Last year, Virgin Voyages debuted with its inaugural ship, Scarlet Lady -- a ship so impressive, we named it Cruise Critic's Best New Ship of 2021. And, we weren't the only ones who loved this new style of cruise ship. Scarlet Lady has made fans around the world -- and many of its biggest fans wasted no time getting to know the line's newest ship -- Valiant Lady.
As of this weekend, Scarlet Lady is no longer an only child -- Valiant Lady, the line's second ship, has just completed its "MerMaiden" (in Virgin Voyages-speak), or inaugural, voyage from Portsmouth, England to Zeebrugge, Belgium and back -- and we went along for the ride (even getting inked in the onboard tattoo parlor.
Virgin Voyages' Valiant Lady is very much a carbon copy of its sibling, though not they're not quite twins -- and, sometimes, subtle changes can make a big difference.
Here's a look at some of the ways Valiant Lady differs from sibling ship Scarlet Lady, and our first impressions on where Virgin Voyages' newest ship hits the bullseye and where it misses the mark.
Any cruisers -- or sailors in Virgin-speak -- who sailed on Scarlet Lady will notice the small differences between these practically identical ships. Let's call them fraternal twins. Most of the noticeable differences on Valiant are soft, such as color palette changes or materials.
Virgin did, however, update the cabins on both ships to make them feel warmer and inviting, adding simple furniture touches such as throw pillows on the beds and wooden flat-pack-style side tables in the sitting areas.
Other small changes that have had a big impact for sailors include adding more sitting and seating areas onboard, giving cruisers the ability to spread out, sit down and not rely on as much standing-room-only. Tweaks to the entertainment, such as upping the fitness ante a bit in the VHS Workout class and adding Heartbeat, the new after-hours "rave" collaboration with Brooklyn's beloved House of Yes, have also made a difference (especially considering much of the entertainment is an exact repeat of what you'll find on Scarlet Lady).
Small changes can make big differences, as we learned ourselves and after talking to some of the many, many cruisers who have now sailed on both ships. Unanimously, they all prefer Valiant Lady.
Valiant Lady's beverage programming is strong, Olympian even. While it's not the only large ship to have a multitude of drinking venues or expansive drink menus, we found the selection and variety on Valiant Lady hit the bullseye from nearly every angle.
Cocktails are stellar across the board, the beer list spans the globe from breweries big and small and wine comes by the glass, the can or the bottle. Plus, we loved to see that Valiant Lady went that step further toward inclusion by adding a decent selection of non-alcoholic drinks to their bar menus across the ship that didn't feel like afterthoughts. Options included creative mocktails and a few shaken or stirred libations featuring zero-ABV mixers such as Seedlip that hold their own against traditional bar offerings.
On top of a great drinks selection, Valiant Lady also offers top notch choices for nearly every kind of vibe. Over in The Manor and the adjacent The Den, two of the ship's multi-purpose venues, you'll find a sleek, velvet and gold nightclub vibe after hours. Just around the corner, at On the Rocks, the ship's official martini bar, the vibe is still sleek but a bit more social as the seating spills out into the main atrium and nightly live music gets the crowd moving.
A floor above, The Draught Haus offers a laid-back space (conveniently near a selection of vinyl and public record players) for beer lovers to work their way through obscure craft beers and big name favorites served in cans, bottles and on tap. Folks seeking out an even more social and casual spot can head to The Loose Cannon, Valiant Lady's nautical-themed pub bar where games and good cocktails await.
These are only a few of the options available on the ship; there's also a popular, dedicated champagne bar called Sip that stretches across the midship starboard (right) side; the classy aft-facing bar at The Wake that offers stunning views of the ship's, well, wake; casual Mediterranean spot, The Dock House, that's perfect for pre-dinner drinks; and even a spot where you can get boozy milkshakes, The Social Club.
The only thing missing was, perhaps, a spot to enjoy a quiet drink on board.
Virgin Voyages makes it clear that they are all about finding that balance between vacation, party and relaxation. In fact, they've got a person on board who is dedicated to the cause: The Balancer. They are available to help you plan out your cruise so you have just as much detox, retox and fun as possible.
On Valiant Lady, (almost) all fitness classes are free of charge, meaning cruisers can really take advantage of getting their fitness on or trying out something new. Several fitness classes onboard are atypical compared to your usual cruise ship offerings. We fell in love with the fun, hilarious and no-judgment VHS Workout on Scarlet Lady, and were excited to see that it's still as 80s as ever while also leveling up the sweat factor a bit. Valiant Lady also offered a Bungee class that we tried, which required a bit more focused concentration but gave us a chance to do a few exercises in a new and unique way.
This all said, serious gym rats may not find the classes challenging enough since they are often led by the ship's Happenings cast (aka performers) and are more focused on having fun and being inclusive to all fitness levels, shapes and sizes.
That's when the ship's state-of-the-art gym comes in handy. Split into two sections, Burn + Bike and Build + Balance, Valiant Lady's B-complex gym runs down the sides of the pool deck (Deck 15), and is a bright, sunny space with great views and equipment where you can go as hard as you wish.
