MIAMI_Pam and I are about to board Scarlet Lady, the first cruise ship launched by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyages, and it doesn’t seem real. Mainly because we were originally set to sail on her in March, 2020. Then COVID changed everything for all of us.
So, at long last, Scarlet Lady has made her way back to her home port of Miami, and is about to embark on her maiden voyage from here. While attending Seatrade, a few media were invited to get a preview, and here we are.
We entered the ship through Terminal G (Terminal F, the ship’s home, is still under construction) and after going through a pre-board health screening that included an on-site antigen test, we were welcomed aboard.
Next came a guided tour, and our guide was cruise industry veteran Frank Weber, the senior vice president for hotel operations at Virgin. It’s notable there are several things that differentiate the Virgin brand:
— It’s adults only: Guests must be 18 or older.
— There are no extra charge restaurants. All 20-plus of their dining options are included, and each has its own executive chef.
— WiFi and gratuities are included with the fares.
As we toured the various venues, other differences also became apparent. Don’t expect soaring atriums or expansive public spaces. This ship, while large at over 900 feet with 17 decks, is built around creating intimate experiences. Furnishings are edgy and chic, utilizing vibrant colors.
PHOTOS by Gerry & Pam Barker
–Gerry and Pam are welcomed to the terminal. –One of the Scarlet Lady suites. –Squid Ink, the onboard tattoo parlor. –“Duel Reality,” showing in The Red Room theater.
–Pink Agave features elevated Mexican cuisine. –Cover photo: Scarlet Lady dockside at the Miami terminal.
There are just over 1,400 staterooms, the vast majority with either balconies or sea views. At capacity, it accommodates over 4,000 passengers and crew.
Looking for a different experience? You can get a tattoo or a body piercing at the first tattoo parlor at sea, Squid Ink. I think a mermaid might look good, but no time.
For more standard fare, there is a casino, spa and shopping. Regarding the latter, it was pointed out shops will change on a regular basis.
Up top, we toured Richard’s Rooftop, a private play and relaxation area exclusively for the guests staying in the suites. The suite we toured featured an electric guitar (here’s hoping the passengers in the next room are rock music enthusiasts) and a hammock on the private patio.
By the way, we saw Sir Richard himself, who passed by us and gave us a wave during our tour.
One place we didn’t get to visit was The Manor, a two-story night club named after Branson’s first recording studio. On first glance it looked to offer a feast for the senses.
The ship’s main theater is The Red Room, where seating can be reconfigured depending on the show. As described on their website, “We’re swapping classic Broadway cruise productions for never before seen at sea, immersive and modern entertainment.”
We stayed to see one of those productions, “Duel Reality,” a takeoff on Romeo and Juliet that I would characterize as “West Side Story” meets Cirque du Soleil. It featured amazing gymnastics and body choreography, but at 55 minutes, there was a little sameness to the pacing.
A few observations: Everyone is asked to stay seated for the entire show and not exit, which is problematic for cruise shows (and some did exit regardless). Also, there are no places for drinks, also a popular option. We’ll see how that works out.
We had time to sample one of the 20-plus restaurants — The Wake. You enter the sophisticated steak and seafood restaurant via a spiral staircase. It’s definitely an upscale experience. We loved the variation on the wedge salad, and our salmon was cooked to perfection.
Scarlet Lady has no buffets on board (a good thing in this era of COVID). Other restaurants we took a look at included Pink Agave, featuring “elevated Mexican cuisine” and Razzle Dazzle (named after the camouflage used in the world wars), that features something for every taste.
In summary, Branson clearly wants to boldly take cruising to where it hasn’t gone before, at least, experience-wise. There are three more ships coming, and they want to tap the market for adult travelers looking for upscale fun. From what we saw on our brief tour, it looks promising. Once we take an actual cruise, we’ll have more to report.
Scarlet Lady will be making four and five-night voyages from Miami to Caribbean ports starting Oct. 6. Pricing is per cabin, based on two guests, and includes a stop at their private beach club in Bimini.