When Virgin Voyages debuts its first ship in 2020, it will sail without a key market component for most cruise lines: young families.
The brand won't book passengers under age 18, Virgin Voyages president and CEO Tom McAlpin said at a keel-laying ceremony in Genoa, Italy, for the first of three ships contracted from Fincantieri.
McAlpin said the "adult by design" strategy was developed based on feedback from travel agents and prospective passengers, "who are looking for a more elevated and premium experience, with a few Virgin-style surprises."
Scant further details were provided, but it is likely that the brand headed by Virgin founder Richard Branson will be going after a younger demographic than other lines that discourage children, such as Viking Ocean and Oceania Cruises.
Built to carry more than 2,700 passengers at double occupancy, the Virgin ships will be the largest that won't cater to families.
"We have seen it work successfully with Viking Ocean's 18+ policy," said Vicky Garcia, COO of Cruise Planners.
"Also, on the land side, there are many adults-only resort models that work well when targeted so that the clients know what to expect."
Most cruise lines that sail with children have an area of the ship that is adults-only, such as the Solarium on Royal Caribbean International's largest ships, the Sanctuary on Princess Cruises and the Serenity areas on Carnival Cruise Line.
"Virgin Voyages is looking to attract those who probably are averse to cruising because of their impression that cruising is too focused on kids and families, with water slides, rock climbing and such," Garcia said.
While Virgin could be going after a "party-hearty" demographic, several mainstream cruise lines fill that niche already, especially in the short-cruise segment.
Virgin's plan calls for seven-day Caribbean cruises from Miami on its first ship.
Some expect Virgin to be aimed at the more sophisticated and lucrative end of the singles/couples continuum.
"I'm foreseeing a very South Beach-style vibe that will attract new-to-cruise passengers," Garcia said. "It's hard to know exactly what other vacations their target is currently aimed at, but the brand's focus on the yacht-like design is unique and super sexy."
The first renderings of the Virgin ships' exterior design demonstrated some of Branson's typical flair.
The ship's colors will be silver-gray with red accents, including a red funnel. The aft below the promenade deck will be red with the familiar Virgin logo in large white letters centered in the middle.
Virgin also unveiled an image specific to Virgin Voyages: a sexy mermaid with blonde hair and a red tail trailing a flowing Virgin banner in one hand. The mermaid will appear at a modest size on the side of the ship's bow in line with the bridge.
Virgin said the mermaid was inspired by figureheads on historical vessels and was designed by the London-based artist Toby Tinsley.
The overall shape of the vessel shares some angles and features with recent Fincantieri designs, such as MSC Cruises' upcoming MSC Seaside and Norwegian Cruise Line's Project Leonardo ships.
Renderings show a broad promenade at the aft contrasting with a slim tower of upper decks and a bow with a strong vertical aspect. Virgin said that 86% of all cabins will feature a balcony, and 93% will offer an ocean view.
At the ceremony in Genoa, Virgin said it has begun accepting $500 refundable deposits that will enroll prospective passengers in a presale that takes place before Virgin Voyages goes on sale to the public.