No doubt you’ve heard the splash that Virgin Voyages made when its first ship, Scarlet Lady, made it to American shores. It is turning cruising on its head, and in a good way. Perhaps even in a late-night-out sort of way. The 2,770-passenger, silver and red Scarlet Lady’s ample amenities are quite different from conventional cruise ships, and your idea of what sailing the high seas will certainly change.
If you’re familiar with Virgin Atlantic and its game-changing inflight amenities, you’ll find even more differences at sea. Scarlet Lady was the name of one of Virgin Atlantic’s first aircraft (the airline names each of its planes), which has since been decommissioned.
Virgin Voyages has a growing fleet of “Lady Ships,” and Scarlet Lady will sail the Mediterranean during the winter months and come to the Caribbean during the summer. Next up is Valiant lady, and eventually, there will be a total of four ships with two more on the way in 2022 and 2023.
A trip aboard Scarlet Lady is an experience to remember. Here are five reasons why.
Scarlet Lady eschews large dining rooms with the same menu for everyone in exchange for a bevy of specialty restaurants, all free of charge.
There are more than 20 dining options (including the various outlets of the main food hall, known as The Galley) aboard the ship. You can opt for Mexican street tacos, 24-hour breakfast with made-to-order omelets, delectable ramen, toasted panini and avocado toast, a grab-and-go sushi station and Italian popsicle stand.
Most unique are the takeaway stations around the ship where you can bring sushi platters, boxed salads, fresh fruit and tasty desserts back to your room with convenience. This is unprecedented on a cruise ship where most people squander away the food-piled china from the restaurant. On Scarlet Lady and other Virgin Voyages ships, taking food away from these stations is encouraged. Try the granola-topped acai bowls at breakfast; they are especially popular.
Let’s start with the most unusual of all, Ganbae, the only Korean barbecue restaurant at sea. Here, the staff dress in the same street-casual outfits you might find in the likes of Seoul or Busan to serve guests from an impressive menu of Korean dishes. Expect bibimbap, an endless supply of grilled meats, a bevy of appetizers and side dishes, and a complimentary round of soju with party games to get everyone excited.
With all the restaurants being free, there is hardly enough time to sample them all. The Wake serves a tasty steakhouse menu at the aft of the ship with the vessel’s wake in view when Scarlet Lady is at sea. This is the most glamorous restaurant on the ship, and it features a raw bar, impressive steak and eggs brunch, Magnum-poured Champagne service and tableside presentations. You’ll find the finest cuts of meat here, and at night, this is a dress-to-dine venue if you want to fit in with the décor.
Razzle Dazzle is the vegetarian restaurant with some “naughty” (meaty) options that spans the all-day menu. Tasty treats include Beyond burgers, a juice bar menu, avocado toast with runny eggs and acai bowls among others things. This is also the location of Scarlet Lady’s famous drag performer-entertaining brunches.
Foodies are drawn to The Test Kitchen for the most scientific and creative meals, but those in love with food should not miss Extra Virgin (Italian) or Pink Agave (Italian), both of which serve delectably on-par local cuisine.
Tipplers have met their match here as there are more places than you can imagine to order a drink including a German-style beer hall with billiard table to rooftop lounge where the breeze can take your breath away.
If you’re crushed for time, The Dock serves lighter Mediterranean fare like fried calamari or tapas-style dishes in Mamma Mia-style seating. Turn up during the evening hours and there is lively entertainment.
The, um, unique entertainment
Speaking of entertainment, no matter where you go around the ship, there is something that gets your feet tapping. Music is everywhere, even when there is no one. Club music dominates in public areas, but in the various lounges, you’ll find talented live entertainers.
And when you least expect it, those same talented crewmembers appear again in the form of a flash mob or sudden musical performance when you least expect it. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, it is certainly a clever way to get people talking, and the mood always lifts when they perform. From an impromptu wedding to a cheery day-starter tune, music and entertainment go hand-in-hand with Richard Branson’s plan. That could not be more true than on this ship. But wait, there’s more.
