Cruising with Richard Branson


When Virgin boss Richard Branson announced he was going into cruise ships, there was immediately speculation as to what the successful entrepreneur might come up with. Tom McAlpin, President and CEO of Virgin Voyages talked to Cruise&Travel Asia about the company’s plans

So I’ve booked aboard a Virgin Voyage.  What are the differences I am going to experience compared to other cruise lines?
“Virgin Voyages has an ambition to create the world’s more irresistible vacation at sea. There is definitely a style and attitude to sailing with us that we think you will love. Travel should always feel exhilarating and never just be about getting from one place to another. When sailors board our gorgeous ships we want to deliver something different and create a holiday that is one of the best you’ll ever take.”
Where is Virgin Voyages positioned: luxury, Premium, Family, contemporary?
“Virgin Voyages positioning is bold, romantic, glamorous and very modern. It’s fair to say that we won’t be a budget line but like every Virgin business we aim to deliver extraordinary value. And like many of our other brands this will be the ultimate in inclusive exclusivity.”
Virgin has always been known for its crews having a very different attitude.  Will that be the same on Virgin Voyages and how will passengers see this in practicality?
“As Richard says, the simple answer to what makes us different is our people. Virgin has always disrupted the status quo. We know how critical our people are to creating an unmistakable Virgin experience at sea. By taking care of our people, we know they will take greater care of our guests.”
What destinations are Virgin Voyages going to concentrate on?  And will Australia, New Zealand or Asia be among them?  If yes, what’s planned?
“Virgin Voyages is looking at many ports. It is premature to speak about any specific ports, but the consideration is certainly global. We are interested in hearing from travel professionals and sailors on where they would like to see us sail. In fact feel free to tweet us @virginvoyages or join us on Facebook to share your thoughts”
The ships look different from some of the renderings we’ve seen.   But take us aboard; what will the food offerings be like, what about activities like water slides, what about cabins and how about the entertainment.  How will they be marked out as different on Virgin Voyages?
“While we certainly love the anticipation for our ships, the excitement has jumped ahead of where we actually are as those renderings are not from Virgin Voyages. What I can promise is gorgeous ships and brilliant experiences.” 
Sir Richard said: “The only reason we ever go into a new industry is if we feel it’s lacking in something and I think there are a lot of people who just would never go on a cruise ship. We basically decided, let’s have a blank sheet of paper, let’s create the kind of voyage company that we would like to go on,’ and that’s what we’ve done.” What will Virgin Voyages do that Royal Caribbean or Carnival hasn’t done?
“We are very focused on what Virgin Voyages’ sailors want from us versus looking at what others in the industry are doing. Innovation, adaptability and the boldness to depart from the expected defines the vision of Virgin Voyages. It’s in our DNA. This means we look through a different lens, and a strong consideration is attracting the traveler who hasn’t sailed before.”
Will Virgin Voyages be in Asia and China – the biggest area of cruise growth?
“Other than our first ship which will be based year round in Miami and will sail Caribbean itineraries, we have not yet made any final decisions regarding destinations for our future ships. We will watch Asia with interest of course as there are some amazing cities and places to visit there.”
Currently, Virgin Voyages is looking at the Caribbean – one of the heartlands of cruise. What will you bring to this seasoned area of cruise well populated by the major lines?
“The Caribbean is an incredibly beautiful part of the world with so many gorgeous places to visit. Richard has made his home there because of the quality of life you can have. No matter where you go, the beaches and experiences can be breath taking. We believe that in creating an irresistible holiday it’s not just where you go but what you can do when you get there. Our unique sailor experience won’t stop when you step off the ships.”
Sir Richard has said he doesn’t like cruise and suggested they are “stuffy”.  What exactly will mark out Virgin Voyages as being not “stuffy”?
“Virgin is a contemporary brand that doesn’t believe in forced formality. We are famous for our relaxed and friendly service and beautiful design. Virgin Voyages is ultimately a vacation brand. When you sail with us you’re looking for the chance to just get away from it all and not be huddled and herded. With us you don’t need to feel uncomfortable about putting your feet up on the sofa or not having a coaster for your drink. Just sit back and have an amazing time.”