Well, colour us amused, darlings. In fact, we’d have to go as far as saying we had a jolly good chuckle. There was the assembled UK cruise media in all its glory, at Dover and then Liverpool, all dolled up to view what, at first glance, seemed to be some kind of modern battleship, minus the guns. Could this be the great SS Disruptor they had all heard about?
There they were, all ready to pay homage to the ‘disruptor-in-chief’ himself, Sir Richard Branson, only it turned out there wasn’t a whole lot to pay lip service to. Having been promised something that would “radically alter” the business of cruising, many of them were left wondering if they had completely missed the boat, figuratively speaking.
Judging by the reports of many distinguished cruise sages – of many ages and many different perspectives – this wasn’t so much a right royal radicalisation as the Emperor’s new clothes. In battleship grey.
Here’s a sample of the observations we noted as we eagerly trawled the interwebs last week in anticipation of cruising’s Next New Thing:
“I really think Virgin have made massive mistakes. Some things have been changed purely for being different and it has made things worse. I don’t think the quality is there to justify the prices. I’m 25 and I should be the perfect Virgin Voyages passengers, but honestly, I don’t know who I would recommend the line to.”
“Cabins are functional, if a little basic,” wrote another. This on a ship charging more than $1,000/person for a 5-night cruise for a standard balcony ‘cabin’. Ah, Virgin says, but the balcony DOES have a hammock. A hammock? A bloody useless hammock? Have you ever tried to get in (or out) of one? Riding a bucking bronco is easier.
It turns out the ‘tiny cabin’ reference was a recurring theme: “This was not a great room. It was fitted out very cheaply – the idea of maximising space by using a sofa bed is not something that will suit everyone as many people might want to nap in the middle of the day. There is very little storage, nowhere to put a suitcase, a tiny wardrobe, and no bedside tables. The bathroom was also teeny tiny and there are no ‘basic luxuries’ such as drinking water or bathrobes.”
And, elsewhere on the ship: “In some places, you could see the stylish Tom Dixon touches, whereas others look a little basic and plastic.”
We’ve also seen multiple references linking Virgin to IKEA décor, and even to the short-lived and highly unlamented EasyCruise (as cheap an operation as ever set sail).
Of the main shows, one wag surmised: “I think I may have eaten something odd for dinner –like LSD tablets? Giant pink whales, talking cats, now this! The entertainment is surreal, to say the least.”
If you were looking for high praise for the latest thing on the high seas, you had to look pretty hard. True, many did wax lyrical about the food at two of the restaurants, but they also commented on the (tiny) main swimming pool as being “a glorified foot-bath.”
We also had to chortle at the gauche port PRs and travel agents who gushed over “what a beautiful ship” the Disruptor (real name Scarlet Lady) was. Beautiful? This maritime carbuncle? How would they describe the Hunchback of Notre Dame – Michael-bloody-Angelo?
And then there were the “influencers,” who seem to think the event was purely for their personal benefit. This was the cue for screams of “Oh, WOW! This is AMAZING.” And “How COOL! Just look at ALL THIS storage space!” This in a cubicle (we wouldn’t dignify it with the title of ‘cabin,’ let alone ‘stateroom’) the size of the walk-in closet in a real ship. We exaggerate not a tad.
But here’s the key thing, darlings. It’s hard to disrupt a business that effectively disrupted itself more than 20 years ago. The advent of Norwegian’s Freestyle Cruising, Carnival’s “Fun Ships,” the all-singing, all-dancing behemoths of Royal Caribbean, the Edge-class ships of Celebrity, and many others, have all brought dramatic innovations to our sea-going pleasures, and it’s almost like this Johnny-come-lately is still living in the 1990s.
Virgin Voyages might have been a ‘disruptor’ then, but now? Meh, as they like to say in some places.
Private islands are practically passé, while it’s easy to argue that the REAL innovation (read: gimmicks) is provided by the likes of Norwegian with their nautical go-kart tracks, Carnival with the first rollercoaster at sea, Royal Caribbean with ice-skating rinks and flow-riders, and MSC Cruises with their fabulous Cirque du Soleil shows.
While some ships have ziplines, Virgin has a tattoo parlour. Very 19th century, darlings. And can you imagine the spelling mistakes in rough seas? We noted one journo proudly paying $125 for their tattoo that, when complete, was little more than a squiggly line!
Passengers, sorry, Sailors (the Virgin terminology – heaven help us!), will also have to be extremely wary of those prices, too. A day pass to the Redemption Spa – which does look quite gorgeous, we have to say – was reportedly another whopping $125/person, just to use the hydrotherapy pools and quartz loungers.
However, the company proudly touted some of the things they don’t have (unsurprisingly, they didn’t mention space in the ‘cabins’), and they included buffets, for some reason, completely ignoring the fact that The Galley on Scarlet Lady is, actually, a buffet.
Strange as it may seem (especially to us), many people still like buffets. For a quick, light breakfast or lunch they take a lot of beating, even if they are the mother source of all contagion (and Treadwell wouldn’t go within a country mile of them!).
Here’s another thing that’s seriously Not Disruptive. Inside ‘cabins’. They have been the industry’s dismal accommodation entry point since time immemorial, but at least some lines have updated them with imaginative ‘virtual’ windows that show the outside world (Disney) or even ‘virtual balconies’ (Royal Caribbean). Virgin? No, back to The Ark.
Sir Richard’s latest offshoot also proudly proclaimed they have “20-plus eateries,” yet their online PR factsheet listed just nine restaurants and six bars. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships have 19 places to eat and another 18 bars. All of which Tenny has sampled in the past.
It’s all perfectly understandable, though. Sir Richard is, of course, the world’s oldest teenager, hence it was always likely to turn out like this, a schoolboy’s fantasy of being on holiday without his parents.
But, we are told, this isn’t a ship for the likes of You. No, it’s designed for a whole new audience; those who have never cruised before and are put off by cruising being “boring and stuffy.”
Just ignoring the fact that cruising hasn’t been boring or stuffy since Carnival set sail 42 years ago with the ENTIRE ethos of being not boring and decidedly unstuffy, where are all these legions of ‘new’ passengers going to come from for 4 or 5-night sailings to cheesy Costa Maya (a less ‘disruptive’ itinerary would be hard to imagine; perhaps Skegness?); raucous Key West (maybe it was cool when Ernest Hemingway was there. Today? Not so much); or crowded Cozumel (arguably the Caribbean’s dullest port)?
Is it the nightclub crowd? If so, is one club going to be enough or will they still prefer Ibiza? Is it a Millennial audience? Only if they can afford $3,130 per couple for a basic balcony ‘cabin’ for those five nights (plus the cost of flights to Miami!).
How about a ‘RockStar’ suite? That will only set you back $6,630 for two. Then there’s the Massive Suite at a shade under $30,000. Yes, still for five nights. For that price, we’d expect the Rolling Stones to provide a personal concert (turning off Tenny’s hearing aid, of course).
Or, as another blogger observed: “Honestly, I was a little baffled by these suites as I’m not quite sure who they’re aimed at. If someone could afford that for a five-night holiday, surely they’d choose a more luxurious ship, even a private yacht?”
We also seriously doubt if their audience will be local Floridians, who know the true value of a short cruise out of Miami (Hint: they know it’s not $1,340/person for an INSIDE ‘cabin’!).
Oh, and Memo to Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin – calling one of the lounges on your ship “the best f****** nightclub at sea” doesn’t make you cool and edgy. It just makes you sound like an oaf.
Additional Memo – you might want to add a few guns to your battleship in future to deal with some of those critics!
Treadwell & Tenny
So, are we right or are we right? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.