Carnival, Virgin, American Queen grab a cuppa at CruiseWorld: Travel Weekly

MIAMI BEACH — Perhaps the biggest take-away from CruiseWorld has been the vast amount of travel products that are debuting in 2022 — and the overwhelming need of suppliers for travel advisors to sell them.

A Coffee Chats session focused on just how much the cruise lines need and appreciate their travel advisor partners. And Virgin Voyages‘ associate vice president of North America sales, John Diorio, announced that starting Monday the line will launch a two-week promotion with 20% off all sailings through March.

Expansion at Virgin Voyages

At Virgin, Diorio has spent three years waiting for a ship. “It’s been a long journey,” he said, “probably one of the longest launches ever in history.” But now in one year the line will go from zero to three ships in the water, and a new terminal in Miami opens next month.

American Queen Voyages’ domestic plan

With river cruise vessels that hold fewer than 250 people, American Queen Voyages had the advantage of being first back in the water, said vice president of sales Joe Jiffo, and now all four of its U.S.-based river vessels are sailing.

Also importantly, the company has rebranded from American Queen Steamboat Company and brought different companies owned by parent Hornblower, including Victory Cruise Lines, under the American Queen Voyages banner.

For 2022, Jiffo is excited to watch the relaunch of the expedition ships that “hug the coastline and go into these tiny ports.”

New itineraries are Ocean Navigator on the Yucatan Peninsula and a southeast United States to the Southern charm of cities like Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., and then another expedition ships, the Discover, in 2023.

Carnival Cruise Line looks towards Wave

“Ever since I started at Carnival I have always developed relationships with people like Michele Fee and Jackie Friedman and David Crooks; I always knew the importance of travel advisors,” said Adolfo Perez, Carnival‘s senior vice president of global sales and trade marketing.

While the pent-up demand for cruising jumped in June, it since then has begun to taper, Perez said. Carnival will soon combat that with a consumer marketing campaign, and it needs travel advisors in particular to “reach out to people our marketing never reaches,” Perez said. “You can talk to the Kiwanis Club or your kids’ soccer team to really draw in people who may not have considered cruising in the past or are on the fence.

Perez said he was excited about Wave season. “Our numbers have been going up in each of the past three months; we’ve been 70% full overall and have had a few sailings at 100%.”

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Virgin Atlantic flight marks return of international travel in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — After nearly two years of tight restrictions, the U.S. borders are open to vaccinated, COVID-negative travelers.

And that means international flights are flying again at McCarran International Airport.

A Virgin Atlantic flight was the first to touch down earlier today.

“We have waited 20 months for this day,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of aviation.

“Twenty months ago was our last flight. Virgin happened to be our last flight out of this airport back in March of 2020,” Vassiliadis said.

And travelers were treated to a fabulous Las Vegas welcome.

Some were here to gamble. Others were happy for the chance to see their families after such a long time.

“It is wonderful for Las Vegas. It is the essence of our economy, and McCarran … the airport is the gateway to that,” Vassiliadis said.

She said the demand to fly is high.

“On Virgin thus far we are seeing very, very high,” she said.

“The number of passengers and number of seats that they are selling is way over average,” Vassiliadis said.

Both Rosemary and Andrew Allison are from Scotland, and they said they’re excited to ge to see their sons after such a long time apart.

“Been here for nearly two years, so it’s different. Exciting,” Rosemary Allison said.

“Relaxing and forgetting all the worry about getting here … getting vaccines, getting forms and getting to the airport,” said Andrew Allison.

They said it’s been a bit of a hassle going through the process of getting the right forms. But it all worked out, and now … a sense of relief.

What’s next?

“We know that British Air will be coming from London, as well,” Vassiliadis said. “But they are starting with daily service.”

“That already shows the confidence from this destination. We already heard from Copa Latin America. KLM, come from Amsterdam. Yet another gateway from Europe will be coming shortly after the new year,” Vassiliadis said.

Just proving that everyone needs a piece of Las Vegas.

