By Cynthia Drescher. Photos: Getty.
When Sir Richard Branson declared "Make ship happen!" yesterday at an event in Genoa, Italy, it wasn't a slip of the tongue by the famously playful head of Virgin Group. These three words are the current slogan for the billionaire's newest company: Virgin Voyages. Originally announced in 2015, all the work for the burgeoning cruise line has been on paper up until now, or, more specifically, until last night when a cutting machine sliced into a steel sheet to mark the official start of shipbuilding. Come 2020, Virgin's first vessel will set sail from Miami on seven-day Caribbean cruises with room for 2,800 guests and 1,150 crew.
Virgin Voyages has a total of three ships on order, though Tom McAlpin, the line's president and CEO, is keeping options open, teasing the crowd with a "who knows?" and venturing that there may be many more in the future. The first, temporarily named Virgin I, will go by the more industrial title of "hull number 6287" as she's built at the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa. Although they remain extremely tight-lipped on what the ships will look like inside and out, McAlpin did take the opportunity to reveal the "Creative Collective" of designers and architects tasked with fulfilling Branson's vision for the "world's most gorgeous ship." This group of ten "creators of trends, not followers," to quote McAlpin, is led by the likes of Roman and Williams, Concrete Amsterdam, Design Research Studio, and Pearson Lloyd.
The names may be unfamiliar, but travelers likely already know some of their work, especially when it comes to Roman and Williams and Design Research Studio. The former is the American design firm behind Ace Hotels, The Freehand boutique hostels, The Standard High Line, and Le Coucou, just to name a few. The latter is headed by Tom Dixon and responsible for Mondrian Hotels, Himitsu restaurants, and some seriously shiny home furnishings. All have been "sworn to secrecy" and threatened with a punishment of "lifetime on land" should they leak any details, but here's what else we do know about Virgin Voyages:
- All three ships are projected to cost $2.55 billion, total. Of course, that's before adding in all the champagne that'll be spilled to christen them.
- Passengers aren't guests—they're "sailors," and potential sailors are already influencing the design. "We've had tens of thousands of passionate sailors telling us what they want on a Virgin Voyage," says McAlpin. They're still taking suggestions, too, via their official Twitter @VirginVoyages.
- This cruise line intends to be the cleanest fleet out there, partnering with clean energy start-up Climeon to "efficiently turn heat waste into electricity, saving stacks of CO2."
- Forget country-counting; the itineraries will be planned around "delivering Virgin style" with "deeply social experiences."
- They're not playing by the rules. "We have no legacy to deal with," Frank Weber, vice president of operations, tells Condé Nast Traveler. "We are setting our own standard and not taking 'no' for an answer."
- The Creative Collective is promising detailed designs later this year. Fingers crossed for a submarine on the side.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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