Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages’ original cruise ship, takes all your preconceived notions of a cruise ship and turns them on their head.
The ship does not have a buffet or a cavernous banquet-style dining room. Kids are not welcome, but the adults-only ship gives grownups plenty of opportunities to play in both childlike and mature ways. Cruise fares include all meals, soda, basic Wi-Fi and crew gratuities, but it’s not a luxury product filled with opulent decor, sedate travelers and a stuffy vibe. Onboard entertainment will include sexual innuendos, F-bombs and queer themes.
Scarlet Lady is not for everyone. But if you, like me, are tired of (or turned off by) the same-old cruise ship formula, this ship might just offer the cruise vacation you didn’t know you were looking for.
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Overview of Scarlet Lady
The 110,000-ton ship features 1,330 cabins and 78 suites and can carry 2,770 passengers at maximum capacity. That’s a lot smaller than the newest ships from lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line. The balance works well; the ship does not feel oppressively crowded, but there are plenty of restaurants, bars and attractions on board to keep you entertained at sea.
Scarlet Lady defies categorization when it comes to pricing, as well. Its cruise fares are more inclusive than your typical mass-market ship, and therefore more expensive than other mainstream lines. But it doesn’t have the same vibe as luxury cruise ships that tend to cater to a retired, wealthy clientele, who are less active and not into dance parties or cutting-edge entertainment.
The minimum age to sail Virgin is 18 years old, and the ship embraces its adults-only status. You won’t find kids on board, yet you will find board games, an arcade, swings and unlimited pizza and ice cream.
A common concern I’ve heard is that Scarlet Lady is only for the young and the hip. As a completely non-hip, mid-40-something, I can assure you that isn’t true. The target demographic for this ship is more about mindset than age.
If you’re someone who likes to go out – to dinner, a show, a bar or a party – this social ship will be for you. Many restaurants have communal tables designed to bring people together, such as Gunbae, where tables exclusively seat six and you’re encouraged to join in a drinking game with your newly-met tablemates. The entertainment is top notch, but it’s more experimental and modern than the traditional song-and-dance cruise ship shows. Scarlet Lady is not a “read in your cabin” type of cruise ship.
It’s also a ship for travelers with open minds, who embrace differences and aren’t easily shocked or insulted. Onboard comedians will push boundaries with their jokes. You’ll find crew, from entertainers to waiters, who may be gender-fluid, tattooed, pierced or openly gay. While the sex-themed cabaret is gone, the shows do not shy away from sexual or R-rated themes.
I loved this about the ship. Others may not.
What I loved about Scarlet Lady
Hammock on the balcony
It might seem minor, but the hammock on my cabin’s balcony made my cruise.
I often feel that balconies are wasted space. They’re great for checking the weather, drying swimsuits and eating room service breakfast – but I rarely spend much time hanging out on them. Usually that’s because the chairs are upright and made of metal (or metal and plastic mesh) and the veranda is small, and you can’t get comfortable.
Not so with a hammock. I’m 6 feet tall and can fully recline in one of Scarlet Lady’s bright red, ethically sourced hammocks. The rocking of the hammock combined with the rocking of the ship at sea, especially early in the morning when the sun was low and the temperature perfect, was incredibly soothing. I found myself plotting how to get more hammock time – rather than simply forgetting I had a balcony as I busied myself around the ship.
Scarlet Lady succeeds in creating intimate spaces onboard a big ship, and I loved all the inviting nooks I found on board. Sometimes, those nooks were tucked-away bars, like the Dock House Bar, just slightly off the main thoroughfare. Or, perhaps they were cute seating areas, like the curtained-off tables at the Sip bar or day beds on the open-air decks.
The public spaces on the ship invite you to grab a friend, a drink and chill for a while. I wished I had time to sample them all.
I’m a Broadway buff, and I always go to the cruise ship shows. Unless they’re a real Broadway show (found on the likes of NCL or Royal Caribbean), I’m usually walking out or picking them apart before they end.
Scarlet Lady’s entertainment impressed me with its innovation and its quality. The dancers were incredible; they moved about the stage like they were performing on “So You Think You Can Dance” (or other TV dance competition), not in your kid’s high school dance recital. “Dual Reality,” the Romeo-and-Juliet-themed show, was the first cruise-ship acrobatic performance I’ve seen that had a compelling plot; so many cruise lines throw dancers on hoops or silks in the air simply because they can. The way the staging and performer interaction engaged the audience was original and brilliant.