The Virgin Atlantic flight brought 240 passengers and reported no problems.

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Virgin Atlantic restores South Africa routes

Virgin Atlantic is increasing flights to Johannesburg and
re-starting services to Cape Town following South Africa’s removal from the UK’s
travel red list.

From 8 November, flights from Heathrow to Johannesburg will
increase from three a week to a daily frequency. In addition, passengers flying
in Upper class as well as Gold Card members will have access to the airline’s
Clubhouse at OR Tambo airport.

Virgin Atlantic’s services to Cape Town will relaunch on 17
December and will operate three times a week.

According to the carrier, bookings to South Africa surged by
150 per cent in the 24 hours following the UK Government’s announcement that
the travel red list would be reduced to just seven countries.

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You can order a ‘secret’ steak at the vegetarian restaurant on the new Virgin Voyages ship — but don’t

You can order a ‘secret’ steak at the vegetarian restaurant on the new Virgin Voyages ship — but don’t

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Virgin Atlantic to restart more international services

Following the news that the US would lift a ban on
non-citizen travellers from the EU and UK, Virgin Atlantic announced it would
resume more transatlantic services this winter.

Flights from Heathrow to San Francisco restarted on 2
October, while daily Orlando and Las Vegas services will resume in November.

Virgin Atlantic said it saw a 600 per cent increase in
bookings to the US following President Joe Biden’s announcement in September.

In addition, the carrier will launch new flights to the
Caribbean, including London-St Vincent on 13 October, The Bahamas on 20
November and St Lucia on 18 December.

Manchester airport will also see a boost to services as operations
to Islamabad resume on 8 October followed by the Orlando and New York routes in
November and Atlanta in December.

Virgin Atlantic will also launch its first international
service from Edinburgh airport to Barbados on 5 December.

Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer, commented: “As
global travel restrictions ease and connecting passengers with loved ones and
colleagues becomes a reality, we’re looking forward to welcoming customers back
on board and transporting them to a wider range of destinations.”

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Virgin Atlantic outlines wider return to flying | News

The sights of San Francisco, the magic of Orlando and the idyllic beaches of the Caribbean are now closer, as Virgin Atlantic has announced the restart of flights to more of its global destinations.

The carrier will be offering customers a wider range of sunny locations to choose from this winter.

The popular Heathrow to San Francisco route, home of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and Silicon Valley, will be the first to resume on the October 2nd, following an 18- month hiatus. 

Heathrow to Orlando services will resume daily operations in November. 

The route is currently the most booked across Virgin Atlantic’s global portfolio, reaffirming the pent-up demand for families and thrill seekers to enjoy the magic of Florida’s top destination. 

Party goers can also rejoice, as the airline’s Las Vegas flights will restart from November, with daily flights on the airline’s Boeing 787-900.

The welcome news comes as bookings to the USA surged by over 600 per cent last week, following American president Biden’s mandate that fully vaccinated visitors from the UK will be allowed to enter the country from November. 

Following a significant increase in consumer demand to the Caribbean, Virgin Atlantic is introducing two brand new routes, with London – St Vincent flights starting on October 13th and flights to the Bahamas taking to the skies from November 20th.

An additional new route between London and St Lucia will commence on December 18th, providing customers with an eclectic mix of sunny Caribbean destinations to choose from.

Manchester Airport, the airline’s home in the north, will restart operations to Islamabad from October 8th with flights to both Orlando and New York restarting in November.

Its popular Atlanta route will resume from December. 

Virgin Atlantic will also launch the airline’s first ever international service from Edinburgh on the December 5th, with flights to Barbados providing Scotland’s only direct connection to the Caribbean.

Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer at Virgin Atlantic, commented: “As global travel restrictions ease and connecting passengers with loved ones and colleagues becomes a reality, we’re looking forward to welcoming customers back on board and transporting them to a wider range of our destinations.

“From the thrills and spills of Orlando, the stunning scenery of San Francisco and the inviting beaches of the Caribbean, to reconnecting friends and relatives between London and Manchester and Pakistan, I’m delighted our customers can take advantage of our expanded route network, as we fly our customers safely once again.”

