Sneak peek at Scarlet Lady, the first-ever ship from Virgin Voyages

Feb 22, 2020

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Can Richard Branson’s Virgin Group work its magic in the cruise space?

We’re finally about to find out.

The brand that brought us a beloved airline, chic hotels, boozy trains and the promise of commercial space travel (even a hyperloop!) is finally unveiling the first vessel for its long-in-development cruise line, Virgin Voyages.

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Dubbed Scarlet Lady, the 2,770-passenger, 17-deck-high ship will sail its first voyage with paying passengers on March 26. But a few media outlets, including TPG, got an early peek at the vessel in Dover, U.K. on Friday.

Completed just days ago at a shipyard in Italy and on its way to North America, Scarlet Lady will cater to a hipster crowd with everything from what is likely the first tattoo parlours at sea to drag-queen brunches and a colourful karaoke lounge. To ensure a proper party vibe, it’ll also be a kid-free travel zone, with a minimum age to sail of 18. Suites will have a rock-star theme.

Virgin is going after travellers who might think themselves too cool to cruise, and it’s promising to shake things up in the cruise world. To that end, the ship will have no buffets, no dress codes and no big Broadway-style theatre shows. For entertainment, expect interactive dance parties, DJ sets and “microplays” instead, plus late-night games of dodgeball.

Related: The 8 most exciting new cruise ships of 2020

Can Scarlet Lady possibly live up to the hype? Here are our first impressions.

In This Post

Inside the common areas

Like several other lines in recent years, Virgin Voyages hired designers with no previous cruise industry experience to make the interior of the vessel feel more like a hotel than a cruise ship. After all, Virgin wants to lure travellers who might not have considered a cruise until now to feel comfortable boarding Scarlet Lady (or one of three other ships the line has on order).  

Nightlife is at the core of the Scarlet Lady experience. Spaces such as the pool deck that are traditional hubs for daytime activities have been designed to transform into lively nightspots after sunset.

While many ships these days have bustling night scenes — particularly the floating megaresorts operated by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line — Virgin is promising to take the late-night scene up a notch with Scarlet Lady.

The Manor, located on Deck 7, promises to be at the epicentre. Scarlet Lady’s signature nightclub covers two floors and will host DJ’d dance parties into the early hours of the morning. It really does feel like a nightclub you’d experience in a city — there are flashing lights,  large dancing areas and, of course, a bar.

Related reading: Get a bottle of Champagne delivered by shaking your phone on Virgin Voyages

In the morning, head to the Athletic Club on Deck 16. It incorporates the pool and several dedicated gym spaces. The two pools are a highlight of the top decks, along with plenty of bar spaces to go along with it.

There are loads of outdoor daybeds so you can catch some Caribbean sun, though they weren’t set up for Friday’s windy, Dover weather. The first gym space goes by the name of B-Complex and is designed for cardio workouts. Notably, gym spaces feature individual lockers to secure your personal belongings.

On the other side of B-Complex, you’ll find the more tranquil space, specializing in strength and yoga training.

Finally, there’s a third gym area dedicated to strength and conditioning, as well as where the majority of personal training classes will take place.

In fact, the Athletic Club is home to the largest daybed at sea. Unfortunately, because Dover, England, is not quite the same as the Caribbean, much of the outdoor space on this first look wasn’t quite done. Winds were blowing close to 60 mph, and the outdoor decor wasn’t done up, reflective of how it would look on a passenger sailing.

You’ll also be able to reserve one of 10 cabanas on the deck for a price if you prefer a bit of privacy while you sunbathe.

As part of the Athletic Club, you’ll also have access to an exterior running track and outdoor gym equipment, including a boxing ring. It’s unclear if Scarlet Lady will offer classes and, if so, at what cost.

For passengers not afraid of heights, the Athletic Club is also where you’ll find a giant netted area for lounging. You’ll be able to look at the goings-on below from above, as if you’re on a catamaran. Unfortunately, because much of the outdoor area was not set up in time for this first look, it was not available for a photo.

