This—the first destination news disclosed by the line, beyond its plans to offer weekly cruises from PortMiami with Sunday departures—came on the same day as Fincantieri announced the order for a fourth Virgin Voyages newbuild.
Not too big for the cruise terminal
'One of the most desired and interesting destinations'
The decision to visit Cuba was influenced by customer and travel partner research conducted in North America and the United Kingdom. Both groups consistently rank the Caribbean island as one of the most desired and interesting destinations to visit on a voyage.
'Virgin Atlantic has been visiting Cuba for 13 years, and I cannot wait to see our iconic Scarlet Lady gleaming in the Havana Harbor,' Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said. 'Havana is the perfect place for our sailors to go and experience a city that exudes an irresistible energy and passion.'
Branson had indicated Cuba was under consideration as far back as 2015, during the first announcement that Virgin Voyages was building ships at Fincantieri.
'We are thrilled to share the news about our partnership with Cuba and can’t wait to take our sailors to Havana, which is without doubt, one of the Caribbean’s most authentic and enriching destinations,' Virgin Voyages president and CEO Tom McAlpin said. 'This fantastic place offers the chance for our sailors to create their own unique stories as they uncover cultural treasures, meet the locals and just soak up the atmosphere.'
Overnight in Havana
All sailings to Cuba from PortMiami feature an overnight stay in Havana, where people-to-people experiences will be offered in compliance with US regulations on travel to Cuba. Excursion details will become available later in 2019.
The Virgin Voyages destination announcement was made at the Havana International Fair (FIHAV), with remarks from Virgin Voyages executives, government representatives and local tourism leadership.
'We have a long-standing relationship with Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin Group and are pleased to announce this new partnership with Virgin Voyages,' Cuba Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz said. 'The Cuban people look forward to welcoming Virgin Voyages’ first ship, its crew and passengers to our shores in 2020.'
Serving a new demographic
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, hailed the news.
'Virgin Voyages will service a new demographic of travelers to Cuba, which will greatly benefit the Cuban economy and the Cuban people,' Laverty said. 'The Virgin brand is a perfect match for the incredible music, art and dance that Cuba offers.
'Virgin Voyages passengers are in for a real treat.'
Laverty added that the brand’s focus on higher-end travelers will 'differentiate it from cruise lines currently offering Cuba. It will also mean higher earnings for Cuban companies and more money in the pockets of the Cuban people. Moreover, Virgin’s focus on culture will highlight the incredible talent of Cuban artists, incorporating them in on-ship experiences and ground excursions.'
In fact, a number of other premium/luxury lines—Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, Ponant, SeaDream, Azamara Club Cruises, Holland America, Pearl Seas, Victory Cruise Lines, to name some—are charting Cuba, however the Virgin name certainly brings added cachet.