New cruise lines reveal their designs at SeaTrade Conference

FORT LAUDERDALE — AllThingsCruise was well represented last week at SeaTrade, the annual conference of the global cruise industry held annually in Southeast Florida.

Publisher and Executive Editor Heidi Allison Shane,  key writers Jackie Sheckler Finch and David Molyneaux and myself were on site attending informative panel discussions and press conferences, interviewing cruise executives and generally hobnobbing to determine what is going on in this dynamic sector of the tourism industry.

The conference always open with a “State of the Industry” discussion with the top executives of the world’s major cruise companies….Royal Caribbean, Carnival, MSC and Norwegian Cruises.

Tom McAlpin

Their message was clear: The industry is booming with over 100 ships on order, a record number. Sixteen new ships will launch this year.

Following them were the heads of two brand new cruise lines which are making headlines of their own: Virgin Voyages and the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.  Both of these lines are backed by strong brands and appear destined for success. Even their names tell you something about their marketing strategies, with Virgin calling its trips “voyages” and Ritz-Carlton referring to its new vessels as “yachts.”

Here are some highlights of the Virgin presentation:

Tom McAlpin is the president and CEO of Virgin Voyages and his casual look onstage (jacket, but no tie) set the tone for his presentation. Much like the other companies launched by founder Richard Branson (record stores, airlines and more), Virgin Voyages will be “edgy.” Its sleek exterior was revealed last Oct. 31 at a keel-laying ceremony where Boy George was the featured performer. Not many details have been released yet about the interior spaces.

Many had thought that the hull would be Virgin red but it is silvery gray with only a bit of red. Smoked glass windows contribute to the design. Painting designs on ship hulls seems all the rage, but Virgin is sticking to a topless mermaid designed by Toby Tinsley.

‘She will be the most recognizable ship sailing the seven seas, delivering an irresistible sailor experience,’ Branson pledged in October. “We’re also committed to making sure our crew are the happiest at sea and will be proud to sail with us.”

Three ships are on order and will carry 2,800 “sailors” each. McAlpin explains that after much deliberation and consultation with their future customers, the ships will be “adult by design” with a minimum age of 18. The first ship will sail in 2020 from Miami, Fla. and will alternate seven-day itineraries in the Caribbean. It has yet to be named.

Virgin has ambitious aims: “We want people to come off the ship saying that was the best experience I ever had.”

The promises continue: “The way you enjoy dining will be different. The entertainment will not be what you typically have on a cruise…It will be a sophisticated premium product.”

Last October the line began taking $500 per stateroom deposits for the chance to be one of the first to book, another bold marketing strategy. Ninety-three percent of the cabins will have ocean views with 86 percent having “sea terraces.” Given Branson’s English background you can expect a British flair to the décor. Ten international companies are designing the public and private rooms and some details will be released in May…hopefully, as 2020 isn’t that far off!

Virgin expects to attract a slightly younger cruiser and those that have never considered a cruise before…but we will appeal to anyone with a “young at heart” attitude, McAlpin says.

If you are interested in getting in on the early deposits, contact heidi@allthingscruise.com.

Tomorrow: Ritz-Carlton reveals details of its new yachts

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