The sex-themed show on Scarlet Lady is a late-night, laugh-a-minute romp that includes audience participation and plenty of innuendo. While it is certainly a visual PG presentation, the content is certainly on-brand when it comes to the playful tone and raunchy jokes. Being an adult-only cruise line (18 and older), this is certainly no concern, and passengers sailing on Virgin come aboard expecting this time of kitsch.
In fact, this is no kitsch. The star of the show is none other than Sexologist Dr Alex Schiller.
There are only so many ways that you can make a cruise cabin different, but leave it to Virgin to put its own spin on things. Let’s start with the balcony, which has a ruby red hammock suspended from the ceiling. You just know when you know. There is something special when you’re swinging to and fro with the ocean just below your feet (don’t worry, there is still a glass barrier).
In fact, 86% of the Scarlet Lady’s cabins have balconies and 93% have an ocean view. Chances are that no matter what fare you pay, you have a good opportunity to score an upgrade. The cruise line is following the path of others offering an auction-style program where passengers can bid to upgrade. This means that you can score a higher cabin for less based on availability closer to departure.
The 78 RockStar Quarters offer special access to a private deck with whirlpools, private cabanas and a quieter atmosphere. Notably, this area has an evening Champagne happy hour where complimentary bubbly accompanies the sunset. Suites come in a variety of sizes ranging all the way up to the Massive Suite. This has a complimentary custom bar set up and peek-a-boo shower overlooking the bedroom. it also has an enormous terrace with dining table, hammocks and an al fresco shower.
The beach club
On its Caribbean jaunts, Virgin Voyages sailings make a port call on Bimini to experience the brand’s bespoke The Beach Club at Bimini. It is every much a Nikki Beach experience as you can imagine and more. Thumping music, beautiful staff delivering colorful drinks, overflowing food menus (complimentary, of course), swinging lounge chairs, private cabanas with extra service and chairs on the sandy beach.
While many cruise lines boast a private island, Virgin does it its own way. Bimini is hardly only for Virgin, but this private beach club is a party in itself. Expect free wireless internet (just like on the ship), a multilingual staff ready to party, pool and beach games, and fun activities like beach barbecues and bonfires. Don’t miss the conch and mango salad, banana leaf-wrapped queen snapper, Bahamian rum cake.
If you prefer to save your dancing shoes until the ship, there are plenty of places to dance. This includes a karaoke lounge, dance club and rooftop bar. And after it all, you can choose to express yourself with a visit to the onboard tattoo parlor. There are no do-overs though. Luckily, the ship reports that appointments go quickly with a long waiting list. This prevents people from staggering over after a late-night binder.
While more cruise lines are packaging more into the fare, Virgin Voyages does it the Virgin way. Not only are gratuities, wireless internet and soft drinks included, but so are an unlimited number of fitness classes. In fact, this is a pride point for the cruise line. There are plentiful wellness classes including strength training and stretching classes among many others, all for free. If you want to party hard, then you must prepare your body too, right?
One way to get your groove on is to give your Virgin Voyages app-equipped phone a shake. The cruise line’s app has a built-in feature that will deliver champagne directly to you. No matter where you are sitting, if you shake your phone and confirm that you really want the drink. Convenient, huh?
Interestingly, Virgin Voyages does not include alcoholic drinks as part of the fare. Still, there are drink packages that you can tack onto the rate if interested.
While the spa and salon are not part of the included price, there are many onboard offers. These can make it worth your while to lure you away from the main party pool. Whirlpools abound (including one of the largest hot tubs at sea). You may find it hard to get away to the ship’s other amenities on a sunny day.
What you won’t find here are the staid cruise offerings. Forget art auctions with Champagne and servers hawking trays of pre-mixed cocktails.
With a party-style atmosphere and plenty of entertainment, the cruise line does not overlook good stewardship either. There are no single-use plastics aboard the ship, and plastic bottles are an onboard no-no. The line is also reducing carbon dioxide emissions by turning engine waste heat into clean electricity. In addition to a carbon offset program, Virgin Voyages is working on technology to turn ocean discharge waste into energy.
Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.