The drag show was a hoot, and the DanceShowPartyThing was different than any cruise ship show I’ve ever seen and a lighthearted fun time. The late-night jazz band at the On the Rocks bar kept the crowds engaged, and the crew knew how to keep the party going on the dance floor at The Manor – whether that was dancing on the stage wings or covering the crowd with a large parachute.
I’m not a cruiser who adores the main dining room. I prefer specialty restaurants with their individual menus, decor and vibe. But I also hate paying extra for meals when food is already included. In this way, Virgin’s restaurant concept speaks perfectly to me.
Scarlet Lady has no main dining room and no buffet. Instead, you can make dinner reservations at one of its six restaurants, or make a more casual meal from the pizza parlor, food hall, snack bar (featuring wings and hot dogs) or the Dock and Dock House lounge with their mezze menu. I loved that every night I ate someplace different – one night filet mignon at the classy, upscale The Wake, the next experimental dishes at Test Kitchen or communal Korean BBQ at Gunbae.
Food ranged from edible to excellent, but meals were always fun. I felt like I was eating out in a city, rather than at a hotel conference center, and that night-out vibe set the mood for the entire evening.
What I didn’t love about Scarlet Lady
Lack of direction
Scarlet Lady is a ship for independent travelers who don’t need their hands held or want to be told what to do by a cruise director (there isn’t one). While I loved the lack of announcements over the intercom system or at the end of shows, I did feel like it was easy to miss out on things on board.
No one tells you how the ship works, even though it’s nontraditional for the cruise industry. If you don’t know to get on board and immediately make reservations for all the restaurants, shows and fitness classes you want, you will find yourself locked out of meals and events you were looking forward to.
The ship has a decided lack of signage; no deck maps or wayfinder screens by the elevator banks, not even the name of bars by their entrances. The layout of the ship is such that certain bars or venues are tucked away off the high-traffic corridors and can be difficult to find. If you do find them, they’re usually in a dead end, leaving you to retrace your steps to figure out a way across a deck.
Perhaps if the app were more intuitive, some of these issues could be mitigated. But I, who have successfully employed numerous cruise ship apps, had to ask a crew member to show me where to find deck plans in the Sailor App. In-app room service ordering was glitchy, but my cabin attendant hadn’t left me a printout of the menu, so I never tried in-room dining.
I can see first-time and older cruisers being especially confounded by the lack of guidance on board. While more announcements aren’t the answer, I’m sure Virgin Voyages could figure out unobtrusive ways to give sailors a helping hand.
I am generally not a fan of cruise ship buffets, but a five-night cruise on Scarlet Lady gave me new appreciation for them.
Virgin Voyages is decidedly anti-self-serve. Neither its ships nor its private beach club on Bimini in the Bahamas offers a buffet. The buffet replacement on Scarlet Lady is The Galley, a food hall with several themed stations. Instead of ordering at the counter, you find a seat, flag down a waiter and put in your order, which will be brought to you when ready.
This concept works well when you have time to kill or the venue is empty. But when The Galley is packed, such as in the morning on a port day, it can take forever to catch the attention of a server and longer than you’d expect to receive your meal. You can find grab-and-go boxes in several locations on board, but the food selection is limited.
I had the same experience at The Dock after a late excursion; several of us waited far too long for a waiter to appear and take our order – even though a server had escorted me outside five minutes prior. As much as I’m not a fan of buffets, sometimes I just want to eat quickly and get on with my day.
Scarlet Lady cabins and suites
Scarlet Lady offers the usual cruise ship mix of windowless inside cabins, ocean-view rooms with large windows that don’t open, cabins with private balconies and large suites. Cruise rooms sleep one to four guests, with twin beds that can be combined into queens and upper bunks. That’s basically where the similarity ends.
My room was a Sea Terrace, a.k.a. a standard balcony room. The IKEA-inspired furnishings and mod décor made the room resemble a trendy micro hotel. For example, the bed is modular. On the cabin’s long wall, there was a cloth headboard and a narrow white platform with one thick armrest.
