You might think, given all the ventures Sir Richard Branson has to his name, that launching a cruise line would be, excuse the pun, a drop in the ocean.
How excited can one be by a ship, when you've masterminded a hyperloop and a space ship?
Going on a cruise is "not something that has ever appealed" to Sir Richard Branson.
The answer is: very. Even if the price tag - $US3 billion ($A3.91 billion) to build three ships - came as a bit of a shock.
At the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa, where the keel-laying ceremony for the first ship is about to take place, Sir Richard today inspected the first mock-up cabins, describing them as "beyond expectation."
Ninety-three per cent of cabins will have an ocean view and more than 80 per cent will have a terrace. The ship, on paper, appears sleek and yacht-like. With its quirky funnel, silvery girth and smoked-glass windows it doesn't scream cruise ship.
"Now that Necker is trashed I've been looking at the nicer cabins," said Branson.
Last night he returned to his hotel room to find the bed draped with a large flag bearing the mermaid that will grace the bow of the three ships, designed by the same artist who created the Virgin Galactic lady. "I slept very well," he said.
Joking aside, he is taking his new venture very seriously.
Going on a cruise is "not something that has ever appealed" to Sir Richard Branson. But starting with a fresh sheet of paper gives him an advantage, he says. "If I can apply the same principles as I have to my other businesses and create something luxurious but fun and make it something that I would like to go on then maybe it will appeal to others who've not cruised before," he said. "And if we can do that then hopefully we can get regular cruise goers to switch."
The Virgin cruise brand will not be about gimmicks and tricks or Vegas-style entertainment. "We don't need them," said Virgin Voyages president and CEO Tom McAlpin. "Our focus is the software. We're creating a platform for a phenomenal experience on board."
Sailors, as they will be called, can expected a sophisticated, flexible, independent and child-free environment. It was announced that the Virgin Voyages cruise holiday will be an adults-only experience, though "not a Spring Break crowd," said McAlpin.
Neither will it be to the exclusion of much older travellers. "Anyone who wants to have a fun time is welcome on board," he said. "At some stage Virgin will also have ships for kids. We'll have to – I have grandchildren."
He is impressed, but not phased by the very competitive and innovative nature of the cruise industry.
"We know how to create a company and get it right from the start," he said. "We're working with some of the best design teams in the business. Our design collective [the various teams behind the build] have created some of the best properties in the world. They'll bring their magic to it."
Sir Richard added that the crew would be a vital part of the experience.
"Virgin Atlantic is as special today as it ever was because of the people and the way they're looked after," he says.
Branson flew in last night with his long-time friend Boy George, whose music career Virgin Records helped launch. "There was a kerfuffle at the airport", said Branson "and my ego got the better of me. But all they wanted to see was George."
Today is just the first step in a long journey – it will be three years before Virgin Voyages welcomes paying guests.
"Hi. I'm the keel. Ready for a bit of Shiptease?" Reads the banner draped across the piece of metal (painted red underneath) from the which the rest of the ship will take shape. Only Sir Richard could make a hulk of metal look exciting.
Here in Genoa, the stage is set for a very big party. And Sir Richard Branson is about to drop from a crane.
See also: Branson laughs off letter of complaint
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