Richard Branson's cruise line hopes its second swanky adults-only vessel Valiant Lady will be part of a cruising boom as pandemic restrictions ease.
Virgin Voyages aimed to disrupt the cruise industry when it launched Scarlet Lady, its first adults-only cruise ship, last year.
Now Richard Branson's cruise line is premiering its next offering: Valiant Lady.
This 278-meter long vessel can accommodate 2,770 passengers, and holds the usual cruise amenities - like a pool deck - over its 17 decks, along with slightly less usual offerings - like a tattoo parlor.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand for travel," says Nirmal Saverimuttu, Virgin Voyages' president, adding that the positive response to Scarlet Lady has Virgin confident its sister ship will be a success.
On the morning of March 11, Valiant Lady set sail from Essex in the southeast of England to London, where she's docked at the London International Cruise Terminal for launch celebrations. Later, she'll embark on a UK sailing before heading off to Barcelona. A stint in Australia is also on the cards.
Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady are pretty much identical, with their glitzy interior, boutique-hotel vibe and multiple restaurants. The only real difference is their respective itineraries.
Virgin Voyages' want their ships to feel noticeably different from traditional vessels. For Captain Marco Carsjens, that was part of the appeal of joining the cruise line.
Helming Valiant Lady is a "joy," says the captain, who has been in the industry for over 25 years.
"I came from more traditionally designed ships, but Virgin Voyages is very different and actually quite out there from the exterior to the interior in comparison," Carsjens tells CNN Travel. "I'm passionate about design, so the brand using people who have never worked in ship design before was fascinating and it has worked out great."
Besides his headquarters on the ship's bridge, which Carsjens calls the "best view in the house," the captain says his favorite on board spot is The Dock, an indoor/outdoor restaurant with sun loungers and sea views.
"The way the area merges from inside to outside and has a superyacht feel, I love it," he says.
Much was made about the cruise line appealing to people who've never cruised before when Virgin Voyages first launched.
There's no requirement to dress up for dinner. There's the aforementioned tattoo parlor. There are pop-up entertainment events. There are multiple restaurants rather than one large dining hall with a buffet.
Still, Saverimuttu is keen to stress that Virgin Voyages aims to appeal to the veteran cruiser as much as the newbie. He adds that the cruise line is looking to cater to people of all ages.
British cruise blogger Emma Le Teace, who runs the blog Emma Cruises, voyaged on Scarlet Lady last summer.
"Prior to my Virgin Voyages cruise, I had heard a lot about how different the cruise line was. Virgin were targeting a new cruise market and this left me wondering if existing cruisers would like the product," she tells CNN Travel.
"Virgin definitely do have some things that set them apart from other cruise lines such as the included WiFi and soft drinks but I found the entertainment and ship to be fairly similar to that which I'd find on other cruise lines."
Le Teace says that, as with all cruise lines, there were aspects she liked, and aspects she didn't. In her blog review, she praised the fact that crew were allowed to dress casually, and the great food options, while noting she was less convinced by the small pool.
She'd been unsure about the converting bed which doubles up as a couch, but upon boarding was pleased to learn the bed only converted to couch on request. It was also "very comfortable."
"I feel as though Virgin listened well to the feedback that their customers have given them and I expect them to do well in the future," she says.
Looking to the future
Launching a cruise line in the middle of a pandemic is no mean feat.
"It's no secret that Omicron had a big impact on the travel industry in December and for January, people were pulling back on near-term travel plans -- and we did see that in our bookings as well," says Saverimuttu.
But as Omicron wanes in Europe and the US, Saverimuttu is confident a corner has been turned. There's been an uptick in bookings, he says, suggesting travelers are confident to cruise again.
Virgin Voyages says it will continue to implement Covid
safety protocol -- everyone on board Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady is required to be vaccinated, and the cruise line says it also tests guests before boarding.
Saverimuttu stresses that the cruise line hasn't hasn't had any major issues in terms of Covid
-19 related illnesses on board. He said Virgin's vaccination requirements will minimize the impact of any outbreak on board.
As for the future, Saverimuttu says Virgin Voyages is excited about opening up its travel schedule as Covid
restrictions ease -- Valiant Lady is set to sail from Australia later this year.
The cruise line's third as-yet-to-be-launched ship, Resilient Lady, will launch later this year, while Virgin has a fourth vessel scheduled for 2023.