Also on Deck 16, you’ll find Richard’s Rooftop (you can just guess who it’s named after). While not technically a common area, as its usage is reserved for passengers booked in a suite cabin, it features a bar and dedicated lounge areas.

After all that exercise, retreat to the spa on Deck 5. There’s a hydrotherapy pool, mud room, salt room and a number of spa treatment rooms.

Unlike with dining, the spa treatments aren’t free on board Scarlet Lady. You’ll have to pay for individual treatments. For example, a Salvation Swedish Massage will cost you $155 for 50 minutes or $225 for 75 minutes. A Rejuvenating Technology Facial will run you $199 for 50 minutes.

There are some lovely spaces inside the spa that are a highlight on sea days. There are heated-stone lounge areas, a small indoor swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room, salt room and more. You have to pay to access these, however. It’ll cost you $125 for a day’s use during sea days and $75 for a day’s use during port days. If you purchase day access, you’ll be able to enter and exit as many times as you please.

Since announcing Scarlet Lady’s features, the most attention-grabbing venue has been the onboard tattoo studio. Touted as the first-ever true tattoo studio at sea, Squid Ink has permanent tattoo artists who will deck out passengers with custom tattoos, an array of piercings and permanent makeup.

There’s a sheet of paper with some custom Virgin Voyages designs — all of which cost $150. However, if you have something else in mind, it’s possible to get it done with an appointment for a higher fee.

I spoke with one of the tattoo artists on board the Scarlet Lady who told me that between the ship’s delivery in Genoa, Italy, to Dover, the studio had done more than 12 tattoos. On Friday’s preview, several people got new ink.

Located right next to the tattoo shop is the men’s barbershop, which offers male sailors a fresh shave and hair cut — for an extra cost.

In terms of other watering holes, you can experience the Draught Haus, described as a “beer connoisseur-approved local taproom with curated drafts.”

There’s also Sip, which is a highlight for Champagne lovers. It’s a dedicated Champagne lounge, designed in collaboration with Charles Joly. It’ll feature tea and brunch services in addition to being a Champagne lounge.

In many of the common areas, there’s plenty of seating — it’s part of the Virgin Voyages’ social feel to things.

Like with most cruise ships, you can expect the standard offering of a casino, which wasn’t available during our stay in Dover. However, there looked to be the standard offering — slot machines, table games and a bar.

There’s also an unconventional take on a theatre, which can be transformed to fit Scarlet Lady’s entertainment options, which go beyond typical Broadway shows. It goes by the name of The Red Room.

Finally, the shopping. It’s called High Street and offers several options, though we weren’t able to get a good look, as everything remained closed while we were in port at Dover. The one evident shop catered to Virgin Voyages-branded merchandise, and more specifically, Scarlet Lady-themed gear.

Restaurants and bars

Virgin Voyages is taking a page from the playbooks of big-ship lines such as Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises in loading up its ships with lots of signature dining. The line is touting 20 separate restaurants and bars across Scarlet Lady.

The days of cruise ships just offering a main dining room with fixed seating and one or two alternative “specialty” restaurants are long gone, of course. But for a ship the size of Scarlet Lady to have 20 dining venues is impressive. Virgin clearly is aiming to be at the front of the “more is better” trend in onboard dining.

Virgin also is going “full Norwegian” in its lack of dress codes at onboard restaurants (or anywhere else on board, for that matter) and flexible dining format — Norwegian being the line that years ago invented the “freestyle dining” concept of eating whenever you want and with whomever you want on a ship.

All meals across Scarlet Lady are included in the fare — an upscale touch usually only seen on higher-end lines. You can visit Pink Agave, the upscale Mexican restaurant on Deck 5 on one night and order a pie at The Pizza Place, located on Deck 7 the next, and not pay a penny more than you’ve already laid out in advance of sailing.