Twin beds can be arrayed in various configurations along the platform. I had two pushed together into a queen with one-third of the platform as a bedside table, but a triple could have a third bed jutting out perpendicular from the other two. Or, if you plan on hosting an event in your cabin, or don’t like reading on a bed, you can ask your room attendant to strip the sheets and arrange two daybed mattresses into an L-shaped sectional couch.
While practically no one uses the daybed layout, the arrangement means you’re sleeping on a couch cushion rather than a plush mattress. My bed on Scarlet Lady was not the comfiest I’ve had on a cruise, but the sheets and duvet were fine and I slept well.
My room didn’t have a sofa as other cruise ships might have. It had one upright chair in the corner and a vegan leather stool under the table that doubled as desk and vanity. The table is next to a unit housing the mini-fridge and two small shelves, but there is no additional storage. Here, you’ll also find a touch-screen pad where you can adjust the lighting and temperature of your room.
The only storage is in the closet area, and as in a micro hotel, your clothes won’t exactly be hanging behind closed doors. One tall cabinet with a door houses four not-that-deep drawers and shelves, many of which house the safe, life jackets and extra towels. But your clothes will hang from a rack behind a curtain that you likely won’t bother to close. In one corner is a luggage stand with two shelves, each with a wicker basket.
The bathroom is tiny and also lacking in storage. You can use the one long shelf beneath the sink or place your items in the small space next to the sink – there are no other drawers or shelves. I kept placing my toilet bag under the elevated soap dish and realizing the soap would drip on it.
The shower has a rain head and a wand and one meager shelf. If you’re happy with Red Flower toiletries, you can use the provided dispensers of shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and not have to worry about cramming all your travel-sized bottles onto the tiny surface area.
I didn’t find my cabin on Scarlet Lady to be overly inviting or cozy, and I was glad I didn’t have to fight for storage space with a travel partner. What saved the cabin was its balcony, or terrace as Virgin calls it.
The 45-square-foot terrace is furnished with two uninviting metal upright chairs and a round drinks table. I wouldn’t even bother to sit out there – except for the striking red hammock hung from hooks bolted into the bottom of the balcony above. That hammock was everything. At 6 feet tall, I could stretch out completely and rock with the waves as the ship made its way through the Caribbean. Its presence made a forgettable, utilitarian room desirable and memorable.
If you really want to live it up, you can book RockStar Quarters or Mega RockStar Quarters, Virgin’s two categories of suites. These extra-large rooms come with attractions like music rooms, turntables, peekaboo showers with windows to the sea, fully-stocked bars and large balconies. Perks include exclusive access to the Richard’s Rooftop sun deck, access to a RockStar Agent (i.e. concierge), priority reservations for dining, onboard events and shore excursions and complimentary access to the spa’s thermal suite.
Scarlet Lady restaurants and bars
Scarlet Lady is peppered with restaurants and bars, and it’s possible you won’t be able to try them all in one sailing. Do your research in advance because some venues are easy to miss if you’re not looking for them. Dining and drinking are highlights of your time on board, so you’ll want to visit as many bars and restaurants as you can.
The ship takes an unconventional approach to cruise ship dining, with no main dining room, no buffet and no extra-fee restaurants. In this way, your onboard dining experience will feel like a land-based trip, but with fewer Yelp reviews to read. You’ll likely eat in a new venue every night, most with an attached bar for pre-dinner drinks, and need to make reservations in advance or take your chance as a walk-in, either early or late. I loved both the food and the variety of options.
You’ll want to make your dinner reservations as soon as you get on board. One thing that surprised me was the ship requests you also make reservations for breakfast, brunch or lunch at sit-down restaurants, such as The Wake and Razzle Dazzle. Walk-ins are welcome at less busy times (such as right when the venue opens for breakfast), but I was lightly scolded for not booking in advance. Plan accordingly.
The most highly sought after reservation on the ship is Gunbae, Scarlet Lady’s Korean BBQ restaurant. Be prepared to make friends – all tables seat six, and your smaller party will be seated with strangers. That’s OK because the communal dining and drinking games (you don’t get the full experience if you don’t play) aren’t as much fun without a group.
Your server will bring the most popular of the appetizer, seafood, meat and dessert courses, though your table can turn down any option, ask for more of a favorite or request the alternatives (mostly vegetarian dishes). All the seafood (shrimp, octopus, etc.) is cooked together in the table’s central grilling station, followed by the meat – without a thorough cleaning of the grill. If this bothers you due to allergies or dietary restrictions, make sure you inform the server.
