Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
  • Sir Richard Branson's new adults-only cruise line Virgin Voyages is officially open for business with tickets for its maiden voyage in April 2020 available for purchase.
  • Virgin Voyages is a joint venture between Branson's Virgin Group and Bain Capital.
  • According to Branson, Virgin Voyages will do away with buffets, tips, and all single-use plastics.
  • The cruise line will provide free wifi for all.

Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Group are getting into the cruise business.

The iconic entrepreneur announced last Thursday that Virgin Voyages is officially open for business with tickets for its maiden voyage in April 2020 available for purchase.

Virgin Voyages, a joint venture with Bain Capital, will not only be Branson's first foray into the cruise business, but it will also be his first experience with cruises in general. Which means, expect Virgin to break with the status quo.

"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 come into contact with Virgin is going to feel really proud of," Branson said in an interview with Business Insider.

Branson has a love-hate relationship with the cruise industry.

"I've never been on a cruise ship, I've never fancied a cruise ship," Branson told reporters on Thursday

And yet, starting an adults-only cruise line has been something he's thought about since he was 27 years old.

Branson said the Virgin Voyages of today is not that far off his original vision.

"Basically, we want people who are sophisticated and young at heart, people who want to have a good time," he said.

Branson comes into Virgin Voyages, which was originally founded in 2014, with Bain's market research that says an "enormous" amount of non-cruisers are willing to give cruises a try if the Virgin brand is attached.

As a result, the goal of Virgin Voyages isn't to conquest customers from mainstream cruise lines, but rather to expand the industry's customer base.

Virgin Voyages's first ship, Scarlet Lady, under construction in Italy.
Virgin Voyages
Fortunately, Branson isn't going into this endeavor without and some serious backup.

Former Disney Cruises president Tom McAlpin serves as the company's CEO while Dee Cooper, the person responsible for stylish mood-light drenched cabins onboard Virgin Atlantic's airliners, is in charge design and customer experience.

For passengers, the Virgin Voyages experience will differ greatly from that of traditional cruise lines with free wifi for all and absolutely no buffets on board.

Instead of buffets, there are more than 20 individual restaurants that all included in the price of the cruise.

In addition, passengers won't be charged gratuities. Instead, the ship's crew will be paid a salary and won't have to depend on tips for income, McAlpin told Business Insider.

Virgin Voyages will also follow in Branson's focus on environmental protection. McAlpin announced on Thursday that the company has banned a single-use plastics on board its ships including bottled water, straws, stirrers, and individual serving packets to prevent them from ending up in the oceans.

A rendering of the completed Scarlet Lady.
Virgin Voyages
"This is bold, this is costly because company's make a lot of money selling water bottles but we think this is the right thing to do," McAlpin told reporters.

Instead, the cruise line will offer free filtered and sparkling water at hydration stations around the ship.

Virgin is also working on sunscreen that won't do damage to coral reefs.

For Branson, being an environmentally sound cruise line hits close to home.

According to the long-time resident of Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, the lack of regulations banning the cruise industry from dumping human waste into its waters has caused sea life such as whales and dolphins to abandon the area.

Branson's private island.
Necker Island
"Because the Virgin Islands doesn't have a specific law against dumping the sh-- in its waters, (cruise ships) have just been going not far out at sea and jump dumping their whole bilges just to save $15,000 when they get back to Miami to unload the sh-- elsewhere," Branson said.

"It's things like that, even if we were legally allowed to do, you'd never ever, ever catch a Virgin ship doing it."

Virgin Voyages will operate cruises from Miami with its first ship, Scarlet Lady, in 2020. According to Bain Capital, Scarlet Lady will be the first of three ships for Virgin Cruises. Each of which will displace 110,000 tons and have room for nearly 2,800 passengers.

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