18 notable features on the new Virgin Voyages ship — and how they’ll impact your cruise
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Virgin Voyages has embarked on a mission to take travellers who would normally shudder at the thought of a cruise, and transform them into enthusiastic cruisers — at least when sailing with Virgin Voyages, that is.
There’s free Wi-Fi for everyone, most food is complimentary at more than 20 signature restaurants, tips are included and there’s expected to be a fun — if boozy — atmosphere.
And with its first ship, Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages is finally bringing that vision to life.
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Virgin Voyages won’t be for everyone. Some of its features and design elements are enough to turn people off from sailing with Virgin at the first look. But the line has done quite a lot right.
The ship will set sail for the first time on 26 March, though a few media outlets, including TPG, got an early look at the vessel in Dover, U.K. last week. We shared a sneak peek at the vessel, but here are some additional observations about what’s happening onboard, and how it ties to Virgin’s cruising philosophy.
There’s an attention on partying
Across Scarlet Lady, there’s a huge emphasis on the party: one that stretches from the afternoon into the late evening and even early morning hours. Between the various watering holes — bars across the ship, including three by the outdoor pool; a dedicated craft beer draught house; and the nightclub, The Manor — there’s somewhere to get your drink on no matter where you are or what you’re in the mood for.
Prior to the launch of Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages said guests would be able to get a bottle of Champagne delivered anywhere on the ship just by shaking their phone. Let’s just say there are plenty of places on board to enjoy that bubbly, though you wouldn’t have to walk too far to pick up a bottle yourself.
The Wi-Fi works… so far
Since the earliest blueprints for Virgin Voyages were revealed, the cruise line has always promised to offer free Wi-Fi to all passengers (a growing trend among higher-end lines). During my one-night preview stay, the guest Wi-Fi was strong, allowing me to quickly download and upload pictures. Granted, the ship was rumoured to only have 800 people on board at the time, which meant less competing traffic; and cruise lines also sometimes pay for extra bandwidth during inaugural events with media on board. Still, it was a promising experience.
And you’ll be able to keep your devices charged during your trip. One complaint I often have with hotel rooms and cruise ship cabins is that there simply aren’t enough outlets. But there were more than enough places to power up in the ship’s common areas, plus outlets on either side of the bed in the cabin.
The Seabed is a good idea, but difficult to use
With the introduction of Scarlet Lady, Virgin announced it would debut a patented new design, called a Seabed, that can be reconfigured from a bed into a sofa. During the day, the sofa is meant to encourage in-cabin socializing between passengers. With the bed folded away into the sofa position, it does make the area feel more spacious, and if you have friends or fellow travellers over for a drink before heading out for the night, it’s great to have the flexibility.
In practice, however, it’s no easy feat to convert the Seabed from a sofa to a bed. You have to call your cabin attendant to physically roll the one side of the bed across the carpeted room, pull out the bedding, arrange the mattress pad and make up the bed. When TPG U.K. director of content Nicky Kelvin saw his attendant switch his sofa into a bed, he noticed there was some struggle involved and the entire process took about five minutes. Granted, this was likely one of the first few times the attendants had ever done this — especially with an audience.
Sometimes, you just want to walk into your cabin after a day out in the sun (and probably partying — see observation No. 1) or exploring a port city, and flop down onto your bed. So, some cruisers might see having to call someone any time you want to convert your sofa into a bed, or vice versa, quite a nuisance.
If you’d rather not deal with the switch at all, you can ask your stateroom attendant to leave the Seabed in bed mode for the duration of your cruise.
The beds are extremely comfortable
Once you’re able to successfully make your sofa into a bed, however, you’ll be comfortable. The linens that Virgin Voyages used on Scarlet Lady are enough to make any passenger feel cosy. They’re soft and heavy without being too hot, an important feature given that this ship will be sailing to the Caribbean.
Tattoo at sea? Squid Ink doesn’t seem like a gimmick
Upon first hearing about Squid Ink, which is touted as the first dedicated tattoo studio at sea, I couldn’t believe it would be much more than a publicity stunt. Serious cruisers and tattoo artists aren’t two types of people I’d generally lump together. During my one-night stay on board Scarlet Lady, however, Squid Ink seemed like a regular tattoo shop, rather than a tourist attraction.