Favorites at our table were the dakgangjeong (crispy chicken), octopus, kalbi marinated beef short ribs and macha tea – black sesame twist ice cream with mini marshmallows and black sesame granola.
Razzle Dazzle is a vegetarian-forward restaurant (with several, no-longer-secret meat entrees) open for brunch and dinner. At brunch, the spicy avocado toast gets high marks, and the cucumber-melon salad was a refreshing starter. Oddly, the restaurant had no jam for my British-style chocolate-chip scone and I had to make do with butter.
Indulge your inner child and order the coconut milk fairy toast with sprinkles and the loaded cookies mudslide, or take her to the adjacent Red Bar for a popcorn old-fashioned, served in a cup designed to look like the traditional red-and-white striped popcorn bags.
The only negative is that service here can be slow and inattentive.
On the opposite side of Sailor Services from Razzle Dazzle, Pink Agave is the fancier alternative to the Let’s Taco Bout It outlet in The Galley. The so-called “elevated Mexican” dishes come in small, medium and large plates, and you can mix and match them and share with your tablemates. If you’re feeling adventurous, order the mezcal cocktail topped with crunchy crickets.
I did not have the normal dinner experience at Extra Virgin, the ship’s Italian restaurant, due to the themed sailing I was on, but I still got to try some of the venue’s popular dishes. Previous cruisers tell me Extra Virgin is a surprise favorite because Italian restaurants are so ubiquitous, but Virgin’s version delivers with fabulous dishes. Everyone raves about the meatballs, the pappardelle pasta and the ricotta bomboloni (like Italian donut holes).
The most fun dinner I had was at Test Kitchen. If you like surprises, and you’re willing to turn control over your dinner to a chef, you will like this experimental restaurant as much as I did. The menu reads like this:
That’s it. You can make adjustments for dietary restrictions, but your waiter will bring out dishes with each of those items starring in it in an unusual way and will announce what you’re eating after the plate is set in front of you. The drink pairings are worth the extra fee; you can choose from cocktail, wine, beer or alcohol-free pairings, and they’re all superb.
The Wake is the most traditional of Scarlet Lady’s restaurants. It’s your “get dolled up and eat steak” venue, with a glam vibe and large windows overlooking what else but the ship’s wake. Toast yourself with a glass of bubbly while you dine like a king on clam chowder, roasted bone marrow, filet mignon and lamp chops. Seafood lovers should splurge on the extra-fee towers of lobster, oysters, shrimp, clams, mussels and crab. The Wake chocolate mousse dessert was the winner at our table.
The Wake also serves brunch and lunch, but I wouldn’t recommend it for breakfast. The menu is tiny and fancy, mostly variants of eggs Benedict, a decadent brioche French toast, steak and eggs and a vegan dish. No fruit, no bacon, no oats. The waiter came around with a tray of off-menu pastries halfway through our meal, rather than when he served our coffee and tea. In addition, the restaurant’s position low on the ship and above the engines means you feel and hear the vibration of the ship a lot and all the cups and saucers were rattling.
Scarlet Lady also has a supper club experience called It’s a Ship Show, which takes place in The Manor. Virgin describes the experience as a mashup of an old-school variety show and a late-night talk show, with dinner, comedy and music.
The Dock and The Dock House are twin restaurants rocking the Mediterranean resort vibe. The Dock House is an indoor lounge where you and your sweetie can sip cocktails flavored with figs and anise while nibbling on mezze, like beet hummus and watermelon and feta salad, and pretending you’re in Ibiza.
The Dock is the outdoor extension, with the same menu; recline on day beds or enjoy a tete-a-tete at low wooden seating areas while you enjoy grilled shrimp and falafel accompanied by cold-pressed juices or energy shots loaded with turmeric and ginger. The food was enjoyable, but it took forever to get served mid-afternoon after a tour.
The ultimate in casual dining, The Galley is Scarlet Lady’s answer to the cruise ship buffet. It’s more of a food hall with multiple themed stations (noodles, tacos, soup and salad, burgers, etc.) where you order by flagging down a waiter. It can get confusing because you do have to order in person from the dessert and breakfast bakery/yogurt counter and from the popsicle cart, and there are grab-and-go bento boxes, salads, wraps and snacks, which you can eat in conjunction with your sit-down meal or take with you.
