Scarlet Lady: Inside Virgin Voyage’s New Cruise Ship



(CNN) – When you board the Scarlet Lady cruise ship, you immediately know you’re on Richard Branson’s ship.

There is a record store on the left that sells limited edition vinyl Sex Pistols and Lady Gaga. The crew has cooler outfits than you do. And there’s red, red, red all over the place – lest you forget this is a Virgin branded company.

Then there’s Branson himself, back from space and joining his management team in New York to show off Virgin Voyages’ first ship before it starts from Miami on October 6.

Without the children splashing around, the ship’s pool area aims for well-being and tranquility.

Channon Hodge / CNN

The 1,408-cabin ship is trendy, alternating luxury with a laid-back vibe that invites customers to come as they are if they are very cool people. The adults-only ship has luxurious gold light fixtures and railings, ultra-chic boutique-sized restaurants, and double loungers absolutely everywhere that seem aimed at guests who want to spend the day boating.

Richard Branson, Paris Hilton and Tom McAlpin at the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Showcase in New York.

Richard Branson, Paris Hilton and Tom McAlpin at the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Showcase in New York.

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

Everything about the cruise ship screams, “This is not a cruise ship!” And that’s because Branson said he hated the idea of ​​being one.

“Before I started Virgin Atlantic, I didn’t feel like flying on other people’s airlines because they were stuffy, not fun,” Branson told CNN Travel from one of the ship’s Rockstar suites. “This is the perfect time to start a business and [ask] Could we create the kind of cruise line that myself, my family and my friends would like to continue on? ”

Floating nightclub

The ship's theater is called The Manor, named after Richard Branson's first recording studio.

The ship’s theater is called The Manor, named after Richard Branson’s first recording studio.

Channon Hodge / CNN

This apparently means having guitars and turntables on hand in the two premium “Massive” suites, cuckoo showers in many cabins so you never lose sight of your loved ones and Richard’s Rooftop – a private bar and cocktail area. for the guests (or “sailors” as they are called) who have pushed further for the suites.

To create all of this, Virgin Voyages assembled a team of designers more accustomed to working on the land, like Roman and Williams, known for the Ace Hotel in New York.

Among other things, they designed the Manor, a theater that turns into a nightclub. You enter through a massive tunnel flooded with stars. The space has a stage that moves for the audience to interact with and an illuminated neon sign on the wall that says, “If you wanna dance, dance!” If you can’t see anything, move! If you want a drink, have a drink! ”

that of the scarlet lady "wellness pool."

The Scarlet Lady’s “wellness pool”.

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

There is no large dining room or buffet, no neon rides, and no cruise director here. Instead, the activities and “events” of the ship are managed by staff who are experts in what they do; train with real fitness gurus, play games with real players and dine with established foodies.

The Virgin team, however, included a few major cruise industry veterans such as Frank Weber, senior vice president of hotel operations. Weber couldn’t help but dance the hallways while touring the ship for the press. He had new ideas repressed for nearly three decades while working at companies such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.

“Every time I wanted to change something, you had to skip steps because your loyal customers were like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you changed that! “Weber told CNN Travel.” This is my baby, and I put a lot of effort, hard work and passion into it. “

Scarlet Lady has given Weber and the team the opportunity to do everything from scratch and this is perfectly evident when eating and drinking. On the one hand, Weber thought beverage packages were “the devil,” so customers could buy prepaid bar tablets; a $ 300 tab comes with a $ 50 bonus.

“Not your grandmother’s cruise”

The Extra Virgin restaurant has a comfortable Italian trattoria-style atmosphere.

The Extra Virgin restaurant has a comfortable Italian trattoria-style atmosphere.

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

You don’t have set dinner times, and you won’t be stuck at large tables with guests you don’t know (unless you ask).

The ship has more than 20 restaurants, including a bright and open dining room. You can also dine at one of the six specialty restaurants at any time; just add yourself to the waiting list and an app tells you when your table is ready.

Feast on an Impossible Burger while sipping old-fashioned popcorn topped with sweet and savory popcorn at Razzle Dazzle, the home of drag brunch. Play Korean drinking games in Gunbae while grilling your food right in front of you. Or go for the high end and order a seafood tower at The Wake.

It’s all part of your package, and there is no additional charge for your meal choices. Tips are included. Weber points out that on a traditional cruise ship, all of the food often comes from a central kitchen, but this is one of the many ways the cruise has lost its way. But Scarlet Lady opts for authenticity.

“Each restaurant has its own kitchen,” Weber explains. “Each restaurant has its own executive chef, which is more expensive than doing it any other way, but you improve the quality.”

The ship's Mexican Pink Agave restaurant serves a wide variety of mezcals.

The ship’s Mexican Pink Agave restaurant serves a wide variety of mezcals.

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

Virgin executives admit that this kind of tailored one-on-one attention goes against normal thinking in the cruise industry where meals are mass produced so that the thousands of guests on a ship can all eat. on time.

“It’s harder on the staff …” Branson begins to say.

“But that’s what makes us so different,” concludes Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages who sits alongside Branson. “These are the kinds of things that say – it’s not your grandma’s cruise.”

But grandmothers and grandfathers represent a huge and loyal part of the cruise market. Adults in their 60s are the largest group of passengers, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, and they are even more powerful when carrying their grandchildren. To continue to grow, the industry needs these grandchildren to become customers as they grow older. The industry is worried that this is not happening enough and Covid-19 has only made matters worse.

Tattoos at sea

The suites have private lounge chairs and an outdoor patio sofa.

The suites have private lounge chairs and an outdoor patio sofa.

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages seems to be doing everything possible to please this younger and more demanding clientele.

Like many new cruise ships, they’ve made Scarlet Lady eco-friendly. The motor converts waste heat into electricity and avoids single-use plastics. Many ingredients come from sustainable or local Florida sources. The coffee comes from Intelligentsia, a company that focuses on “direct trade” rather than “fair trade”, which means that it guarantees farmers a minimum price for the crops.

The entertainment is “choose your own adventure” and is reminiscent of a hot new thing that you couldn’t buy tickets for in New York or London. There is a participatory nighttime show called “Never Sleep Alone” directed by a sex therapist, a series of plays that appear throughout the ship called Phantom Folktales and new productions by Randy Weiner, who created “The Donkey Show” and “Sleep. No More. ”

There’s the casino and the usual shops, but Weber said the tattoo parlor was full while the ship was running in the UK (navigation must have been smooth.)

McAlpin says he would love if Scarlet Lady showed a larger market that there is a “new way to navigate,” but says Virgin Voyages doesn’t necessarily focus on attracting young people. They go after people who look a lot like Richard Branson.

The Athletic Club net is a comfortable hanging net with a view of the ocean below.

The Athletic Club net is a comfortable hanging net with a view of the ocean below.

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

“We really focus on the young at heart, the people who want to come and have a good time,” says McAlpin. “They don’t want all that paperwork but still want luxury … and luxury your way.”

Scarlet Lady officially begins sailing on October 6 with trips across the Caribbean, stopping at Virgin’s private beach club in Bimini (Bahamas).

Cabins range from $ 725 to $ 5,875 and were still selling as of September 18. Virgin Voyages plans to launch the second of its four planned ships, the Valiant Lady, in 2022, which will sail throughout the Mediterranean.

Best Image Credit: Virgin Voyages



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