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Virgin Atlantic eyes 2024 for full corporate recovery

Virgin Atlantic believes corporate business could return to
pre-pandemic levels in 2024 and reports that small and medium-sized
organisations are spearheading the return to travel.

Speaking at the Business Travel Association conference in
Liverpool this week, the airline’s chief commercial officer Juha Jarvinen said:
“It will be two to three years until we see full recovery for corporates. We’re
expecting it to be 30 per cent down in 2022 [compared to 2019] and 20 per cent
down in 2023. That’s our forecast. We do believe it will return to 2019 levels
but most likely not until 2024.”

He continued: “It’s SMEs that are coming back first. They’re
agile and need to get deals done. Larger corporates will be later and internal
meetings travel will be last of all. Travel will be rationalised – people will
invest in long-haul travel and put more meetings together.”

TMC business usually accounts for 40 per cent of Virgin’s
passenger revenue but is currently around 15 per cent, said Jarvinen, who explained
the airline had been preparing for a comprehensive upscaling of its services
early in 2022. 

The announcement on Monday this week that the United States
will open up to European citizens in November
took many in the industry by
surprise. The airline said bookings to the US – which traditionally accounts
for 70 per cent of its network capacity – rocketed 600 per cent overnight
following the announcement. New York was the most-booked destination and
premium economy the most popular cabin.

“We had been planning for January so now we have to get
pilots and cabin crew back and reactivate aircraft – that doesn’t happen
overnight,” said Jarvinen.

“We believe 2022 will be a major year for travel and we have
a new aircraft type coming [A330-900s] with new cabins across all three

Discussing the airline’s experience of the pandemic,
Jarvinen bemoaned the UK government’s lack of support, claiming it “gave the
least support [to airlines] of any European government. They take it for
granted that aviation will survive. It means we’re now playing catch-up with
the rest of Europe.”

He continued: “The most challenging thing was letting almost
half of our staff (44 per cent) go… we’re much more lean now. We had three
months where we didn’t carry any passengers – it was 100 per cent cargo.”

By autumn 2020, passenger load factors had reached 20 per
cent of 2019 volumes.

Addressing the airline’s NDC progress, Jarvinen said: “We
believe in omnichannel distribution. We are behind on our NDC roadmap but we
are aiming for NDC at scale by the end of 2023. It doesn’t mean we leave the
GDS but we do believe it’s a viable alternative for some partners.”

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Virgin Atlantic prepares for North America reopening | News

Virgin Atlantic has had a buoyant evening for flight bookings, following the much-anticipated reopening of the transatlantic corridor. 

Bookings to the USA increased by over 600 per cent compared to the same time last week. 

Would-be-travellers were boosted by an announcement from the Biden administration earlier this week that fully vaccinated UK citizens will be able to return to the US from November. 
New York had the most bookings of any US city overnight. 

Leisure destinations were also performing well, suggesting holidaymakers are ready for a much-needed break, with Orlando flights up 11-fold, Miami nine-fold and Las Vegas eight-fold.   

Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer at Virgin Atlantic, commented: “Following the gradual relaxation of travel restrictions, we’ve seen demand increase to many of our global destinations, but the USA has always been our heartland. 

“We are simply not Virgin without the Atlantic, and I’m thrilled we’re finally able to return to the country that’s so important to us. 

“We’ve missed flying our customers to the USA and we can’t wait to welcome them back on board for their American adventures soon.” 

He added: “The news follows a busy weekend in flight bookings for the airline, demonstrating the positive impact the relaxation of government restrictions has had on the industry. 

“The simplification of rules on international travel, which include the scrapping of expensive PCR tests for the fully vaccinated,  are already having a significant impact on consumer confidence, resulting in a surge in demand across Virgin Atlantic’s route network.”

Flights to the airline’s sunny destinations in the Caribbean have risen 50 per cent week-on-week, with its newest route to St Vincent and the Grenadines, set to launch on October 13th, becoming the most booked Caribbean flight. 

