Putting off U.S. for now, Virgin Voyages to debut cruise ship Scarlet Lady in U.K.

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Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
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Virgin Voyages was slated to debut its first ship Scarlet Lady more than a year ago in Miami, but the coronavirus pandemic put Richard Branson’s venture into the cruise industry on hold. Plans now have it finally sailing with passengers, just not from Florida as originally intended.

The company announced Thursday that while awaiting the OK from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cruise ships to begin business again from the U.S., it will instead base the 110,000-gross-ton, 2,770-passenger vessel in Portsmouth, England to begin sailings in August for customers in the United Kingdom.

“Virgin Voyages has been looking forward to sailing, and we’re so excited to announce our plans to sail from the UK,” said Branson in a press release. “Our team has curated such a fantastic experience for our sailors and know this is a holiday they will love.”

Sailings will be three- and four-night options from Aug. 6-27 with plans to return to Florida in September, assuming it gets the OK from the CDC to begin sailing from the U.S. port. Major cruise lines are currently under the CDC’s conditional sail order through Nov. 1 which requires satisfying safeguards to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

The UK sailings, which the line is calling its “Summer Soiree Series” will require all passengers to be vaccinated. The cruise line already touts itself as adults-only, so all passengers will be 18 or older. The line has not stated whether or not it will require vaccines when U.S. sailings begin.

“Additional testing and protocols will be confirmed closer to sailing, all in line with the most up-to-date recommendations from the UK government,” the company said in a statement. “We’re committed to a healthy and safe start at sea and would never set sail without the proper precautions and considerations in place. This includes capacity limitations for this initial phased restart.”

Scarlet Lady was the first of four planned vessels for the line, and has Miami sailings beginning Sept. 22 listed on its website. Its second ship, Valiant Lady is also slated to come to PortMiami beginning in November. Scarlet Lady was in PortMiami set for media preview voyages last March ahead of a planned April 1, 2020 debut sailing, but that was put on hold with the cruise industry’s shutdown.

Now, the line is set to begin its first sailings with paying customers almost a year and half later.

When it does arrive to Miami later in 2021, sailings tout stops in Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with all voyages making a stop at Virgin’s Beach Club at Bimini in the Bahamas.

The ship includes 78 suites, 15 of which are called Mega RockStar Suites. The line has said 86 percent of cabins feature a balcony and 93 percent an ocean view.

The ship features more than 20 places to grab a bite or drink with each restaurant featuring its own bar. One other notable venue on board will be the first tattoo parlor at sea.

“After more than a year of waiting and a major emphasis on a safe return, we’re ecstatic to announce these new sailings and bring sailors onboard to experience what it’s like to set sail the Virgin Way,” said Tom McAlpin, CEO and President of Virgin Voyages. “We look at our UK summer voyages as a homecoming to pay homage to our British roots, and what an excellent way to kick-off our sailing season before heading back to PortMiami.”