The Galley’s concept could use some refining, so be prepared. It works well when the venue is relatively quiet; you don’t have to queue for food or worry about food sitting around or contaminated tongs. On the other hand, when it’s busy and you just want a quick meal before your tour, it can be hard to flag down a server and your food can take 20 minutes to arrive. Plus, there’s no option for hot food that you plate yourself and take back to your room if there are no seats because you have to have a table to order food at The Galley. Sometimes you just need those steam-tray eggs, grabbable bagels and premade pancakes, and you don’t want a waiter-served meal.
If you’re catching some rays and don’t want to give up your spot in the sun for lunch, The Sun Club Café is an easy pool deck grab-and-go option for anyone who likes poke bowls.
But the real casual-dining winner is The Pizza Place, churning out oven-fresh pizzas day and night in a light and airy space. I was a fan of the white truffle and egg pizza; the amusingly named “pretty fly for a white pie” also had staunch supporters. Grab a premade salad and take your pie out to the adjacent open-air patio to enjoy it in the Caribbean sunshine.
The pizzeria is located on Deck 7, where all the fun food is. Right next door is the Lick Me Till Ice Cream outpost where you can choose from a changing roster of hand-scooped ice cream and cone flavors. My favorite was the key lime pie ice cream. Down the hall is The Social Club Diner satisfying all your bar food cravings with hot dogs (including vegan ones), chicken wings and soft pretzels. You can also order sweets like cake pops and steal candy out of a jar (except it’s not stealing if it’s free and meant for you to take).
One of my favorite traditions on land or sea is afternoon tea, and Scarlet Lady offers a surprisingly impressive one at its Sip Lounge. I shouldn’t be surprised, given Virgin’s British origins, but I figured tea was not hip enough for the line. Tea service does cost extra – more if you want Champagne with your goodies – and I suggest you make it your lunch because it’s way too much food for a snack. You get a full three-tiered tray with scones, finger sandwiches and too many sweets for one person to consume in one sitting.
The menu of JoJo loose leaf teas offers a nice selection of caffeinated and herbal teas. (I’ve been on fancier cruise lines that offered tea bags rather than loose leaf tea.) However, my tea oversteeped as the waiter forgot to leave the chain of the tea ball outside the pot and I couldn’t get it out until I drank enough to reach in without burning my fingers.
Scarlet Lady does offer room service for a fee. You can order via the Sailor App. Unfortunately for me, I could not get the room service option to function properly on my phone, so I could neither see the menu nor order in-cabin dining.
Virgin Voyages does not sell drink packages as typical cruise lines do. Instead, you can purchase a Bar Tab in advance, which is onboard credit you can only spend on drinks on the ship and at Virgin’s Bimini Beach Club in the Bahamas. Look for booking promotions that include a free Bar Tab of a certain amount or give you bonus money on top of what you prepay.
You will certainly have many opportunities to spend your Bar Tab on board, whether that’s wine with dinner, a morning latte or a cocktail at On the Rocks while you listen to live music. Drinking is a key component of Scarlet Lady’s nightlife, but as far as I saw, most people embraced the fun but drank responsibly.
Scarlet Lady’s Happenings Cast (ie, the entertainment team) lead Grog Walks around the ship that are a mix of pub crawl and icebreaker games so you can meet your shipmates. They do incur an extra fee to cover drinks, but they’re insanely popular and sell out quickly. Try to book the one early in the cruise to meet people and get the lay of the lounge landscape.
The two most popular bars on board each night are Sip, the Champagne bar (which also serves wine and cocktails), and On The Rocks, which is central to everything and usually has live music. If you want to get a buzz at a venue that’s buzzing, choose one of these for your nightcap.
I loved the tucked-away Dock House Bar for a pre-dinner drink and its outside extension, The Dock, for day drinking while lounging on a sun bed. The Grounds Club is Virgin’s nod to Starbucks, with all the caffeine and baked-good carbs you crave.
Restaurant bars of note are Pink Agave, with an enormous tequila and mezcal menu and some excellent margaritas, and the Red Bar at Razzle Dazzle with its crazy concoctions, such as the Popcorn Old-Fashioned (topped with actual popcorn). The Social Club Bar lets you embrace your inner child – if said child could drink alcohol – with alcoholic milkshakes and floats topped with candy and cookies.