In fact, during a 15-minute visit, two passengers got tattoos. I talked briefly with one of the tattoo artists on board, who said that, since departing from Genoa, Italy just days before, Squid Ink has tattooed about 15 people. That’s a lot for just a couple nights in operation! With the crowd Virgin Voyages is trying to attract, I think Squid Ink will get lots of eager customers. And with a selection of customized tattoos available for Scarlet Lady passengers — each of which cost $150 — such as an anchor and other nautical-themed selections, passengers could get a memorable (and permanent) souvenir.
No buffets? Not true
Part of the marketing of Virgin Voyages and Scarlet Lady stressed how the line was going against the grain by doing away with fixed dining times and experiences, as well as eschewing buffets. But that’s not entirely true.
Upstairs, on Deck 15, you’ll find The Galley. This venue is a Virgin take on a cruise classic — a set buffet selection that’s available throughout the day. I don’t necessarily think having a buffet-style eatery is a bad thing, but it’s strange Virgin would claim to be so anti-buffet when The Galley is exactly that. You’ll find American diner options next to a sweet shop, and a panini station next to a noodle bar, which is next to a taco shop. That sounds, well, precisely like a buffet to me.
If you’re a big gambler, expect a smaller space
While Virgin emphasizes the party aspect of the sailing experience, the line didn’t go overboard with its casino. While you can expect the usual suspects — a few cards tables, a craps table and several rows of slot machines — the casino doesn’t take up a significant amount of space. Located just next to The Manor, Scarlet Lady’s two-story nightclub, it is an easy stop for those late-night bets.
Scarlet Lady can be reflective of style over substance
There’s no doubt the look and feel of Scarlet Lady is a gold mine for your Instagram feed. The common spaces are meticulously designed and the aesthetic is fresh. That said, in some areas, it feels like Virgin went more for style than function.
In the weight and yoga section of the gym, for example, the flooring is not ideal. Specifically, the area in front of the weights is a hard surface. Kelvin discovered it was not only loud when the weights dropped, but also that the weights rolled around on the ground. Given that the ship was docked when we were on board, guests might expect this issue to get worse at sea.
And while Scarlet Lady is equipped with games and activities to keep passengers entertained while they’re on board, some of them just don’t make sense for a moving vessel. For example, on Deck 7, The Dock features two shuffleboard tables. While shuffleboard is a personal favourite game of mine, it’s not especially easy when you’re moving. A game that typically requires complete stillness and concentration isn’t logical for a cruise ship — especially if waters are rough. That is, if you care at all about getting a high score.
It’s like a W Hotel on water
In talking with other members of the media who were on board for Scarlet Lady’s first look, one of the most common impressions was that the vessel’s interior looked like what you might expect to see at a W Hotel. And that’s probably what Virgin hoped. Instead of hiring designers who had previously worked on cruise ships, the Virgin team set out to have Scarlet Lady dreamed up by a team who had only previously worked in other sectors. Renowned designers Tom Dixon, Roman and Williams and Concrete Amsterdam to give it its first-at-sea look.
If you like W Hotels, you’ll love Scarlet Lady. If you find yourself deterred by their high-design vibes, Scarlet Lady probably isn’t the ship for you.
Your Instagram will thank you
If your Instagram is important to you, you’ll want to book a trip on Scarlet Lady. Around her many different spaces, you’ll find Instagram-worthy backdrops. There are several light tunnels, for example, that are great for social snaps: one in the nightclub, and one as you walk into Pink Agave, the Mexican eatery.
In addition to dedicated spaces intended for a quality photoshoot, you’ll also find loads of photo-worthy spots around the ship. Who could say no to a canopy picture? Just imagine this, but with sun rather than the cold, windy weather in the U.K.
Don’t get nickel-and-dimed
Part of the package with Virgin Voyages is that all food on board is included in the cost of your ticket. Not only that, but all tips are included in your fare as well. There are more than 20 dining venues on board to choose from, so you shouldn’t run out of options.
As expected, though, there are some areas where you might get end up paying more. Most of the dining establishments on board have a “treat yourself” option. That means adding something extra to your meal for a fee. For example, in Pink Agave, the Mexican restaurant, you can order the Pescado Sarandeado, a dish with achiote halibut, lobster, grilled giant prawns and bay scallops for $30. Or, in the Italian eatery called Virgin Extra, you can elect to add truffle to your meal.
