Virgin Voyages marks start of construction of first ship slated to debut in 2020

Richard Branson's new cruise venture marks steel-cutting for its first ship at Fincantieri shipyard in Italy.

The Virgin Voyages cruising odyssey is moving closer to reality.

Top executives from the new cruise venture devised by British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, were in Italy for a steel-cutting ceremony Wednesday at the Fincantieri shipyard to mark the start of construction of its first ship.

Virgin Voyages is slated to begin sailing from PortMiami to the Caribbean in 2020 with the first of three ships Fincantieri is building under a multi-billion-dollar contract. The other two vessels are slated for delivery in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

“Today is the moment when our intrepid, romantic and irresistible vision for Virgin Voyages starts to become tangible,” said Tom McAlpin, president and CEO during a Facebook LIVE presentation of the steel-cutting from the shipyard. “I’ve been inspired by the passion from all those involved, it’s so exciting as we continue to work together to bring true sea change to the cruise industry.”

Since the venture was initially announced in December 2014, few details have been released about the design and onboard features of Virgin’s three ships, except that they will be mid-sized and weigh about 110,000 gross tons and accommodate more than 2,700 passengers or “sailors.”

Wednesday’s event provided little news beyond the announcement of the design team tasked with creating the first Virgin ship’s wow factor and bells and whistles. For now, those details are under wraps as designers and architects have been “sworn to secrecy,” McAlpin noted.

The 10 companies tapped to work on designing different aspects of the ship’s private and public spaces are Roman and Williams, Concrete Amsterdam, Softroom, Design Research Studio, Gem SRL, Workac, Knibb, HL Studio, Pearson Lloyd and HKS Inc.

“The design collective includes some of the world’s most stylish firms who are creators of design trends not followers,” McAlpin said. “Together they are imagining a vessel unlike anything sailors have experienced before that will be a complete departure from the ordinary. With this group, we have a depth in creativity that brings a different perspective to space design at sea that will change cruising for good.”

Branson made a brief appearance via video Wednesday and led the count-down to the steel-cutting for the vessel, which he said is expected to be “the world’s most gorgeous ship.”

In a promotional stop in October in Miami where the new cruise line will be based, a Virgin Voyages video touted its new cruise experience as "the only way to travel for the free spirits, for you pirates, you explorers, you mermaids. ... This is a holiday you can't predict and a place where irresistible style is finally found at sea."

The new cruise venture is a partnership between Virgin Group and Bain Capital Private Equity.

asatchell@sun-sentinel.com, 954-356-4209 or Twitter@TheSatchreport

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Article Virgin Voyages marks start of construction of first ship slated to debut in 2020 compiled by www.latimes.com

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