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Wednesday,  April 17, 2024 5:07 PM 

On Location: Hip, fun and a little naughty. What to expect from Virgin Voyages

On Location: Hip, fun and a little naughty. What to expect from Virgin Voyages
An exclusive look at Scarlet Lady. (Ming Tappin)
Ming Tappin

Ming Tappin is a cruise industry expert and is the owner of Your Cruise Coach.

Perhaps the most anticipated event in the cruise industry last year was the launch of Virgin Voyages, marking Sir Richard Branson’s foray into cruising.

All dressed up but nowhere to go, Scarlet Lady launched in April 2020. But her moment to shine didn’t come until October 2021 when she began cruising from Miami, offering three to five-day Caribbean and Mayan Riviera sailings.

After experiencing a five-night cruise, it’s clear that Virgin Voyages is different from mainstream cruising as we know it.

Virgin Voyages is different from mainstream cruising as we know it. (Ming Tappin)

Cheeky with a bit of naughtiness

Launching a cruise line has been Sir Richard’s dream since he was in his 20s. His intent was to bring new concepts to cruising, and it started with the cruise lingo.

You aren’t a passenger on board Virgin, you’re a Sailor. If you’re staying in a suite, you’re a Rock Star. Travel advisors are referred to as First Mates.

Cheeky names and sayings are used everywhere in the effort to make “ship” happen.  

A cheeky name for Scarlet Lady’s ice cream bar. (Ming Tappin)

The same goes for some of the onboard entertainment. It’s a little suggestive, a little risqué, and sometimes a lot of both!

This isn’t your grandmother’s cruise line, unless your grandmother has pink hair and tattoos.

18+ and millennial-focused

Recognizing that there are plenty of family-friendly cruise lines out there, Virgin decided to offer an adults-only experience.

Specifically, millennials are the primary target market. This is immediately evident as we stepped on board Scarlet Lady.

Many of Scarlet Lady’s outdoor spaces feature large loungers and sunbeds inductive to group gatherings and hang-outs. (Ming Tappin)

She exudes a clubby feel with DJs spinning tunes by the pools and upbeat music piping throughout the public areas.

The hip and sexy vibe can also be relived in the stateroom, with mood lighting and music selections available through the in-room tablet.

Mood lighting gives Scarlet Lady’s public spaces a cool vibe. (Ming Tappin)

Abundant charging stations ensuite and throughout the ship ensure millennials never run out of juice to capture and share their social media moments.

Plenty of photo ops are scattered on board to capture and share. (Ming Tappin)

With smartphones in hand, sailors plan and do everything through the Virgin Voyages app. It is used to make dinner, entertainment and shore (excursions) reservations.

What’s happening on board the ship, what time are the restaurants and shops open, and when is my massage appointment? It’s all in the app.

The Redemption Spa on board offers a variety of treatments, all bookable via the Virgin Voyages app. (Ming Tappin)

A little more inclusive

“Basic Bevvies” such as coffee, tea, juice, sparkling or still water are included, as are Wi-Fi, fitness classes, all eateries, and crew gratuities.

Prices for alcoholic and specialty beverages are reasonable. (Average prices: wine $9, beer $7, cocktail $13, latte $4, inclusive of gratuities.)   

Always casual

Virgin offers the most relaxed and casual atmosphere on board any cruise. Flip flops, sweats, and shorts are welcomed at all times – and yes, even at dinner.

One of two pool areas on board Scarlet Lady. (Ming Tappin)

Another pool area on board Scarlet Lady. (Ming Tappin)

Sailors can go glam or slum it, bare their midriffs, and show off their tats (we noticed that many sailors and crew are extensively inked!).

Scarlet Lady has been designed for relaxation and gatherings. Large sunbeds and loungers are great for chatting with new friends, and every public space has a collection of sofas and chairs grouped together for planned or impromptu get-togethers.

There are plenty of group seating throughout the public areas onboard Scarlet Lady. (Ming Tappin)

It’s a do-what-you-want, wear-what-you-want experience. No fuss and no judgment.

Sailors of all genders and sexual orientations are embraced with open arms. All members of the LGBTQ community can feel welcomed, celebrated, and safe while cruising onboard Virgin.

Dining transformed

With more than 20 complimentary eateries, Virgin takes dining to the next level.

Steakhouse, Mexican, Italian, vegan, a test kitchen, and the industry’s first Korean barbeque wow sailors with exceptional dining options, with presentation and taste that rank as high as any 5-star shoreside restaurant.

Razzle Dazzle is a vegan-forward restaurant but also offers “naughty” items for those who crave a little meat. (Ming Tappin)

In addition, Virgin has transformed the buffet concept into a collection of food stations with full table service. Next to standard burgers, salads, and sweets, there are also sandwiches, paninis, flatbreads, bento boxes, ramen, tacos.
The Test Kitchen restaurant turns simple ingredients into exquisite creations. (Ming Tappin)

Want more? Scattered throughout the ship are venues offering Mediterranean tapas, poke bowls, pizza, ice cream, high tea, and specialty coffees (the latter two are at extra charge).

The Galley serves all-day breakfast and various bites, all with table service. (Ming Tappin)

Energetic entertainment

Hands down, Virgin puts on the most innovative and energetic entertainment we have ever seen. These are not your sit-and-watch Broadway tributes!

