When Virgin Voyages first sets sail this October, it’ll be doing so with fewer people than originally anticipated—and that’s intentional.
Announced this morning, Richard Branson’s new wilder, adults-only cruise line will be capping its capacity for its “soft opening” to help ease travelers’ concerns amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Specific numbers weren’t shared, but the company said in a release that it would be “managing overall ship occupancy so that appropriate physical distancing is possible across all public spaces.”
A spokesperson for Virgin Voyages said it was working with advisers to “make sure we do this safely and with the sailor/crew wellbeing in mind.”
Virgin’s inaugural sail was originally slated for April but the company was forced to pause, along with the rest of the industry, after the CDC issued a No Sail Order, which expires at the end of July. It has since moved the date of its first voyage to October.
The announcement makes Virgin the major first cruise line to declare and explain its Covid-19 safety measures. On Monday, Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald declined to say whether he would consider reducing capacity, indicating instead that protocols are still “evolving.”
The decision to reduce capacity came from what the brand is calling the Voyage Well Expert Advisory Group, which includes public health and sanitization experts as well as businesses to help guide Virgin toward safe standards for its crew and travelers.
The cruise line is also promising “rapid and effective” testing before embarking, preboarding health checks, thermal cameras at terminals to monitor individual temperatures and what it is calling an “ethical health tracking app” to help notify travelers whether a cruiser became sick 14 days after staying with Virgin.
“We are following guidelines that you see commonly on land, so as they are required here, so will they be in similar situations at sea,” said a Virgin Voyages spokesperson. “And we will definitely have masks on board.”
Virgin Voyages already had a slight advantage in that it had never intended on having a buffet aboard the ship, and it had planned to have travelers virtually queue for meal services. But it’s returning cruisers who are expected to save the industry when cruising returns, and as a new brand, Virgin hasn’t yet built that audience.
Still, Oct. 16 is months away, and in an ever-changing travel landscape devastated by the pandemic, there’s still time for more announcements to come.
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