We also loved how Valiant Lady's thermal suite area was accessibly priced. During our sailing, the £39 (just over $50 USD) pass gave pre-booked guests three hours of access to the space, which is one of the best for this level of ship. Heated slabs, hot tubs, relaxation chairs, a mud room, saunas and steam rooms are all ready and waiting to take you away to another level of relaxation or to ease that pesky hangover -- without breaking the bank.
We've touched on this a bit already, but we were so enamored with Valiant Lady's nonchalant inclusivity. And by nonchalant, we mean they weren't making a point to show off how inclusive the ship was -- they did it without fanfare or finger pointing. From non-ABV drinks to menus with marked dietary restrictions and preferences, to representation in onboard staff, ADA access and entertainment, Virgin Voyages' Valiant Lady wowed us with their natural ability to represent all types of people.
On our sailing we saw a ton of people living their best lives in a safe space -- staff and cruisers alike -- whether that meant dressing up to the 11s on Scarlet Night or every night, being openly gay, asking a million questions about dish ingredients or chatting up complete strangers with zero pretense. From what we experienced and witnessed, there were no judgmental or bad vibes being thrown around the ship, no overt snide comments.
We also loved that Valiant Lady wrapped their inclusivity into their entertainment productions without calling attention to it. Gender and sexual fluidity seemed to be celebrated across the ship as the norm, with characters and plot details representing a wide range. Only during Dr. Alex's sex seminar show, "Dr. A", did the subjects of sexual inclusivity -- from pronouns to promiscuity -- get addressed directly, and all in a very positive way.
No ship can be everything to everyone, but there are a few areas where we feel Valiant Lady didn't get the memo.
We're used to cruise ship apps not always working when we want them to (or at all), but trouble with the Virgin Voyages App is made all the more frustrating since the line has made cruisers almost completely reliant on it during their sailings.
On our Valiant Lady sailing from Portsmouth, the only internet available was the basic level due to satellite positioning. The app was often useless, leaving passengers unable to access their schedule, favorited events and activities, restaurant reservations and the like. The app is also how Rockstar suite guests chat with their dedicated Rockstar Agent (aka butler), and we found the on-and-off Wi-Fi connectivity meant our messages were getting lost in the ether without even knowing it.
Plus, in order for the app to work, you must be signed into the ship Wi-Fi, which means you can't use the app prior to boarding to book into restaurants, fitness classes, or spa treatments. You've also got to have your phone on airplane mode for the app to work, meaning, if the Wi-Fi was down, so was your connectivity to everything else as data wasn't an option.
The app's connectivity issues and the ship's reliance on app-related services -- from bookings to menus to chatting -- meant longer lines at Sailor Services (Virgin-speak for guest services) and the need to hunt down a paper itinerary, request paper menus and to remember to screenshot your daily itinerary, just in case.
As we said earlier, the Virgin Voyages brand is all about finding balance, unfortunately we've found one major area where the line can improve (perhaps with their third ship, Resilient Lady) when it comes to helping out passengers. We're talking about onboard ship maps and deck plans.
Part of the draw of Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady is that it's not your typical cruise ship. In fact, we find these ships more closely resemble chic hotels in their design and layout -- which we love. But giving guests a visual layout of the ship, aka an idea of where to go and how to get there, is one of the few cruise ship staples we really felt was missing on Valiant Lady (and Scarlet Lady, too).
Deck plans and ship layouts are usually posted near the elevators to help guests navigate their way around the ship and find their way to their onboard destination. Even with these helpful hints it can take days to learn a ship's layout; without them we felt a bit lost.
Instead of the traditional displayed deck plans, Valiant Lady just had a list of venues located on each deck, all listed in no particular order, like forward to aft. This made it harder than necessary to find your way around the ship and was particularly noticeable when we had to be in a specific place at a specific time.
Although maps are available as a pamphlet in your cabin, we'd love to at least see venue locations listed on the ship itinerary if not displayed around the ship. This ship is packed with fun things to do, the last thing we want is to waste precious time aboard.
We were excited to see that Valiant Lady had marked menus denoting gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options, something we wish more cruise lines would do. However, for a variety of reasons -- supply chain issues, chef choices, miscommunication -- we quickly learned that we couldn't 100% trust that the dishes were marked correctly.
As one of our editors has celiac disease, this proved to be more challenging than expected or necessary during our sailing, and we are sorry to say that they ended up getting served gluten at one or more points during the sailings.
One of the pitfalls of providing marked menus, particularly on signage and printed menus, is that you need to make sure those items are consistently served as denoted -- or communicate this to your diners, particularly if they are listed as having an allergy or medical intolerance. While getting exposed to gluten can cause a lot of problems for someone with celiac, consequences of poorly communicated shellfish and nut allergen-friendly dishes can be devastating.
We do want to note, however, that the dining staff we encountered through the process were always smiling, willing to help and answer questions (or find them out) and saved us a few times. Additionally, the vegan and vegetarian options on the ship, according to a vegan cruiser we spoke to, were surprisingly plentiful and they were happy as an oyster mushroom to finally have several options across several restaurants on one ship.
Ultimately, Virgin Voyages' Valiant Lady is a cruise ship that can appeal to a variety of cruisers, which is something we love about it. Individuality rules on this ship, making it perfect for groups as everyone can find their happy place, their perfect nook. Pros and cons aside, that's quite an accomplishment in the cruise world.
Updated March 22, 2022