“We’re growing rapidly. We’re introducing 33 new ports and over 10 new itineraries,” said Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages, which takes delivery of two new ships this year as the Resilient Lady joins the company this spring and the Brilliant Lady follows later in the year.
“We’ve got Resilient Lady starting in May from Athens and some incredible repositioning cruises to exotic places, sailing through Dubai, Bali and Singapore before we end up in Australia. There is a lot of new turf,” he said. “The response has been fantastic; you can see the signs there may be an around-the-world cruise in the near future based on the demand.”
Virgin’s original business plan called for opening up sales about 18 months out, and then taking delivery of four ships around 15 months apart.
“It didn’t quite go that way. We’re effectively launching three ships in a one-year period. It has created challenges,” McAlpin told Cruise Industry News. “It will certainly put us in a position where we have to play catch-up.”
Filling the ships, McAlpin said the company will spend on marketing.
“Our challenge is awareness. When people come on our ship, they see the experience, love it and get off the ship and tell their friends. Word of mouth is crucial for us, but we need to create more awareness,” he said. “Thirty to forty percent of the people on the ship book a new voyage (with Virgin) while they’re on the ship. That is the shout-out and recognition to the experience you have onboard.”
The company’s Beach Club at Bimini on its Caribbean itineraries out of Miami has been a huge differentiator in the market.
“There are two fantastic pools overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, massive palm trees all over and Virgin-quality DJs that are creating experiences and fun,” said McAlpin.
In November, Valiant Lady and Virgin broke the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed as mermaids on the MerMaiden voyage as 457 sailors at the Beach Club gathered to take part and enjoy mermaid beauty pageants both at the club and aboard the ship.
Elsewhere, sailings including calls in the Dominican Republic have been successful with Virgin able to create unique off-the-beaten-path-style excursions.
Strong performance in Europe has come from the Valiant Lady sailing roundtrip from Barcelona with calls in Toulon, Marina di Carrara, Ajaccio, Cagliari and overnights in Ibiza with no sea days.
“Of course, we stay late on all itineraries in one port of call,” McAlpin noted.
Ships Three and Four
Among the changes on the company’s next two ships: opening up deployment. More ships, more places to go.
“People don’t mind coming back (to a similar ship),” McAlpin explained. “They don’t care about the color of the carpet. Coming back to a restaurant a second time and ordering a different entrée, it’s a different experience.”
But there is one big difference: the Brilliant Lady will be Panama Canal–ready unlike her sisters, as the Fincantieri- built ship will see modifications to the lifeboat arrangement and aft overhang to be able to transit the canal.
Filling ships, McAlpin said Virgin will need to continue to grow awareness.
“I’m not worried about the product at all. The experience onboard is absolutely fantastic.”
What does 2023 look like?
“Two ships launched. Incredible guest satisfaction. Lots of smiling faces and spreading that word of mouth. If we do that the awareness will build.”