Virgin Voyages finally is starting up cruises out of Miami after more than a year of delays

Oct 8, 2021

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The much-awaited start to Virgin Voyages sailings out of Florida finally is at hand.

After a series of delays that pushed back its worldwide debut by more than a year, the much-ballyhooed new cruise brand backed by Richard Branson today will kick off its first sailing with paying passengers from Miami — its initial base for North American operations.

The four-night voyage will take place on the line’s first ship, the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, and feature calls at Nassau in the Bahamas and at the Bahamian island of Bimini.

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It’ll be the first Virgin Voyages sailing anywhere in the world other than a brief series of short trips out of Portsmouth, England, in August that were available to U.K. residents only.

Originally scheduled for early 2020, the debut of Virgin Voyages has been one of the most anticipated cruise industry events of the past few years.

Since plans for Virgin Voyages (initially called Virgin Cruises) were first announced in 2014, the brand has been promising to shake things up in the cruise world with a lively, adult-focused onboard experience that it has said would be unlike anything else in cruising.

The new Virgin Voyages ship Scarlet Lady. (Photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages)

Specifically, the line’s ships — in addition to Scarlet Lady, three more are on order — have been designed to be fun and hip in a sophisticated, adult-oriented sort of way.

Notably, Scarlet Lady offers lots of stylish, adult-oriented nightspots and bars promising a hopping  scene late into the night as well as a tattoo parlor, drag queen brunches and a colorful karaoke lounge. Passengers will be able to shake their phones to have bottles of Champagne delivered to wherever they happen to be standing on board.

Unlike some other cruise lines, Virgin Voyages also is eschewing buffets, dress codes and big Broadway-style theater shows. In place of the latter, the line is promising such entertainment as interactive dance parties, DJ sets, “microplays” and late-night games of dodgeball.

Still, perhaps the biggest differentiation between Scarlet Lady and the cruise vessels operated by the biggest cruise lines is that it doesn’t have a single venue designed for children. That’s because the ship has been purposely built as a kids-free zone, with no passengers under the age of 18 allowed on board.

While often dubbed the “cruise line for millennials” in media coverage, Virgin Voyages was designed to appeal to not just young adults but older adults who are “young at heart,” executives have said recently.

In an interview with TPG last week, Virgin Voyages president and CEO Tom McAlpin said the average age of passengers on Scarlet Lady’s first sailings in the U.K. was “in the 50s.” Some passengers were in their 60s and 70s, he said.

McAlpin suggested Virgin Voyages was a line for adults of all ages who want to have a good time in an adult-focused atmosphere that isn’t full of kids and isn’t stuffy or formal.

Related: Why you’ve got it all wrong if you think Virgin Voyages is just for millennials

“I can have a more cool, hip pool party without screaming kids,” McAlpin said, explaining the no-kids policy. “I can get in the elevator without kids getting in there and pushing all the buttons, and [the age limit means no] screaming teenagers running down the halls at two o’clock in the morning.”

Virgin Voyages isn’t the first cruise line to tout adult-focused ships where no kids are allowed. A handful of other lines such as Viking and the U.K.’s Saga Cruises have similar policies. But those lines offer a more traditional cruise experience aimed at older travellers.

The world’s biggest cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, meanwhile, draw large numbers of families with children and cater heavily to families with such onboard attractions as go-kart race tracks, surfing pools and laser tag courses.

Scarlet Lady initially was scheduled to sail its first “sneak-a-peek” voyages with paying passengers out of Miami in March of 2020. But Virgin Voyages delayed the ship’s big reveal party in the city that month after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. It subsequently delayed the vessel’s debut five more times.  

All of the delays were blamed on COVID-19, which shut down most cruising around the world for more than a year.

Like the debut of Scarlet Lady, the debut of the line’s second vessel, Valiant Lady, also was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally scheduled to begin sailing this year, it’s now on track to begin operating in May of 2022.

Valiant Lady initially will sail seven-night voyages in the Mediterranean out of Barcelona.

Scarlet Lady is scheduled to sail year-round from Miami, offering a mix of four- and five-night voyages to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Featured image of courtesy of Virgin Voyages. 

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