Last week, I had the opportunity to sail on a hip new ship called Scarlet Lady with Richard Branson’s edgy new answer to the cruise industry, Virgin Voyages. The Scarlet Lady is an impressive ship designed for adults-only (over 18 only allowed) who love fun and unique experiences. Some would say it’s pretty millennial-focused, but I saw plenty of Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers Enjoying themselves. In 2022 the new Virgin ship, Valiant Lady, will sail the Mediterranean. Every cruise fare includes:
Alcoholic drinks are relatively inexpensive. You have the opportunity to add a bar tab to your account before you depart (and they will add a bonus of $50 to it for your trouble. I took advantage of a $100 bonus special before my cruise.
Itineraries range from 4 to 6 nights in the Caribbean. Once they get to Europe, there are some 11-night itineraries to choose from. My four-night cruise had two ports of call (Nassau and Bimini in the Bahamas). I’m going to summarize my takeaways (and advice) to help you decide if this new cruise line can be YOUR cup of tea and to make the most of your own Virgin Voyage:
A COVID test (antigen) with a negative result is required to board the ship at the pier. Make sure you make the appointment for your test before you get to the dock. If you don’t, all is not lost, you can scan a QR code and do it there, but it’s a lot easier to do before you arrive. Once you get your COVID test, they give you a wristband to indicate you completed your test, and they send you upstairs to a holding area until you get your test result.
This is where you will check-in, show your COVID vaccination card (all guests must be double vaccinated) and your passport. They will issue your sea band if you did not receive it before you left home. This bracelet will be your ticket to everything on board: cabin door key, entry ticket into pre-reserved shows, “credit card” to purchase more-than-basic beverages (lattes, pressed juices, alcoholic drinks), and your access on and off the ship. Once you get your negative test result, they send you through another waiting area, where they will give you a number as you enter this area. When your group is called, you will be able to board the ship. It sounds a little complicated, but it’s really, very simple.
One of the first introductions to the ship is the stateroom. I stayed in a Sea Terrace cabin that felt like a bit of a tight squeeze for 2 people (especially the bathroom) at 185 sq ft with a 40 sq ft balcony. One cool thing you’ll notice upon opening the door for the first time is that the balcony curtains automatically open. The lights slowly turn on, and music briefly plays. During the day, the bed can turn into a couch if you like, and at night the attendants transform it back into a bed. The room has really cool lighting that you can change according to your mood, and everything is operated from a tablet in the room. You control the lights, the tv, music, and the temperature all from the provided tablet. The bathroom is really tiny, and as my roommate (sister-in-law, Tamara) said, you have to open the door to change your mind. But the shower had both a rain shower head and a handheld sprayer, so that was cool. One of the amenities Virgin boasts is the hammock on every balcony. I didn’t find it to be the most comfortable place to relax, but it’s still a nice touch.
I highly recommend not getting a room smaller than a Sea Terrace XL, and if your budget allows, go full on for a Rock Star Suite and above. It comes complete with a fully stocked bar, extra large cabin, and a rockstar “agent” (aka butler), as well as access to a private area on the ship called Richard’s Rooftop. Your rockstar agent can get you into otherwise “sold out” situations on board.
As a culinary travel specialist, my first priority after the muster drill was exploring the ship’s dining options. On Virgin Voyages, all of the food is included, even the specialty dining that usually incurs a cost on many other cruise lines. There are 20 eateries on board, and I experienced most of them! My favorite casual venue is The Galley: a really nice food court with several kiosks and counters that include breakfast (all day), ramen, tacos, sushi, salads, burgers, desserts, and specialty coffees.
Initially, I was under the impression that the only place open for breakfast was The Wake and Razzle Dazzle. Reservations were highly encouraged. Breakfast menus are very limited in these two restaurants, with clam chowder and salad being two of the few choices in The Wake. Who wants clam chowder for breakfast? The Galley is also where you find traditional breakfast food. I wish I would’ve discovered this earlier in the voyage!
If you’re looking for a place to grab a snack or meal any time of the day, the Galley is the perfect place! Other casual eateries include The Pizza Shop, which offers customized pizzas, and The Dock, a comfortable place to hang out at the stern. The shrimp appetizer here is legendary! After lunch, visit the ice cream parlor called “Lick Me ‘Til…Ice Cream” (get it? Told ya, it’s a little edgy).
The dock house on deck 7 aft has great shrimp but an extremely limited menu. Can we just get chips and guac somewhere?
Pink Agave is Virgin’s answer to high-class Mexican food. There were not many choices on the menu, but what we tried was excellent! The Sea bass and pork dish were to-die-for. The gal sitting next to us said halibut was outstanding! Totopos and guac were also fantastic. The bread pudding was also quite impressive, but chocolate tacos not so much.
Of the specialty restaurants, my favorite was the Test Kitchen. They offer a six-course meal of innovative dishes like the mushroom mousse and smoked egg yolk with peas. You can also add a cocktail, wine, or beer pairing to complement the dishes.
I chose the Korean BBQ restaurant, Gunbae for my birthday dinner. You will be seated with other “sailors” (Virgin’s name for a guest) that you don’t know if you are in a party of less than 6, but that’s the fun of it – to get to know other passengers. After drink and dinner orders are taken, your waiter will pour you a shot of sake (or water for those who don’t drink) and lead you through an entertaining drinking game. Ours was called 3-6-9, where you go around the table, and each person counts, and where there is a 3, 6, or 9, you clap instead. It’s a lot harder than you think! The person who messes up is “out” and has to drink their shot.
When the food comes, the waiter cooks it on the hot disc in the center of the table and cuts the thin strips of meat with scissors. You can put the cooked meat onto lettuce leaves provided like a lettuce wrap. My absolute favorite thing was the scallion pancake appetizer. I could have eaten only that and been happy! They surprised me with a birthday dessert at the end of the meal.
This is where you go if you want a really great steak. We paired our filets with a nice glass of Caymus Cabernet, which the sommelier generously poured (I’m thinking we got a little extra because we asked nicely if he’d let us kill what was left of the bottle).
Extra Virgin is Virgin Voyages’ answer to fine Italian dining. Our sailing was too short to have had the opportunity to try it, but those we spoke to said it was awesome.
We also didn’t get a chance to have dinner here, so I can’t speak about the experience. Still, if you are a vegan or vegetarian, I hear you’ll love it (as long as you can get past the loud decor).
Come back next week when I’ll give you the lowdown about entertainment, spa, private beach club, insider tips and advice (you’ll definitely want to know about this!), and my opinion on the hits and misses of this new cruise line experience. I may even have a video tour of the ship!
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