Sir Richard Branson and CEO Tom McAlpin got on a speedboat with Stephen Pagliuca, co-chairman of Bain Capital, which invested in Virgin Voyages. . After the introductions, the Branson and McAlpin turned a wheel to flood the ship’s dry dock, a traditional stopover for cruise ships, before we all returned to the Red Curtain.
In what Virgin Voyages dubs a “Shiptease” – he loves ship-based puns (see also: Making ship happening), the curtain has been drawn down to reveal the words “Scarlet Lady”, a name inspired by the one of the first planes that flew for Virgin Atlantic.
Dee Cooper, senior vice president of design at Virgin Voyages, then explained the plans to launch the âScarlet Squadâ program, aimed at supporting female talent on board and increasing the opportunities to access leadership roles in companies. areas on board such as maritime, technical and hotel management.
Virgin Voyages will begin recruiting its maritime crew in early 2019. Cooper said, âWe want to see more women rise to power and take command of our ships. We want to see more women engineers in our engine control rooms and we want to build a bridge and see more women leading us into the future.
Later that afternoon, Branson echoed the sentiment, “If there’s a male captain and a female captain, and they’re also qualified, we’ll hire the female.” “
Soon we were back on the coach to head to another ceremony – the steel cutting of Virgin Voyages’ next ship. This was given more sizzle with the addition of fire-breathing torches.
Then we entered under a giant warehouse roof into an area decorated with trees hung with light bulbs. Two long trestle tables covered with gingham tablecloths were set up for lunch. At the front, a podium and a giant television screen. We had already been given clips of the two big announcements of the day (after the name was revealed) – the Vitamin Sea program and the plan to ban single-use plastics on board.
At lunch, these announcements were supplemented by two videos. The first used computer-generated images to illustrate how Vitamin Sea works on board. It included views of The Crow’s Nest – a yoga-ready platform with a 360-degree view of the ocean, the fully painted ship at sea, and the Redemption Spa.
The second covered the sustainable development plans of Virgin Voyages.
To mark the ban on single-use plastic, Branson smashed a giant plastic water bottle with a hammer. Then, as the formalities were wrapped up and Rihanna was screaming through the speakers, he jumped onto a table to dance.
Soon after, he and McAlpin joined us for a question and answer session. Branson explained his enthusiasm: “I haven’t been involved in the travel world for quite some time since I left Virgin Atlantic many years ago.” He explained how he was first interested in launching a cruise ship when he was 27, he is now 68.
McAlpin has extensive experience in the field, most notably as President of Disney Cruise Line. But Branson admitted he had never been on a cruise before and one of our party must have educated him on the tradition of appointing a ship godmother. But could his enthusiasm and the Virgin brand attract a new demographic?
âWe will attract newbies and what the industry needs are newbies,â McAlpin said. “There’s a whole bunch of people who won’t navigate because they don’t like stigma or don’t know or trust brands. [that are on the market]. But they will trust the Virgin brand, âhe added.
Perhaps reasonably, neither Branson nor McAlpin would say how old, on average, they expect Virgin Voyages sailors to be. Branson settled down on: “Young at heart who want to have a good time.”
Virgin Voyages does not publish cruise prices yet, nor details such as excursions or WiFi will be included in the rate. However, Branson adds, âIt’s all going to be sort of five star, but fun. And not five-star prices.
As the guests continued the party, Branson set off on a boat trip. It leaves us with the possibility that Scarlet Lady could visit UK waters before setting sail in 2020. “We want to show her,” Branson said. “We are all quite proud of this ship, and the UK is our birthplace.”