It’s not often there is as much buzz about a new cruise ship, or in this case cruise line, than with Virgin Voyages. The Godfather of Virgin, Richard Branson, has said it’s been his dream to have a cruise line since he was in his 20s, so this is very much been a long time in the making.
Virgin Voyages are going out of their way to challenge what cruising means, where they have tried to rip up or rewrite the rule book. And of course, applying the signature Virgin ethos to the seas along the way. The big question is, does this work? Having spent only a night on board, I feel as though I’ve only really had a small glimpse of what Scarlet Lady has to offer, but yes, I think in time this could be a very fabulous product. Here’s are my take-aways from my short time on board.
She’s got the look …
From the outside, Scarlet Lady really is a looker, with sleek lines and that oh-so prominent bow. She almost looks like a race car, with what I feel is hot rod’esque styling around the funnel. You can definitely see her fitting into the Miami skyline on a typical day. Her grey colour divides opinion, but I quite like it.
The interior design of Scarlet Lady is something else. So much thought has gone into the spaces on board and it really doesn’t feel like a cruise ship. That’s not a coincidence, as Virgin hired a number of designers that have not been involved in cruise ship design before – The overall effect is that she’s utterly stunning. For me, some venues stand out above the others.
Firstly, there’s Sip, the champagne bar on board. This is a decadent space, with rich colours and metals and a signature rose marble bar. I think it’s by far my favourite venue on board. I could easily see myself shaking my phone on the Virgin App, which brings champagne, before dinner. Then there’s The Dock, with oversized furniture, day beds, and a relaxed beach-house feel, it will fit perfectly on a warm day in the Caribbean. There’s also an outdoor area overlooking the wake of the ship. If you need me in the day, I’ll be here!
The heart of the ship is The Roundabout, a two-story atrium that has a distinctive art deco feel and features white marble, iridescent glass and plenty of seating. Surrounding the Roundabout are a number of bars and casual eateries, including On The Rocks, which specializes in mixology – I’ll have a Martini, please. The overall feeling you get from the spaces on board are to make you want to just spontaneously hang-out or have your interest peaked by an impromptu activity (more on that shortly!).
The Ocean Terrace
The cabins on board are really dividing opinion and as with the rest of the ship, Virgin have looked to approach the cabin with a blank piece of paper.
Upon entering the cabin, you won’t find a bed. Instead, you have a convertible sofa bed, where during a typical day you can lounge about with the L-shaped sofa and then in the evening your cabin steward will transform it into a double or single set of beds. This set-up does genuinely give you a little more space in the day, but it makes the room feel a little strange, as if it’s not sure what it’s trying to be. The sofa bed is very comfortable, and from responses on social media, the general thought is that people will opt to have it remain a bed all day. Personally, and I know this will be controversial for some, I don’t mind the bed setup.
I have more thoughts regarding other parts of the cabin. Chief to this is the size of the bathroom. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely space with a rainfall shower and a lovely design, but it’s just quite difficult for someone my size to maneuver in. So, if sharing with others it could easily feel overcrowded.
Storage space could be another issue. Unlike on a conventional cruise ship, there’s no formal wardrobe and just a curtain that hides a (fairly large) rail and sideboard. There’s also a cupboard with shelves. I can see what they’re trying to do here, with the room trying to emulate a Boho style loft environment which for me, on a 4/5-night cruise, would be fine, but I could struggle on a longer cruise, or if you like to overpack.
Firstly, a quick disclaimer. If you know the UK in February, the weather can be utterly atrocious, and unfortunately, this was the case during our visit to Scarlet Lady. So, in fairness, we couldn’t really get the best impression of the outdoor spaces on board.
There are two pool areas on board. I actually like the overall design of the main pool. However, for a ship this size, I was genuinely expecting the ship to have a larger pool area. The small plunge pool is framed by a large splash and lounging area. It feels much more like something you’d see in the baths of somewhere like Budapest, than a lido deck. I can see what they want to achieve, with people hanging out and cooling off by the pool area, but probably not spending that much time in the pool itself.
Secondly, there is the wellness pool and jacuzzis. I actually really like this area. There’s also a cool juice bar, Gym & Tonic.
My favourite spot had to be The Athletic Club. Again, not in use due to the weather, but this is a fun outdoor space that would work well as a sunset bar, with fun and comfortable seating. And the net that overhang’s the back of the ship is really cool. There is also a suite only area here, Richard’s Rooftop, however, we couldn’t get access to it owing to the weather.
