A trip to their airport can be quite stressful and is often seen as a necessary evil to get to the vacation on the other side. But one Australian traveler, who is going by the pseudonym Morgan to protect her identity, was pleasantly surprised while flying Virgin Airlines on November 16, 2023. 

Along with more than 150 other fliers traveling from Melbourne to Hobart, Tasmania, Morgan was delighted when Virgin Voyages founder Sir Richard Branson joined the flight via FaceTime to announce that all the adult passengers on the plane had won a free cruise. 

The purpose of this stunt was to celebrate the arrival of Resilient Lady in Australia. The 2023-launched vessel was supposed to begin her inaugural season “down under” in December of 2023, where she was meant to operate sailings throughout Australia and New Zealand based out of Melbourne in Victoria.

Passengers on Flight Given Free Virgin Voyages Cruises (Credit: Virgin Australia)

However, when tensions in the Red Sea led to the cancellation of the 2,770-passenger’s inaugural South Pacific Season, redeeming their free cruise became a lot less convenient for Australian citizens like Morgan. 

Morgan had originally booked a cruise out of Brisbane, but when Virgin’s Australian cruises were cancelled, the cruise line could only offer her alternatives in Europe or the Caribbean. 

When the prize winner looked up flights to the Caribbean, she saw airfare would cost more than $8,000 to redeem her free prize – which is more than the $7,000 value of the cruise. 

Morgan alleges that when she brought her concerns to Virgin’s team, representatives stopped responding. 

“When I clarified this with Virgin’s PR team they stopped responding.” Morgan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We were genuinely shocked, we thought Virgin would provide us with an alternative prize like a flight credit … or they would allow us to rebook on a later season.” 

As a small-business owner, paying thousands of dollars to travel to and from the cruise port simply isn’t feasible for Morgan and her partner. 

While prize winners like Morgan aren’t happy with Virgin Voyages at the moment, the cruise line’s decision to cancel Resilient Lady’s inaugural season in the region was made with the safety of passengers and crew members in mind. 

Because of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, it was deemed too risky for the 110,000-gross ton vessel to operate her planned 44-night repositioning cruise from Athens, Greece, to Sydney, Australia. 

While the cruise line issued an apology to guests like Morgan who were priced out of redeeming their prize, they also stood by their decision to put safety first.

Resilient Lady in Australia (Photo Credit: FiledIMAGE)

“We apologize to our winners who can no longer redeem their prize due to the cancellation of Virgin Voyages’ Australian and New Zealand cruises amid the conflict in the Red Sea,” said a Virgin Australia Group spokesperson.

“We are grateful that Virgin Voyages have offered all impacted guests the opportunity to take complimentary cruises on its other international sailings, including in Europe and the Caribbean,” continued the spokesperson.

Virgin Voyages has offered free replacement cruises valued at $10,500 each, but has not offered any sort of airfare compensation or stipend as of the time of publication. 

Read Also: Virgin Voyages’ Brilliant Lady to Sail North America in 2025

If everything had gone to plan, the third of Virgin Voyages’ four ships would have offered 14-night sailings out of Melbourne from December 11, 2023, until March 27, 2024. 

Instead, the newer vessel is currently homeporting in Athens, Greece, from where she is offering a series of 7-night cruises to destinations like Split, Croatia; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Greece; Bodrum, Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Rhodes, Greece; and Mykonos, Greece.

At the end of August, Resilient Lady will reposition to homeport out of Portsmouth, England, from where she will operate a series of shorter, 3 to 5-night European voyages. 

In December, the ship will sail to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to begin her inaugural season in the Caribbean. And in true Virgin Voyages fashion, the cruise line celebrated by surprising over 160 Delta Air Lines passengers flying from Atlanta, Georgia, to San Juan with a free cruise of their own. 

The surprise event, which took place on February 29, 2024, was attended by Branson, who personally announced the free cruises and greeted many shocked passengers individually.

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