British billionaire Richard Branson does not know the meaning of the word subtle, and that was made all very clear today during his flashy press conference to announce that he'll be launching Virgin Cruises, the latest subsidy in a Virgin empire that already includes hotels, record stores and space travel, right here in Miami.
Let us take a look at this very odd announcement.
Branson started things off by flying his helicopter into Museum Park through a plume of smoke in Virgin's trademark red.
He landed outside of Pérez Art Museum Miami to an awaiting press corps. Please note the appearance of the Miami Heat's home, the American Airlines Arena, in the background. The team is owned by Micky Arison, chairman of Carnival Cruises — a chief competitor of Branson's new enterprise.
Branson then got out of his helicopter with the intent of planting a flag.
Naturally, there was also eye-candy there to greet him. Branson came dressed for some reason like Toni Tennille's ex-husband.
Don't worry though, the eye-candy was equal opportunity.
Mayor Carlos Giménez was there, too.
Later, the announcement moved inside, and for some reason, Branson decided to cut off Giménez's tie.
Press conference theatrics aside, perhaps you're wondering what exactly this Virgin Cruises thing is all about. Well, it's actually a big deal, as new cruise companies don't pop up very often.
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Virgin Cruises was officially announced in December, after Branson reached a financing partnership with Bain Capital. Today he announced that he's signed a letter of intent with Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri to build three new mid-sized ships. Those ships will be delivered in 2020, 2021 and 2022, respectively. PortMiami will serve as the main hub, with the first ship being stationed here. (However, the county commission still has to officially approve the deal.)
"This is a very exciting day for Virgin and travelers around the globe," said Branson in a statement. "We now have the right partners in place to build a world-class cruise line that will redefine the cruising experience for good. The Virgin Cruises approach will appeal to cruisers and non-cruisers alike, and we look forward to being in Miami and delivering an experience for people who want a new way to cruise."
Interestingly, Miami businessman Colin Veitch, the former CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines, sued Branson earlier this year for allegedly ripping off his idea. Veitch claims he believed the only way to enter a the cruise market with a new brand was by building high-luxury "ultra ships," and he presented the idea to Branson. However, he claims that Branson eventually cut him out of the plan and moved forward without him. Interestingly, Virgin's first three ships announced today were characterized as merely "mid-sized."