(11:20 p.m. AEDT) -- Sir Richard Branson arrived in Sydney Harbour in his signature flamboyant style this week, whizzing into the iconic port by speedboat to mark the debut of Virgin Voyages' Resilient Lady Down Under and the start of the line's maiden season in Australia.
Cruise enthusiasts lined Sydney Harbour, while members of the travel industry and media were in attendance to hear Branson name check Cruise Critic and the line's recent clutch of awards during his speech.
Sir Richard was referencing Cruise Critic’s UK & US Editors’ Picks 2023 Awards, with Resilient Lady picking up the top award of "Best New Ship" in the US. Virgin Voyages is also the recipient of "Best for LGBTQ+ Travelers," "Best Dining" and "Best Entertainment" in both the UK & US awards.
The dazzling event saw Sir Richard scale to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge for a bird's-eye view of the 2,770-passenger ship. The founder of the Virgin Group later said: "We have arrived in Australia and if you want to try cruising a different way, this is the way to do it. Now we are voyaging, in Australia!"
During his speech, Sir Richard added: "I've been lucky enough to have some 'pinch me moments' in my life, but welcoming Resilient Lady into Sydney on a speedboat with all 2,000 guests waving as I went around it was definitely one of those wonderful moments.
"To have the ship pulling in front of the Opera House was spectacular. I love Australia and I've been coming here since I was a teenager.
"My spirit is pretty Australian. We get on well together. The Australians who've already been on [Resilient Lady] have loved it."
Media were invited aboard the following morning for an intimate press conference with Branson and Virgin Voyages CEO Nirmal Saverimuttu.
Cruise Critic was among the first to step aboard Resilient Lady in Sydney, where Saverimuttu demonstrated the unique 'Shake for Champagne feature'. This allows passengers to shake their phone while using the Virgin Voyages App and within minutes a crew member delivers a bottle of Moet Champagne.
Branson answered questions about his favourite place on Resilient Lady, citing "pretty much anywhere you are on the ship is magical, the design had got every single spot right."
With the formal part of the press call concluded, in true Virgin-style both Branson and Saverimuttu made a splash, jumping into the pool, setting the tone for the night ahead.
As the evening approached, the red carpet was rolled out for a night of delicious food, free-flowing drinks, spectacular entertainment and a fabulous pool party.
Aussie celebrities, media personalities and travel agents joined in the celebrations, inspecting cabins and entertainment spaces, and getting a taste of what Virgin Voyages has to offer Down Under.
Among the attendees were 1,200 Sydney residents, who had secured a sought-after ticket to the launch event. Tickets sold out in in less than 48 hours and raised $120,000 for the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of coral reefs around the world.
Guests were invited to dine in one of the six signature restaurants and watch the high-energy show, "Persephone," in the ship's Red Room. A combination of acrobatics, dance and song, the production was an immersive, electric experience.
The night concluded with the line’s signature Scarlet Night deck party that saw strobe lights, dance music and roving entertainers created a night of revelry on Sydney Harbour.