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Virgin Voyages cruise line steams forward. Virgin America airline gets ready to fade away

Virgin Voyages cruise line steams forward. Virgin America airline gets ready to fade away
Virgin Voyages Chief Executive Tom McAlpin and others celebrate the first piece of steel cut for the first ship in the line. McAlpin displays a placard with the Virgin logo. (Virgin Voyages)

Virgin Voyages on Wednesday took the first steps in making good on Richard Branson's promise in 2015 to create a cruise line like no other.

Cruise lines usually mark the beginning of new ships with the cut of the first steel piece.
Cruise lines usually mark the beginning of new ships with the cut of the first steel piece. (Virgin Voyages)

In Genoa, Italy, the first piece of steel was cut at Fincantieri Ship Yard for the first of three midsize cruise ships that will bear the Virgin logo. Folks could tune in to the splashy celebration on a Facebook live feed.

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On the same day, Alaska Airlines announced plans to absorb another Branson-created entity, the popular Virgin America airline, by 2019. Though Virgin and Alaska are operated as separate airlines right now, the plan is to combine them and drop the Virgin name. More on that later.

Virgin Voyages provided few details about the "intrepid, romantic and irresistible vision" for the cruise line, as Chief Executive Tom McAlpin, a former Disney Cruise Line executive, said at the event. No ship name was announced either.

Richard Branson, second from right, and Virgin Voyages President and CEO Tom McAlpin announce the cruise line in 2015.
Richard Branson, second from right, and Virgin Voyages President and CEO Tom McAlpin announce the cruise line in 2015. (Business Wire)

The ship is set to make its debut in 2020. It will hold more than 2,700 passengers and sail on Caribbean itineraries, a company statement said.

The creative team of 10 companies set to craft the look and feel of the ship were introduced Wednesday too. It includes Big Apple-based Roman and Williams, which worked on Ace Hotels in New York and New Orleans; and London-based Pearson Lloyd, which designs everything from airplane interiors to workplaces.

OK, back to the vanishing Virgin America. The U.S. airline that started operations in the San Francisco area a decade ago has been popular with travelers for its quirky on-board extras and cool vibe.

Alaska completed a $2.6-billion purchase of the airline in December and plans to retire the Virgin name. But could the airline name live on anyway?

"Alaska Airlines has been paying a licensing fee to Branson's Virgin Group for the name Virgin America," L.A. Times staff writer Hugo Martin reported Wednesday.

"Branson told reporters last year that he might consider relaunching Virgin America if Alaska Airlines decides to retire the brand."

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