Let's be frank: Everything on Virgin Voyages' brand-new Resilient Lady is entertainment. Dance parties aren't just parties. Dinner theater isn't just theater. And even a walk through the corridors of the ship might lead you to become a contestant in a game.
It's perhaps no surprise that a cruise line helmed by Richard Branson -- founder of Virgin Records -- would offer the most innovative and eye-popping entertainment at sea. But with the launch of Resilient Lady on May 14, 2023, the cruise industry has gotten a glimpse into what the future might hold for cruise ship entertainment. The jaw-dropping talent is there, of course, but it's Virgin's don't-know-where-to-look staging, interactivity, and beautifully natural centering of gender identities, races, bodies, personalities and sexualities that has them ahead of the pack.
According to Richard Kilman, vice president of entertainment at Virgin Voyages, that's all part of the plan. "There was a tremendous amount of thought and purpose that went into it," he told Cruise Critic on board Resilient Lady's Mermaiden Voyage. "We try to think about entertainment in terms of creating experiences that could change your view of the world."
Resilient Lady's layout doesn't differ much from Virgin's Valiant Lady or Scarlet Lady, but the line has rolled out several new shows onboard including Persephone, Another Rose, Lola's Library, Abandoman and Miss Behave. While each pushes the envelope in its own way -- melding edgy humor with existential questions, odes to love, rave-pop remixes, game shows, freestyle rap, aerial acrobatics, and shibori demonstrations -- Persephone, Another Rose and Miss Behave are the standouts.
Persephone is a dizzying experience featuring dancers and singers across the stage, floor and ceiling of Resilient Lady's Red Room. The story goes like this: Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, descends into the underworld thanks to Hades' carnal temptations, forsaking the light-and-life-filled world of her mother. A Greek chorus provides narrative clarity on massive video screens, adding to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it experience. The show encapsulates the kind of genuinely inclusive casting that's Virgin's brand. It's also all quite hot, sexy and -- ultimately -- inspiring and touching.
To launch Another Rose, Virgin looked to the creators of New York City's famous "Sleep No More," a highly interactive riff on Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Resilient Lady's The Manor is turned into a Supper Club that pairs an excellent multi-course meal with a show about doomed love and the need to take chances in life. And that's saying nothing about the shibori demonstrations (an ornate style of Japanese rope-tying), table-top dancing, breath-stealing aerial acrobatics, and emotionally charged remakes of pop hits (often a death's-kiss in many musical revues).
Miss Behave arrived on Resilient Lady by way of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and there's not much like it at sea or on land. Saying too much about it would be a crime, but Miss Behave and her assistant run a full-theater game show that hinges on the ultimate nothingness of being. Except it's funny. Incredibly funny, actually. And the message -- in the end -- is powerful and touching.
There is no denying the impact of Resilient Lady's new entertainment lineup. It only takes one look around the Red Room during Persephone, or a glance across the dining room during Another Rose, to see dropped jaws and wide eyes. This is all to say that you can't argue with the biological facts of being wowed -- and that applies to passengers from millennials to boomers and those in between.
"I appreciate that Virgin is clearly trying to push the boundaries and they're trying to get cruise passengers to see entertainment in different ways," noted J.T. Swierczek. "Overall, I'd rather have something that's different and wonderful in its own unique way rather than the old song and dance."
The Los Angeles resident set sail with his husband, Justin Fix, and both of their mothers, Janna Swierczek and Deanna Fix. Janna echoed her son's sentiments (with one caveat). "Being in my seventies, the content is a little bit over the line for me," she told Cruise Critic. "But I love the inclusion idea. I love the people. I think the talent is amazing on this ship." Deanna also mentioned that having at least one traditional show might be nice for some cruisers.
Resilient Lady's entertainment lineup mostly comes in 45-to-60-minute bites. That's a relief for those who find the traditional theater offerings of mainstream lines too long and tedious. It also allows passengers to diversify what they can see and pack in more entertainment than they'd be able to on other cruises.
The entertainment on Resilient Lady enhances Virgin Voyages' mission of bringing people together as they are. The interaction between guests and performers, intimate venues and inclusive show themes have an impact that's hard to overstate. You see it in the exuberant and generous personalities of the entertainment staff, who aren't forced into Broadway-style costumes and kept at a distance. That translucent fourth wall filters Virgin's come-as-you-are ethos across to the passengers.
Cruise Critic met Mary Thompson, Leslie McDougall and Claire King (of Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and London, respectively) under the rotunda at Resilient Lady's center. The three women -- two of whom were solo travelers -- had quickly become fast friends, though for Mary Thompson that wasn't the first time this happened on a Virgin cruise.
"I'm actually coming back in September with a big group of guys that I met on a Virgin cruise in," Thompson told us. For McDougall, this was her first solo trip without her family. "I've never been away on my own before," she said. "Being on my own is brilliant. Everyone's so friendly." King was traveling with her 76-year-old mother. "I'm with my 76-year-old mom and she is as happy as Larry," she revealed. "These guys have included her as well."
This is all by design and cuts across nearly all aspects of cruising on Virgin Voyages -- not just entertainment. "It's like spectacle and show meets guest experience," said Justin Fix, who is married to J.T. Swierczek and traveling with their respective mothers. "There's this real human quality and the idea of being able to have radical candor with this range of diverse ages and representations."
In the end, Resilient Lady is making Virgin's mission even stronger at a time when the world seems to be becoming ever more hostile and isolating -- and that's desperately needed right now. "We really wanted to foster people building connections with each other and creating events that allowed that to happen," Kilman told Cruise Critic. "We're forming communities of people like, 'Oh yeah, I saw you at the party or at this show or that show or this event.' When people build connections with other people, that creates really lasting memories."