Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady is officially ready to take its maiden voyage this fall after being postponed in April due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The adults-only ship is billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson’s first foray into the cruise industry — and will be the first sailing from his new cruise line, Virgin Voyages, which was announced in January 2019. The inaugural trip was supposed to sail from Miami for the Caribbean on April 1, but will now begin with a “soft opening” on October 16, the company tells PEOPLE. And that is reliant on current travel restrictions being lifted as planned.
After working with health experts, Virgin Voyages stated they now feel confident taking to the seas in the fall, as they have developed “an environment built to tackle today’s global health crisis” on board, according to a press release.
Specifically, they worked with scientists, doctors and clinicians to develop a health plan, called “Voyage Well,” to try to ensure the safety of passengers and staff members.
“The health and wellbeing of our sailors is our number one priority, so we rolled up our sleeves with leading experts to further innovate and create an even healthier way to travel and still have an incredible vacation,” says Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages. “We appreciate some people will be apprehensive about traveling, so we are committed to being led by science and creating ways to give people confidence to explore the world while feeling safer, more relaxed and free to enjoy themselves.”
The Voyage Well plan starts with pre-boarding health checks and rapid coronavirus tests before embarking. Capacity on the ships will also be limited so that physical distancing can be practiced.
On board, the company promises that “best practices around sanitation, physical distancing, limited occupancy and health checks” will be implemented, and digital technology will be used to minimize contact with others — including bracelets for cashless purchases, and the ability to chat with crew members and enter lines virtually.
They will also have no communal food sharing, buffets or large dining halls — though this was already part of the company’s vision of modern cruising prior to the coronavirus.
One of the biggest initiatives the company has invested in is technology from AtmosAir Solutions — an air purification system intended to disinfect air on board using bi-polar Ionization.
According to a press release, this technology has been shown to kill 99.9% of viruses — including the coronavirus — and will be used to pump fresh air through the ship’s public spaces and cabins.
After sailing, Virgin Voyages plans to remain in contact with its customers for 14 days through a health tracking app, so passengers can report whether they have felt ill since disembarking, and let others who may have come into contact with them know if so.
Virgin aims to shake up the cruise industry with the launch of its 18+ sailing, which will offer grown-up amenities like an onboard tattoo parlor, luxurious spa and a blow-dry bar.
Instead of offering buffet-style dining like most ships, the Scarlet Lady will feature more than 20 dining options for guests, all included in the price of their cruise, similar to an all-inclusive resort.
The itinerary also doesn’t require guests to wear formalwear, and won’t have assigned seating or dining times. Another perk is the company’s private oasis called The Beach Club at Bimini, complete with white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, a massive swimming pool and plenty of Instagram-worthy hangouts.
Another unconventional perk: The cruise line will have a “no-tipping” policy, instead including gratuity in the overall price, to avoid unexpected expenses for guests.
Virgin Voyages recently shared photos of the brand new ship with PEOPLE, showing off the cabins, restaurants, pools and other attractions.
In November, the company announced a second ship is already in the works. Named “Valiant Lady,” it will sail three itineraries out of Barcelona, Spain, starting in May 2021. Each of the planned seven-night itineraries will board steps from Las Ramblas and feature an included overnight in Ibiza before taking off on their respective journeys.
In July, Branson told PEOPLE that he wanted to start his own cruise company because he had never found a cruise ship he actually wanted to set sail on.
“I’ve never been on a cruise, I’ve wanted to go on a cruise,” the 68-year-old business magnate explained. “That’s why we started a cruise line, just to try to create a cruise ship that was fun, and that was for adults.”