You might have heard of a serial entrepreneur named Sir Richard Branson. Reportedly, he wanted to add a cruise line to his Virgin Group for twenty-five years, and, pandemic-be-damned, he did just that launching Virgin Voyages. Scarlet Lady, the first of four “Lady Ships” was delivered in February 2020. Lady Ships is a playful play on words for “Your Ladyship,” in a nod to the line’s British roots. Covington vacation advisors Karen Kilyk and Jean Riekers, along with their husbands, sailed during its inaugural season in November 2021 to the Caribbean from Miami.
Virgin Voyages Onboard Ambiance
The first thing to know about Virgin Voyages is that it is an adults-only line. Everything is curated with grown-ups in mind, although there are plenty of opportunities to reconnect with your inner child. This brings up Virgin Voyages’ second distinguishing feature – the atmosphere is relaxed, yet luxe. The line draws some of its character from Mr. Branson, such as taking on established rules and valuing creativity. For example, Scarlet Lady is the only cruise ship with a resident tattoo artist.
Virgin Voyages refers to its guests as “sailors.” Jean and Karen noticed that other sailors onboard were mainly couples, including multiple LGBTQ couples, a few adult families, and some girlfriend groups. Passengers are spread across age ranges, from the 20s to 70s and the atmosphere is very inclusive.
All sailors are COVID-19 tested at the port before embarkation and the process was fast and easy.
Jean said they felt very safe on board with surfaces being constantly cleaned. At the time of their sailing, Virgin Voyages did not require sailors to wear masks (crew did); however, they resumed onboard masking for sailors on the next voyage. Karen said, “Even though the four of us were fully vaccinated we kept to our bubble and were careful about being in crowds. That was quite easy because the ship has so many cozy little nooks for gathering. All venues are small, so this large ship actually has an intimate, small ship feel.”
Jean noted, “The cabin stewards were amazing. They did a fantastic job and always greeted us cheerily. The crew had a very relaxed attitude and conversations weren’t scripted. It felt like they had permission to be themselves and could spend time chatting. Several crew members mentioned that they enjoyed this aspect of working for Virgin.”
In a departure from traditional cruise ships, Scarlet Lady has no Main Dining Room and no set dining times. Instead, it has nine distinct dining venues including six where you must book a dining time on the Virgin Voyages app. You can only eat dinner at each of the six specialty venues once, and since many of the Virgin Voyages itineraries are four or five days long, some hard choices may have to be made.
The six specialty restaurants that require dinner reservations (with no additional fee) are:
- The Wake – a sophisticated steak and seafood house that harkens back to a nostalgic era
- The Test Kitchen – an experiential laboratory of learning with an innovative six-course tasting menu and cooking classes
- Razzle Dazzle – features casual all-day dining, veggie-focused menu, and a Drag Queen brunch
- Gunbae – a high energy Korean barbeque where servers cook over a flameless built-in grill at the table and lead boisterous drinking games
- Pink Agave – an intimate, curated Mexican dining and drinking experience; think Mezcal dinner pairings with a history lesson
- Extra Virgin – the trattoria serving handmade pastas and traditional Italian fare
Other places to get a bite on the ship include The Dock, The Galley, the Pizza Place, and Lick Me Till Ice Cream. Karen’s favorite area on the ship was The Dock, a restaurant/bar combination at the back of the ship that is open to the ocean. “We loved lounging on the Bali beds and the relaxed atmosphere. There are tables and chairs for games, or to grab a drink and tapas.”
The Galley is Virgin’s version of buffet dining. Jean reported, “The Galley is really more of a food court than a buffet, with many choices from different stations – burgers, Mexican, Sushi, paninis, etc. This was our favorite spot for breakfast.” Karen noted, “You can eat gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian in any venue and not feel like you are missing a thing. All the food onboard was very fresh and healthy. This is the first cruise I lost weight and I felt like I was constantly eating.”
Continuing the small ship vibe for onboard entertainment, Virgin Voyages doesn’t do large Review-type shows. Instead, many pop-up acts are happening in different places – a guitarist tucked into a window seat, a singer on an inner staircase, or a magician in a bar. Phantom Folktales may suddenly appear to perform a musical micro-play wherever people gather, then disappear just as quickly.
There are also scheduled evening entertainments that need reservations (made on the app). Karen said, “We enjoyed all of the entertainment, especially the Duel Reality show in the Red Room. It was a cross between Romeo & Juliet and Cirque du Soleil with a very talented young cast. It was so intense we saw it twice!” The Red Room is a theater that can transform into different configurations, such as an alley stage for a fashion show or a flat dance floor.
A nightclub DJ plays to the crowd and stays open late and the Draught Haus hosts a Trivia Night. Karaoke fans can book The Groupie, a studio where they can sing, play games, or watch movies with friends. An R-rated show where audience participation gets plenty of laughs is Never Sleep Alone, hosted by a straight-talking relationship therapist. Jean recommended “Get into the spirit and wear something red for the Scarlet Night Party. Wander the ship to see lots of pop-up performances throughout the night.”
Physical fitness fanatics will love Virgin Voyages. There are many opportunities to get your fit on, no matter your preferred form. Sailors can box, lift, spin, run, balance, and stretch in many dedicated facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. Plus, there are 10 to 12 fitness classes daily – yoga, Pilates, cardio, etc. – and a fresh-pressed juice bar.
More Virgin Voyages Observations
Karen reflected, “The ship’s elevators were super-fast, and the ship was very stable while sailing. Everything felt incredibly clean and cozy with many great niches for the four of us to gather.” She also suggests making reservations as early as possible for meals, then for entertainment. Excursions didn’t seem to be as competitive. “Become familiar with the app before you sail and know how to scan a QR code on your mobile device. The app buffered a lot and we had to visit Guest Services on Deck 5 several times, although I understand the app is improving.”
Jean liked the stateroom. “The cabin was equipped with great tech to control lights, curtains, entertainment, and room maintenance. I loved having the mini-fridge stocked with water (in a carafe, not plastic bottles). The shower was very nice and each balcony held a personal hammock. The room felt more spacious than expected, possibly because there was so much storage space.”
There is no dress code on Virgin Voyages, so people wear whatever they want, usually a bit nicer attire in the evenings, but no formal wear. Similarly, the party factor is largely up to the individuals as well. Those who want to make merry into the wee hours can, but those who turn in early won’t feel left out. Concerning partying, Virgin does offer the option to prepay your bar tab in $300 increments, but they do not have a drinks package. Karen noted that individual drink prices were very reasonable.
Disembarkation is smooth and fast. In Miami, it takes no more than 45 minutes from walking off the ship to airport check-in.
Virgin Voyages emanates an inclusive, upbeat, and playful vibe while doing things differently than the more traditional premium cruise offerings. Sailors who appreciate these characteristics will enjoy a new kind of cruise experience with Virgin. Ask your Covington vacation advisor about rates and dates.