I took a tour of Virgin Voyages' first vessel, the Scarlet Lady, and it changed my perspective on cruising.
The ship has amenities like a Korean barbecue restaurant, a tattoo parlor, and on demand champagne.
Take a look inside the Scarlet Lady ahead of its first US sailing in October.
Richard Branson's Virgin Group's cruise line, Virgin Voyages, will begin a series of US sailings this October aboard its first vessel, the Scarlet Lady.
I took a tour around the adults-only Scarlet Lady when it was docked in New York City, and exploring the ship changed my perspective of what a cruise experience should be like.
The ship was supposed to debut in New York in early March 2020.
"As we got to Liverpool [to unveil the ship], the headlines were 'people stuck at sea on cruise ships,' and it was just the worst week in history to launch a new [cruise ship]," Branson said. "Virgin Group definitely chose its sectors well for COVID."
But now, 18 months later, the Scarlet Lady is ready to begin cruising from the US after completing a series of "staycation-at-sea" sailings around the UK.
According to Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Voyages, these UK sailings "solidified the fact that [Virgin Voyages] got the right balance" of onboard amenities like restaurant and entertainment options.
"The team has created a magical experience, the kind of cruise ship that myself and my family would have dreamt of going on," Branson told Insider.
"We've never been interested in going on cruise ships, so that's why we set out to try to create something really special, unique, and very Virgin," he continued.
The Scarlet Lady even won over Branson's cruise-skeptic daughter, who sailed with her friends and "didn't want to get off," according to her father.
She's not alone. During the first sailing in the UK, 125 passengers booked additional cruises with Virgin Voyages, a testament to how much the customers enjoyed sailing on the Scarlet Lady, according to McAlpin.
Let's take a look around the cruise ship to see what's attracting these repeat customers.
To start, Virgin Voyages' ships are all adults-only.
And the cost of a sailing includes access to amenities like group fitness classes, WiFi, and all of the onboard dining options.
Let's start with the accommodations. The Scarlet Lady has 1,330 cabins and 78 "Rockstar Quarters" suites.
Virgin Voyages says its cabins are "superyacht inspired," and it's easy to see why.
Source: Virgin Voyages
While I was touring the ship, I got to see one of the two largest suites - aptly named "Massive Suite" - which has the typical living room, bedroom, and bathroom with a hot tub, along with …
… a second bedroom that also serves as a music room with guitars and an amplifier…
… and a sprawling terrace with two hammocks, a hot tub, an outdoor shower, a conversation pit, and an outdoor dining table.
In total, the 2,147-square-foot suite can sleep up to four people.
Now, moving on to the amenities that everyone sailing with the Scarlet Lady can access.
The Scarlet Lady has a variety of restaurants I personally haven’t seen on a cruise ship.
This includes Gunbae, a Korean barbecue restaurant designed to have a laid-back, party-like atmosphere ...
… and Test Kitchen, which also doubles as a cooking school.
Unlike most traditional restaurants, Test Kitchen's menu only states ingredients.
There's also Razzle Dazzle, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant with a drag brunch ...
… and the more classic cruise dining options, such as a steak and seafood, an Italian, and a Mexican restaurant.
Instead of a buffet, there's a food hall with eight stalls, including sushi and taco stands.
And of course, as an adults-only cruise, the Scarlet Lady has plenty of bars and lounges, including a casino.
Let's start with the Manor, a two-floor nightclub and entertainment venue with an Instagram-friendly entrance.
There's also Draught Haus, a taproom with eight beers on tap and a lineup of bottled beers, cocktails, and shots.
Not interested in beer? How about champagne. Sip is a champagne-focused lounge with bubbles that range from $9 a glass to $1,000 a bottle.
Craving a drink but you're nowhere near Sip? If you have the Virgin Voyages app, you can request on-demand champagne from anywhere aboard the Scarlet Lady.
Source: Virgin Voyages
The ship also has several features I've also never seen on a cruise ship, such as a record shop ...
… and a tattoo and piercing shop.
But the one feature that stood out to me the most was the spa, which has amenities like a mudroom, quartz bed, and salt room.
Unlike most spas that are pristine and white, Scarlet Lady's Redemption Spa has darker colored decor, which made the space feel calm, serene, clean, and luxurious.
However, the nail salon, barber shop, and hairstyling stores aren't located in the spa. Instead, they're next to the aforementioned tattoo and piercing shop.
The Scarlet Lady also has several workout options, including a gym, spin room, boxing ring, track, and yoga and barre room.
And we can't forget about the outdoor pools.
To reduce waste, the Scarlet Lady won't have any single-use plastic items. This means no non-reusable water bottles or utensils.
Overall, the Scarlet Lady looked more contemporary and sleek than the other cruise ships I remember being on as a child with my family.
And I definitely never remembered seeing a Korean barbecue restaurant or tattoo parlor aboard any cruise ship I was ever on.
And because the space is for adults only, none of the amenities or decor felt childish or tacky.
I've always felt lukewarm about vacationing aboard a cruise ship, but the Scarlet Lady's modern appearance and plush, hotel-like amenities made me rethink my hesitations.
And imagine playing in the arcade or at the casino with no children running around. Luxury!
If you're also interested in sailing aboard the Scarlet Lady, you'll have to wait until October when the ship will begin bringing over 2,770 passengers and 1,160 crew members on four to five-night cruises from Miami to the Caribbean.
Passengers will also get a chance to spend time at Virgin's Beach Club in Bimini, Bahamas.
In terms of health protocols, the Scarlet Lady will be sailing fully vaccinated to create a "bubble" and the safest travel experience possible, McAlpin said.
"It's time to get back out there and convince people that it is safe and have fun," he said. "Take the masks off and be able to socialize again and have a good time."
Like other cruise lines, McAlpin noted that there's "pent-up demand" for cruises.
As a result, Virgin is seeing a good mix of customers, including first-time cruisers.
Looking ahead, Virgin Voyages already has plans to debut more ships, including the Resilient Lady and the Valiant Lady. The latter will debut in 2022.
Read the original article on Business Insider