(1:36 p.m. EDT) -- Editor's Note: As of April 9, all cruise ships over 250 passengers and crew that operate in U.S. waters have been put under a no-sail order by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The order will remain in place until COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, and supersedes individual cruise line dates for a return to service. For more information, visit our news story.
Virgin Voyages has pushed back the much-anticipated launch of its new Scarlet Lady cruise ship to July 2020. The ship's official maiden voyage, originally scheduled for April 1, will take place August 7, 2020, with several shorter pre-inaugural sailings starting July 15.
"When we dreamed up Virgin Voyages, we did so with an ambition to create an entirely new way to sail the seven seas," Virgin Voyages founder Richard Branson and president Tom McAlpin, said in a joint statement. "We know that many of you are very excited to sail on Scarlet Lady, and we can tell you after spending time on board, she has captured all of our hearts."
"But at this time, much of our attention is focused, rightly, on the current global health crisis. We understand that this is affecting us all in different ways and making many people rethink upcoming cruise plans. We have spent time talking to our team, future Sailors passengers and travel partners as we navigate this challenging moment."
"As a brand, Virgin has always championed our customers and, most importantly, listened to them. With those principles in mind and based on your feedback, our team has made the very difficult decision to postpone the Showcase Tour launch and inaugural sailing season for Scarlet Lady…"
"For those who would have sailed regardless of the global headlines, we appreciate this will be disappointing news. We are so grateful for your belief in us, and we hope you will join us when the time is right."
"We want to assure you that we have absolutely no health issues aboard our ship and have elevated protocols in place as we continue to put your well-being first. This is a once-in-a-lifetime launch and a once-in-a-lifetime customer experience, and we will do it together when we can all feel free to enjoy ourselves."
"To expand on our commitment to fostering the best environment for our Sailors, Virgin Voyages is working with relevant parties to research new technologies that will help to expedite health screenings and make people feel safe. Developments are ongoing and the hope is to identify this opportunity over the course of the next month."
Scarlet Lady is the first ship in the fleet for Virgin Voyages.
Virgin is offering two choices to affected passengers.
Cruisers who wish to reschedule their sailing will receive a 200 percent Future Voyage Credit, which can be applied to another sailing. Those who rebook before June 30, 2020, will also receive up to \$500 in onboard credit.
For those who want to cancel outright, Virgin will give a 100 percent refund for the affected sailing, and will issue a 25 percent Future Voyage Credit on the value paid to use for a future booking.
Virgin is the third cruise line to announce a cessation of operations; Viking Cruises will suspend all ocean and river cruises between March 12 and April 30, while Princess Cruises will suspend fleet operations for 60 days between March 12 and May 10.
To find out how other cruise lines are handling cancellations, read Cruise Critic's article on flexible policies.