Richard Branson recently reported that 2019 will see the launch of Virgin Cruises, his first foray into the world of cruising – Full story here
Tom McAlpin, former president and chief executive of Disney Cruise Line and The World, Residences at Sea, has been appointed chief executive of Virgin Cruises and will oversee the initiative.
Mr McAlpin commented: “Cruise guests deserve something better and different to what is being offered today, and Virgin Cruises is committed to creating breath-taking experiences for them and a new generation of guests.”
“Something better and different to what is being offered today”.
That’s the bit that caught our attention.
“Better and different”.
Now call us biased (actually we don’t mind admitting we are at all) but we think cruising is pretty great already. So what can Mr Branson have up his sleeve to make Virgin Cruises stand out from the crowd?
Time was (and we’re going back a decade or three here) cruising was a very formal affair, done on rather small ships, for a minority of (rich) people.
One of the issues cruise lines have faced in recent years is that although the industry’s changed a lot since those days, some people still see a cruise holiday in this light when in fact, almost the opposite is true!
Cruising isn’t the ultra-formal affair it once was (just look at Norwegian Cruise Lines freestyle options to start). To be sure there are some cruise lines out there that are still very formal, Cunard for example, but the point is there’s plenty of choice for everyone now.
Ships have gotten much bigger (The Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship at sea, is capable of carrying 5,400 guests!) featuring a lot more to do on-board so the industry has become a lot more main stream, with lot’s more cruise ships and lots more people being able to afford holidays on them (and because of that lots more fantastic offers for you).
That all begs the question then….. What can Mr Branson do that hasn’t already been done?
Whatever he does will have to be great as Virgin (as a company) have never moved into an industry without making a huge success.
Virgin Trains, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Wines…. right through to the upcoming Virgin Galactic offering tourists trips into space!
One thing’s for sure, Mr Branson doesn’t like to do things by half!
How will he translate that into the world of cruising though?
Starting simple we’d like to see some kind of partnership with Virgin Wines to let people customise their wine orders on-board.
Have you ever been to a restaurant and not been happy with the wine on offer?
Annoying isn’t it?
How much easier would it be if you could just log into your Cruise Personaliser before you cruised and ordered the wine you wanted delivered to the ship, ready for you at dinner each night!
The concept is actually incredibly simple, it just needs a cruise line (are you listening Richard?) to introduce it. With the theotwo companies (Virgin Cruises and Wine) it seems like a fairly easy job for them.
Would you appreciate this on your cruise?
One HUGE benefit of coming to the cruise party late is that Virgin Cruises (if that’s the direction they want to take) will be able to build their ships to a post-Panamax design.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is – most wont.
By 2019 (when Virgin cruises is set to launch) the work currently being done to the Panama will have been finished. It’s being deepened and widened with a third canal being added to increase traffic – and more importantly increase the size of ships it can transit.
Historically cruise ships have been built to a Panamax design – the maximum width a cruise ship can be and still transit the Panama Canal (106ft in case you wondered).
Once the work is completed post-Panamax ships can be built which can be up to 161ft in length and still get through the Panama canal.
This means that should Virgin Cruises want their ship can be A LOT bigger than other cruise ships out there!
What else could they do though?
Virgin trains offers people the chance to book first class tickets if they want to pay for a little extra comfort….. Now whilst many cruise lines already have areas only accessible to people after booking a certain level of cabin (normally a suite) – for example Celebrity Cruises have a restaurant specifically for people that book Aqua Class balconies and Cunard take things a step further with their grills, introducing a three tier ‘class’ system on their ships with their Queen, Princess and Britannia Grills no-one’s ever actually come out and called these areas ‘first class’.
Will Mr Branson be the first one to take that step to appeal to the luxury market?
We think Mr Branson can do better though…….
In honour of Virgin Galactic, instead of a simulated sky diving tube we think all Virgin cruises should have zero gravity chambers – Who wants to fall when you could just float? – C’mon Virgin, get working on the technology!
If a zero gravity chamber proves to much then maybe they could add a simulator of the Virgin Galactic shuttle – That way you won’t have to spend millions to try it!
