Virgin Voyages executives and designers gathered in New York last week to reveal the first interior renderings of its ship, due out in 2020. Managing editor Rebecca Tobin talked with Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin about the line's direction and design. Q: There's a lot of talk here about Virgin Voyages being different. How do you think it's different?
A: It is different across everything we do. It starts with the name: Virgin Cruises is too easy; Virgin Voyages says more about a journey and about transformational experience. The size of our ship is different: We're not chasing big, giant ships; we want a more intimate experience. The look and feel of our ship, with a lot of influence from superyachts and that aesthetic, which is so crisp and cool and modern. Dining will be different, entertainment will be different. The experience of programming onboard will be different. We're one of the only big brands that will be adult by design, which means that we're creating an adult-centric experience.
Q: The designers on the stage tonight haven't worked on ships before, but there are also specific design requirements of ships. How do you bridge that difference?
A: We have great people at the organization with cruise experience, shipbuilding experience ... we've got a great marine team. Knowing we were going to have this great contingent of designers who had no cruise experience, we hired a [coordinating] marine architect, Giacomo Mortola, who's just done a fantastic job of taking those designs and saying, "OK, can we make that with the right materials, because they have to be nonflammable, here are the restrictions, the regulatory requirements for the number of people." They've got the great ideas and the great designs and the layout, he finds a way to make it work on the ship.
Q: Did the designs have to be changed dramatically because of that?
A: No. We brief the teams, they know the restrictions, all the details, we gave them enough direction at the beginning. We had meetings where [the designers] were all together seeing each other's designs. You want it to be somewhat eclectic, because you're on there for seven days, so if everything looks the same it's going to be a boring ship. You've got to have these spaces that have their own identity, but you have common threads that tie them all together to what we call the modern romance of sailing ... the elements of the ocean.
Q: One potential challenge: If they haven't cruised then they don't know what they're competing against. Do you think that's true?
A: Yeah, but I think that's a good thing. We don't want them to be overly influenced by what's out there or how things are done. We want them to say, "How would you do it differently and make it comfortable like you have on land?" You'll see some of our places have bars within restaurants. You don't really see that on ships today, but nobody really ever points it out. But on land you see that. So we believe in doing things like that, to make it feel more comfortable, as you would experience a great dining opportunity on land.
Q: A lounge or a sunbathing deck on a ship, it's going to have chaise lounges, sunbeds, a bar. Can it really be different?
A: I think if you look at those designs it can be. You create the largest daybed at sea, and it's not just a bunch of loungers, it's done in a cool way. If you go to the Soho House in Miami or different places, how do people experience that today: It's more communal, it's more interactive, it's a little more fun. It engages both in terms of the sport aspect to kind of relaxing [in the same space]. It's about giving people the flexibility to do a lot of different things on our ship and [to be] themselves.
Q: Do you think you'll have a cruise director?
A: I think we will look at this differently. As ships get bigger and bigger, it's harder for one person to engage with all those people. I think we can use people and technology in ways that really drive the experience and engagement. That's a nice, roundabout way of saying: More to come.