With multiple cruise ships and itineraries to choose from, you’re probably wondering whether the Scarlet Lady by Virgin Voyages is a good fit for you. Just before she set sail for her home port of Miami, we went down to Dover in the United Kingdom to check out the brand new Scarlet Lady for ourselves. In this article, we share some of our highlights and observations and answer some questions to help you decide whether the Scarlet Lady by Virgin Voyages is the right cruise for you.

 

The Scarlet Lady is finally here!

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza is a long way from her award-winning restaurant Barrio Cafe in Phoenix, Arizona. As we tuck into our starters at Pink Agave, an upscale Mexican restaurant onboard the Scarlet Lady, she comes up to our table wearing her chef outfit, buzzing with energy and a smile.

“Welcome to the Pink Agave. I hope you enjoy the menu we have prepared for you,” she says.

We are excited to meet her and for a brief moment, we chat about her inspiration for the menu and food being an expression of culture. The Pink Agave’s head chef says she wants her menu to challenge perceptions about Mexico by serving up a taste of Mexican history, one plate at a time.

Challenging perceptions is a consistent theme onboard the Scarlet Lady, the flagship of a future fleet of four cruise ships to be operated by Virgin Voyages.

First conceived in 2015 and built in Genoa by master shipbuilder Fincantieri, the mid-sized Scarlet Lady (2,770 guests and 1,160 crew) sailing out of Miami from April 2020, will offer cruise itineraries around the Caribbean and Mexico.

Whether she will be a big hit with future sailors is simply a matter of taste and time.

 

Thinking ‘Outside the Box’ of Cruise Travel

The cruise travel industry continues to grapple with ways to attract younger passengers. 

According to the 2018 Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Global Passenger Report, about 51 percent of cruise passengers are over 50 years old. While factors such as cruise line and destination may cause this statistic to vary, the general perception that cruise travel is for ‘older people’ is one we’ve come across many times.

Virgin Voyages makes no secret about the fact that adult-by-design Scarlet Lady is targeted at the “young at heart”.  With her contemporary design, no strict dress codes, open seating dining and a creative approach to entertainment and use of space, this ship brings something fresh and disruptive to the cruise industry. 

Perhaps seeking to intentionally break the mould, much of the Scarlet Lady’s interior was designed by people with no previous cruise ship design experience. The ship’s livery, a sleek silvery-grey hull with touches of Virgin’s distinctive red brand colour interspersed with colourful fabrics and patterns, is a departure from traditional maritime themes of blues and whites. 

Dispensing with traditional cruise fare pricing policies, Virgin Voyages aim to offer more value-for-money with free fitness classes, free dining, free gratuities, and free (basic) Wi-fi all included in the price.

An environmental focus means single-use plastics are banned on the ship. Instead, guests can refill with free filtered still or sparkling water.

The Scarlet Lady features 20 plus eateries, from upscale restaurants like the Pink Agave to casual dining ones like The Galley. The latter is a refreshing food-hall concept featuring a diverse selection of vendors and which does away with the concept of stuffy big dining hall buffets on cruise ships.

Versatile public spaces, a tattoo parlour (possibly the first-ever on a cruise ship), an outdoor running track, Instagram-perfect chill-out spots, a vinyl record shop, and a kitchen which doubles as a cooking school and a restaurant all add to the perception that Virgin is trying to shake things up.

Heard enough and want to check it out? See The Scarlet Lady here.

 

What About the Cabins on The Scarlet Lady?

Accommodation on a cruise ship is a major part of the experience. For the right price, from your cabin, you can marvel at constellations at night, and wake up to views of clear blue skies, mysterious islands and the occasional dolphin show.

According to Virgin Voyages, around 86 percent of Scarlet Lady’s cabins feature a balcony. An impressive total of 93 percent of her cabins feature an ocean view.

We found the interior design of our Sea Terrace cabin (with a balcony, deck chairs and a hand-woven hammock) to be versatile, contemporary and modern. The cabin’s colour palette, clean lines and choice of fabrics presented a picture of minimalist comfort.

View from seaview cabin onboard Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages

The comfortable double bed converts into a double sofa, maximising the use of space. Designed with the tech traveller in mind, the cabin includes a smart TV, free Wi-Fi (streaming requires an upgrade to a premium plan) and multiple (bedside and workspace) USB and regular (EU and US) charging ports. 

In-room smart sensors deliver on Virgin Voyages’ promise of sustainability by regulating temperature and lighting when rooms are unoccupied. An in-room tablet puts those controls and more in the hands of guests.

Hammock on Sea Terrace cabin on Scarlet Lady by Virgin Voyages

Storage (somewhat limited) includes a hanging rack and a closet with multiple compartments. The size of the bathroom (featuring a rain shower head) and toilet is comparable to other leading cruise ships. 

Other cabin categories (sadly we didn’t have enough time to check them out) include RockStar Suites, Sea View (porthole window) and Insider rooms. There is even a ‘Solo Insider’ room option that could be perfect for solo travellers.

