Virgin Cruises have announced that they have signed a Letter of Intent with Fincantieri to build three new ships. and the intention on both sides is to sign contracts before the end of this year. The ships will be delivered in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Details are still scant, of course, but we do know that they will each be 110,000 gross tons and will have 1,430 cabins and thus around 2,800 passengers, dual-occupancy. This will make them about the same size as the final set of Grand Princess ships – Ventura, for example, is 116,000 gt, has 1,553 cabins and about 3,100 passengers. Despite this, they are being described as ’boutique’ ships. Tom McAlpin, Virgin Cruises CEO, said “We’re going to sail against the trend and build smaller, boutique vessels. Megaships didn’t make sense to us, based on our customers’ desires“ and the managing director of Virgin Cruises’ leading shareholder, Bain Capital, said “We believe there is a large, underserved market and strong growth prospects for a cruise line that delivers a superior experience for young-at-heart customers“.
Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that a ship of over 100,000 gt was considered a mega-ship, but I suppose that in the context of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Quantum classes, NCL’s Breakaway and Breakaway+ ships and the recently-announced Carnival Corporation mega-ships, a 110,000 gt new build does look quite small. But I wonder if the Virgin ships will fall between two stools – they could end up looking oversized for those seeking genuine luxury and/or intimacy, and undersized for those who enjoy all the bells and whistles. And we’ll have to see what’s meant by “…a superior experience for young-at-heart customers”. One thing we do know is that the line will be informal – apparently Richard Branson cut off the ties of various dignitaries to emphasise the Virgin Cruises way of doing business.
It’s been announced that the first of these ships will be based in Port Miami, but there’s no word on where the later ships will be based. Wherever is chosen, I think we can assume that there will be strong links between Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Cruises. In fact, now I come to think about it, I believe that’s a unique relationship in the cruise industry – no other cruise line has an airline under the same brand (but see Malcolm Oliver’s comment re. Thomson below). But in any case we must wait until 2020 before we see even the first of these ships. I imagine this means that the marketing push will start in mid-2019, i.e. about four years from now.