I went aboard Virgin Voyages' first cruise ship, and it made me want to book a cruise for the first time ever

·8 min read
The Scarlet Lady sailing
The Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages
  • 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.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

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.

The Scarlet Lady sailing
The Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages

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.

communal seating options
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

The ship was supposed to debut in New York in early March 2020.

a stairway spiraling down to seats
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

"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."

Thomas McAlpin and Richard Branson posing for a picture together
Thomas McAlpin and Richard Branson. Virgin Voyages

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.

a food counter with tables
The Social Club Diner. Brittany Chang/Insider

Source: Virgin

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.

a tattoo and piercing parlor
Squid Ink. Brittany Chang/Insider

"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.

a coffee shop with pastries
The Grounds Club coffee shop. Brittany Chang/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.

a rainbow windowed doorway leading to the outdoor deck
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

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.

a wall of art with swings in front
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

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.

seating by a window
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

Let's take a look around the cruise ship to see what's attracting these repeat customers.

seating spaces next to windows
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

To start, Virgin Voyages' ships are all adults-only.

a spiraling staircase lit up at night
The roundabout. Virgin Voyages

And the cost of a sailing includes access to amenities like group fitness classes, WiFi, and all of the onboard dining options.

The Extra Virgin restaurant with tables by windows
The Extra Virgin restaurant. Brittany Chang/Insider

Let's start with the accommodations. The Scarlet Lady has 1,330 cabins and 78 "Rockstar Quarters" suites.

a cabin with a bed, side tables, chairs, tv, and mirror against a closed curtain
The Sea Terrace cabin. Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages says its cabins are "superyacht inspired," and it's easy to see why.

a cabin aboard the Scarlet Lady.
The Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages

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 marble shower with rainbow reflective glass doors
The bathroom in the Massive Suite. Virgin Voyages

… a second bedroom that also serves as a music room with guitars and an amplifier…

a living room and back music room with guitars on the wall
The Massive Suite living room and music room. Virgin Voyages

… and a sprawling terrace with two hammocks, a hot tub, an outdoor shower, a conversation pit, and an outdoor dining table.

a jacuzzi on a terrace
The hot tub on the terrace of the Massive Suite. Brittany Chang/Insider

In total, the 2,147-square-foot suite can sleep up to four people.

outdoor tables and chairs
The Dock House. Virgin Voyages

Now, moving on to the amenities that everyone sailing with the Scarlet Lady can access.

an entry hallway with lights
The Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages

The Scarlet Lady has a variety of restaurants I personally haven’t seen on a cruise ship.

a dining room with a chandelier and staircase
The Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages

This includes Gunbae, a Korean barbecue restaurant designed to have a laid-back, party-like atmosphere ...

A neon sign that says "you float our boat"
The Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages

… and Test Kitchen, which also doubles as a cooking school.

dining room with tables and chairs
Test Kitchen. Virgin Voyages

Unlike most traditional restaurants, Test Kitchen's menu only states ingredients.

dining room with tables and chairs
Test Kitchen. Virgin Voyages

There's also Razzle Dazzle, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant with a drag brunch ...

The Razzle Dazzle restaurant with bold white and black stripes on the wall and floor
The Razzle Dazzle restaurant. Brittany Chang/Insider

… and the more classic cruise dining options, such as a steak and seafood, an Italian, and a Mexican restaurant.

a wall of hard liquor by a dining table
The Pink Agave restaurant. Brittany Chang/Insider

Instead of a buffet, there's a food hall with eight stalls, including sushi and taco stands.

a dining room with wooden detailing
The Loose Cannon. Virgin Voyages

And of course, as an adults-only cruise, the Scarlet Lady has plenty of bars and lounges, including a casino.

slot machines
The casino. Brittany Chang/Insider

Let's start with the Manor, a two-floor nightclub and entertainment venue with an Instagram-friendly entrance.

mirrored hallway with sparkling lights
The entrance into The Manor. Virgin Voyages

There's also Draught Haus, a taproom with eight beers on tap and a lineup of bottled beers, cocktails, and shots.

tables in front of a stage
The Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages

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.

a lounge full of tables next to windows
The Sip lounge. Brittany Chang/Insider

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.

a bucket of champagne
The Sip lounge. Brittany Chang/Insider

Source: Virgin Voyages

The ship also has several features I've also never seen on a cruise ship, such as a record shop ...

a wall of vinyls next to a DJ booth
Voyage Vinyl. Brittany Chang/Insider

… and a tattoo and piercing shop.

a tattoo parlor with two seats
Squid Ink. Brittany Chang/Insider

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.

a massage table
The spa. Brittany Chang/Insider

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.

a spa with round windows
The spa. Brittany Chang/Insider

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.

stores around a hallway
The shopping area. Brittany Chang/Insider

The Scarlet Lady also has several workout options, including a gym, spin room, boxing ring, track, and yoga and barre room.

yoga mat and blocks in a room of windows and mirrors
The yoga room. Virgin Voyages

And we can't forget about the outdoor pools.

a pool on an outdoor deck surrounded by beds and chairs
A pool. Brittany Chang/Insider

To reduce waste, the Scarlet Lady won't have any single-use plastic items. This means no non-reusable water bottles or utensils.

a spiral staircase with decor in the foreground
The spiral staircase. Virgin Voyages

Overall, the Scarlet Lady looked more contemporary and sleek than the other cruise ships I remember being on as a child with my family.

sun deck with a trampoline
The sun deck. Virgin Voyages

And I definitely never remembered seeing a Korean barbecue restaurant or tattoo parlor aboard any cruise ship I was ever on.

two shuffleboard games
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

And because the space is for adults only, none of the amenities or decor felt childish or tacky.

a pool surrounded by lounge chairs
The wellbeing pool. Virgin Voyages

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.

an ice cream counter
The Lick Me Till... ice cream shop. Brittany Chang/Insider

And imagine playing in the arcade or at the casino with no children running around. Luxury!

an arcade with games
The arcade. Brittany Chang/Insider

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.

an outdoor lounge area
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

Passengers will also get a chance to spend time at Virgin's Beach Club in Bimini, Bahamas.

chairs and small tables in front of a windowed wall
The Scene. Virgin Voyages

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.

Thomas McAlpin and Richard Branson at a DJ booth
Thomas McAlpin and Richard Branson. Virgin Voyages

"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."

The Scarlet Lady ship and emblem
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

Like other cruise lines, McAlpin noted that there's "pent-up demand" for cruises.

life preserver ring that says Scarlet Lady
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

As a result, Virgin is seeing a good mix of customers, including first-time cruisers.

a lifeboat attached to the side of the ship that says Scarlet Lady
The Scarlet Lady. Brittany Chang/Insider

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.

The Scarlet Lady sailing
The Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages

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