Words by David Powell
Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady has sailed its inaugural season with a series of Seacations in the English Channel, more than a year after Covid halted plans for it to sail the Caribbean.
Launched to a showbiz fanfare in February 2020 at Dover, Richard Branson’s first cruise ship was left with nowhere to sail until it returned to Blighty this August to the delight of its double-jabbed UK-resident passengers – who were the only people allowed on the adults-only ship.
With its tattoo parlour, RockStar Quarters for suites and a resident sexologist, all-inclusive Scarlet Lady offers a cruise experience unlike anything else on the market. Here’s what you need to know.
Scarlet Lady is a sanctuary at sea for over-18s, offering all-inclusive cruises with free dining – there are no supplements for any restaurant – free Wi-Fi, no service charges and no daily gratuities added to your bill. The only things you pay for onboard are drinks, which are reasonably priced, whatever takes your fancy in the onboard shops, spa facilities, occasional treat-yourself offers in restaurants and bingo.
There’s plenty to do on Scarlet Lady, starting with deck 15’s Aquatic Club where there are loungers around the pool and a well-being pool – like a giant whirlpool – as well as several regular-sized Jacuzzis.
Deck 16 looks down onto the pools and here you’ll find more loungers, large daybeds and free cabanas but also the Athletic Club – an outdoor gym including a running track, basketball court and miniature boxing ring.
B-Complex, the deck 15 indoor gym, has state of the art running, rowing and cross training machines and a separate area for its stretching classes and yoga studio, but it’s the range of exercise classes that is impressive, all of which are complimentary. These include bungee classes, where you’re suspended from bungee ropes to do low-impact stretching; barre classes, a combination of ballet, yoga and Pilates; and even 1980s disco exercise classes, complete with leg warmers and headbands.
Well-being is big on Scarlet Lady, so as well as these exercise classes there are more conventional yoga and cycling classes – as well as strength equipment in the Training Centre at deck 16’s Athletic Club.
And then there’s the Redemption Spa, with a hydrotherapy pool, mud room, salt room, steam room and sauna, as well as treatment rooms for massages, facials and pedicures.
For the very brave there’s also Squid Ink, the first tattoo studio at sea, where you can get a souvenir holiday tattoo or get yourself pierced.
Forget the main dining room, buffet and expensive speciality restaurants of most cruise ships. Scarlet Lady offers restaurants and cafes like you might find in any town, so you can eat from a different menu every night.
There are six restaurants, each seating around 200, to book with the Scarlet Lady app you can download on your smart phone. All the other dining places are available without booking – you just select your food and wait for it to brought to you in a casual dining area.
The most innovative restaurant is The Test Kitchen, where the six-course molecular menu is paired with wine, beer, cocktails or non-alcohol concoctions. The drinks cost $35 for six glasses or you can just buy drinks when you want them.
Gunbae is the most fun, with lively staff to cook up Korean barbecue dishes at your table, and The Wake is the most classy – a gorgeous steak house with sea views over the back of the ship. Extra Virgin is an authentic Italian restaurant and truly stylish, while Pink Agave is a Mexican eating house which turns into a salsa club after dark.
Then there’s Razzle Dazzle, serving mainly vegetarian food from breakfast onwards, although on deck 15 The Galley has all-day options ranging from Japanese to taco and 24-hour full English breakfasts that you can eat inside or out.
The must-see show is Duel Reality – a jaw-dropping version of Romeo and Juliet with acrobats putting their lives at risk for your entertainment. There will be two more main shows in The Red Room theatre once the ship sails from Miami in October.
Elsewhere you can dance to live bands and DJ sets at The Manor, which takes its name from the original Virgin Music studios, enjoy comedy shows and join in the fun at the Splash of Scarlet Party and last-night Odyssea pool party.
It goes without saying that there are half a dozen or more stylish bars to sit and sip in.
And so to bed
If you just want to sleep off your day, the inside cabins are as spacious as the seaview and balcony cabins – especially if you ask the stewards to switch your king size bed into an L-shaped sofa during the day.
All have the same bathrooms with excellent rain showers and all have massive TVs on the wall with films and some news or sports channels available. There are also fridges in every cabin and wardrobe space.
You’ll obviously get more room in a suite but if money is no object consider one of the RockStar Quarters or, for the truly decadent, one of the Mega RockStar suites with a choice of guitars to play, record player and vinyl, drinks cabinet and balcony with its own Jacuzzi, loungers and outdoor sofa.
At full capacity Scarlet Lady can take 2,770 passengers and has 1,330 cabins plus 78 RockStar Quarters but during its UK Seacations it sailed at 65 per cent capacity and will continue to limit the number of passengers depending on American rules when it is homeported at Miami.
Scarlet Lady’s Caribbean sailings start from October 6, 2021, until April 2022, with four-night round-trips from Miami, calling at Key West and Beach Club at Bimini, and five-night trips calling at Key West, Costa Maya or Puerto Plata and Bimini.
Prices start from around £1,240 per cabin, two sharing, cruise-only, for four-night Fire and Sunset Soirees, departing October 6, 2021.
For more information visit virginvoyages.com