Barbados follows closely behind, with bookings for both October half term and the Christmas break proving the most popular time to visit. 

Bookings to both Jamaica and St Lucia have also doubled.

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Scarlet Lady: Inside Virgin Voyage’s new cruise ship

(CNN) — When you step into the Scarlet Lady cruise ship, you know immediately you’re on Richard Branson’s ship.

There’s a record store on the left selling limited edition Sex Pistols and Lady Gaga on vinyl. The crew has cooler outfits than you. And there is red, red, red everywhere — lest you forget this is a Virgin-branded endeavor.

Then there is Branson himself, back from space and joining his executive team in New York City to show off Virgin Voyages first ship before it starts sailing from Miami on October 6.

Without kids splashing about, the ship's pool area aims for well-being and tranquility.

Without kids splashing about, the ship’s pool area aims for well-being and tranquility.

Channon Hodge/CNN

The 1,408-cabin ship is hip, alternating luxury with a casual vibe that beckons guests to come as they are if they happen to be very cool kinds of people. The adults-only ship has luxurious gold fixtures and bannisters, ultrachic, boutique-sized restaurants and double chaise loungers absolutely everywhere that seem destined for guests who want to canoodle the day away.

Richard Branson, Paris Hilton and Tom McAlpin at the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Showcase in New York City.

Richard Branson, Paris Hilton and Tom McAlpin at the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Showcase in New York City.

Courtesy Virgin Voyages

Everything on the cruise ship screams, “This is not a cruise ship!” And that’s because Branson said he hated the idea of ever being on one.

“Before I started Virgin Atlantic, I didn’t fancy flying on other people’s airlines because they were stuffy, not fun,” Branson told CNN Travel from one of the ship’s Rockstar suites. “That’s the perfect time to go into business and [ask] could we create the kind of cruise company that myself, my family and friends would love to go on?”

Floating nightclub

The ship's theater is called The Manor, named for Richard Branson's first recording studio.

The ship’s theater is called The Manor, named for Richard Branson’s first recording studio.

Channon Hodge/CNN

That apparently means having guitars and turntables at hand in the two premium “Massive” suites, peekaboo showers in many of the cabins so you never have to lose sight of your loved ones and Richard’s Rooftop — a private bar and cocktail area for guests (or “sailors” as they’re called) who’ve sprung extra for suites.

To create all this, Virgin Voyages pulled together a team of designers who are more accustomed to working on land, such as Roman and Williams, who are known for New York’s Ace Hotel.

Among other things, they designed the Manor, a theater that turns into a nightclub. You enter it by way of a massive tunnel drenched in stars. The space has a stage that moves around so audiences can interact and a bright neon sign on the wall that says, “If you want to dance, dance! If you can’t see something, move! If you want a drink, grab a drink!”

The Scarlet Lady's "well-being pool."

The Scarlet Lady’s “well-being pool.”

Courtesy Virgin Voyages

There’s no massive dining hall or buffet, no neon amusement rides and no cruise director here. Instead, ship activities and “happenings” are run by staff who are experts at what they do; workout with real fitness gurus, play games with real gamers and dine with avowed foodies.

The Virgin team did, however, include some major cruise industry veterans such as Frank Weber, senior vice president of hotel operations. Weber couldn’t help but dance through the hallways while touring the ship for press. He’d had new ideas pent up for nearly three decades while working at companies such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.

“Every time I wanted to change something, you had to jump through hoops because your loyalty customers say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you changed this!’ ” Weber tells CNN Travel. “This is my baby, and I’ve put a lot of effort and work and passion in.”

Scarlet Lady offered Weber and the team an opportunity to do everything from scratch and that’s fully apparent when eating and drinking. For one, Weber thought drink packages were “the devil,” so guests can buy prepaid bar tabs; a $300 tab comes with a $50 bonus.

‘Not your grandma’s cruise’

The Extra Virgin restaurant relies on a comfortable, trattoria-style Italian atmosphere.

