By Cosmo Adair
On the 4th of February 2020, passengers aboard the Diamond Princess were put into quarantine in Yokohama Port. By the 20th of that month, WHO estimated that the cruise accounted for more than half of the reported infections outside of China. Scare-stories leaked to the press. A lack of quality medical kits, poor ventilation systems, and close contact with the infected meant that over 40 ships had to follow similar measures. If you type in ‘Covid Cruises’ onto Google, the first website that comes up is the Wikipedia page: ‘COVID-19 pandemic on cruise ships’. The reputation of cruises, it seemed, would be forever tarnished. But post-pandemic, they’re back with ambition: they’re going for the young.
There’s something horrifically mundane about the idea of a cruise. Long days at sea surrounded by an empty horizon and elderly passengers isn’t what I’d call fun. Personally, I have never been on one, and I hope I never will. That, I believe, is my generation’s attitude to cruises: the many TV shows, articles, and scare-stories have forever put us off them. And now added to that is the horror of experiencing a pandemic on-board. But nevertheless, Virgin Voyages seem to think there’s a future for cruises — not only that, but a future for cruises for the young.
So, what can ‘the young’ expect from Virgin Voyages? Well, from the sounds of it, a decadent time warp to the 60s. All guests are called ‘sailors’, buffets and old-fashioned dining halls are replaced with tattoo parlours, dance classes, a “Lick Me Till … Ice Cream” shop, Michelin-starred chefs, a nightclub, and sex seminars run by the ship’s ‘resident sexologist’. According to Fran Golden in Bloomberg, the seminar began: “If you believe sex is good, say yes. If you don’t, get the f*** out.” Clearly, these aren’t catered for the typical OAPs!
Most of their trips are 4 or 5 nights long. There’s the Mayan Riviera option, from Miami down to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, or the company’s standard one, which takes its ‘sailors’ from Miami, to Nassau, to Virgin’s private Beach Club at Bimini. For the latter, a 4-night trip in February 2022 would cost £1,265.42. In that regard, it’s difficult — which normal ‘young’ people can afford to blow that kind of money on any holiday, let alone on a mere 4 days. But, then again, I get a sense these aren’t designed for the ‘normal young’, but rather for social media influencers and TikTok stars – the kinds of people who not only have a high disposable income, but who would advertise the cruises on their socials.
Clearly, Virgin identified a hole in the market. But they have been known to make miscalculated decisions in the past: Virgin Digital, Virgin Cars, and Virgin Cola. Each fizzled out like a bottle of their Cola left out in the sun.
It’s interesting, though, that the established cruise companies — the likes of Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line — don’t view this as a viable option. Especially since, according to the credit rating agency, Moody’s, those three cruise lines lost nearly $900 million each month during the coronavirus pandemic. But Royal Caribbean CEO Richard D. Fain is hopeful: “The ship environment is no longer a disadvantage, it’s an advantage because unlike anywhere else, we are able to control our environment, which eliminates the risks of a big outbreak.” At such a time when the cruise industry is returning to normal, it would be folly to take such a gamble on cruises catered for the young.
I’m excited to see what comes of Virgin’s gamble. Personally, I think not much will. From the several reviews I’ve read of its voyages, the general demographic doesn’t seem to have changed much: most people remain in their 40s and 50s. That’s a step forward, though it’s yet to breach the Millennial audience.
So, I wish the best of luck to Virgin — but, in all honesty, I can’t see the reputation, image or demographic of cruise ships changing anytime soon. All the tattoos and sex seminars in the world couldn’t make me go on one. How about you?
Image credit: susannp4 via Pixabay