When Richard Branson sneezes the world catches a cold. So it’s not surprising that when Branson first said the words “cruise ship” in 2017, cruisers and non-cruisers alike sat up. You can bet your bottom dollar that cruise convention will be thrown overboard.
Virgin Voyages promises a pared-down sailing experience; an “escape from the chaos” of casinos and kid-filled creches. Sailors will be encouraged to raid the chef’s fridge and create a midnight feast at the late-night lock-ins.
You’ll be able to get a tattoo and go to a drag show. You can cook-up a Korean barbecue for dinner or grab a mani-pedi at the Stubble and Groom barbershop.
At the cave-inspired Redemption, the ship’s spa, mermaids and mermen will find hydrotherapy pools and quartz beds – essential rejuvenation for the evening’s DJ-hosted spa parties. Next sailors can make a move to The Manor, a signature nightclub, inspired by the name of Branson's first music studio.
Now you can book yourself onto Virgin Voyages first ship, sailing from Miami, as intineraries went on sale on February 14, 2019.
And this is only the beginning. After Scarlet Lady there are three more ships in the pipeline. Here’s everything we know about Scarlet Lady.
Why is she called Scarlet Lady?
Chanelling the red that is synonymous with the Virgin brand the Lady is also a “spiritual guide” according to Branson, inspired by one of the first planes that flew for Virgin Atlantic. She also reflects the cruise brand’s mermaid image – a siren call on the bow of the ship.
Who’s on board?
Sailors, if you don’t mind (no passengers here). According to Branson, they'll be: “young at heart people that want a good time.” They will explore, have adventures and enjoy free-spirited days and nights with nary a care in the world.
Save us a sun bed.
Throwing off typical cruise dining traditions, Scarlet Lady will offer over 20 dining options from casual to haute cuisine (all included in the fare). Many ships charge a small premium to dine in the posher spots. Not here. Buffet is a dirty word; so is anything prefixed with the word “formal”. Chuck out the rule book. Sailors will be able to dine at some venues into the wee hours (Bloody Mary brunches here we come).
Among the nine venues revealed so far is the glamourous Wake, which takes a leaf out of the likes of The Wolseley in London and The Grill in New York. Think sirloin and seafood. Meanwhile, Razzle Dazzle will offer vegetarian and vegan fare and a juice bar – with meat add-ons and the option to spike smoothies with boozy shots.
Its Drag Brunches will be a hit with RuPaul fans. Scarlet Lady’s resident drag performer and friends will offer entertainment and, for a small fee, guest can enjoy bottomless cocktails, such as “Yaaassss Queen”.
Where can we get a bibimbap?
You’ll be heading straight for Geonbae – a name taken from the Korean phrase that’s equivalent to “bottoms up”. The Korean BBQ restaurant will be a rowdy affair. Each meal will begin with a complimentary round of soju (a Korean national drink) for the table and guests will be encouraged to take part in Korean drinking games. Geonbae will feature specially engineered flameless grills built into each table and diners will be be able to cook their perfect BBQ.
Got a hankering for Mexican?
Pink Agave, designed by Tom Dixon, won’t disappoint. Fill your face with tlayudas, memelas, sopes, tortas, esquites and tamales, plus a large collection of mezcals.
Want to pick up some new skills at sea? The Test Kitchen, part cooking school, part restaurant, will be a laboratory-like eatery where sailors can try their hand at cooking classes, mixology school and coffee labs. This is also where you can raid the larder and create a midnight feast at the late-night lock-ins.
Other casual hangouts will include Dock, a beach-club inspired spot serving Mediterranean small plates, salads, dips and mezzes and The Galley, modelled on food halls and featuring shops and food carts.
What can I do on board?
What can’t you do? With the announcement of an on board tattoo studio, Squid Ink, Scarlet Lady’s sailors will be able to recreate a signature seafaring image involving plenty of body ink.
Tattoo artist, Lou Rubino Jr, has handpicked two resident tattooists for the studio as well as a line-up of guest artists. Virgin Voyages celebrated the announcement last month by giving away 100 free nautical-inspired micro tattoos at Soho Ink in Manhattan.
Vinyl fans can add to their collection while at sea thanks to the on board record shop, Voyage Vinyl. It harks back to the Virgin brand's beginnings – Branson's first venture was mail-order records, don't you know. As well as browsing through current and classic tunes, sailors will be able to plug into personal listening stations and buy magazines, headphones and record players. It will double as a spot for live sets from the ship's resident DJs.
A visit to Voyage Vinyl will set sailors up nicely for an evening (or few) at The Groupie, a modern take on a Japanese-style karaoke lounge.
What's going on at Richard's Rooftop?
The ship’s top deck will be an exclusive outdoor lounge and private club reserved for suite guests. Designed by Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio, it will have a futuristic look with circular loungers, giant umbrellas and dichroic rainbow-effect glass. We suggest you wear white.
Several interior designers, including New York’s Roman and Williams (The Ace Hotel and the Standard Highline), Concrete Amsterdam (Citizen M and Hotel Zoku), and Softroom in London are working in partnership to bring Virgin’s Modern Romance of Sailing concept to life.
Can I sleep like a RockStar?
You can. Sir Richard Branson’s cruise line has offered a sneak peek of the 78 Tom Dixon-designed RockStar suites. The largest are the two Massive Suites featuring a guitar-clad music room, views of the ocean from every corner of the suite, hot tub, hammocks, star-gazing loungers and even a “runway” outdoor dining table replete with a staircase to help sailors make their way on top of the table for dancing...
All passengers, regardless of their suite category, will enjoy access to the private members club that is “Richard’s Rooftop”. (See above).
What's all this about Vitamin C?
Virgin Voyages has a thread of nautical word-play running through its branding, which includes its onboard wellbeing programme, Vitamin Sea. It is – according to the cruise line – inspired by the oceans and their importance in health and well-being for the planet and our everyday lives. There will be numerous group fitness classes on offer, as well as The Runway running track, The B Complex with rooms for spin, yoga and cardio, and The Athletics Club featuring a boxing ring and gym equipment.
There will also be plenty of pampering options in Redemption, the blow dry bar, barber shop, male pedicure spa and mani-pedi spa.
Who’ll be looking after us?
1,150 crew from around the world will be taking care of 2,700 sailors. Recruitment began in early 2019. “We want to see more women stepping up and taking command of our ships,” said a spokesperson.
“We want to see more female engineers in our engine control rooms and we want to build a bridge and see more women steer us into the future.”
But there won't be a traditional cruise director on board. Instead you'll be guided by a group "dedicated to making 'happenings' around the ship completely epic" – they'll need a solid grasp of millennial lingo.
Should I expect West End-style shows?
Think more off-Broadway. Virgin Voyages says its working with some of "the brightest creative minds who are pushing the boundaries of traditional theatre and entertainment on land". Sailors should be primed to participate with the cast and and become immersed in performances.
The main theatre, "The Red Room," will be the stage equivalent of a Transformer taking on a range of guises from a catwalk-style to a traditional Proscenium stage – a setting for a completely different type of entertainment each day of a voyage.
The ship will host six orignial shows, including a production by Randy Weiner – who's behind Queen of the Night, a lavish off-broadway show that includes plenty of cast/audience interaction.
Meanwhile, Phantom Folktales, six micro plays that will be performed across the ship, should add some on board sponteneity. There'll also be a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet, featuring acrobatics, and Never Sleep Alone – a show that further encourages participation as it features a straight-talking relationship therapist.
Aren’t cruise ships bad for the environment?
To mark the single-use plastic ban at the ship’s big reveal in Genoa, Branson crushed a giant plastic water bottle with a hammer. We assume this means he’s serious about his fleet’s green credentials.
Complimentary filtered still and sparkling water will be available all over the ship and, alongside the plastic ban, Virgin Voyages is developing clean energy technology. The line has recently ordered its fourth ship and each vessel will feature Azipod propulsion technology, which reduces fuel consumption by 15 per cent.
It also has a partnership with Climeon, a Swedish start-up, with the aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by converting the heat from the ship’s engines into electricity.
Where will I sail to?
Her inaugural season is in the Caribbean with Havana, Cuba at the top of the agenda. Havana is one of the Caribbean’s most up-and-coming cruise destinations, so it’s perhaps not a surprise to find Virgin here. Branson said: “Virgin Atlantic has been visiting Cuba for 13 years, and I cannot wait to see our iconic Scarlet Lady gleaming in the Havana harbour.” All sailings to Cuba from Miami will include an overnight stay, giving passengers more time to explore the capital’s nightlife and culture.
When can we set sail?
She’ll set sail in 2020 for her inaugural season in the Caribbean. Tickets went on sale on February 14, 2019, for voyages between April 1 and October 25, 2020.
Sailing from Miami, the 18 four and five-night itineraries include Havana After Dark voyages with an overnight stay in Cuba, a five-night Dominican Daze voyage to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and a five-night Mayan Sol cruise to Costa Maya, Mexico.
Prices will start from $1,450 (£1,130) per person for an inside cabin for two. Wi-Fi, basic soft drinks, water and coffee and group fitness classes are included in the fare, as are gratuities.
If you're keen to be among the first to test out Virgin's cruise experiences, now's the time to nab a cabin for Scarlet Lady’s inaugural season.
Can we catch the ship in the UK?
You certainly can. In fact, Dover (the UK's second busiest cruise port) will be the first port of call for the brand-new Scarlet Lady. Expect to see the white cliffs of Dover with a splash of red in summer 2020.
She'll also be stopping at the lively (and musical) port of Liverpool.
Is there anything else we should know?
Also revealed is that all Scarlet Lady cruises will feature a stop at The Beach Club, an exclusive Virgin Voyages experience in the seven-mile island of Bimini in the Bahamas. The resort will feature beach clubs that Virgin says will rival those in Ibiza and Saint Tropez. Plus it will replicate the wellbeing emphasis you can enjoy at such resorts. Mornings at The Beach Club begin with yoga and meditation as sailors can enjoy the sounds of the ocean.
The energy will be pumped up towards the afternoon when DJ-led pool and flotilla parties get underway. Sailors will be lulled back into the evening as a beach bonfire is set up alongside an acoustic performance. They'll be served island-inspired food throughout the day from conch and mango salad, to rum cake.
When not eating or partying, sailors will be able to socialise at one of the island's six bars, rent out a beach or pool side cabana or get active with water or beach sports.
For those keen to explore one of Ernest Hemmingway's favourite islands a little more, they'll be boating, snorkelling and wreck diving on offer.
Sailors staying in the RockStar Suites get an extra special experience with access to a dedicated bar, complimentary food service, an outdoor terrace lounge, sun loungers and beach cabanas.
Should we look out for any special guests?
Since you ask, Mark Ronson – the Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning artist and producer, who has worked with stars such as Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga – will be giving four performances on Virgin Voyages at The Beach Club in 2020. DJ and record producer Diplo will also perform at the Beach Club in 2020.
Ronson has also joined the company's Creative Collective, a group of artists, designers and "taste-makers" who are working with the cruise line to amp up sailors' experience, on board and off.
In his role as "Minister of Music", Ronson will be creating playlists for before and during cruises and curating the vinyl record collections in the RockStar Suites and Voyage Vinyl, the ship's record shop.
Will Richard Branson be making an appearance?
There's one voyage where he definitely will – if you so wish, you could join him for at his at sea birthday bash. Branson will be sailing with celebrity friends on a four-night Havana After Dark voyage, departing July 15, 2020 and sailors are invited. You can book yourself on this one-off trip now or enter yourself in a draw two win a cabin for two – entries are open until March 31, 2019.