Smoke if not mirrors as Branson reveals Virgin Cruises plans

Local TV news cameras caught Branson making theatrical  Miami entrance Local TV news cameras caught Branson making theatrical Miami entrance

JUNE 23, 2015 — Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced today that Virgin Cruises has selected PortMiami as the home port for its first cruise ship that will set sail in 2020. He also revealed Virgin Cruises has signed a binding Letter of Intent (LOI) with Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri for three new mid-size ships.

Emerging through what a handout describes as "a cloud of iconic Virgin red smoke," Sir Richard flew across Miami's Biscayne Bay by helicopter, landing at Museum Park. Joined by Virgin Cruises' President and CEO Tom McAlpin, the two raised a Virgin Cruises flag to mark the cruise line's official arrival in Miami.

Virgin Cruises' three new mid-size ships, of about 110,000 gross tons each, are slated for delivery in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Each ship will feature 1,430 guest cabins to host more than 2,800 guests and will have 1,150 crew on board. Embarking from PortMiami, Virgin Cruises plans to offer a range of seven-day Caribbean itineraries, with a Sunday sail date.

Virgin Cruises' binding LOI with Fincantieri is the first part of a two-step process with both companies committed to signing a contract in Q4 of 2015. The PortMiami agreement will be presented to the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners for their consideration and approval on June 30, 2015.

"This is a very exciting day for Virgin and travelers around the globe," said Sir Richard. "We now have the right partners in place to build a world-class cruise line that will redefine the cruising experience for good. The Virgin Cruises approach will appeal to cruisers and non-cruisers alike, and we look forward to being in Miami and delivering an experience for people who want a new way to cruise."

"Virgin is a customer built brand that listens carefully to what customers want and then works hard to deliver for them. We are committed to making waves in the cruise industry, and partnering with Fincantieri and PortMiami sets Virgin Cruises up to do just that," said Mr. McAlpin. "Today's announcement brings together important ingredients in our future success -- Miami's vibrant culture paired with the excellent port infrastructure and port team; and Fincantieri's expertise in prototyping, their creativity and understanding of our vision."

Virgin Group announced the formation of Virgin Cruises, in a venture with Bain Capital, one of the world's leading private investment firms, in December 2014.

Ryan Cotton, a Managing Director of Bain Capital, and Virgin Cruises board member said: "As lead shareholder, Bain Capital is excited to contribute our deep experience in building and growing great consumer brand companies. We believe there is a large, underserved market and strong growth prospects for a cruise line that delivers a superior experience for young-at-heart customers. We're very pleased to be partnering with the other important shareholders who share the same long term vision, and together we will provide a strong and broad support base for Virgin Cruises."

Virgin expects Fincantieri to bring these ideas to life.

Giuseppe Bono, the shipbuilder's CEO, said: "I am honored our company is the selected partner for Virgin Cruises for such an important development in the cruise industry. I'm convinced this choice will contribute to the expansion of the cruising audience, especially considering the market segment still has wide growth margins. I am sure that together, our teams will create cutting edge ships that deliver a memorable guest experience."

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez noted, "With the largest cruise port in the world, Miami is an exciting city that offers companies and brands an excellent environment for business. We are delighted to be selected by Virgin Cruises as their home port and I can't wait to see their beautiful ships become part of Miami's spectacular skyline."

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