The Extra Virgin restaurant relies on a comfortable, trattoria-style Italian atmosphere.

Courtesy Virgin Voyages

You don’t get set times for dinner, and you won’t be stuck at large tables with guests you don’t know (unless you ask to be.)

The ship has more than 20 eateries, including a bright, open food hall. You can also dine at one of the six specialty restaurants any time you want; just add yourself to the wait list, and an app tells you when your table is ready.

Have an Impossible burger while sipping an old fashioned topped with salty-sweet popcorn at Razzle Dazzle, home of the drag brunch. Play Korean drinking games at Gunbae while grilling your food right in front of you. Or go high-end and order a seafood tower at The Wake.

It’s all part of your package, and there are no upcharges for your dining choices. Tips are included. Weber points out that on a traditional cruise ship, all the food often comes from one central galley, but that’s one of many ways that cruising has lost its way. But Scarlet Lady goes for authenticity.

“Each restaurant has their own kitchen,” says Weber. “Each restaurant has their own executive chef, which is more expensive than doing it in other ways, but you improve the quality.”

The ship's Pink Agave Mexican restaurant and serves a wide variety of mezcals.

The ship’s Pink Agave Mexican restaurant and serves a wide variety of mezcals.

Courtesy Virgin Voyages

Virgin executives admit this kind of made-to-order individual attention goes contrary to normal cruise industry thinking where meals are mass produced so a ship’s thousands of guests can all eat on time.

“It’s tougher on the staff …” Branson starts to say.

“But that’s what makes us so different,” finishes Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages who sits beside Branson. “Those are the types of things that say — this is not your grandma’s cruise.”

But grandmas and grandpas are a huge and loyal chunk of the cruise market. Adults in their 60s are the largest passenger group, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, and they’re even more powerful when bringing along the grandkids. To keep growing, the industry needs those grandkids to turn into customers when they grow up. The industry worries that’s not been happening quite enough and Covid-19 just made things worse.

Tattoos at sea

Suits feature private sun loungers and an outdoor terrace couch.

Suits feature private sun loungers and an outdoor terrace couch.

Courtesy Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages seems to be doing all it can to appeal to that younger, discerning crowd.

Like many new cruise ships, they’ve made Scarlet Lady environmentally friendly. The engine converts heat waste into electricity, and they shun single-use plastics. Many ingredients come from sustainable or local Florida sources. The coffee is from Intelligentsia, a company that relies on “direct trade” over “fair trade,” meaning it guarantees farmers a minimum price for crops.

Entertainment is “choose your own adventure” and reminiscent of some hot new thing you couldn’t snag tickets to in New York or London. There’s a participatory night show called “Never Sleep Alone” run by a sex therapist, a series of plays that pop up throughout the ship called Phantom Folktales and new productions by Randy Weiner, who created “The Donkey Show” and “Sleep No More.”

There’s the usual casino and shopping, but Weber said the tattoo parlor was booked up during the ship’s UK run (must have been smooth sailing.)

McAlpin says he would love it if Scarlet Lady showed a larger market that there is a “new way to cruise” but says Virgin Voyages is not necessarily focused on wooing younger crowds. They’re going after people who are a lot like Richard Branson.

The Net at the Athletic Club is a suspended, comfortable netting with a view of the ocean below.

The Net at the Athletic Club is a suspended, comfortable netting with a view of the ocean below.

Courtesy Virgin Voyages

“We’re really focusing on the young-at-heart, people who want to come have a good time,” says McAlpin. “They don’t want all that formality but still want luxury … and luxury your way.”

Scarlet Lady starts officially sailing on October 6 with trips through the Caribbean, stopping at Virgin’s private beach club in Bimini (in the Bahamas).

Cabins range from $725 to $5,875 and were still selling as of September 18. Virgin Voyages plans on launching the second of its four planned ships, Valiant Lady, in 2022, which will sail throughout the Mediterranean.

Top image credit: Virgin Voyages

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