The new cruise line does things very differently than Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian.
Virgin Voyages aimed to disrupt the major mass market cruise lines — Royal Caribbean International (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) – Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report — when the Richard Branson-owned brand entered the space. It aimed to reinvent the cruise experience filtered through the Virgin lens and it has at least been partially successful at doing that.
The fledgling cruise line has three ships with its inaugural vessel sailing out of Miami at the moment putting it alongside numerous options from Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian. Virgin Voyages has also done one big thing that none of its major competitors has — all sailings are 18-and-over.
That gives Virgin cruises a more adult feel and it keeps the ship from needing to devote space to waterslides, kids clubs, and other kid-friendly areas. The problem — and it’s not a fatal flaw — is that Virgin Voyages does not always use the added space well.
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What Virgin Voyages Has Done Right
The cruise line has built a high-end experience that fixes a lot of the problems that might annoy passengers on other cruise lines. Virgin has not only done away with the buffet, but it has replaced it with a better option that leads to less food waste. The Galley, Scarlet Lady’s buffet replacement, is more of a food hall or an upscale mall food court.
It offers a number of choices — tacos, sandwiches, a full diner serving all-day breakfast, ramen noodles, salad shop, dessert bar, and more — that are all centrally located on the 15th floor outside the pool deck. Passengers bring up the menu (all the eateries are on one big menu) and order from a waiter or waitress at their table. It seems likely the intent is for offering to be app-based, but that’s currently not offered.
Scarlet Lady also has a number of other casual, but fancier-than-a-normal cruise ship options dotted around the ship as well as a fancy ice cream shop, and a best-at-sea-class coffee shop. There’s also 24-hour room service where most items are included but for-fee extras like alcohol can be ordered as well.
The highlight of the ship may be its sit-down restaurants. These are the equivalent of the added-fee eateries most cruise lines offer but they’re all included in your fare. There are fairly traditional steakhouse and Italian options as well as upscale Mexican, a Korean BBQ place, a vegetable-forward option, and the experimental “Test Kitchen.”
Onboard entertainment was a highlight as well with musicians and DJs playing throughout the day and unique shows being offered at night. Most events are included in your fee with a few like a pub crawl costing a relatively nominal fee.
Cabins on Scarlet Lady also stand out. They’re well-designed, offering some flexibility as to how you want to lay the room out day versus night and a tablet controls everything from the lights to the television. Most rooms (about 80%) have a balcony, which offered a hammock along with chairs and a small table.
Scarlet Lady also had a top-notch crew that seemed genuinely happy to be there. Service in bars and restaurants was friendly and efficient with crew members quickly greeting you either by name or offering to make something you had ordered previously.
What’s Not To Like On Virgin’s Scarlet Lady
While beautifully designed, the ship lacks open spaces. It’s a series of venues that mostly run into each other. That creates situations where you might have to walk through people watching a band or playing a game to get where you’re going.
The pool deck has a similar problem with the main pool being small with much of its surface being a pool deck with water a few inches deep. The second pool is a sort of giant non-hot hot tub complete with jets that’s ideal for sitting and chatting with new (or old) friends.
These pools and the pool deck got quite crowded on a sailing that was around half capacity. And aside from a few small hot tubs, that’s the entirety of the pool space.
The ship also had a fair amount of space devoted to ideas that were more cool than useful like an outdoor boxing ring and exercise equipment. There was also a wall of rentable cabanas that seemed far from the pool and not very desirable.
And while it’s a small complaint, the onboard casino was small with a selection of newer slot machines that were all pretty similar. There was no video poker, which seems like an oversight, and the tables — while lively — were limited which might be a problem on a busier sailing.
Virgin Voyages also lacks an official casino loyalty program making it hard to know exactly how rewards and free trips are awarded and who gets free drinks in the casino (people who book as casino comps generally do across every cruise line).
Should You Sail on Scarlet Lady?
A fair amount of passengers onboard (many who have cruised regularly) seemed delighted at the adults-only environment. And while Virgin Voyages gets a little cheeky with some of its venue names, entertainment, other choices (the onboard general store had a fairly large display of sex toys), the actual environment is more mom and dad let their hair down than spring break.
If food plays a big role in why you cruise (and honestly eating is part of the attraction) Virgin Voyages offers a spectacular experience. The crew is also a major plus as is the entertainment (but pick another line if you want traditional cruise ship shows).
Scarlet Lady has a lot to offer but it’s also a relatively small ship. That was a huge positive on a half-filled sailing, but with a full complement of 2,700 or so people onboard it’s hard to see how certain areas — mostly the pool deck — would accommodate the crowd.