The designers behind the world’s newest cruise ship have never been on a cruise. But if this approach seems crazy, well, it’s all strategy. The group, dubbed the “Creative Collective” and led by the likes of Roman and Williams (The Boom Boom Room, Le Coucou, Ace Hotels), Concrete Amsterdam (citizenM hotels, W London), and Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio (Shoreditch House, Mondrian Hotels), are deep into designing Virgin’s cruise line with the aim of attracting travelers who normally wouldn’t go near a cruise ship. In fact, Rob Wagemans of Concrete Amsterdam joined the project under the condition that he wouldn’t have to go on any existing cruises at all.
“It’s quite risky, what Virgin Voyages are trying to do, getting a bunch of [designers] who’ve never been on a cruise before,” said Tom Dixon at a party in New York City for Virgin Voyages, where the team of ten designers had gathered to unveil a first glimpse of the interior concepts. “But there’s a logic to that madness. If you’re going to encourage a new demographic to cruise, then why not use designers who’ve never been on [one]? We think, ‘what would entice you to go on a cruise?’”
To start: Scarlet Lady will have a tattoo parlor at sea. Squid Ink (ha!), a World Famous Tattoo Ink parlor revealed in October, celebrates the “time-honored seafaring tradition” of inking up “and we’re continuing that legacy with rock and roll style by bringing some of the best ink artists to sea,” Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Voyages, said in a statement. There are also plans for a dual-level nightclub that wouldn’t look out of place on a historic ocean liner, and intimate, plush bars areas inspired by “the glamour of the 1920s and ’30s, and the glamour of the future,” says Roman and Williams co-founder Stephen Alesch. The ship’s overall design influence is “retrofuturism,” an homage to how Virgin never lose sight of the brand’s heritage as they build the future. After all, Virgin got its start as a record label and now it’s getting into space tourism. Alesch hopes Creative Collective’s designs will succeed in fostering “a mildly hallucinogenic, cinematic, dreamy kind of experience” for guests.
Outside and on deck, the vibe is far more Slim Aarons than Jay Gatsby. Expansive chill-out decks are home to scarlet striped, cushioned sun beds that invite guests—excuse us, “sailors” in Virgin Voyages parlance—to luxuriate in a Riviera fantasy. It’s a world away from the stereotypical cruise ship scene of rows upon rows of plastic chaise lounge chairs. Suite guests are promised their own VIP level dubbed “Richard’s Rooftop,” and, at the extreme top rear of the ship, there’s a “catamaran net” (a rope hammock taken to the max and suspended over the rear of the ship) that guarantees to be the most Instagrammed spot on the ship. That is, if we’re all still hot on Instagramming in 2020, when the first ship is set to launch.
Originally announced in 2015, Virgin Voyages has slowly but deliberately revealed details, bit by bit, initially cutting the steel for the first ship’s hull in March 2017. Today, Sir Richard Branson announced they’ll call the first ship Scarlet Lady—”Scarlet” is a family name, shared by one of the earliest Virgin Atlantic aircraft. (A “Scarlet Squad” is also being launched to grow leadership roles for women in marine, technical, and hotel management positions onboard.)
Scarlet Lady will also have a ship-wide focus on wellness, or “Vitamin Sea” (ha), says Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin. “The Crow’s Nest” is a 360-degree, open-air platform for sunrise and sunset yoga; “The B-Complex,” a nucleus of “Build, Burn, Bike, and Balance” rooms, will host complimentary group classes across the decks—not in a stuffy fitness center. Think outdoor training zones, a boxing ring, cabanas, and a “well-being pool” with juice bar. Rest assured there’s a spa, too: “Redemption,” designed to evoke an “underwater cave,” comes with a mud room, salt room, plunge pools, quartz beds, hydrotherapy pool, and an after-hours DJ party. (That’s quite a cave.)
Some $2.55 billion is being spent on three ships, with the first debuting with seven-day sailings from Miami; each ship will host 2,800 sailors with a minimum age of 18, and 1,150 crew. Virgin Voyages has also set a goal to become one of the cleanest fleets out there, after partnering with clean energy start-up Climeon to “efficiently turn heat waste into electricity, saving stacks of CO2,” says McAlpin. They’ve also been anti-plastic from the start, and just confirmed that plastic straws, plastic bottles, shopping bags, food packaging, stirrers, and take-away coffee cups won’t be sailing with them. Leave those cases of LaCroix at home: The decks will be outfitted with Natura filtered water stations for complimentary still and sparkling water.
And while we may still have to wait a bit longer for a glimpse of the cabins themselves, Creative Collective’s initial designs—both for the inside and outside of the ship—look likely to convert even the greatest cruise cynic. We’ll see you on the catamaran net.
This story was originally published on May 17, 2018; it has been updated with new information.
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