Richard Branson’s Virgin brand launched an adults-only cruise ship arm that opens in April — just as the fast-growing sector suffers its most serious setback in years from the coronavirus outbreak.
Scarlet Lady, unveiled in Dover, England, on Friday and the first of four new vessels that will form the Virgin Voyages fleet, aims to bring “the luxe experience of a boutique hotel to the sea,” the billionaire said in a statement.
While the ship will be based in Miami for voyages in the Caribbean, thousands of miles from the Asian epicenter of the virus, it’s not clear what impact the epidemic will have on wider demand. The ordeal of 3,700 people held on board a vessel in Japan as disease spread among passengers has made headlines around the world, while Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. have issued profit warnings.
Virgin’s fleet will aim to capitalise on a boom in cruising among younger people. Ships will boast interiors by Tom Dixon and Roman and Williams and offer gym programs, yoga, 20 restaurants featuring Michelin-standard food and entertainment including drag acts and sets by star DJs including Mark Ronson.
Among major operators, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is least exposed to Asian markets, followed by Royal Caribbean and Carnival, according to a note from Berenberg analysts. There’s as yet no evidence that media coverage of the vessel quarantined in Yokohama or another turned away by five countries is affecting bookings globally, rather than just in virus-hit Asia, they said.
Scarlet Lady, built in Genoa, Italy, will ply routes that include stops in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Key West and the Bahamas, where passengers will be able to use their own beach club. A second ship will be based in Barcelona and offer Mediterranean cruises starting next year.