Scarlet Lady has all the requisite poolside and sun deck bars, including ones offering smoothies and juices after your indoor or outdoor workout.
Scarlet Lady activities
Scarlet Lady doesn’t overwhelm you with scheduled activities when the vessel is at sea. Instead, the ship becomes your playground for you to enjoy however you like.
The top decks (15 – 17) are the places to head for fitness, fun in the sun or a combination of both. The Deck 15 Aquatic Club is where you’ll find a standard pool and a well-being pool (essentially a large whirlpool), surrounded by day beds and lounge chairs. Additional sun-worshipping space can be found one deck up, including at the Athletic Club Bar at the back of the ship where you can perch on circular sunbeds or a suspended catamaran net with views to the wake below.
If you want to feel like a rockstar, you can rent one of the private cabanas on Deck 16. Each costs $250 for a full day and can be reserved at Sailor Services on Deck 5. Inside, you’ll find daybeds for lounging and a drinks cooler prepped with fresh-pressed welcome juices. Your dedicated cabana attendant can bring you towels and food.
On the other hand, if working out is core to your vacation ideals, Scarlet Lady offers plenty of options, but the fitness areas aren’t connected the way you think they might be, so look at a deck plan before you throw on your sneakers.
The Deck 15 B-Complex fitness center is divided into two halves: Burn + Bike portside, with a cycling studio and cardio machines, and Build + Balance starboard, with resistance machines and a studio for yoga, meditation and bungee classes. Take the stairs up to the Training Camp group fitness space, where you’ll find HIIT classes.
Those are just the indoor options. Outside Training camp is a boxing ring, props for alfresco body weight exercises, a sports court for basketball and an adult playground with swings and a seesaw. Above on Deck 17 is a jogging track and a space for outdoor yoga. Back on Deck 15 by the wellness pool is another open-air workout space – especially good for show-offs since everyone lounging in that area can watch you sweat.
Virgin Voyages is known for its creative fitness classes, such as an ‘80s-themed workout where crew and guests don legwarmers and neon leotards to set the mood. As with the Grog Walk and prime dining times, group workouts also book up quickly, so reserve them as soon as you can. Also unlike the classes you may have tried on other cruise lines, Virgin’s are aimed at active, younger adults, not seniors. You will work hard, and you will be sore the next day.
Scarlet Lady’s Redemption Spa is also broken up and scattered around the ship. The main venue is tucked away on Deck 5 on the other side of the elevator bank from Sailor Services, Pink Agave and Razzle Dazzle. You’ll find treatment rooms for massages here, as well as the thermal suite.
I highly recommend booking a three-hour pass to the suite and enjoying the sauna, steam room, salt room, mud room and more. There’s nothing like taking a cup of mud (which looks like a chocolate milkshake) and rubbing it all over your body (or your partner’s – this is Virgin after all) in the company of strangers. You won’t need three hours, so consider showing up a bit late to avoid the rush at the beginning of each session.
On Deck 6, men can get a shave at Stubble and Groom, while women can get blowouts for Scarlet Night at Dry Dock. Also here is Virgin Voyages’ groundbreaking tattoo parlor, Squid Ink, where you can pay inflated rates for the bragging rights of having gotten a tattoo at sea. For your other bodily needs, The Tune Up offers medispa treatments, manicures and pedicures by the pool on Deck 15.
The Deck 6 casino is a hopping place at night, partly because it’s located between The Red Room performance space and On the Rocks Bar, with the entrance to the Manor nightclub just opposite. Beginners and high rollers alike can sign up for gaming lessons or poker tournaments at the WPT at Sea Poker Room in partnership with the World Poker Tour. However, hands down the most fun you’ll have gambling on the ship is at Bingo With The Diva, Scarlet Lady’s resident drag queen.
Other activities on board include trivia and solo traveler meetups. You can also hit the High Street shops for sundries, logo wear, hammocks, MAC cosmetics, designer clothes and purses, hair and skincare products and alcohol.
Scarlet Lady shows and parties
Scarlet Lady hits it out of the park when it comes to entertainment, both performances and parties. On many cruise ships, I’ll go to a show, sit in the back and leave after 10 minutes. On Virgin, I was fully captivated for the length of the performance and often came out raving about the experience. I appreciate how the line has hired diverse performers in terms of race, size and gender expression, and how its shows do not shy away from mature language and sexual themes (both gay and straight).
I was also impressed how the cruise line creates parties and events that everyone shows up for and gets into. On other cruise lines, a deck party might attract a couple hundred guests, but on Virgin’s Scarlet Night, pretty much everyone turns out.
Most main performances take place in the multipurpose, rearrangeable Red Room, but more intimate shows take over The Manor nightclub.
Here are some of the entertainment highlights of my five-night Caribbean cruise.
Ships in the Night: The first show I saw on Virgin was my least favorite. To be fair, I only was able to catch a portion of the show. The dancers were killing it, but the one singer couldn’t carry the show.
Duel Reality: This engaging acrobatic performance is possibly the best show I’ve seen at sea, and if it’s not, it’s in the top three. You will be rooting not only for your team, but for love to conquer all in this original take on “Romeo and Juliet.”
DanceShowPartyThing: The show’s name says it all. You’ll interact with the performers and join them in the Macarena, the stage will move around the room and you might not know what’s going on, but it will be fun. If you despise Celine Dion’s Titanic “My Heart Will Go On,” you’ll have a new appreciation after this performance.
Around the World in 90 Minutes: I thought The Diva’s drag show in The Manor was under-promoted, but perhaps that’s on purpose because the small space was packed with the lucky folks who flagged it on their schedule. I reluctantly left after intermission, but if you want to laugh yourself silly and aren’t afraid of being called out by The Diva, you don’t want to miss this one.
Scarlet Lady also brings guest comedians and performers on board, and the ones I saw were top notch, including a young Latina pop group called Bella Dose.
Pretty much every night there’s a themed party in The Manor or out on deck, but the ones you need to pack for are the PJ Party and Scarlet Night. Scarlet Lady’s first-night pajama party is optional, but if you do want to get your Virgin vibe going on day one, pack a pair of party PJs and head to the Athletic Club bar on the first night.
But the event to end all events is Scarlet night. If nothing else, you will want to wear red – whether that’s a red cocktail dress or jumper, shirt, accessories or bathing suit. Some folks go all out formal, while others keep it casual. As long as you’ve got the right color, it’s all good. The Roundabout is the place to be after dinner; look out for flash performances and crew members with invitations to secret parties. The entire ship will be out in force.
The actual Scarlet Night party takes place on the pool deck, and many revelers end up in the pool, so plan your wardrobe accordingly. It rained on our Scarlet Night so the entire event was moved into the Red Room, where it basically became a large nightclub with thudding base and not that interesting. The after party moves to The Manor, but I actually preferred hanging out at On The Rocks, listening to the killer band and watching all the outfits go by.
Scarlet Lady itineraries and pricing
Scarlet Lady is currently based out of Miami, where the ship sails four itineraries to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Each of the four- and five-night cruises spends a day at Virgin’s private beach club in Bimini, Bahamas. Other ports of call may include Key West; Cozumel/Playa del Carmen or Costa Maya, Mexico; or Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
In April 2024, the ship will sail an epic 14-night transatlantic cruise to Barcelona, which will be Scarlet Lady’s homebase at least through October 2024. From Spain, it will sail seven-night itineraries to ports in Italy, Spain and the French Riviera, all with overnights on the party island of Ibiza.
Fares start at $1,426 per cabin for a windowless Insider cabin on a four-night Fire & Sunset Soirees cruise to Key West and Bimini. Sea Terraces with private balconies start at $1,996 per cabin. The price is valid whether you have one or two travelers sharing the room, and does not include taxes and fees. You’ll pay extra for the third or fourth person sharing your cabin.
What to know before you go
If you’re a U.S. citizen on one of Scarlet Lady’s round-trip Miami sailings, you’ll need a current passport or an official copy of your birth certificate and a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID to sail.
For the ship’s transatlantic crossing and all subsequent cruises from Barcelona, you’ll need a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date you return back to the U.S.
Green-card holders and non-U.S. citizens will need to check requirements based on destinations visited.
In addition, you will need to check in for your cruise online, fill out the appropriate information and select an arrival time for embarkation day.
