As Richard Branson prepares to launch his Virgin Voyages cruises next week, the billionaire founder and CEO of the company insist that the ship’s controlled environment makes it safer than the grocery store, plane or the hotel.
“Everyone is vaccinated – all of the crew, all of the staff, all of the guests,” Branson said of safety protocols in an interview Tuesday with the Miami Herald. “I do not think that [Covid restrictions] will have to last too long. “
Branson’s timing for Virgin Voyages couldn’t have been worse: it was due to launch from PortMiami in March 2020.
After an 18-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tycoon’s cruise line will launch from its Miami base on October 6 – but at half capacity, with vaccination warrants and Covid testing required before boarding .
Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin said their ship is safer than a vacation where travelers have to fly and stay in a hotel because vaccination is not required.
“It’s a highly controlled environment, and it’s allowed us to create a vacation option that’s safer than a hotel, safer than a grocery store,” he said.
The CDC classifies cruises as “level 3”, with “high” Covid-19 levels and notes that “Covid-19 easily spreads between nearby people on ships, and the chance of getting Covid-19 on cruise ships is high. “
Ahead of the planned 2020 launch, Branson said he knew they were in trouble when former Spice Girl and colleague Geri Halliwell canceled her celebrity appearance at the ship’s UK launch.
“I thought, we’re friends! What are you doing ? Branson called back. “It was the first sign that something was wrong… There were a lot of tears.”
The 2,700 passenger ship “Scarlet Lady” made several voyages to the UK before heading to Miami, where it will be permanently based. The ship has sold its first Miami-based voyage, which will only operate at half capacity.
Virgin’s cruise line, which was founded in 2014, is adult-only with the aim of catering to younger vacationers. Traditionally, cruises have attracted seniors and families with children. The ship has a nightclub and tattoo parlor on board.
“We think there is a market, something like 90% of people would never cruise, that we can tap into,” Branson said. “I’ve never cruised in all these years, and I started to wonder why?… We got our top designers together to see if we could design some sort of private yacht for the cruise industry. “
Scarlet Lady does not have a main dining room, a mainstay of traditional cruises, but instead nine restaurants, where guests can make reservations through a phone app. The decor is more laid back and tropical than the typical cruise ship.
Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Virgin Voyages continues to expand: They are building three more ships, launching one each year until 2023. But industry experts predict that the cruise will not return to passenger numbers. ” before the pandemic before at least 2023
“Who could have predicted the pandemic and the Delta variant? But we think now is the right time,” said McAlpin, CEO of their decision to launch now in PortMiami. “There are a lot of pent-up demands. “