Miami is becoming Virgin territory.
Just days after the British company announced it was investing in Brightline’s rail service (and renaming it Virgin Trains), Sir Richard Branson himself came to town to unveil a palm-tree inspired design for a Virgin Voyages cruise terminal at PortMiami. And oh yes — the flamboyant entrepreneur also also let it slip that a Miami Virgin Hotel is in the works.
More news from Wednesday’s “ship tease:” Virgin Voyages will launch ticket sales Feb. 14 of 2019 for its inaugural 2020 sailings. Virgin also has ordered a fourth ship.
Construction of Virgin Voyage’s 100,000-square-foot terminal — designed by local architects Arquitectonica — will begin next year. Approval from the Miami-Dade Commission is expected in the coming weeks (commissioners Rebecca Sosa and Pepe Diaz and mayor Carlos Gimenez were on hand at the Wednesday announcement). The Scarlet Lady, Virgin’s first 2,770 passenger adults-only ship, is set to launch in 2020 and will sail from Terminal F until the Virgin terminal is finished the following year.
“It’s great to be based here,” said Branson. “I pinch myself every time I look at the designs of Virgin Voyages.”
A jeans-wearing Branson, known for his humor, turned up Wednesday with a giant pair of scissors, ready to slash the tie from any county official foolish enough to wear one. But Gimenez and other officials arrive tie-less, having learned their lesson from a previous Virgin event.
Branson likes to remind people that he’s never been on a cruise, although he has visited other cruise terminals. “It feels like you’re cattle boarding a ship, not like you’re on holiday,” Branson said.
Not surprisingly, his Plantation-based cruise company and Arquitectonica set out to create an ambiance different from other lines by focusing on a vacation icon: the palm.
The building’s roof evokes a palm canopy for guests looking up from inside the terminal and for those looking from the ship’s upper decks, said Arquitectonica co-founder Bernardo Fort Brescia. “It’s more like a stage set than a cruise terminal. It’s meant to be serene.”
Said Branson, “It’s like you’re going on vacation immediately when you arrive.”
In the spirit of Virgin’s longstanding pledge of sustainability, the terminal is aiming for LEED Gold certification in energy efficiency. Branson said Virgin also is contracting to produce sunscreen that is less harmful to coral reefs and is seeking to avoid all one-use plastics. . Still, The Scarlet Lady will be powered by fossil fuels whose emissions are “scrubbed” — an industry norm.
“People look to Virgin to set an example,” said Branson said. “We hope if we’re doing it, others will do it.”
PortMiami director and CEO Juan Kuryla said money for the terminal will come from Virgin and the port’s capital fund, made up of fees from shipping and cruise companies. The county will earn a portion of its investment back in the form of surcharges from Virgin passengers. Kuryla estimates that the terminal will cost $150 million.
The county commission is slated to vote on the matter Dec. 4.
“We’re going to do everything possible for that to be approved,” said Rebeca Sosa, Chairwoman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.