VIRGIN ON A FANTASY? RICHARD BRANSON DIPS A TOE INTO CRUISING (Updated)

Carnival Fantasy offers lots of fun in the sun

Carnival Fantasy offers lots of fun in the sun

Press reports are continuing to circulate that Virgin founder and CEO, Richard Branson, is looking to make an entry into the cruise market. If so, it would be the logical extension to a travel network that already encompasses an airline, a rail franchise and, in the not too distant future, a hotel chain, too.

Branson would, ideally, like to start with a fleet of purpose built, state of the art ships, based in both Miami and the Mediterranean. But, while the Virgin brand has tremendous clout and visibility, simple logistics- plus the length of time it would take to negotiate and complete a whole new design of ship- makes it much more likely that a fledgling Virgin Cruises will buy a second hand ship and refurbish her, at least to begin with.

It is much more likely than not that the line will be wanting a large, resort style mega ship, ideal for families; one with a large accommodation and entertainment handle. And, as a start up ship, one vessel in particular comes to mind.

That ship being the current Carnival Fantasy, the first of the eight ship class that was the backbone of the Carnival fleet for two decades. Carnival Fantasy was, in fact, the first mega ship ever built for Carnival Corp.

At sea on the Carnival Fantasy

At sea on the Carnival Fantasy

The ship, built in 1990 and since constantly updated, is around 70,000 tons, and some 855 feet long. At present, her listed passenger capacity is some 2,056. Currently, the Carnival Fantasy operates short cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean year round, from the port of Charleston, South Carolina.

So- why am I hanging my hat on Carnival Fantasy?

Carnival is on record as stating that any future new buildings for the company will be solely commissioned to replace existing tonnage. And, as 2016 will see the debut of the huge new Carnival Vista- the biggest ever new build for the line- it seems obvious that another ship will go, to make way for her.

It has been standard Carnival policy now to phase out the oldest ships in their fleet, and this alone would make Carnival Fantasy the next in line to depart the line. However, until now, most Carnival expatriates- such as the previous generation of Holiday, Jubilee and Celebration-  have all been farmed out to satellite companies of the Carnival brand.

However, this has never been set in stone and, for both Branson and Micky Arison alike, this could be a mutually beneficial deal.

Carnival's distinctive funnels remain their trade mark

Carnival’s distinctive funnels remain their trade mark

Armchair critics will opine that the ship is twenty years old. Maybe so, but a major refit in 2009 tacked on more than a hundred private balconies to cabins already of a comfortable size. As a result, Carnival Fantasy now offers some one hundred and fifty two balcony cabins and suites in all.

One of the big selling points of this class in their original guise was that even their smallest inside cabins measured some 185 square feet- half as large again as the average cabins on rival ships.

In addition, Carnival Fantasy boasts extensive recreation and leisure facilities for children and teens, and a vast array of nightlife options. She really would be the perfect start up ship for a family orientated, fun in the sun kind of cruise line such as Virgin.

And, of course, more to the point is that she will soon, almost certainly, be available for Branson to snap up.

As ever, stay tuned.

UPDATE 4/12/2014

Today, Virgin formally announced that it would, indeed, be entering the cruise industry, with a pair of new builds from an as yet undisclosed shipyard.

While no formal specifications have been announced, the two ships are expected to cruise from either Miami or Fort Lauderdale, where the cruise line will be based. As yet, the company will not state when it expects to start operations ‘for competitive reasons’.

What we do know is that the new, two ship project is being largely financed by Bain Capital. Heading up the line will be the veteran Tom McAlpin, formerly CEO of The World at Residensea, the world’s first true floating condominium.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

 

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