With Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages has ripped up the rule book with a cruise ship experience that caters for a demographic that may have never thought of cruising as a vacation option.
The ship made its debut on the world stage in February 2020, but it was not until August 2021 that Virgin's Scarlet Lady set out on its inaugural cruise, starting with a series of short sailings to nowhere in the U.K. before moving to Miami in fall 2021. It's safe to say that the line's first adults-only ship (more are on their way) divides opinion. You want on trend food, late night sexy shows and a tattoo? Scarlet Lady could be for you. You want set dining times, formal nights and revue-style entertainment? Perhaps look elsewhere.
But before you roll your eyes, it's not just about clever word play and simply renaming traditional cruise venues -- Virgin has genuinely tried to do something different.
From the moment you board, the ship sets the mood. You walk into a glass-encased entrance which refracts light in a stream of rainbow colors, leading into what Virgin calls "the roundabout." There's a DJ spinning vinyl records at great volume, people are sitting around sipping cocktails, tattooed baristas hurry back and forth -- it's designed to be like a hip hotel lobby, not your typical cruise ship atrium.
And that's the aesthetic Virgin is trying to create. Scarlet Lady is more similar to a W Hotel than it is to a cruise ship, from the mood lighting in the corridors and the design of the cabins to the main reception and the dining venues. It manages to deftly combine this with nautical touches and a nod to tradition, however. The promenade deck wraps right around the ship (rare in modern vessels), for example, but it's not an empty space with a few spots for deck chairs -- it's got seating, bars and restaurants, creating a buzzing atmosphere on a warm Caribbean night.
Scarlet Lady’s deck plans are well laid out, and keep fun and rest separate, so that passengers can get a good night’s sleep after hitting the lively bars and music venues onboard. Only two decks have a mix of cabins and entertainment – namely decks 5 and 15, which are also the only ones that could be subject to more noise coming from above: Deck 5 is right below the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady’s casino and the atrium; deck 15 is also home to the pool, the gym, and some restaurants.
With a maximum capacity of 2,770 passengers, Scarlet Lady could be a loud, hectic ship, but Virgin Voyages has gone to great lengths to make sure noise is kept at bay, with soundproofing and vibration-reducing systems in cabins and public areas.
The Virgin way is not just show. Special attention has been given to the food, which is exceptional. There is no main dining room, and each restaurant gets its own galley, executive chef and team, meaning both the food and the service is outstanding. We were genuinely impressed by the quality and the variety, from molecular gastronomy Test Kitchen (our favorite) to Korean BBQ Gunbae and vegetarian Razzle Dazzle and The Galley, essentially a food hall at sea.
We were blown away by the entertainment -- a show called Duel Reality, which is a riff on Romeo & Juliet/West Side Story, with some of the most amazing -- in fact, the most amazing -- acrobatics we have ever seen. And it's immersive if you are in the front row.
An impressive 86 percent of Scarlet Lady cruise ship’s cabins (or Sea Terraces) have a balcony, which are deeper and wider than on many other ships -- and each has a hammock, which is a really lovely touch. The cabins' design, with the walls at a slight angle, makes them less cookie-cutter than your traditional cruise ship, though it does mean shower rooms are smaller (yet they still have modern glass doors).
Staff are cheery (wait for your first “Ahoy”) and empowered – sleeves rolled up, tattoos on display, piercings and stylish haircuts de rigeur. There’s a vibe onboard this ship like no other, almost like you are a specially invited guest. That’s a “rockstar” in Virgin parlance, and really that’s how the ship and the crew make you feel.
One of the most common questions among those planning a cruise is, Are drinks included? Virgin Voyages has gone the extra mile with its inclusions and offers a range of free basic beverages that include branded sodas to all passengers. This is a notch above the standard water-tea-coffee offerings in most other lines.
Alcoholic drinks are to be purchased separately and drink and beverage packages are not offered. Virgin Voyages drink costs are comparable to other cruise lines, however, and the prices include tips, so there are no surprises when settling the bill.
Scarlet Lady onboard credit plans offer upwards of $150 per cabin, depending on cabin type and travel dates.
To find out the latest on Virgin Voyages' health and safety protocols, including those around COVID-19, visit the cruise line's cruise wellness page. You can also find out the latest on the world's major cruise lines by visiting Cruise Critic's guide to vaccine and testing requirements.
All dining venues
Gratuities (though not additional spa tips)
Soft beverages, including branded sodas
All theater shows
Most daily activities unless noted below
Use of the gym, but not most classes
Spa treatments and tips
All drinks beyond water, tea (including iced tea), coffee, select juices and branded sodas.
Photos and artwork
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