 

Dining onboard The Scarlet Lady

We enjoyed the authentic Mexican flavours at Pink Agave. However, another food highlight during our visit was Razzle Dazzle, a vibrant vegetarian food and juice bar. 

This ‘vegetarian forward’ (their words) eatery flips the script on traditional dishes by offering plant-based alternatives to classic dishes. Although “cheating” is allowed with meat add-ons, we were keen to test their version of the American ‘Impossible Burger’. Taste-wise, we were not disappointed!

The Gallery, the spacious food hall, offers a wide variety of vendors serving up fresh-to-order bites. The ‘no buffets’ approach means there is no disorienting spectacle associated with typical serve-yourself cruise ship buffets.

Forget all that first and second seating stuff. On the Scarlet Lady, open seating is the way dining is done. From speciality dining to relaxed casual, from gourmet coffee shops to exclusive wine bars, simply book (for the speciality restaurants) or turn up when you want.

 

Spa, fitness and wellness

We wish we could say more about the spa, fitness and wellness on the Scarlet Lady but we just did not have enough time to fully experience them.

On our brief visit to the Redemption Spa, we sighted a hydrotherapy pool, a Himalayan salt room, cold plunge pools, a large sauna, and a menu of rejuvenating spa treatments. We even had a chance to try on the plush robes and use the ultra-modern changing areas. The spa designers have not compromised on luxury. 

Multiple indoor and outdoor gym facilities cater to sailors keen to maintain their fitness while at sea. Beautifully designed barber shops, manicure and pedicure rooms and hair salons offer personal grooming with a sea view.

One thing we observed was that for a ship of this size, the swimming pools on deck 15 did not seem big enough. Perhaps the goal is to give sailors sufficient pool time at The Beach Club at Bimini, one of the stops on the Caribbean itineraries?

 

Multi-form entertainment spaces and shows 

Continuing the Scarlet Lady’s theme of challenging perceptions, you can forget bingo tables, cha-cha dance lessons and astronomy lectures when you board this ship. Entertainment includes an onboard casino, a bookable karaoke, gaming and movie lounge, and The Manor; a club whose design has to be seen to be believed.

Well deserved praise must go to the creators and talented casts of Duel Reality (conceived by The 7 Fingers) and the ‘Untitled Dance Show Party Thing’ (‘UDSPT’ – choreographed by Ani Taj/The Dance Cartel and Sam Pinkleton), two unconventional and high energy performances we enjoyed during our overnight stay. 

Duel Reality by The 7 Fingers | Virgin Voyages

One moment, we found ourselves gasping as acrobats performed gravity-defying stunts. Only a few hours later our bodies swayed to rhythms blasting from speakers at one of the most unusual and immersive dance shows we’ve ever witnessed.  

The venue for these quirky performances is a multi-form entertainment space called The Red Room which can be transformed into four different configurations – including theatre and dance hall – in a very short time. 

Hanging out with some of the performers later in the evening, we learned that future sailors can choose from up to six original shows.

 

How much does it cost and what’s included in the price?

According to their website, between March and May 2020, you can book a Sea Terrace cabin (double occupancy) on a three-night Caribbean cruise for £1,690 per cabin. 

This particular itinerary begins and ends in Miami and will feature a stop in Bimini, the Bahamas where sailors can experience The Beach Club at Bimini (on a Virgin Voyages private island). A five-night itinerary which includes Cozumel/Playa del Carmen will set you back £1,720. 

Included in the price are all restaurants (food and basic beverages), group fitness classes, water and soft drinks, WiFi and gratuities. Transfers to and from Miami are not.

Special offer: Sailors who book a 2020 voyage on the Scarlet Lady before March 31st can redeem a $400 onboard credit.

 

Is The Scarlet Lady by Virgin Voyages the right cruise for you?

During our brief visit, we got the chance to chat with members of the Scarlet Lady’s crew including chefs, dancers, artists, waiters and engineers. All of them were buzzing with excitement and could not wait to welcome guests to their new vessel.

After our overnight sneak peek of this brand-new vessel, we concluded that the Scarlet Lady aptly mirrors the fresh, fun, vibrant and innovative aspects of Virgin’s brand personality.  

Is The Scarlet Lady by Virgin Voyages the right cruise for you? 

For some, especially travellers who prefer more traditional cruise ships, this incarnation of Sir Richard Branson’s vision for cruise travel may be a matter of personal taste. 

However, anyone who considers themselves to be ‘young-at-heart’ might find the Scarlet Lady to be a fun alternative. Same goes for any first time or experienced cruise travellers looking for something new and exciting.

Although twenty-four hours was simply not enough to really get stuck into the cruise vibe, with just this taster, we’ve decided that the Scarlet Lady is how we want to do cruise travel in future. 

 

Disclosure: Our visit to The Scarlet Lady was at the invitation of Virgin Voyages. We received complimentary one-night accommodation, meals, and activities during our visit. However, all photos and opinions expressed are ours.

 

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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).