Richard Branson says 2020 Miami sail for Virgin Cruises

Richard Branson, Tom McAlpin, Carlos Gimenez
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, center, Virgin Cruises CEO Tom McAlpin, left, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right, pose for photos, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, at Perez Art Museum in Miami. Branson and McAlpin announced that Virgin Cruises will set sail from PortMiami in 2020. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

MIAMI (AP) — Dressed in red shorts and a captain’s hat, Richard Branson on Tuesday announced that Virgin Cruises will sail its first ship out of PortMiami in 2020.

The British magnate arrived for the press conference on a black helicopter that took off from the port, flew over Biscayne Bay through a cloud of red smoke and landed on the grounds in front of Perez Art Museum Miami.

Once inside the museum, Branson, wearing his cruise-appropriate attire, said the company would aim to provide customers an “intimate” and “Virgin-like” experience.

Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Cruises, said the company had signed a letter of intent with the Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri. He said Fincantieri will build three midsize vessels to be delivered in 2020, 2021 and 2022, with 1,430 cabins to accommodate more than 2,800 guests.

Virgin Cruises plans to offer a range of seven-day Caribbean cruises sailing out on Sundays. The company hopes to attract a younger demographic than those who typically cruise, as well as appealing to passengers who have not cruised before.

When asked if Virgin Cruises would consider going to Cuba if it became legal, Branson said he would.

“I think it’s a fantastic country,” he said. “I know some people in Miami disagree and some people agree with the opening up of Cuba, but I’d love our cruise ship go to Cuba.”

The tie-hating Branson ended the event by taking a pair of scissors to ties worn by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Fincantieri chairman Vincenzo Petrone.

“I’ve spent my life trying to get people to get rid of suits and ties,” he said.

The billionaire’s ventures include Virgin Atlantic airline and the spaceship tourism company Virgin Galactic.

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This story has been corrected to show McAlpin’s first name is Tom.

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