Until now, many had speculated the hull would be Virgin red.
It's silvery-gray, with smoked glass and splashes of red including a red stack, and the bow is adorned with a mermaid icon designed by Toby Tinsley that Virgin said represents the ship's 'feminine spirit.' (Tinsley earlier designed Virgin Galactic's feminine motif.)
McAlpin announced an 'adult by design' concept. The line is designing an experience for travelers 18 and older, no kids, as a result of feedback from future 'sailors'—as Virgin calls passengers—and travel partners.
The ship has a streamlined look. 'We wanted to make it sleek, make it fun,' McAlpin said.
To ensure a close connection to the sea, 86% of the cabins feature a sea terrace and 93% an ocean view. McAlpin said Virgin will create a sophisticated ship and a transformational experience that offers a place where 'rejuvenating day life meets exciting nightlife and everything in between.'
It's 'not about gimmicks or tricks,' he added. 'We are creating a platform to deliver a very quality, Virgin experience.'
Branson, wearing a red tuxedo jacket with black lapels over a white T-shirt and jeans, and McAlpin, in a jacket and nautical-striped T, arrived dramatically on stage via a 200-foot crane drop to the tune of the Rolling Stones' 'Start Me Up.' They were joined by Bain Capital chairman Stephen Pagliuca and Fincantieri general manager Alberto Maestrini to weld ceremonial coins into the keel for good luck, music pounding all the while.
'She will be the most recognizable ship sailing the seven seas, delivering an irresistible sailor experience,' Branson pledged. 'We’re also committed to making sure our crew are the happiest at sea and will be proud to sail with us.'
Concurrent with the keel-laying Virgin opened a pre-sale list. Customers can pay a fully refundable $500 deposit for two people and once it's time to book, they'll be the first to choose from any available cabin on any cruise open for sale.
This first ship is due to enter service in 2020 from PortMiami. Virgin hasn't detailed itineraries as yet, beyond the fact it will sail the Caribbean on seven-day departures.
At the keel-laying McAlpin told Seatrade Cruise News: 'Our sailors are going to want to experience Europe.' He said no decision has been reached on where in Europe Virgin might operate, but added itineraries will be announced in the near future.
As far as a name for this first in what McAlpin dubbed the 'Lady Ship' series, he said Virgin will seek input from customers in a contest.
The livery was conceptualized by Ben Christie and David Azurdia from the award-winning Magpie Studio in London. RWD of Beaulieu England, leaders in super-yacht design, created the iconic red Virgin funnel.
Scanship will provide an advanced wastewater management system. Plus, an innovative energy production system of approximately 1 MW will harness the diesel engine’s waste heat.
Virgin has contracted for two additional ships, with deliveries in 2021 and 2022.
With reporting from Genoa by Italy correspondent Luca Peruzzi.