Best for: Hip 30- to 40-something couples who enjoy late-night entertainment, foodies, health and fitness fans
Not for: Those who want a traditional cruising experience, families.
Bottom Line: Virgin Voyages has ripped up the rule book with Scarlet Lady, creating a ship that caters for a demographic that may have never thought of cruising as a vacation option
Scarlet Lady made its debut on the world stage in February 2020, but it was not until August 2021 that it finally sailed, starting with a series of short cruises 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 (three 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 he 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.
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 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 a "rockstar" in Virgin parlance, and really that's how the ship and the crew make you feel.
Virgin is mandating that only fully vaccinated passengers are allowed to sail and will be rapid testing passengers prior to embarkation. The line is endeavoring to get all crew vaccinated and tests every two weeks (note crew wear masks).
Antigen test before boarding
Mask wearing dependent on local government guidance (encouraged but not enforced) for sailors; mandated for crew
Off the ship
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