Virgin Voyages Schedules UK Cruises for Delayed Launch of Business
Delayed 19 months by the pandemic, Sir Richard Branson’s entry into the cruise industry, Virgin Voyages, plans to offer its first commercial cruises as part of a limited program from the U.K. in August 2021. News of the U.K. program came as the cruise line that has been waiting to entry the business since April 2020, announced it would be delaying its target date for starting its U.S. cruses till September.
“As cruise operations in the U.S. remain uncertain, before heading home to PortMiami, Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady is taking this opportunity to do a homecoming tour, heading back to where the Virgin brand began,” Virgin Voyages said in the announcement of the U.K. program. The company’s first cruise ship, the 110,000 gross ton Scarlet Lady, will operate six three and four-night cruises from Portsmouth, England cruising along the southeast coast of the U.K. during August 2021.
Following the U.K.’s COVID restrictions the cruises will be only available for residents of the U.K. Passengers will also be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Additional testing and protocols will be confirmed closer to sailing, in line with the recommendations from the U.K. government.
“After more than a year of waiting and a major emphasis on a safe return, we’re ecstatic to announce these new sailings and bring Sailors onboard to experience what it’s like to set sail the Virgin Way,” said Tom McAlpin, CEO and President of Virgin Voyages. “We look at our UK summer voyages as a homecoming to pay homage to our British roots, and what an excellent way to kick-off our sailing season before heading back to PortMiami.”
Announced at the end of 2014. Virgin Voyages was positioned as a novel concept designed to appeal to younger passengers and “free spirits,” by reinventing the cruise experience. The line is building four cruise ships at Fincantieri, the first of which, the 2,770 passenger Scarlet Lady was delivered in February 2020. The ship completed previews in the U.K. but by the time they reached the U.S. they decided to delay the previews and maiden voyage scheduled for April 1, 2020, due to the onset of COVID-19. The cruise ship waited for months in Miami and the Bahamas before returning to Italy in the fall of 2020, where she remains in lay-up currently.
Speaking to The Maritime Executive in 2020 before the launch, McAlpin said it would be critical for the company to “get it right” with the start of its first ship. The initial plan was for the ship to offer short cruises to Havana and a private beach club on Bimini in the Bahamas, but it was later altered after the Trump administration ended travel to Cuba. The Scarlet Lady will be based in Miami offering Caribbean cruises when cruising resumes from the U.S.
Construction has continued on the company’s other ships, with the second cruise ship, named Valiant Lady, recently having completed her sea trials. Her maiden voyage has also been delayed, currently scheduled for November 2021 also operating from Miami to the Caribbean. Recently, Virgin Voyages announced details on their third cruise ship, the Resilient Lady, which they plan to introduce in the summer of 2022.