What it's like to spend the night on Virgin Voyages' new cruise ship

The new wave of cruising: Cruises just for oldies? Not any more – thanks to boxing rings, tattoo parlours… and silent discos aboard Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady

  • Sara Macefield spent the night on Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages’ new cruise ship   
  • The ship is ‘refreshingly different’ – it has the first tattoo parlour at sea
  • It starts sailing from Miami in April with four and five-night Caribbean voyages

Multi-coloured beams of light pulsate to the pounding beat as a mob of dancers pump and twist to whoops from the watching crowd.

The high-octane vibe has all the heat of a throbbing Ibiza nightspot — and then a giant dancing swan flutters on to the stage to prance with an oversized plastic egg.

It’s bizarre and kooky, not words you’d usually associate with cruise holidays. But this is Virgin Voyages — entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s foray into the world of cruising — and I’m aboard the first of its four ‘Lady Ships’, Scarlet Lady, which debuted in Dover last weekend.

Lively: There are more than 20 restaurants, covering an eclectic palate of styles, from Korean barbecue and Mexican to upscale Italian and experimental creations. Pictured is the Razzle Dazzle restaurant

This bar is called Draught Haus, which is located on deck seven. It serves artisanal beers

It’s been eagerly anticipated as one of the most interesting ship unveilings this year, thanks to Virgin’s promise to rip up the cruise rulebook by bringing its famously innovative flair to this somewhat traditional market sector.

Cruising conventions have been thrown overboard in Virgin Voyages’ determination to aim ‘rebellious luxe’ at potential cruisers led by (though not exclusively restricted to) millennials more at ease in the surroundings of trendy modern hotels.

It’s not the first cruise company trying to woo confirmed landlubbers. Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises are all seeking to attract first-timers, though none can match Virgin’s offbeat approach.

For starters, Scarlet Lady, which is strictly for adults, refers to its passengers as sailors.

Newly-released photos show the vessel’s slick interiors, with this spiral staircase being one of the many standout features

Even the exterior of this 2,770-ship stands out; it’s gun-metal grey hull lending an unglamorous militaristic look, with flashes of the brand’s signature red and saucy Scarlet Lady mermaid decorating the hull.

Inside, leading designers have created a boutique yacht feel. Though industrial chic and warehouse glamour also comes to mind, with flowing curves and metallic and matt finishes inlaid with dichroic glass.

It is refreshingly different. As is the dining set-up: there’s no main dining room and no traditional-style buffet either, but more than 20 restaurants, covering an eclectic palate of styles, from Korean barbecue and Mexican to upscale Italian and experimental creations.

Pleased as punch: Tone up in the boxing ring on the top deck 

A view of the outdoor running track on the Scarlet Lady, with prime sea views

A further key difference is the minimalist-style cabins, most of which come with a ‘transformational’ Seabed that converts to a lounger (think sofa-bed) for daytime entertaining, and balcony hammocks.

But the highlights are the 78 RockStar suites, the biggest of which have a music room where electric guitars will strike a chord with everyone’s inner rock child, while the outdoor terrace has a table made for dancing on, with handily built-in steps.

My short stay means there’s no chance to try the much-heralded Drag Brunches or Drag Bingo with Scarlet Lady’s exuberant resident drag performer, who sashays around the ship in big, blousy impromptu performances.

Two of the Rockstar suites offer the full rock star treatment and come complete with guitars and amplifiers

Stay in a minimalist suite, most of which come with a ‘transformational’ Seabed that converts to a lounger for daytime entertaining

I nose around Voyage Vinyl which, as the first record shop at sea, reflects Virgin’s musical heritage, before popping into the Squid Ink tattoo studio where, in another ocean first, sailors can come away with a permanent souvenir.

I wonder how many will succumb after supping artisanal beers at the Draught Haus, sampling cocktails from the On the Rocks mixology bar or downing G&Ts in the Brighton-inspired Loose Cannon watering hole where the crew jump on tables to sing sea shanties and even fire a specially-made cannon.

In a novel twist, sailors can also order bottles of bubbly through a Shake for Champagne app on their mobile phones.

Headline entertainment is based in the Red Room, a ‘transformational’ performance space with seats that fold back. It’s the setting for Dual Reality, an astounding acrobatic re-telling of Romeo And Juliet, though the show could do with being a tad shorter.

Owner: Entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has made his foray into the world of cruising

The luxury 17-deck ship, christened Scarlet Lady, is the first of four Virgin Voyages ships that will come into service each year for the next four years


Virgin Voyages’ (virginvoyages.com) inaugural four night full-board cruise aboard Scarlet Lady departs from Miami, via Key West and Bimini, on April 1 and costs from £780pp.

You can tone up on the ship’s running track or boxing ring, in the large gym or indulge in a dose of Vitamin Sea in the undersea cave-inspired spa. Outside, the decks have been designed to capture the chic feel of Miami beach clubs with ample lounging areas, a yoga and meditation area and what is acclaimed as the biggest hot tub on the high seas (which helps to compensate for the main pool, which looks minuscule).

Scarlet Lady starts sailing from Miami in April with four and five-night Caribbean voyages calling at its private Bimini beach club in the Bahamas, where top DJ’s such as Mark Ronson will take star turns.

Prices average at about £700 for a compact inside cabin on four-night voyages, and Sea Terrace balcony cabins cost around £2,000. While dining, wi-fi and gratuities are included, there is the cost of the flight on top.

But with the strength of the Virgin brand, Scarlet Lady could prove to be a seductive temptress, capable of luring in those who would never normally consider a cruise holiday.


TRADITIONAL: Afternoon teas accompanied by classical music

MILLENNIAL: Lively drag queen brunches on Virgin Voyages

TRADITIONAL: Strolling around the promenade deck

MILLENNIAL: Walking the 8 ft plank off the side of a Norwegian Cruise Line ship

TRADITIONAL: Views from crow’s nest bars on the highest deck

MILLENNIAL: Views from the North Star viewing pod 300ft above the waves on Royal Caribbean International

TRADITIONAL: Dining in the main restaurant

MILLENNIAL: Eating in the Magic Carpet moving platform on board Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge ship

TRADITIONAL: Cinema rooms

MILLENNIAL: Virtual reality experiences and rides on MSC Cruises

TRADITIONAL: English pub

MILLENNIAL: Distillery and bar with 30 different gins on P&O Cruises’ new ship Iona

TRADITIONAL: Official photograph portraits

MILLENNIAL: Selfie Land of photos and props on Virgin Voyages

TRADITIONAL: Formal black-tie dinners

MILLENNIAL: Hot, hot, hot Latin pool parties on Norwegian Cruise Line

TRADITIONAL: Card rooms and libraries

MILLENNIAL: Themed escape rooms on Royal Caribbean International


MILLENNIAL: Funky silent discos on Celebrity Cruises 

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