Last week I got on a cruise ship for the very first time. Granted, it was moored on the Hudson River, but you never forget your first. Personally, I never considered myself to be a midshipman — something I quickly learned that Richard Branson and I had in common. Scarlet Lady, the first ship to debut from Branson’s Virgin Voyages cruise line, was just weeks away from her inaugural series of US crossings. I had an exclusive tour of what it’s like to be on board.
Before docking more recently in New York, the ship had just completed its first voyages around the UK, and Branson himself returned from a successful trip to space. The goal was to originally unveil the Scarlet Lady in New York City in March 2020. The pandemic has derailed those plans. A year and a half later, the Scarlet Lady should finally make its first American trip from Miami and around the Caribbean in October 2021. You can read more about the itineraries here.
Branson, with Tom McAlpin, President and CEO of Virgin Voyages, took those 18 months to review the ship’s health and safety protocols. As it is, guests and crew will be tested before boarding and everyone will need to be vaccinated. In addition, they have also installed advanced air purification technology and implemented advanced cleaning protocols.
So what inspired Branson to create an adult-only cruise line? As previously mentioned, I learned that Branson himself had never been on a cruise. And in the end, had no desire to do it. Naturally, this prompted him to launch Virgin Voyages.—A fleet of “Lady Ships” that deliver the kind of fun, immersive and luxurious experience he would want at sea.
Virgin Voyages advertises itself as appealing to the ‘young at heart’ which means the ship is perfect for inexperienced cruisers or industry veterans who have not had their needs met in previous sea experiences. To ensure customer satisfaction, the pricing model they came up with incorporates tips, food, drinks and more. On the customer side, Scarlet Lady can accommodate up to 2,770 “sailors” (from 18 years old), which is exactly what guests will be referred to on board.
The appearance of the ship, in addition to the variety of offerings on board, is what really makes her a standout. My tour, led by Dee Cooper, senior vice president of design at Virgin Voyages, highlighted the incredible interior and exterior spaces of the Scarlet Lady. Cooper mentioned that Virgin Voyages brought in creatives from all walks of life (none from the current cruise industry) to conceptualize the ship’s innovative architecture.
Overall, the ship draws inspiration from Retro futurism and sometimes it feels like you’re in a spaceship. (But in a good way.) Cooper said it was important that the design be representative of both “the past and the future.” Mission accomplished.
Where Scarlet Lady goes against the status quo is with her range of fun, quirky, and also glamorous spaces. For example, they brought Romain and Williams to create what Cooper called “the best nightclub at sea”. Here, guests are transported to what appears to be another dimension via a mirrored optical illusion hallway before entering the club. Other Instagrammable locations on board include the outdoor running track and a brightly colored restaurant named Razzle Dazzle.
At this point, there are over 20 different types of restaurants on the ship, from high-end Mexican cuisine to experimental test cuisine and even Korean barbecue. Abandoning almost all formalities, there are no traditional hours for restaurants or reserved tables. There is certainly no buffet either.
What would a Richard Branson-approved cruise line be without a few touches of luxury? Believe me, Scarlet Lady has plenty. Aside from its upscale, albeit relaxed, interiors, Cooper says it’s “all about the attitude.” She was referring to Virgin Voyages’ ‘rebellious luxury’ mantra, which defines luxury as’ getting things when you want them, where you want them ‘.
I was able to witness what was perhaps the best example of this, Virgin Voyages’ Shake for Champagne feature on their Sailor app. Guests simply shake their phones, press a button and a bottle of Möet Chandon Impérial® is delivered to them directly, no matter where they are on the ship. In terms of guest cabins, consider tangible amenities like private outdoor showers and woven hammocks on the patio.
Does all of this combined officially make Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady the coolest cruise ship on the seas? May be. We’ll have to see what happens when the rest of Branson’s fleet is revealed. For now, you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the ship on our TIC Tac.
Main image courtesy of Virgin Voyages