It’s not often there is as much buzz about a new cruise ship, or in this case cruise line, than with Virgin Voyages. The Godfather of Virgin, Richard Branson, has said it’s been his dream to have a cruise line since he was in his 20s, so this is very much been a long time in the making.
Virgin Voyages represents a big shift in what cruising means, where they have tried to rip up the rule book. And of course, applying the signature Virgin ethos to the seas along the way. The big question is, does this work? Having spent only a night on board in February 2020, I feel as though I’ve only really had a small glimpse of what Scarlet Lady has to offer, but yes, I think in time this could be a very good and fun product.
The easiest way to describe Scarlet Lady is to say she is very Marmite. Every aspect of her you will love or hate. Put simply, Virgin Voyages want to challenge your way of thinking of cruising, and act as a disruptor to what you consider normal. I’m very much a believer in all change is ultimately good, so I can totally get behind this ethos. Here’s my seven take-aways from my time on board.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Virgin Voyages for this overnight stay. All views and opinions are my own and I retain editorial control. I was not paid to attend this trip.
From the outside Scarlet Lady really is a looker, with sleek lines and that prominent bow. She almost looks like a race car, with what I feel is hot rod’esque styling around the funnel. Even when I was arriving in Dover ahead of boarding, you could not miss her. I could easily see her fitting into the Miami Skyline when she gets to her homeport in Florida. Personally, I like the colours (and you have to remember grey is a staple colour of the Virgin brand) and honestly, I think she would look a little strange in white – but overall, most people are not a fan of the grey look.
For me, there are two features that stand out above all else on this ship. Firstly, the interior design of public spaces. So much thought has gone into every minutia of detail and you can really tell from the minute you step on board. she’s utterly stunning. Of this there are a couple of venues that really stick out for me.
Firstly, there’s Sip, the champagne bar on board. This is a decadent space, with rich colours and metals and a signature rose marble bar. I think it’s by far my favourite venue on board. I could easily see myself shaking for champagne before dinner.
Then there’s The Dock. Situated at the back of the ship, this space is about chilling out and relaxing throughout the day. With oversized furniture, day beds and a beach-house feel, it will fit perfectly on a warm day in the Caribbean. There’s also an outdoors area overlooking the wake of the ship. If you need me in the day, I’ll be here!
The heart of the ship is The Roundabout, a two-storey atrium which has a distinctive art deco feel and features white marble, iridescent glass and plenty of seating. Surrounding the Roundabout are a number of bars and casual eateries, including On The Rocks, which specialises in mixology. The overall feel you get from the spaces on board are to make you want to just spontaneously hang-out or have your interest peaked by an impromptu activity.
A lot of thought has been put into the overall feel of the ship, with curious little touches, like numbered bars that are present in lots of the public spaces. They represent the number of frames and beams used in the construction of the ship. I love small touches like this.
My only real issue is the wayfinding. It was genuinely difficult to find, for instance a toilet when you felt the call of the wild. And similarly, unless you know they were there, you wouldn’t notice some of the venues on board which can make it difficult to get about at times.
This is where the Marmite factor really comes into play on board Scarlet Lady – the cabins. I stayed in an Ocean Terrace cabin, the standard balcony cabin on board.
Like with the rest of the ship, Virgin have approached cabin design with a blank piece of paper. Truth be told, most cabins on most cruise ships these days are for the most part identical in design, with a twin/double bed setup, a seating and vanity area, wardrobe and bathroom. Although the décor changes from line-to-line, the structure of a cabin is a tried and tested approach. Not so with Virgin.
When you walk in, you won’t typically find a bed. Instead you have a convertible sofa bed. This idea from Tom Dixon Studios, is that in the day you can lounge about with the L-shaped sofa and then in the evening your cabin steward will transform it into a double or single set of beds. This set-up does genuinely give you a little more space in the day, but it makes the room feel a little strange, as if it’s not sure what it’s trying to be. The sofa bed is very comfortable, and from responses on social media the general thought it that people will opt to have it remain a bed all day. Personally, and I know this will be controversial for some, I don’t mind the bed setup – I could get used to it.
