An Insider's Look at Virgin Voyages' Inaugural Cruise Ship Scarlet Lady

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday September 27, 2021
Originally published on September 21, 2021

The Scarlet Lady
The Scarlet Lady  (Source:Virgin Voyages)

It's no secret that the cruise industry has been caught in the harrowing crosswinds of COVID-19. From the early outbreak onboard the Diamond Princess, resulting in a 27-day quarantine in Tokyo Bay and seven deaths, to the recent conflicting vaccine mandates pitting travelers, cruise lines and governments against one another, business at sea is not for the faint of heart. Of course, that hasn't stopped business magnate and music lover Richard Branson before.

The billionaire's latest venture, Virgin Voyages, is about to sail from Miami this October after some initial test sailings around the UK earlier this summer. Marketed as "Virgin Voyages — No Kids, No Kidding," the adult-only (18+) ship, in many ways, departs from traditional ship design. EDGE sent senior editor Matthew Wexler onboard for a sneak peek while the vessel was temporarily docked in New York City. This is what he discovered:

Where's the Wow?

Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady
Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady  (Source: Matthew Wexler)

Upon approaching Scarlet Lady at Pier 88 on Manhattan's far west side, the first thing I notice is its light grey exterior. Sure, the 2,770-passenger vessel has pops of Branson's signature red, along with similarly colored net hammocks swinging from cabin balconies, but the overall effect is more "wait to see what's inside" rather than "Look at me! Look at me!"

Unlike Celebrity's Edge Series (no relation to our media platform), which features The Magic Carpet, a cantilevered, floating platform that reaches heights of 13 stories above sea level, or Royal Caribbean's soon-to-sail Wonder of the Seas, fit with waterslides and iridescent lighting befitting a JoJo Siwa concert, The Scarlet Lady evokes a modern warship. In fact, if there had been a light fog or had I not been wearing my contact lenses, I might have mistakenly boarded the USS Intrepid, a 1943 decommissioned aircraft carrier docked next door.

Also missing is the typical large central atrium upon boarding. Instead, that first visual impact is flattened to a two-story spiral staircase with intimate gathering spots on Deck 6. Virgin Voyages engaged a collective of interior designers, artists and architects, including Roman and Williams, Tom Dixon's Design Research Studio, Concrete Amsterdam, Softroom of London and more to conceive these various spaces and envision how "sailors" (VV's term for cruise passengers) might engage in them.

Deconstructing the Demographic

Massive Suite
Massive Suite  (Source: Virgin Voyages)

To appreciate The Scarlet Lady's aesthetic, you first have to understand who Virgin Voyages' hopes to attract. Cruise lines typically develop loyal followers. For the brand to succeed, it'll need to hone in on its target market, which I overheard a fellow journalist touring the ship describe as "30-something and probably from Denmark," alluding to the streamlined finishes and other onboard perks.

The brand interestingly juxtaposes value (more than 20 eateries with no premium venues, all gratuities covered, free WiFi and unlimited group fitness classes) with luxury (78 suites of various configurations and perks like early access to onboard entertainment, personal wardrobe team to unpack/repack, and express swimsuit drying service, because "no rockstar should ever have a wet bottom.") The suites — dubbed "RockStar" quarters — also include fully stocked bars, mood lighting, premium linens and access to Richard's Rooftop, a private members club to soak in the sun.

Environmentally conscious travelers have long scoffed at the cruise industry's impact on our oceans, and Virgin Voyages hopes to dispel some of those concerns, too. You won't find any single-use plastics on board, but you will discover plenty of taps for complimentary filtered still and sparkling water.

The company is still exploring advanced waste management options but at least has committed to offsetting its climate change emissions by purchasing carbon offsets — an industry first.

LGBTQ+ travelers can look at Virgin's past record and hope that Virgin Voyages will offer the same kind of diversity and inclusiveness as seen in Virgin's other brands. Virgin Group has sponsored Pride events, while Virgin Atlantic's infamous Pride flight sold out in 48 hours with Branson himself on the ground ready to welcome revelers. Branson even wore a Pride ribbon into space on his recent galactic expedition.

Savor the Sea

Razzle Dazzle
Razzle Dazzle  (Source: Virgin Voyages)

Virgin Voyages hopes to lure and catch buffet-weary sailors seeking an upgrade to their onboard dining options. Plenty of picks can be found for daily grazing at The Galley, a food hall featuring a bakery, taco shack, sushi bar, 24-hour American diner and other waist-expanding options, but plenty of full-service options await, too.

If you're prone to seasickness, you might want to take Dramamine or wear a patch when you enter Razzle Dazzle. The boldly striped interior draws inspiration from WWI and WWII warships but may send your head spinning. In contrast, The Test Kitchen's laboratory-like setting (designed by Concrete Amsterdam) offers a minimalist approach with an open kitchen, plenty of glass and stainless steel, and a jewel box pop of Tiffany blue. The most social restaurant, Gunbae, offers sailors the rare chance to grill their own food tableside amid Korean drinking games and complimentary soju.

Watering holes (of the alcoholic variety) range from The Manor, the ship's nightclub inspired by Branson's first music studio of the same name to Sip Sip, a glittery champagne lounge featuring copious vintages of Moët & Chandon that bubble with British heritage (the brand holds a royal warrant and is one of the few select suppliers to Queen Elizabeth II).

Bored on Board? Not a Chance

The Red Room
The Red Room  (Source: Virgin Voyages)

The Scarlet Lady's inaugural Caribbean route from PortMiami includes usual ports of call (Costa Maya, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Plata, San Juan) along with a private beach club at Bamini Lagoon. But like other industry players, Virgin Voyages is also attempting to elevate its onboard entertainment.

Forgoing a traditional theater, architects WorkAC and theater consultants Auerbach Pollock Friedlander conceived The Red Room, a multifunctional space that transforms into four different configurations from traditional proscenium to alley, flat-floor and reverse stage. The line-up has been developed by a collective of artists from the music and theater industries, including six original shows produced by Randy Weiner ("Queen of the Night," "Sleep No More").

Preview passengers experienced a glimpse of one of the immersive offerings, "Phantom Folktales," described as "a collection of song-driven micro plays" created by PigPen Theatre Co. (founded by graduates of Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama). Not unlike the musical "Once," expect hipster musicians to wander about carrying violins, lamps and the occasional tree branch. The earnestness becomes more palatable with flowing Moët.

All that champagne might also inspire you to get a tattoo at Squid Ink, the first-ever tattoo studio onboard a cruise ship. Just be sure to schedule your appointment when the waters are calm.

Virgin Voyages' will evolve with its customer base. For all of its modern amenities and reconsidered design and programming elements, it's one's fellow sailors and ship's crew that make memories. But great tunes set the soundtrack, and The Scarlet Lady will have plenty.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.