Virgin Voyages announced Wednesday in Havana that the first destination for Richard Branson’s new cruise line will be Cuba.
The 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, an adults-only cruise ship, will make its maiden voyage from Miami to Cuba in 2020.
In developing its new cruise line, Virgin has been seeking input from potential passengers on both the appearance of the new ship and its itinerary.
“We used research from customers as well as travel partners in the U.S. and U.K. to learn that Cuba is one of the places voyagers would most like to visit,” Branson said in a blog post. “Having got the chance to enjoy a fascinating trip to Cuba myself last year, I can certainly see why.”
Not everyone is celebrating the popularity of cruising to Cuba.
The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, which contends that some of the Cuban port facilities used by the cruise lines are confiscated property, has been urging people not to cruise to the island. It recently extended its “Don’t Aid” campaign, which began in Miami with billboards and radio and TV ads, to Tampa.
“These cruise lines are clearly ignoring legitimate U.S. claims when dealing with a 60-year-old dictatorship that exploits laborers and does not allow independent labor unions,” said Ralph Pizano, coordinator of the Tampa chapter of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance. “We must not become complicit by using their services.”
Branson said he couldn’t wait “to see our iconic Scarlet Lady gleaming in the Havana Harbour.” Havana, he said, is the perfect place for Virgin cruisers “to go and experience a city that exudes an irresistible energy and passion.”
He said that the destination, the only one that Virgin has revealed so far for the Scarlet Lady, is “one of my favorites in the world.”
Fort Lauderdale-based Virgin Voyages will open bookings next year.
The concept for the Scarlet Lady’s design is “The Modern Romance of Sailing,” and it will feature ample lounge space and a Test Kitchen restaurant but none of the water slides and other amenities that cater to cruise passengers with children.
“Virgin Voyages will service a new demographic of travelers to Cuba, which will greatly benefit the Cuban economy and the Cuban people,” said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, which offers educational and other group trips to the island. “The Virgin brand is a perfect match for the incredible music, art and dance that Cuba offers.”
Cuba has become an increasingly popular destination for cruise ships homeported in the United States in recent years. This winter season cruise lines are offering dozens of itineraries that include stops on the island.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi