Rupert Parker joins one of the first sailings on Virgin Voyages’ brand new seventeen-deck ship.
It isn’t quite the Caribbean or even Miami, the Scarlet Lady’s projected haunts, but it’s good to get on board at Portsmouth and enjoy a four-night cruise in the chilly British summer. This is an adult-only ship, new in August 2021 and, looking around the passengers, the age profile is notably younger than your average cruise clientele.
There’s also a new sense of freedom as only those who have been double-vaccinated are allowed to book and all passengers are tested before they board. On the ship, most people discard their face masks and life seems almost back to normal. All the crew, though, have to wear masks and also undergo comprehensive testing and vaccination.
As you’d expect from Virgin, they’ve introduced their own innovations. No buffets, instead there are 20 different places to eat, all with waiter service, and a smartphone app allows you to book your table. It’s still a bit hit and miss, although it did allow us to book seats at the various shows on board. Technology also takes over the cabin with a tablet to control your TV, opening and closing of curtains and adjust the lighting depending on your mood.
The 278m ship has 1,330 cabins and 78 suites, otherwise known as RockStar Quarters. We settle into our spacious sea terrace cabin, taking a peek on the balcony where a red hammock is perfect for the Caribbean, not so useful for the English Channel. The comfy king-size bed can convert to a sofa during the day, giving extra room, and the shower is powerful although a bit cramped. It’s tempting to open up the little black box containing sex toys but it costs an extra $30, so we don’t bother.
Instead, we sample the restaurants, no extra cost here apart from drinks, and are impressed by the quality of the food. I particularly like Test Kitchen’s Michelin-starred six-course set menu, the Mexican and Korean are agreeably authentic and, of course, there’s a steak and seafood restaurant called The Wake. Vegetarians get their own diner called Razzle Dazzle and there’s also an upscale Italian.
An excellent innovation is The Galley, a 24-hour food court with bento boxes of fresh fruits and yoghurt, takeaway sushi, Mexican tacos, a noodle bar and of course all-day breakfast. It’s not help yourself, rather you sit down and the staff take your orders and bring them to the table. With the ship just over half full, we’re never short of a waiter or waitress, always ready to help.
Now we worried before we boarded that four nights at sea could get a little tedious. Fortunately, there’s some excellent entertainment, a cut above normal cruise fare. The best of all is an acrobatic show called Duel Reality, loosely based on West Side Story. Complex somersaults and flips, hanging from ropes and chains and even a see-saw double act defy the imagination.
There’s a team of alternative comedians from the Edinburgh Fringe performing in a spoof game show format and there’s audience participation in the cabaret Never Sleep Alone. Sexologist Dr Alex Schiller and her lab-coated team invite people on stage and explore their sexual fantasies. We make sure we don’t sit too close to the front but we still get some condoms to take away.
Of course, there are bars scattered throughout the ship and we sit around the small pool sipping cocktails after a dip in the hot tub. We even dance the night away in the Manor nightclub. Salving our hangovers in the spa gives us some quiet time but we’re not brave enough to visit the ship’s resident tattooist. Virgin Voyages say they’re reinventing the cruise experience and, based on our short voyage on the Scarlet Lady, we’ve already felt the wind of change.
Tell Me More About Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady
Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady will start cruising around the Caribbean in October 2021. A four-night Fire & Sunset Soirée full-board cruise sailing from Miami to Key West and Virgin Voyages’ private Bimini Island in the Bahamas in December costs from £1,064pp. Other sailings through to April 2022 start from just £530pp.
Virgin Atlantic has return flights to Miami from Heathrow from £730 return in December.