Pizza Place
Pizza Place
Pink Agave

That said, most of the dining establishments on board have a “treat yourself” option. If selected, you can add something a bit more special to your meal for a fee. For example, in Pink Agave, the Mexican restaurant, you can order an artichoke halibut, lobster, grilled giant prawn and bay scallops for $30. Or in Virgin Extra, the Italian eatery, you can elect to add truffle to your meal.

Some of the highlights include Gunbae, which serves Korean food and features flameless grills at each table and is located on Deck 15.

In true Virgin Voyages fashion, on each of the tables was a food and drink menu, along with a list of drinking games. There were no prices along with the drinks.

You’ll also find Test Kitchen on Deck 6, where travellers can pick their ingredients from a laboratory-like setting.

The chef then combines your choices into a final dish. If you’re interested in activities while at sea, the Test Kitchen will also host cooking and mixology classes, among other events.

The Dock on Deck 7 is a relaxed, casual space, which is more of a lounge than anything else. There’s plenty of seating in a light, nautical and airy setting.

Also near the dock is a diner-style eatery that serves milkshakes. It’s surrounded by games like shuffleboard and air hockey to keep passengers occupied on days where it might be rainy.

The largest restaurant on board the Scarlet Lady is called The Wake, and is Virgin’s answer to a dining room, giving passengers a view of (you guessed it) the ship’s wake. Here, you’ll be able to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. At night for dinner service, it specializes as a steakhouse and raw bar. A cocktail cart will make the rounds to all tables.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, there’s a special eatery on board the Scarlet Lady just for you. It goes by the name Razzle Dazzle and is one of the most visually appealing (and Instagram-worthy) spaces on the ship.

Not only can you opt for vegan and vegetarian dishes, but the space also serves up alcoholic (and nonalcoholic) smoothies. It will also host a drag show brunch during the day.

Speaking of Instagram-worthy spots on the ship, you can expect to find plenty.

The most all-encompassing version of a dining area comes in the form of The Galley, which is Scarlet Lady’s take on an all-service area. There’s plenty of seating in the area, which is light and airy feeling.

Unfortunately, during our preview, many of the stations weren’t open, but they did look promising, with plenty of variety. Between an area dedicated to sweets to a burger bar, noodle bar, taco shop and more, passengers looking for a bite during the day will have dedicated set options.

While food is included in the cost of your cruise, drinks are not, save for bottled and sparkling water; sodas and soft drinks; drip coffee and tea. Those are all free. But if you fancy an alcoholic beverage on board, you’ll have to pay extra.

 

Unfortunately, at several venues where I asked for a drink menu, I was told that they hadn’t yet been printed. However, at one of the bars, there were menus. Prices seemed relatively on par with what you might expect. Cocktails ranged between $10 and $14. Wines by the glass ranged from $7 to $13 at this particular bar. Beer on offer included Heiniken ($5), Amstel Light ($6), Corona Extra ($6), Wynwood Brewing Co ($7), Narragansett Brewing Co ($7) and Funky Buddha Brewery ($8).

In the morning, after a late night out, the Gym and Tonic Bar will supply a necessary detox in the form of fresh, cold-pressed juices.

The rooms

Here’s a look at the cabins onboard Scarlet Lady:

In total, Scarlet Lady offers 1,330 cabins and 78 so-called Tom Dixon-designed RockStar Suites. Notably, nearly all the cabins (93%) have windows to the ocean, while 86% have a balcony. There are very few windowless “inside” cabins.

RockStar Suites

These suites are broken down into the following categories:

There are two Massive Suites, and they’re, well, quite large. At 2,147 square feet each, the suites can sleep up to four people and feature a master bedroom, music room, living room, outdoor shower and more. Attached to each of the Massive Suites is a balcony that features two hammocks, a hot tub, a staircase leading to an upstairs table and more.

In the nights before Friday’s preview, Richard Branson stayed in one of these suites. Like the other suites, these have a true music theme. There’s a vinyl record player, a whole showing area with guitars on display and a large in-room bar. The room is quite stunning — and worth a splurge if you’re traveling as a big group looking for a fun time.

