June 23, 2015 / 6:19 PM / 2 years ago

Branson says Virgin Cruises will sail out of Miami in 2020

Richard Branson arrives by helicopter for a news conference at the Perez Art Museum in Miami, Florida June 23, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

MIAMI (Reuters) - Richard Branson’s Virgin Cruises will take delivery of three ships capable of carrying nearly 3,000 passengers each starting in early 2020, the British entrepreneur told reporters during a news conference on Tuesday.

“It’s no secret I’ve dreamed of building a cruise line for a very long time,” said Branson, 64.

The first ship will operate out of Miami, but no decision was announced about the other two Branson arrived at the news conference by helicopter and posed for pictures sporting a cherry red captain’s hat with matching shorts and boat shoes, flanked by two models.

Virgin Group announced the Bain Capital-backed project last December. The company plans to spend under $2 billion with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, Branson told reporters.

Virgin is shying away from the mega-vessels that Carnival CorpN> and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd are building, which can carry more than 5,000 passengers, hoping to provide a more intimate experience to customers who might not otherwise consider cruising.

“We go against the grain,” said Virgin Cruises Chief Executive Tom McAlpine, former president of the Disney Cruise Line, a unit of Walt Disney CoN>.

The announcement came amid a pending $300 million lawsuit by former Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd CEO Colin Veitch, who oversaw Norwegian from 2000 to 2008.

In the lawsuit, filed in March, Veitch alleged that Virgin muscled him out of a plan to break into the highly profitable cruise industry with two large “ultra-ships” that would give it a foothold in the hard-to-enter business, according to the complaint.

“We’re fully confident the lawsuit doesn’t have any merit,” Branson said on Tuesday.

Branson’s Virgin companies are known for taking irreverent, playful approaches to various businesses, including airlines, rail and cell phone service.

The billionaire also took a stab at traditional business decorum during the news conference at Miami’s art museum overlooking Biscayne Bay.

“I’ve spent my life trying to get people to get rid of suits,” Branson said moments before grabbing a pair of scissors and cutting through Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s blue necktie, as well as those of two other maritime executives on stage with him.

(Story refiles to correct spelling of surname in byline)

Editing by David Adams and Jonathan Oatis

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