Virgin Voyages is a new cruise line from Richard Branson's Virgin Group, and of all the things they've received attention for, perhaps none have got the internet's attention as much as the fact that they're restricted to adults only - no one under 18 may sail. Disney Cruise Line has been around since 1998, and much as you'd expect with the Disney brand, they get much acclaim for their family experience, and how they cater to children. These two lines may seem quite different at first glance - and they are, but there is one thing in particular they have in common, and it may very well help to make Virgin Voyages quite successful.
Today's Cruising vs Common Misconceptions
Much of my life is spent talking and writing about cruising. What I've come to realize though, is that while there are many great resources for preparing first time cruisers (we have a collection of articles intended to help first time cruisers), there is simply no way to really instill the feeling and experience of cruising without actually taking a cruise. This is partially because of pre-conceptions introduced by negative news stories, The Love Boat television series, or tales from grandpa's days on a Navy frigate. Another reason though is simply that there is no other experience similar to cruising, and for most people, the idea of being on a floating motorized vessel involves sea spray, rocking, noise, and fishing gear - or visions of ocean-liners packed to the brim with European immigrants waiting to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty after being in their windowless quarters sharing a toilet with six other people for the last month. These are both far cries from modern cruising experiences.
Cruise Once and Lines Bet You'll Return
The result of this poor understanding, is that when someone, let's call him Fred Firsttimer, finally takes his first cruise, he's blown away by what he sees, how it feels, and what is available. As Fred walks around Random Cruise Lines' MS Anyship, it's so different than anything he'd imagined that he thinks, "Wow, MS Anyship is amazing!" Odds are, Fred and his traveling companions are hooked. For years, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) has reported that nine out of ten people who cruise once, cruise again. There is a chance that Fred is going to stick with Random Cruise Lines - and why wouldn't he? Cruising, he thought, was formal, regimented and crowded, with too much motion and too little to do, - but MS Anyship was really amazing.
All cruise lines have the opportunity to smash these misconceptions, and doing so could win them return guests, pleased with the experience they got, in contrast to what they'd previously thought about cruising. At the same time, with lines competing so directly for the wildest slides, biggest stage shows, most extreme thrills, widest array of dining options - once that first cruise is out of the way, it's probably easier for that marketing from one line to seem a bit more appealing to Fred than it used to.
Disney Cruise Line's Brand Advantage
Now, before Fred's cruise, he'd seen ads for Random Cruise Lines, but didn't really know anything for himself, he'd not experienced it. Once he did take his first cruise though, he knew it was special. Imagine then how this works with Disney Cruise Line (DCL). Fred is very familiar with Disney. He watched their films as a kid, went to Walt Disney World, and his kids have grown up on Disney.
As a family entertainment empire, they're reliably high quality. Disney is also ubiquitous. Business Insider and others study the most recognizable brands each year, and globally, for years, Disney has ranked as one of the top brands in the world (along with Coca Cola). Many people are apprehensive about cruising, for all the reasons we mentioned before, but Disney is a known commodity, so if Fred Firsttimer takes a Disney cruise for his first sailing, there is a chance his bias will now be confirmed. He saw the stories about that Carnival cruise that ran into some plumbing issues, or that Royal Caribbean ship in a storm - but Disney is different - just look at everything they've done.
In this scenario, Fred's affirmation that the cruise he took was a really special one is amplified by the confidence he had in the Disney brand. "Wow, Disney Cruise Line is amazing!" It makes sense that Disney's brand puts them in a position to have this advantage more than any other cruise line currently sailing.
Virgin Voyages Positioning
Since announcing Virgin Voyages several years ago, they've been clear that they're looking to be different than other lines, "no nickel and diming" they often note (even though drinks, shore excursions, and transfers all come at an extra cost). Right on their site they say, "With Richard Branson at the helm, Virgin Voyages is redefining what a luxury cruise ship means by combining premium elements from favorites on land with the freedom and simplicity of a life well lived on the open ocean." They're telling you that they made a cruise line based on what works on land - not that they're another cruise line. In fact, since their name reveal (Virgin Voyages, rather than Virgin Cruises), and until very recently, we didn't really find them using the term "cruise" very much at all. Branson himself hasn't cruised before, telling reporters in February of 2019, "I've never been on a cruise ship — I've never fancied a cruise ship." His lack of cruise experience means that he can't fully appreciate that cruising isn't one thing; there are many different lines offering very different experiences and we talk about some of the differences here. It sounds like Branson could very well have some of those less-accurate preconceived notions we mentioned earlier, doesn't it?
In addition to promising an innovative new product product though, Virgin already has some recognizable brands - but they're no Disney for sure. They're a known brand to many, and those with positive experiences with Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Holidays, or Virgin Trains, may take that into account when exploring a cruise vacation. The key to all of Virgins' brands, is their effort to seem different or edgy - and one big way Virgin Voyages says they're different is by being adults-only.
Virgin's name has garnered much interest for this "different" cruise line. As someone who reads through a lot of comments on cruise sites, I've seen no shortage of people saying "finally" when hearing about Virgin Voyages, and saying they're looking forward to sailing for the first time. A cruise line that's different from others, created by someone who, like Fred, doesn't like cruising (though he's not tried it yet), and that is adults only - that' grabs peoples' attention.
Starting to See the Similarity?
If Fred Firsttimer isn't looking to vacation around children, and maybe avoided cruises thinking them to be too family-oriented, he may just give Virgin Voyages a shot. He's heard up and down that they're different, and these ships won't have kids! What other line offers that? (Answer: Viking Ocean by policy, and at least a half a dozen others that discourage children, many not offering programs or activities for them). So Fred will set sail on Virgin Voyages, and there's a good chance that by the end, he's saying, "Wow, Virgin Voyages is amazing!"
Selling a cruise vacation as being so different from other vacation options out there, and using that to draw in new cruisers who leave thinking the experience they just had was fantastic, is something every line wants - and it's a great thing. Virgin Voyages and Disney Cruise Line just happen to have some extra advantages due to their brand strength, and if Virgin plays it's cards right, I see this as something that could really help them attract new cruisers and retain them. This is important stuff, as even though 30 million people cruised in 2019 alone, that's nothing compared to the 1.4 billion leisure travelers overall. More people visit Las Vegas or Orlando each year than take a cruise. So there is a significant untapped market, and hooking those potential cruisers to your brand can spell success.
For the cruise industry as a whole, and as someone that wants everyone to find the perfect cruise line for them, I think a bit differently. While it's okay to prefer a particular cruise cruise line, it shouldn't keep guests from branching out - in fact, I'll be cruising on a half-dozen lines in 2020 alone. Every line someone tries might become their new favorite. More than falling in love with a cruise line though, I want every first time cruiser fall in love with the cruise experience, and think, "Wow, cruising is amazing!"