Sir Richard Branson is embarking on a new adventure — he is taking on the cruise industry. And, as with everything this man of a certain age does, he is going to disrupt them, in a way only Virgin can.
First, Virgin Voyages will be adults only, allowing “sailors” (Virgin’s name for their guests) who have to be 18 years of age or older to embark, to be free and not be disturbed by children running around, even their own. (Book the babysitter now!)
Second, for the indoor and outdoor spaces Branson has commissioned three designers who have never worked on cruise liners before. Design Research Studio based in London will take on Richard’s Rooftop, a VIP outdoor lounge and Pink Agave, an upscale Mexican restaurant. New York-based Roman and Williams are designing The Manor, the signature nightclub and The Dock, an outdoor relaxation space. Concrete Amsterdam has The Athletic Club, an all-in-one sports club, athletic area and sports bar, and The Test Kitchen, a very sterile-looking laboratory-themed restaurant.
The design styles have influences from the golden age of sea voyages in the 1920s and ‘30s to retro futurism and nightlife style from Studio 54. Tom Dixon of Design Research Studio said on the Virgin Voyages website he’s embracing the fact he’s being encouraged to be disruptive and not wanting to be like anybody else. “That’s the whole idea right? We want to be completely different.”
Branson and Virgin Voyages are entering the cruise space at the right time. The cruise industry has seen growth from approximately $23.3 billion to $37.8 billion in 2017 with the ships growing to mega proportion with every kind of technology included for passengers’ entertainment and convenience. The growing trends are new expedition cruises offering more experiences and adventure, and cruise companies investing in their own private islands. Those into wellness travel will see an uptick in on-board seminars, spa services, exercise and fitness programs, and of course menus providing dishes to compliment the day’s activities to thwart you from engulfing the midnight buffet. Millennials are being targeted too. The industry is designing river cruises with stops for walking tours and sightseeing, and on board more craft beer, silent discos and rooftop yoga.
Virgin Voyages’ three ships, which is costing an estimated $2.5 billion, are scheduled to set sail in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Each liner will have the capacity to accommodate 2,700 sailors with the first one due to make its maiden voyage from Port Miami to the Caribbean in 2020. Names for the vessels have yet to be announced nor has Branson said if his own private island will be on any itinerary.
Mr. Dixon puts it into words we think Mr. Branson would agree with. “Big ships have got a romance about them and they are astonishing to see in so many ways. The scale of them as man-made objects is fascinating.”