It’s all hands on deck at Virgin Voyages as the cruise line prepares to launch a recently-announced series of short UK scenic cruises on board Scarlet Lady ahead of her first season in the Caribbean in September.
The cruise line is also preparing for the launch of its second ship, Valiant Lady, and the arrival of a third ship, Resilient Lady, next year. It sounds like Virgin Voyages Associate Vice President International Sales Shane Riley has his hands full, but he found time to update Travel Gossip on the cruise line’s latest plans.
Tell us about your new UK cruises on Scarlet Lady
Our Summer Soiree series will operate for three weeks in August, offering three- and four-night scenic cruises from Portsmouth along the English Riviera. Sailors (which is what we call our passengers, by the way!) will be treated to the full Virgin Voyages experience; all the bars and restaurants will be open, but we will be operating with limited capacity to allow for social distancing.
Who will be your typical guest on the UK cruises?
All our cruises are adult-only, aged 18-plus and the average age of our customer is 47. However, our Sailors must be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before the cruises.
We expect to attract guests who are looking for a premium experience. Sailors will enjoy a relaxed luxe experience, premium without the stuffy formalities. We offer reasonable drink prices and a one-of-a-kind bar tab – allowing Sailors to sail their way.
In general, Virgin Voyages is attracting people who have never cruised before because we’ve removed all the obstacles to cruising, such as fixed meal times. Virgin Voyages is also attracting those that have cruised before but who are looking to Set Sail The Virgin Way.
But the number one reason people book with Virgin is because we’re adult-only followed by the incredible value for money due to all of the inclusions.
What sort of entertainment will you offer on the UK cruises?
We always say expect the unexpected. We’ve curated a festival of events. We’re also aware that British acts won’t have been able to gig for months so we want to give them an opportunity to perform on board. We’re in the process of selecting the performances now, it’s still a work in progress, but we will definitely offer the full entertainment package that people would expect from Virgin Voyages.
Will guests have to wear masks?
There might be some requirement to wear masks, depending on the latest advice from Public Health England (PHE), but it won’t spoil the experience.
We will follow recommended health and safety measures, and it’s our intention that all of our crew will be vaccinated, as well as our Sailors, even though this isn’t mandated by PHE.
How are your cruises selling in the UK market?
Bookings have been really buoyant. Our number one strategy in the UK is to sell via travel agents, who we call First Mates (Virgin Voyages’ agent portal is FirstMates.com). We’ve significantly invested in our partnerships with the trade.
During the pandemic, we have supported agents by protecting their commission on cancelled bookings.
Also, we’ve just launched our Seacademy e-learning platform for First Mates and gave away 11,000 free cruises to agents in the UK and US; 70% have already booked their free trips. Getting these people on board will be great.
When will Scarlet Lady return to Miami?
At the end of August, ready to offer the first Caribbean cruises from 17 September. Scarlet Lady will sail from Miami to Key West, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Virgin’s own Beach Club at Bimini in the Bahamas.
Our second ship Valiant Lady will join Scarlet Lady in the Caribbean in November, then move to the Mediterranean in May 2022, cruising from Barcelona.
Our third ship, Resilient Lady, will join Valiant Lady in the Mediterranean in August 2022 offering two itineraries: a Greek island-hopping cruise including Santorini, Rhodes, Crete and an overnight stay in Mykonos, and an Adriatic cruise including a 2am departure from Dubrovnik and calls at Kotor in Montenegro, Corfu, and Argostoli on the Greek island of Kefalonia.
What trends have you noticed?
In the UK market, there has been a shift towards booking more premium accommodation, including suites. People are spending accidental savings they’ve made during the pandemic upgrading their cabins. In 2022, people will definitely be looking to splurge on their holidays!