I have more thoughts regarding other parts of the cabin. Chief to this is the size of bathroom. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely space with a rainfall shower and a nice design, but it’s just quite difficult for someone my size to manoeuvre in. So, if sharing with others it could easily feel overcrowded.
The other potential issue with the cabin is the amount of storage space. Unlike on a conventional cruise ship, there’s no formal wardrobe, and just a curtain that hides a (fairly large) rail and side board. There’s also a cupboard with shelves. There’s also very little space under the bed, so you’re likely not going to store much under there. I can see what they’re trying to do here, with the room trying to emulate a Boho style loft environment which for me, on a 4/5-night cruise, would be fine, but I could struggle on a longer cruise.
One big positive for me in the cabins was charging points. Each side of the bed features US charging points an USB slots. Then around the vanity there are more European, US and USB points.
I feel overall, I want my cabin to be my personal enclave and retreat from the rest of the world. I want it to feel cosy and welcoming, and while these cabins do that to a certain extent, I know many other cabins that could arguably do it better.
Firstly, a quick disclaimer. We were staying in Dover on our visit to Scarlet Lady and the weather was utterly atrocious – That’s February in the UK for you! So, in fairness, we couldn’t really get the best impression of the outdoor spaces on board.
There are two pool areas on board. Firstly, there is the main pool. I actually like the overall design of the space. However, for a ship this size, I was genuinely expecting a larger pool area on board. The small plunge pool is framed by a large splash and lounging area. It feels much more like something you’d see in the baths of somewhere like Budapest, than a lido deck. I can see what they want to achieve, with people just hanging out and cooling off by the pool area, but probably not spending that much time in the pool itself.
Secondly, there is the wellness pool. I actually quite like this area, but again, I was expecting it to be larger. There’s also a juice bar, Gym & Tonic.
My favourite spot had to be The Athletic Club. Again, not in use due to the weather, but this is a fun outdoor space that would work well as a sunset bar. And the net that overhang’s the back of the ship is really cool. There is also a suite only area here, Richard’s Rooftop, however, you couldn’t get access to it owing to the weather.
My overall impression with the outdoor spaces is that there’s a lot going on in terms of things on the deck and it could feel a little cluttered. There’s a lot of cabanas and day chairs, which asks the question how many sunbeds will be out and will there be enough space for people to do what they want to do? So, it will be interesting to see how this works in reality.
Food & Drink
All 22 restaurants are included in the fare on board Scarlet Lady. That’s really refreshing. Again, the design of these spaces is quite incredible. So much thought has gone into it, and it really comes through.
Given our limited time on board I only had a chance to sample some of the food. I ate dinner in Gunbae, the Korean BBQ on board. Korean BBQ is some of my favourite food so I was really excited to try this and overall, I really enjoyed the experience. The venue is designed really well and is lively and loud – as you would want it to be. The ethos focuses around a hands-on experience where you grill your own food together in the centre of your table. It’s a very social experience and my kind of food, however, I can appreciate this is not everyone’s cup of tea and it may not universally appeal.
I also enjoyed a lovely breakfast in Razzle Dazzle. One of my favourite venues on this ship, this takes inspiration from military camouflage. It’s a fun and friendly atmosphere any time of day. Typically, this will play host to drag brunch during cruises and I can see this working so well – I really want to experience it!
While I didn’t try them, I also want to mention Pink Agave and Test Kitchen. The design of both of these venues is utterly stunning, and again both places I would love to eat. Pink Agave is an elevated Mexican experience while Test Kitchen is about experiential cuisine where you are given ingredients and tailor your meal to what you fancy. If you know my blog well, you know both of these are right up my street and look and sound incredible.
Virgin’s take on a classic buffet is the Galley. Here you will find a variety of food throughout the day including tacos, sushi, bakery, noodle bar and a 24/7 burger joint.
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