Richard Branson: A Sea Change in Cruising

Never one to blindly follow trends, Richard Branson has launched yet another first-of-its-kind experience. Where he first conquered the skies with Virgin Atlantic planes, he is now choosing to focus on the water with his super-luxe cruise line Virgin Voyages. Cruise ships, love them or hate them, have been growing in number and in size to accommodate the large following of passengers who long for the intrigue of the sea, and a bit of glamour. Branson recognized the popularity, but chose to turn the industry on its head by offering ships that were like no other, and, in some ways, the antithesis of what cruising has traditionally been.

VUE recently sat down with Branson, who was aboard the Scarlet Lady for her maiden voyage, to learn more.


An Idea Is Born

“I’ve never been on a cruise or particularly interested in a cruise but I recognized it was ripe for Virgin territory. I talked to a lot of people who didn’t like cruises and to those who did to find out why,” Branson said. From those early conversations, he brought in 20 designers, most of whom had no experience with the cruise industry, but he had the vision to guide them.

“I would never build a superyacht for myself because the idea of having a 500 foot yacht for one family is the most distasteful thing I can imagine, but building a ship for lots of people where everything was designed like the best superyacht but with more focus on fun and parties was what I saw. I got the designers together and said let’s create a ship, not a cruise ship but a voyage, and let’s make sure every corner you turn is special,” he said.

Not Your Grandparents’ Cruise Ship

The end result of that vision is the Scarlet Lady which launched this past spring, setting sail from Port Miami to the Caribbean. The ship carries 2,770 passengers who are referred to as “sailors”, and an international crew of 1,160. That means there is one crew person for close to every two sailors making top notch service easy to come by. But don’t look for cruise directors who offer pre-packaged itineraries or dinners with the captain. On Virgin Voyages, the ship, its many amenities, and even on-land options are fully at the discretion of each sailor. Branson wanted it to be that way.

And at the advice of his one designer who had worked with Disney cruises, Branson also decided to make Virgin Voyages adult only. He explained that choice.

“I’m a grandparent. I love having kids around, but there are those who want to go on holiday and let their hair down and not have kids running down the halls. The ship would have had to be designed completely differently for kids and we wanted it to be an adult space aimed at helping adults have a great time. That makes it very unique. You can pop over to Disney to have a good time with the kids and then come aboard to have a good time with us.”


Eat, Play, and Be Entertained

Good times on cruises are often about the food, and Virgin Voyages is no exception. On board, the food choices are endless. While you won’t find a formal dining room or that rumored cruise ship buffet, you will find more than 20 eating options covering specialties from all corners of the globe, including a Test Kitchen where it’s the chef’s choice to deliver what innovative meal he wants to put together. Finding quality beverages is also easy as six bars and lounges beckon those who want to sit and contemplate with a fine whiskey, or those who prefer to sip Cosmopolitans in between spins on the dance floor.

One of the areas of the ship Branson most appreciates is the outdoor training zone. “I’m a bit of a fitness fanatic and reached the age where fitness is important so the enormous areas on the top of the ship with spectacular views, and a beautiful running track that your shoes sink into stand out. There’s also a massive jacuzzi you can get into when you’ve had enough running and want some drinks. And then you can go back for another run to get rid of the alcohol,” he said.

Beyond the track, the fitness area features a boxing ring, punching bag stations, strength and gymnastics equipment. If it’s a bit too windy on deck, there is plenty of space to workout indoors with rooms for spin, yoga, and cardio, all featuring ocean views. When the workout ends, visit the spa for a dip in the hydrotherapy pool or cold plunge pools, take in the mud or salt rooms, or enjoy the quartz beds and variety of spa treatments.

With the body rejuvenated, it’s time to focus on the mind and senses. Those who cruise know that onboard entertainment is part of the appeal, but you won’t find the typical nightclubs, slot machines, and tired Broadway knock-offs on Virgin Voyages. These ships feature arcades and game rooms (think fussball, and air hockey) to attract your inner teenager, a karaoke room to let loose with friends, and, with a nod to the owner, a record shop where you can don headphones, pull vinyl, and rock out to your favorite classics. And for a true memento of the trip, visit the onboard tattoo parlor for a lasting memory.

In the mood for a show? The ships offer never-before-seen modern and immersive events put together by some of the best-known choreographers, artists, and producers. Dance, music, storytelling, and even a bit of circus theatrics offer something for every taste. “I’m from the music and entertainment world. We know how to create a great entertainment experience. Our whole dance, theater, music side can change at a moment’s notice,” Branson said.


Rooms for Rockstars

Where standard cruise lines almost seem to offer their cabins as an afterthought, assuming passengers will spend little time in their rooms, Branson made his cabins a feature and a place of luxurious escape. There are 78 suites that include the Mega Rockstar Quarters that house a music room with four guitars ready to be played, a private terrace with hot tub and dining area, a bottomless bar, and 24/7 access to agents, all designed to make you feel that you are the mega rockstar in the room. The Rockstar Quarters have similar features to their megastar counterparts, but you won’t find a music room or expansive areas for hosting your groupies. Not to worry though because booking a suite of any size gives access to Richard’s Rooftop, a private deck where all the rockstars can rub elbows while enjoying cocktails and a beautiful moonlit sky.

If you’re not traveling like a rockstar, there are plenty of room options that rival any from a 5-star hotel. Even the smallest rooms offer mood-matching lights, configurable Seabeds that can turn from seating to sleeping to something in-between, and plenty of technology to meet your every need.

Being aboard one of the Virgin Voyages ships may feel like enough excitement for any vacation, but the voyage is just part of the journey. Be sure to explore the many destinations that will soon be offered to sailors across the world. Four ships are set to sail the seas by 2023, with routes between Miami and the Mediterranean, Puerto Rico and Portugal, Miami and the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom to various European cities and islands. Book now to be one of the first to experience the future of cruising.