Richard Branson's New Cruise Line Is Not Your Mother's Vacation Vessel

August 2, 2018

By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire

In short:

  • Richard Branson’s recently-announced cruise line, Virgin Voyages(opens in new tab), is a stark departure from current cruise ship offerings.
  • Via Virgin branding and a pulse on what’s missing from traditional cruise ships, Virgin Voyages aims to introduce ocean liners to an entirely new demographic.
  • As a brand, Virgin succeeds due to Branson’s ability to improve on existing products, consistently disruptive branding and the ability to make bold yet data-driven decisions.

Richard Branson’s new adults-only cruise ship line, Virgin Voyages, released design details and imagery for its first vessel(opens in new tab) late last month. The first ship, dubbed the Scarlet Lady, is slated to set sail from Miami in 2020.

Virgin Voyages describes its environment as “sleek, yacht-like spaces.” Ship renderings show a minimalist aesthetic, with deck furniture reminiscent of a Hampton’s day club and cabanas typically found in trendy, metropolitan hotels. There’s a VIP bar called Richard’s Rooftop and an Athletic Club that’s a blend of gym and social space. Of course, there's a cold-pressed juice bar too.

Following the path of other Virgin Group properties, Virgin Voyages looks to carve out a niche in the cruise industry. Here are 4 ways Branson's done it, time and time again.

Start with a blank slate. 

While dreaming up Virgin Voyages, Branson didn’t look to other cruise ship for inspiration. Instead, he set out to imagine a new kind of sea travel, one in which “sailors” (not “passengers” nor “cruisers”) would have transformative voyages. He describes this blank-slate approach on the Virgin Voyages website(opens in new tab).

“We basically decided, ‘Let’s have a blank sheet of paper, let’s create the kind of voyage company that we would like to go on,’" he wrote, "and that’s what we’ve done."

Virgin Voyages teased the new ship on Twitter last month.

By building a new concept from scratch and working with a creative agency from outside the cruise industry, Virgin Voyages designed an old product from a fresh perspective. Their approach is essential for business owners looking to revitalize an existing product.


Pinpoint an untapped niche. Then fill it.

Branson has a track record of evolving on ideas that are outdated and adapting them in new ways. He see's the needs of customers, where current industry trends are lacking, and he fills that demand with fresh product offerings.   

For instance, Virgin Atlantic disrupted the airline industry by offering many elements aimed at increasing comfort and style(opens in new tab) in the air, such as mood lighting, leather seating in coach, and a touchscreen ordering service for food and beverage.


Maintain consistency in branding.

Whether in banking, travel or telecommunications, customers know what to expect from the Virgin brand. It relies heavily on company values to keep consistency across its properties. The portfolio of brands with the iconic, red Virgin logo all share an edgy, disruptive tone and strive to be innovative and adventurous.

Virgin’s website describes the company values as “heartfelt service, being delightfully surprising, red hot, and straight up(opens in new tab) while maintaining an insatiable curiosity and creating smart disruption.”

You can see "smart disruption" at work onboard the Scarlet Lady, whose ship layout Virgin Voyages describes as equal parts “detox and retox(opens in new tab)," where yoga and meditation classes and DJ parties till sunrise all share space on the same schedule.

Virgin Voyages showed off its ship's relaxing features, also via Twitter.


Make bold decisions, backed by research.

Whether it’s entering a new market, or redefining an established concept like cruise ships through Virgin Voyages, Branson acts boldly. He acts on his own aesthetic, creating what he would like to see offered in a given industry. 

However, with big decisions come big weight, and Branson and Virgin follow general rules before setting sail.

As discussed on the Virgin blog, even if Branson is passionate about a new idea(opens in new tab), he takes time to do his homework. He recommends avoiding isolated decision-making and prefers gathering as much data as possible to make smart, informed moves. When dealing with capital-intensive choices, he looks for creative ways to protect the downside.

Following Virgin footsteps, Virgin Voyages has utilized the same branding and product development strategies that have allowed Branson and Virgin Group to become one of the most successful companies on the planet.

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