Future Guest Experience 2020

September 28 - 29, 2020

Las Vegas, NV

Virgin Voyages Is Looking to Disrupt the Cruise Industry with an Adult-Only Cruise Line Offering One-of-a-Kind Experiences

Brought to you by WBR Insights

In February 2019, iconic billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson announced that Virgin Group's new cruise line operation - Virgin Voyages - was officially open for business. An adult-only cruise line, the first ship - named Scarlet Lady - is set to launch on its maiden voyage in April 2020, and tickets are now available for purchase. However, as with almost everything with the Virgin name attached to it, we should expect Virgin Voyages to break with the status quo.

In fact, this is almost guaranteed. Branson himself has never been on a cruise ship - and neither have the designers Virgin Group hired to design Scarlet Lady. While on the surface this might seem like a crazy approach, it's all part of a strategy to attract a new breed of cruisers who, like the members of the design team themselves, normally wouldn't choose a cruise when planning a holiday.

"It's quite risky, what Virgin Voyages are trying to do, getting a bunch of [designers] who've never been on a cruise before," said Tom Dixon of Tom Dixon Design Research Studio, one of the leading members of Creative Collective - the name given to Scarlet Lady's design team. "But there's a logic to that madness. If you're going to encourage a new demographic to cruise, then why not use designers who've never been on [one]? We think, 'What would entice you to go on a cruise?'"

No Stuffy Formalities, No Boring Buffets, No Dress Codes, and No Surcharges

So - what's going to be different with Virgin Voyages? What will Scarlet Lady offer that most other cruise ships currently don't?

Well, for starters, Virgin Voyages is ditching buffets - the standard dining fare of traditional cruise lines - traditional dining rooms, assigned seating arrangements, and dress codes. Instead, more than 20 individual restaurants will be on board serving everything from Mexican street food to gourmet Italian cuisine, vegetarian and vegan specialties, and healthy smoothies - all of which are included in the price of the cruise. There's even a Test Kitchen, which is part cooking school and part restaurant, where guests can discover exactly how their meal is prepared before dining in a "laboratory-like" eatery. Dining hours will extend well into the night and early morning, and passengers won't be charged gratuities - the ship's crew will be paid a salary, and so won't have to depend on tips for income.

(The Test Kitchen. Image source: virginvoyages.com)

"There's a Virgin twist on everything you'll see aboard the Scarlet Lady, which means there will be no stuffy formalities, boring buffets and no main dining rooms," said Branson. "Sailors are not going to want to leave our ship after they experience how we've designed our restaurants and tasted the dishes we are going to be serving up in 2020."

Sonic Palettes and Squid Ink

Another first for a cruise liner will be Squid Ink - the first tattoo parlor at sea - featuring two resident tattoo artists hand-picked by Lou Rubino, owner of World Famous Tattoo Inks, with other celebrity tattoo artists making appearances on the ship on a rotating basis.

(Squid Ink Tattoo Parlor. Image source: virgin.com)

"Tattooing is a time-honored seafaring tradition and we're continuing that legacy with rock and roll style by bringing some of the best ink artists to sea," Tom McAlpin, President and CEO of Virgin Voyages, said. "Our sailors are looking to make lifelong memories, and we think there's no better way to commemorate their first voyage with us than with a souvenir they'll never lose track of."

Virgin Voyages will also be taking the Virgin brand right back to its musical roots onboard the Scarlet Lady with a concept it calls "Sonic Identity" - a first-of-its-kind music experience which includes a record shop called Voyage Vinyl, a private karaoke and gaming lounge named the Groupie, as well as curated performances by up-and-coming artists and music trendsetters for sailors to enjoy.

WhiteLabel Creative - a group of music industry insiders that specialize in sensory branding and cultural programming for hospitality and lifestyle experiences - will be responsible for developing the background "sonic palettes" across the ship and bringing Scarlet Lady's sonic identity to life.

"Each space on Scarlet Lady will have a unique energy, thoughtfully developed by industry tastemakers and brought to life by up-and-coming talent and special guest performances," said the company in a press release. "The Virgin Voyages sonic identity will have a home in electronic music, but will also incorporate other music genres, ensuring that all sailors will find a sound they love."

Final Thoughts

Sonic experiences, tattoo parlors, vegan restaurants, no buffets, and no surcharges - Scarlet Lady certainly won't be cruise line business as usual. With fresh ideas and novel guest experiences, Virgin Voyages is hoping to break the mold and encourage a new demographic to cruise. Only time will tell whether it will be enough, but it's safe to say that the new liner is highly anticipated. If successful, it may well disrupt the cruise industry for good.

"I never want to go into a business unless we are going to radically alter it and radically create something that everybody who works for Virgin and everybody who comes into contact with Virgin is going to feel really proud of," said Branson. "This is a very big day for Virgin Voyages, as an exciting new holiday option for travelers starts to get ship shape. [Scarlet Lady] will be the most recognizable ship sailing the seven seas, delivering an irresistible sailor experience. We're also committed to making sure our crew are the happiest at sea and will be proud to sail with us."

You can hear Nicole Huang, Director of Customer Experience at Virgin Voyages, speak at Future Guest Experience 2019, taking place this September in Henderson, NV.

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