Drink prices that I was able to see on board (some of the menus weren’t yet printed) seemed about on par with those I’ve purchased on other ships. If you plan on having a boozy cruise — and that seems to be encouraged on Scarlet Lady with her array of bar options — consider a prepaid beverage package that’ll allow you to save.
Cabins on cabins on cabins
There’s a variety of cabin types available to book on Scarlet Lady, including a roster of suites. First, there are the Mega RockStar Suites, which include the Massive Suite, Fab Suite, Posh Suite and Gorgeous Suite. Then there are the RockStar Suites, which include the Brilliant Suite, Cheeky Corner Suite, Seriously Suite and Sweet Aft Suite. There’s also the Sea Terrace, Sea View and Insider cabins, the latter of which in and of itself has several varieties.
While the variety is nice to have, the selection can be confusing for passengers. The individual insider cabin, for example, is a 105-square-foot space meant for a solo traveller. It’s nice, but you wouldn’t want two people sharing a space for one. So pay extra close attention to what you’re booking. The same can be said for the wide range of Mega RockStar Suites and RockStar Suites available. If you’re going to splurge on a suite, make sure you’re getting exactly what you want.
A feature made for queens: Make-up towels
I often say that whatever the experience is — a La Première flight with Air France or an economy jaunt with Qatar Airways — it’s the little things that make all the difference. Attention to detail is key, so when I saw dedicated towels in the bathroom for make-up, I found myself grinning. While it might not seem like a big deal, especially for travellers who don’t wear make-up, it’s a small touch that I greatly appreciated.
Bathrooms the size of aeroplane lavatories
When I first visited Scarlet Lady in February of 2019, it was still very much a work zone, with wires exposed and the final product still a ways off. Still, Virgin executives suggested the ensuite bathrooms in Sea Terrace cabins would be larger than cruisers might expect on other ships. But that wasn’t the case for me.
In fact, I found the bathroom space in my Sea Terrace cabin to be small and hard to manoeuvre — smaller than bathrooms I’ve experienced on other vessels. That said, the rainfall shower was a very upscale feature, though the controls were situated in such a way so you couldn’t turn on the water and adjust the temperature before getting in.
That said, if you opt for an upgraded stateroom, such as one of the Mega RockStar Suites, expect a fully luxe bathroom with marble counters. Now that’s a larger-than-expected bathroom.
Some spaces got more love than others
There’s no doubt that Scarlet Lady looks glamorous. Some of the most dazzling areas can be seen in Razzle Dazzle, a restaurant that also hosts a drag brunch. But some areas felt a bit overlooked, such as the run-of-the-mill hallways and staircases, which lacked the flair found elsewhere on the vessel.
Storage is severely lacking
In the standard cabins, such as the Sea Terraces, don’t expect to find much storage space for your luggage. There are no drawers, and only a few shelves in the wardrobe (which, by the way, doesn’t have doors — only a sheer fabric). The lack of storage is very concerning, especially considering that two people will presumably occupy one of these staterooms. Plus, since the bed is convertible, luggage will take up space in the wardrobe rather than under the bed.
Don’t expect to swim laps
One of the biggest complaints about Scarlet Lady is that there wasn’t much attention given to the pool. While there are technically two pools on the upper deck, one is wedged between two of the gym areas. The other main pool is very small. It’s more of plunge pool where you’ll cool off on a hot day. Especially on a full cruise, this space could get unpleasantly crowded.
Virgin Voyages had a hard task in terms of staffing a cruise ship for its first time ever. Yet during my one-night stay, Virgin did a great job of instilling its famous care-free, upbeat attitude in employees. Every staff member I encountered was smiling and willing to offer help when needed. Not only was the service good, but it was fun and lighthearted, too. A stuck-up crew wouldn’t fit with the vibe of Scarlet Lady, and thankfully, everyone was very on-brand.
Scarlet Lady is a beautiful ship, and there will certainly be people drawn to the aesthetic and vibe.
But if you’ve read this and found yourself questioning whether or not it’s right for you, it probably isn’t. That said, if you read these observations and find yourself thinking a cruise with Virgin could be a fun time, you’ll love it. Surely, there are some kinks for Virgin Voyages to work out — and we might see those reflected on the cruise line’s second ship, Valiant Lady. And if Scarlet Lady is any indication of how fun a cruise can be, you’ll find me on board one of Virgin’s actual sailings in no time.
All photos by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.
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