Flamboyant billionaire Sir Richard Branson recently announced that Virgin Voyages plans to build a dedicated cruise terminal in PortMiami for its upcoming fleet. Virgin Voyages' first ship, the 2750-passenger, adults-only Scarlet Lady, is due in early 2020; three more are in the works, set to launch in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
In his Shipteases blog, Branson said, "Normally cruise terminals are dull, lifeless places where people are herded onto even more boring boats – our palm-grove-inspired design will be filled with colour and fun, a place where people can really begin their voyage of a lifetime."
Virgin Voyages is keen to talk up its points of difference: passengers are called sailors, cruises are voyages, and voyages are Adult-by-Design. Scarlet Lady's restaurants, well-being (Vitamin Sea) spaces and first-at-sea tattoo parlour have been created by some of the world's leading design companies, working with Dee Cooper, senior vice-president of design for Virgin Voyages.
Sailors will have 20-plus dining options that are included in the fare and every restaurant will have its own bar. Virgin enlisted the AvroKO Hospitality Group and its Michelin-starred chef Brad Farmerie to bring global food trends onboard, and design firms including Roman & Williams, Concrete Amsterdam and Tom Dixon's Design Research Studio were tasked with making the eateries – and everything else on the ship – "fun, experiential environments".
Talking about the Vitamin Sea concept, Cooper said the Athletic Club, the ship's gym-meets-social hangout, had to be a standout space. "At the aft of the Athletic Club we created an amazing, high catamaran net inspired by netting on yachts. The net lets our sailors see from Deck 16 down to seven and beyond. It's actually quite scary but it's also really fun and relevant to a ship … and allows our less adventurous customers to watch the antics from their giant sunbed."
Other imaginative takes on traditional cruise-ship facilities include a raised red jogging track on the top deck, the "glamorous grunge" Manor nightclub and the Dock – a stylishly eclectic outdoor lounge.
Scarlet Lady's inaugural season in the Caribbean, which is set to continue until at least 2021, will feature regular calls to Havana, Cuba. "Virgin Atlantic has been visiting Cuba for 13 years and I cannot wait to see our iconic Scarlet Lady gleaming in Havana Harbor," Branson said. All cruises (sorry, voyages) to Cuba from Miami will stay overnight in Havana.
More details about itineraries will be revealed when they go on sale on February 14, 2019. I, for one, am hanging out for the next stage of the Shiptease. See virginvoyages.com
THE PORT Durban, South Africa
WHO GOES THERE Azamara, Crystal, Oceania, MSC, RSSC, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking, Voyages to Antiquity.
WHY WE LOVE IT Durban is biggest city in eastern South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province and the busiest port in the country. It is known for its African, Indian and colonial influences as well as its glorious surf beaches, which are washed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It is also the gateway to some of South Africa's incredible scenic wonders, including the Valley of a Thousand Hills and the Drakensberg mountain range.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? The passenger terminal, N Shed, is about five minutes walk from the Golden Mile beachfront promenade and 15 minutes walk to Victoria Street in the centre – taxis are available. Half or full-day bus tours take in the Must See attractions below; alternatively, head out of town on an organised or self-drive tour that visits the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Located between Durban and the provincial capital of Pietermaritzburg, the region is home to many Zulu people; PheZulu Safari Park offers traditional Zulu dancing and cultural shows. There are also several game reserves that are easily visited on a day trip from Durban.
MUST SEE uShaka Marine World, a huge theme park; Durban Botanical Gardens, Africa's oldest surviving botanical gardens; Victoria Street Market for Zulu handicrafts and Indian goods; city views from the SkyCar trip at Moses Mabhida Stadium; Phansi Museum, for its private collection of tribal artefacts; Umgeni River Bird Park, for free-flight bird shows twice daily; Edwardian City Hall, in Francis Farewell Square.
MUST EAT South African foods to try include air-cured biltong (thinly sliced beef or game) and droewors (sausages); braai or shisa nyama (barbecued meats); bunny chow (half a loaf of bread stuffed with spicy curry); and Amarula Don Pedro, a cocktail/dessert made from marula fruit and ice-cream. Lunch or dinner at the Cargo Hold in uShaka Marine World, right next to sharks in the aquarium, is a fun experience.
NEED TO KNOW South Africa has 11 official languages. The most widely spoken is isiZulu but most South Africans are multi-lingual and English is commonly used in cities and towns.
The Magic Carpet moving platform on new ship Celebrity Edge is about the size of a tennis court (590 square metres) and can hold up to 100 people.
Expedition leader Greg Mortimer
Aurora Expeditions has confirmed that its founder, well-known Australian explorer and mountaineer Greg Mortimer OAM, will be the expedition leader aboard the maiden voyage of Aurora Expeditions' new ship the Greg Mortimer. The 12-day Antarctica cruise departs Ushuaia, Argentina, on October 31, 2019, coinciding with the season for penguin breeding and when fur seal pups are born. Mortimer said, "Antarctica is simply the most extraordinary place on earth and holds a very special place in my heart. I've been back almost every season for 25 years and can't wait to lead the maiden Greg Mortimer voyage and share the experience with guests." There are limited spots available on the maiden voyage, with a 10 per cent earlybird discount when booked before December 31. See auroraexpeditions.com.au
One-off Australia circumnavigation
To mark its 35th anniversary as the pioneer of small-ship expedition cruising in Australia, Coral Expeditions has announced a one-time only circumnavigation of the Australian coastline onboard its new flagship, Coral Adventurer. The 60-day round-trip voyage from Darwin will depart November 7, 2020, visiting 35 places of maritime, cultural and natural significance, many of which are hard to reach by land. Highlights include overnight stopovers and events in coastal centres including Fremantle, Adelaide, Hobart, Sydney and Cairns – on Christmas Day, for example, guests will disembark in Cairns and be whisked away by private jet to a special Christmas dinner under the stars at Uluru, jetting back to the ship that same evening. Experts from Coral Expeditions' partner Australian Geographic will join the ship as guest lecturers. See coralexpeditions.com