The news that Virgin Voyages will not return for a second season Down Under came as a shock – and left many asking, after all the hype, why? Is it because of the Red Sea?

Remember the fanfare around Resilient Lady’s arrival. Sir Richard Branson sailing next to her on a vintage speedboat; free cruises for passengers onboard a Melbourne to Hobart Virgin Australia flight; dance parties and drag queens for the public and plenty of press in the mainstream media.

Bookings apparently were running hot.

Then, suddenly, it was all over. Virgin Voyages this week announced it would not return to Australia and New Zealand for the 2024/25. And all “because of the ongoing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea”.

A statement said: “Based on the regional and government advice we have received, we remain very concerned about potential escalations in the Red Sea over the next 12 months.

“This significant and ongoing conflict puts unacceptable risks for safe passage through the region for our sailors (passengers), crew, and vessel (Resilient Lady). As a result, we have been left with no choice but to cancel our 2024/25 voyage season plans for Resilient Lady.”

But some insiders say if that were so, Australia – one of the world’s biggest cruise destinations – would have very few ships sailing its coastline next season.

They maintained the lure of the US dollar and the lower Aussie dollar may also have been part of Virgin Voyages’ thinking.

Most repositioning cruises to and from Australia travel via the Pacific or through Asia.

Virgin Voyages though is not the first cruise line to alter its course due to the Middle East tensions in the Red Sea.

What the other lines have said

MSC Cruises: MSC has been proactive in adjusting schedules. They’ve cancelled several “Grand Voyages” repositioning cruises scheduled for April 2024 that were set to pass through the Red Sea. They’ve also cancelled the 2023-2024 winter season of Red Sea cruises. MSC explicitly cites the safety and security of its guests and crew.

AIDA Cruises: This German brand, part of Carnival Corporation, has cancelled repositioning voyages for three ships due to concerns about the Red Sea area.

Seabourn Cruises: Seabourn has cancelled voyages that included transiting the Red Sea and Suez Canal and adjusted other itineraries to avoid the region.

Silversea Cruises: Silversea has also adjusted itineraries, with some cruises ending in new destinations like the Seychelles to avoid the Middle East entirely.

Crystal Cruises: Their Chairman’s Cruise was cancelled due to security concerns stemming from tension in the Red Sea.

Costa Cruises Costa cancelled a 19-night cruise that was set to traverse the Red Sea region.

Norwegian Cruise Line: NCL has cancelled all its port calls in Israel through 2024.

Why are security issues a concern?

The Houthi rebels in Yemen have targeted ships, including commercial vessels, passing through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. This strategic waterway connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, making it a vital trade route. The attacks increase the risk for cruise lines operating in the region.

Where’s Australia in all of this

Virgin Voyages is the second line to axe Australian sailings. Cunard’s decision to withdraw from homeporting in Australia after 2025 is due to a combination of factors that may also apply to Virgin Voyages:

Cost challenges: Rising operational costs, along with an unfavourable exchange rate between the Australian Dollar and other currencies, have made cruising from Australia less profitable for Cunard.

Passenger suitability: Cunard’s traditional style of cruising, with its emphasis on formal attire and elegant experiences, draws a particular clientele. The line has found a decreased supply of passengers in Australia well-suited to its unique brand of luxury cruising.

Virgin Voyages: a progressive line with an in-your-face style that might just be too advanced for traditional Australian cruisers

But back to Virgin

Resilient Lady is an impressive ship with strong offerings for a younger market. If you are sailing in Europe, it’s worth trying her out.

She’s fun and vibrant, and when we reviewed her, it was nice to see a mixture of young and old guests; first-timers and die-hard cruisers.

Australia though, remains a rather conservative cruise demographic. They still love their main dining rooms, their allocated seating times and their itineraries jam-packed with activities.

Maybe Virgin might have been a bit too bold for our market right now. But in a few years, when the demographics have shifted, Resilient Lady will be back.

Important note

The situation in the Middle East can be fluid. It’s always best to check directly with the cruise line for the most up-to-date information on their itineraries and any security-related changes.