Virgin Voyages include crew gratuities in its fares. You are welcome to tip your bartender or cabin attendant extra if you feel they’ve gone above or beyond, but it’s not necessary.
You may want to bring some cash to tip the porters who take your suitcases from the pier to the ship and any tour guides who lead your ship-sponsored or private excursion in port.
Internet access is also included on your Scarlet Lady cruise. Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship, and your complimentary access covers two devices logged in at a time per passenger. If you wish to stream music and video, you can pay to upgrade to a Premium Wi-Fi plan, subject to availability.
Carry-on drinks policy
Virgin Voyages takes a reasonable approach to passengers bringing drinks on board. Each guest may bring on board a maximum of 12 sealed 12-ounce or smaller cans or cartons of nonalcoholic beverages (water, sports drinks, soda, non-alcoholic beer, etc.) and two 750mL bottles of wine. You may not bring liquor or beer.
You must transport these in your carry-on bags. Any beverages found in your checked luggage will be confiscated and returned at the end of your cruise.
If you choose to purchase “specialty liquors” in the ports you visit, you may bring these on board but they will also be held for you until the last night of the cruise. Make sure you adhere to customs regulations about how much alcohol you can bring back into the country from abroad.
Passengers may only smoke (this includes vaping) in the Deck 6 smoking room outside the Red Room and in a designated outdoor area on the starboard side of Deck 16 by the entrance to Richard’s Rooftop.
Guests may not smoke in their cabins or on cabin terraces. Anyone who breaks the rules will be fined $500 and may be disembarked at the next destination, with no refund for missed days on the ship and no compensation for lodging and/or airfare back home.
Virgin Voyages’ ships do not have self-service laundry rooms. However, passengers can send individual clothing items out for pressing, washing and folding, or washing and pressing. You also have the option to get an entire bag of laundry washed and folded for a flat rate.
Eco-cleaning (wet washing but with less water and eco-friendly detergent that’s easier on fabrics) is also available. Express turnaround (returned by 5:30 p.m. the same day when picked up before 11 a.m.) is available for an extra fee for both regular washing and for dry-cleaning. Non-express items will be returned the following day by 5:30 p.m.
Dry-cleaning is not available on board.
All cabins are outfitted with North American, USB and universal (European, U.K. and many other countries) outlets.
A balcony cabin will have two USB ports near the bed, along with a North American outlet. The desk and vanity area have two more USB ports (though one is taken up by the charging cable for the cabin’s tablet, which controls the TV, curtains and temperature), two additional North American outlets and one universal outlet.
The bathrooms have no outlets, so you’ll have to use electric razors and style your hair at the vanity.
The currency on Scarlet Lady is the U.S. dollar. Before you board, you’ll link a credit card to your account (which you can do via the app prior to embarkation day) or put up a cash amount from which you can debit for purchases made on board.
The Band — an adjustable cord bracelet with a scannable device attached — is your room key and charge “card” when you sail. It’s also used to scan you on and off the ship when you go ashore. More importantly, perhaps, it allows crew members to locate you when you shake for Champagne delivery.
Passengers will not receive keycards unless they have access to Richard’s Rooftop, an exclusive sun deck reserved for cruisers booked in Rockstar Suites.
Although Virgin Voyages’ ships allowed anyone 18 or older to sail, the drinking age on board is 21 years when ships are docked in the U.S. In international waters and in places like Europe, where the drinking age is 18, the onboard drinking age is 18.
Virgin Voyages has no official dress code. The line advises passengers to come as they are, whether it’s a sparkly dress or jeans and a T-shirt. However, the average passenger enjoys looking chic and trendy, even when dressed down. Most people do change into something a little nicer for dinner, but you won’t find any official formal nights on board.
Be sure to bring something red for Scarlet Night, whether that’s a red dress, shirt or accessory. (Consider a red swimsuit if you intend to end the party in the pool.) Other themed nights include a pajama party and an ’80s bash, so pack accordingly.
Scarlet Lady is the perfect ship for modern, young-at-heart travelers who love cutting-age entertainment, good food, a good party and lots of R&R. It’s not the right choice for folks who are conservative minded or easily offended, or longtime cruisers looking for a traditional experience. If you’ve never cruised because you don’t like kids, crowds, banquet-style dining or lackluster entertainment, this might be the ship that changes your mind.
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