While not as big as the Massive Suites, the Fab Suites feature 950 square feet of space and feature a marble Peek-a-book shower inside — with views out to the balcony — and a Peek-a-View shower on the balcony itself. Also on the balcony is a hammock chair, loungers and a cocktail table. Inside, the living area with bar and record player is separated from the bedroom. Both living areas have ocean views.

For something a bit more modest and British, Posh Suites have 833 square feet of space.

The Gorgeous Suites feature 570 square feet of space in each, and on the terrace, guests can lounge in a swing chair.

Standard rooms

Non-suite cabins fall into three categories: Sea Terrace, Sea View and Insider. Each of the rooms — even suites — are opened by a touch card. There’s no inserting keycards on Scarlet Lady.

These offer about 265 square feet of space, except for the individual room, which is meant for solo travellers.

Unlike traditional staterooms, which feature a standard bed, Virgin has patented a new design, called a Seabed, that can essentially be reconfigured from a bed into a sofa. During the day, the sofa is meant to encourage socializing between passengers.

Each Sea Terrace balcony room will feature a hammock.

Lighting (both mood lighting as well as standard lighting) can be controlled from an in-room device. And the bathroom will be slightly more spacious than cruisers might be used to — especially the rainfall-style shower.

Passengers will have access to free Wi-Fi both in their rooms and around the ship. This is another upscale touch. A growing number of higher-end ocean cruise lines include free Wi-Fi for passengers in the fare (credit Viking for starting the trend), but it’s not common on vessels aimed at a broader market.

Itineraries

As has long been the plan at Virgin Voyages, Scarlet Lady will call the warm waters of the Caribbean home. After a brief stop in New York City in early March for media and travel agent previews, Scarlet Lady will take up permanent residence in Miami. Eventually, the line will have its very own brand-new terminal at PortMiami. To be called Terminal V, for Virgin, it’s now scheduled to open in late 2021.

Scarlet Lady will operate four- and five-night voyages out of Miami to the Bahamas and Caribbean. Many of the sailings include stops in Cozumel, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. All itineraries feature a visit to Virgin’s private space on Bimini island in the Bahamas.

On Bimini, you can expect a bit of relaxation and areas that will be more lively. The Beach Club features a massive lagoon-style pool and lounge area. Later in the day, a DJ will set the party scene and, at night, passengers can expect bonfires on the beach. Virgin Voyages has Diplo, Mark Ronson, DJ MK and more slated to perform on respective sailings.

In November 2019, Virgin unveiled the name of its second ship, Valiant Lady. Unlike Scarlet Lady, which will sail in the Caribbean, Valiant Lady will debut in May 2021 on seven-night itineraries out of Barcelona, Spain.

What it costs

Cruise fares will likely even out a bit once Scarlet Lady officially sets sail. But, expect higher prices during the first few months at sea. Deals can be had though — especially for solo sailors that can book cabins meant for singles or larger cabins where they can stretch out.

For comparison’s sake, a five-night Riviera Maya itinerary — Miami round-trip — that calls on Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and The Beach Club at Bimini ( as well as including a sea day) costs $1,000 (about £772) per person for a Sea View cabin priced for double occupancy. The same cabin for a solo traveller costs $1,375 (about £1,061).

Overall impression

Overall, Virgin Voyages has delivered on something that is different from other offerings in the cruise industry. Scarlet Lady is a ship that might be able to attract even the never-cruisers — exactly the crowd Virgin is looking for.

Though there are some kinks to work out, that will surely come with time. As crew become more acquainted with the ship’s features, the experience will likely improve. And, too, considering I experienced Scarlet Lady in Dover, England, in February — not the same environment passengers will experience in the Caribbean.

That said, with benefits like free Wi-Fi across the ship, doing away with some of the old-fashioned features of cruising (like buffets and scheduled dinners), passengers may find something with Virgin that other cruise lines don’t offer. Ultimately, time will tell just how many people buy into what Scarlet Lady and Virgin have to offer or if the never-cruisers will stay just that.

All photos by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy

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