Virgin Voyages Heads for Cuba

The Virgin Voyages advance team in Havana (Virgin)

By The Maritime Executive 2018-11-01 19:23:00

Virgin Voyages, Sir Richard Branson's new adults-only cruise line, will make Havana its first destination when its first ship enters operation in 2020. "Get ready for sun, salsa dancing and incredible city sights," said Branson in a video announcement. "The Scarlet Lady is headed to Havana."

The newly-built, 2,800-passenger Scarlet Lady will depart PortMiami for Cuba every Sunday and will dock at Havana's central Sierra Maestra pier. Virgin Voyages will only issue tickets to passengers 18 years of age or older, and the Scarlet Lady is designed with a mature demographic in mind: she will feature the first purpose-built tatoo parlor on a cruise ship, staffed by World Famous Tatoo Ink and a roster of celebrity tatoo artists; a boxing ring; a designated jogging track; and a plush outdoor lounge on the top deck aft, where other shipowners might install a family-friendly attraction like a water-slide or a go-kart race track. Virgin announced Wednesday that it has placed an order for a fourth sister ship with industry-leading shipbuilder Fincantieri. 

Collin Laverty, the president of Cuba Educational Travel, said in a statement that “the Virgin brand is a perfect match for the incredible music, art and dance that Cuba offers.” Cuba Educational Travel provides the group tours that are now required for American citizens' shoreside visits to Havana and other destinations in Cuba.

Virgin will have considerable competition on U.S.-Cuba routes. Carnival has added dozens of departures for 2019-2020, with sailings from Charleston, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. MSC, RCL, Regent, Azamara and Seven Seas also have Cuba offerings planned or under way. 

The business case for Cuba cruising appears to be strong: according to a recent outlook report from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), over 40 percent of travel agents say that they are seeing increasing interest in Cuba. The trend appears to have strong demographic link, with nearly 70 percent of Baby Boomers showing interest in traveling to the island.