Food & Drink
All 22 restaurants are included in the fare on board Scarlet Lady. That’s really refreshing. Again, the design of these spaces is quite incredible. So much thought has gone into it, and it really comes through.
Given our limited time on board I only had a chance to sample some of the food. I ate dinner in Gunbae, the Korean BBQ on board. Korean BBQ is some of my favourite food so I was really excited to try this and overall, I really enjoyed the experience. The venue is designed really well and is lively and loud – as you would want it to be. The ethos focusses around a hands-on experience where you grill your own food together in the centre of your table. I’d definitely recommend it!
I also enjoyed a lovely breakfast in Razzle Dazzle. One of the signature venues on this ship, this takes inspiration from military camouflage. It’s a fun and friendly atmosphere any time of day. This will play host to drag brunch during cruises and I can see this working so well – I really want to experience it!
While I didn’t try them, I also want to mention Pink Agave and Test Kitchen. The design of both of these venues is utterly stunning, and again both places I would love to eat. Pink Agave is an elevated Mexican experience while Test Kitchen is about experiential cuisine where you are given ingredients and tailor your meal to what you fancy. It all sounds really yummy.
A core ethos of Virgin Voyages is wellbeing and this is evident across the ship. A lot of space has been dedicated to you looking after yourself. Venues include the Redemption Spa, offering a number of treatments and a gorgeous Persian style garden. Then there is B-Complex, the onboard gym with top-of-the-line equipment. Heading back to the Athletic Club outside, this space is also designed to be an active area with a basketball court, boxing spaces and other active training. Link to this space is The Runway, the dedicated jogging track on board. Right at the top of the ship, you’ll also find The Perch, a space dedicated to outdoor yoga and other classes.
Entertainment & Activities
Virgin has a unique approach to entertainment and activities on board, and this really stands out. Unlike other cruise ships, there is no cruise director on board, instead, there is a unique cast of 14 who curate your experience – all boasting some serious elegance as they greet you across the ship throughout the day.
Through this, Scarlet Lady really does embrace the flash mob lifestyle, with pop-up events and sporadic activities throughout the day – It’s genuinely not like any other cruise line. How about an impromptu ‘grog walk’. We were seated in The Dock when an entourage of masked pirates appeared all singing and dancing and encouraged us to follow them. As we danced our way through the ship, we picked up more guests and went on a bar crawl. Or how about an impromptu drag performance by the fabulous resident drag queen, Tora Himan, at the Roundabout, why not! It’s a great way to spice things up and was really unexpected fun.
The entertainment on board is also something else. Firstly, there is Dual Reality. Here the Red Room Theatre is transformed into a sports hall, where the audience faces each other sat on the cleverly designed bleachers. The show is a take on Romeo & Juliet, with two sides warring against each other through various circus skills, including pole work, acrobatics, juggling, dancing, and other gymnastics. Honestly, the quality of talent is really something else and I came away energized and really impressed.
Coming back later in the evening, the Red Room had been completely transformed. This truly is a flexible space, where all the seating had been removed, and replaced with a dance floor and catwalk. This is Untitled Dance Show Party Thing, a 2-hour long immersive dance experience with dancing, singing, a talking cosmic cat, a stalk (yes, really!) and a really cool moving stage. I actually really enjoyed it, though you are expected to stand for a long time which may not suit everyone. Virgin has actually been trialing this show for a number of months unbranded in New York, and it’s been very popular.
Up for dancing the night away? Then head to The Manor, with its unique instagrammable mirrored hallway. This is a multifunctional space that can be used for all sorts of activities, from live bands to club nights, and features retro styling.
So, would I cruise on Scarlet Lady?
The million-dollar question. The short answer is, yes. I love so many parts of the ship and I could happily see myself on a 4-night cruise to the Bahamas on board.
Where is she sailing?
In 2020, Scarlet Lady will sail from Miami on a mixture of itineraries that visit the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. On top of this, Atlantis Events will be taking over Scarlet Lady at the end of May 2020 – It’s Atlantis, the Virgin way!
View all of Marcus’s photos on our Facebook page!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Virgin Voyages for this overnight stay. All views and opinions are my own and I retain editorial control. I was not paid to attend this trip.