Just one of the high energy dance performances that make up the evening entertainment on board Scarlet Lady.

On our cruise, there was a standing-room-only dance party with a moving stage, an edgy modern dance tale with dynamically lit floor-to-ceiling panels, and a fearless duelling acrobatic team that kept us at the edge of our seat. With death-defying leaps and tumbles, the show induced scream-out-loud moments!  

There was also a stand-up session with a sexologist filled with x-rated language and raunchy audience participation.

Strong focus on wellness

Dubbed Vitamin Sea, Virgin’s wellness complex is spread over three decks.

Massive spaces, again with cheeky names such as Gym and Tonic, The Runway (jogging track), Training Camp, the Tune Up (beauty salon), a barber shop, the Dry Dock blow out bar, and Redemption Spa give sailors ample opportunities to keep up with their fitness and beauty routines while at sea.

Scarlet Lady’s Vitamin Sea program features expansive fitness equipment and spaces. (Ming Tappin)

All fitness classes are complimentary and it’s not just lame morning stretches and afternoon abs.

Classes include bungee fitness, yoga (even SUP yoga), pilates, meditation, barre, HIIT, spin, foam roller muscle release, and more. There is also an outdoor training area with circuit stations and a boxing ring.

Industry firsts

Virgin brings the first Korean barbecue restaurant at sea on board Scarlet Lady.

Just like a shoreside restaurant, Gunbae offers a menu of hot and cold appetizers, veggies and meats for grilling (all cooking is done by the waiter). This is the only venue where you will be seated with other sailors (up to 6 at a table), but a fun drinking game eases everyone into the experience.

Gunbae brings Korean BBQ to the high seas for the first time. (Ming Tappin)

Squid Ink tattoo parlour is another first, where sailors can get inked by choosing from a book of ideas or bringing their own design. There were several sailors getting tattoos during our cruise – Virgin attracts the right audience that will keep Squid Ink busy.

Sailors can get inked by one of Scarlet Lady’s tattoo artists at Squid Ink. (Ming Tappin)

The Voyage Vinyl record shop is another cool idea to debut on a ship, although it is tucked in a very small space that almost goes unnoticed.

Beach Club at Bimini

Unlike other cruise lines that own an entire island, Virgin’s private destination is located on a section of beach that is part of Resorts World Bimini

A soft white sand beach welcomes sailors at Virgin’s Beach Club at Bimini. (Ming Tappin)

But other than the “Welcome to Resorts World” signage as sailors debark the ship, everything at the Beach Club at Bimini is Virgin, from branding and decor to food and service.

The Virgin casual vibe and cool hang-outs are carried over to the Beach Club at Bimini. (Ming Tappin)

From the ship, it is a few minutes’ tram ride to reach the Beach Club. Once there, sailors enjoy complimentary loungers, umbrellas, a large free-form pool, and a gorgeous sandy beach. Rock Stars have their own VIP section and there are cabanas available for rent.

A large free-form pool beckons sailors to relax and chill with music and beverages. (Ming Tappin)

Lunch is served in pre-plated bowls – but no burgers or fries here! Watermelon jicama salad, banana leaf steamed red snapper, Indian curries, rice and beans, and rum cake are all refreshingly creative and delicious.

Even lunch at Beach Club at Bimini is a culinary experience. (Ming Tappin)

Worth noting 

Scarlet Lady is 110,000 GRT with a capacity of 2,770 (although there were only 600 on our voyage) and 1,160 crew.

An included antigen test is provided to all sailors before embarkation. Disembarkation testing is available onboard ship on the second last evening –$45 for antigen, $135 for PCR (prices in USD).

Housekeeping services can be ordered through the in-room tablet. (Ming Tappin)

Masks are required (and provided) at all indoor venues onboard.

There isn’t an evening cabin turn-down service but sailors can request fresh towels, water, ice, or change the bed through the in-room tablet.

The transformable Seabed can be made into a sofa by day. (Ming Tappin)

Is Virgin Voyages right for your clients?

With so many outside-the-box elements, Virgin certainly isn’t your typical cruise line. Is it a fit for your clients? Here are our thoughts:

  • As long as sailors are 18+, all ages are welcome. There were even seniors onboard. But they should be young at heart, open-minded, and enjoy being onboard with millennials and the hip and off-beat shipboard experiences.
  • But Virgin isn’t a party cruise. Yes, there is music everywhere and evenings are lively, but there are plenty of spaces to enjoy without being overwhelmed. We also did not observe any unruly behaviour.
  • Having a smartphone is a must since everything is housed in the app. This is a no-brainer for millennials and most sailors, but those who aren’t tech-savvy may find it a bit cumbersome to navigate through what’s happening onboard. The team at Sailor Services (guest relations) provide assistance.

Virgin is great for those who prefer the casual vibe and the lack of dress code and pressure sales tactics. 

Despite the lively vibe, Virgin isn’t a party ship. There are plenty of beautiful spaces to relax and chill. (Ming Tappin)

We certainly did not miss the annoying announcements and the deluge of flyers in our room promoting sales and spa specials that are prevalent onboard other big ships.

Some shows include coarse language, drag, sensual and sexual elements, but it’s all in good Virgin fun.

Bottom line: qualify your clients well and they will have a fantastic experience on board Virgin Voyages!

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