It was a scene from something cooked up in a Hollywood film set: A black helicopter emerged from a cloud of red smoke, and inside the cockpit was Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
He landed outside the Pérez Art Museum Miami, where he announced that PortMiami will house the first ship from Virgin Cruises. It is expected to set sail in 2020.
“We have always loved Miami,” said Branson at a press conference held Tuesday. “And now it will partner with us for an even bigger role in our future.”
Virgin Cruises CEO Tom McAlpin says Virgin has a “long and loving history” with Miami. He listed all of Virgin’s connections to the city. These included the headquarters of Virgin Hotels and daily flights on Virgin Atlantic.
Branson, who was wearing a ship captain’s shirt and red shorts, also revealed that Virgin Cruises will launch three new mid-size ships each weighing about 110,000 tons. The other two are slated for delivery in 2021 and 2022, and their ports have not been confirmed.
McAlpin says Virgin Cruises "decided to sail against the current trend" of mega ships. The company is opting for an "intimate experience" in "smaller, boutique vessels."
Virgin Cruises signed a binding letter of intent with Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri, which has built more than 7,000 vessels in more than 230 years.
“When looking for someone who could build and create a truly Virgin kind of cruise ship, the answer was obvious,” Branson says.
Each ship will include 1,430 guest cabins that will host more than 2,800 guests and an on-board crew of 1,150.
From the Port of Miami, Virgin Cruises plans to offer a range of seven-day Caribbean itineraries with a Sunday sail date.
— Alexander Gonzalez (@alexgonz10) June 23, 2015
Branson and McAlpin were joined by Ryan Cotton, Bain Capital managing director; Vincenzo Petrone, a chairman at Fincantieri; and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
The Port of Miami agreement will be presented to Miami-Dade County commissioners for their consideration on Tuesday, June 30.