If Virgin does decide to go after the ‘mass market’ cruise crown, with or without a post-Panamx ship, perhaps a great way to get one up on Royal Caribbean and their carousel at sea on Oasis class ships would be to have a full fun fair on-board.
With the waters of the Caribbean being so calm maybe we could see the first Roller Coaster at sea?
Great for the young and young at heart alike!
One of the big selling points when Virgin Trains first launched was the fact that you could get a cooked breakfast on your way to work in comfort.
One thought we had for Virgin Cruises was to have a dumb waiter fitted in all the cabins. Avoid the scrummage of the breakfast buffet without the hassle of having to wait for room service – Just place your order and up it comes from the kitchens!
It also means you don’t have to get out of bed to answer the door to room service!
Another direction Mr Branson could take would be to appeal to those that have never cruised before.
Whilst all cruise lines like to think they’re great for people who have never cruised, launching a new cruise line really gives him a chance to confound expectations.
One of the issues almost always asked by someone who’s never cruised before is – “Will I feel claustrophobic?” Any regular cruiser will have a whole host of responses to this question – Book a balcony cabin; you’ll hardly ever be in your room; cruise ships are different to hotels – they need to be smaller etc. etc. etc.
What if they didn’t though?
What if, with the space he now has to play with in his post Panamax ship Richard Branson made all the cabins on-board two storey?
How amazing would that be?
You walk into your cabin to see your living room in front of you with the bedroom on an upper level – This would be a massive coup for Virgin Cruises, at a stroke making them some of the most luxurious cabins at sea.
The below the waterline areas of cruise ships have traditionally been off limits, reserved for crew only, with the better located areas (above the waterline) being the preserve of (paying) passengers.
With a new cruise ship why not mix that up slightly though?
Virgin Cruises could incentivise some of its crew with outside cabins above the waterline but then convert part of the ship to an underwater viewing gallery.
You could have a bar with floor to ceiling (very, very) reinforced glass windows showing the marine life passing by and even cabins with the same view!
How amazing would it be to wake up to the sight of tropical fish swimming past your window every morning!
We’re just amazed it hasn’t already been done!
You could even install glass floor viewing platforms on the very bottom deck for exploring reefs in the Caribbean!
Either separately or continuing with the above theme why not introduce the first aquarium at sea?
Being able to boast having the ‘first’ anything at sea is always great advertising for a cruise line but how much greater is it when it’s something truly impressive?
Just imagine the main promenade shops on either side of you but above and below you a 360 degree wrap around aquarium – Now that would be a sight worth seeing!
Cruise Fact: Did you know the MSC Preziosa was originally being built and designed by Libyan state owned company General National Maritime Transport Corporation (GNMTC).
The ship was to have a 120 tonne shark aquarium on-board on the specifications of Hannibal Gaddafi (Colonel Gaddafi’s son) but the order was cancelled with the outbreak of the Libyan civil war and MSC ended up buying the hull so the shark tank was never installed.
A few of the luxury cruise lines like Seabourn sometimes offer impromptu ‘marina days’ where they’ll berth up in a quiet bay somewhere and have water sports in the surrounding sea with jet skis etc.
How much better would it be though if the ship was big enough to berth up and create its own artificial marina though?
Everyone knows Richard Branson loves his hot air ballooning and whilst we don’t think replacing tender boats with hot air balloons would be feasible (would it………?). Having a hot air balloon launch from deck would certainly be an experience! It would certainly beat Royal Caribbean’s Northern Star for views!
We’re heading straight for the realms of fantasy now but if Mr Branson really wanted his ship to stand out from the crown why not, instead of putting the standard pool at the back of the ship, install a ski slope – No more arguments about whether to go skiing or cruising – you can do both now!
Of course Virgin cruises could go the other way and try to compete in the luxury market with small, intimate, luxurious ships like Star Clippers or Crystal……. It’s all just speculation at the moment; all we really know is that it will be happening and they’ll have to offer something fairly spectacular to stand out.
What’s your best guess? What do you think the new Virgin ships will look like?// END - About the Author ?>