Glamorous rock star suites, no hidden charges and not a single child in sight; Virgin Voyages promises to deliver a boutique hotel experience at sea, and it’s hoping to change everything we know about cruising.
Australia will see its first Virgin Voyages liner arrive at the end of 2023, when the Resilient Lady bases herself out of Melbourne. So, what can passengers expect from this adults-only cruise experience?
The first two of four ships – Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady – are already giving passengers a taste of what it’s like to sail ‘the Virgin way’.
Although serious discussions only began less than 10 years ago, the dream of sailing on his own cruise line is one Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson kept alive for more than 40 years.
Launched from its home port of Miami in October 2021, following a brief preview season in the UK, Scarlet Lady is the realisation of that dream, with 20+ eateries, a bright-red jogging track around its upper levels, the first tattoo parlour at sea – and more.
There’s even a cruise terminal to match, the aptly-named Terminal V at the Port of Miami, where suites passengers enjoy a VIP entrance, expedited security screening and an exclusive pre-boarding lounge.
“Normally cruise terminals are dull, lifeless places where people are herded onto even more boring boats,” Branson says, while the palm-grove-inspired Terminal V “will be filled with colour and fun, a place where people can really begin their voyage of a lifetime.”
Valiant Lady, the second ship in the fleet, is sailing the Mediterranean right now. Resilient Lady, originally scheduled to weight anchor in July this year, has seen its launch delayed by about 12 months.
When it eventually does launch, it will embark on a 44-night transcontinental voyage, stopping at Singapore and arriving into Melbourne, where it will be based from December 2023 to March 2024. Sailing from Port Melbourne's Station Pier, it will visit eclectic destinations including Hobart, Burnie, Sydney and more.
The fourth and final ship in the Virgin Voyages fleet, Brilliant Lady, will make its cruising debut in 2023.
Virgin offers four cabin options: Insider, Sea View, Sea Terrace, and Rockstar Quarters, each with its own personality.
Furnishings in the lead-in cabins are designed to be flexible, changing from a lounge by day to a bed at night.
Rockstar Quarters are all about space though, with a moody colour palette reminiscent of more ‘out-there’ design-led hotels. The Massive Suite, in particular, is exceptional, with its own music room and a sprawling terrace where guests can party in private.
Based on customer feedback from its preview in the UK, which drew criticism on the quality and functionality of some cabin elements, both the Scarlet and Valiant Lady have been given a makeover. Cabins now sport a brighter, more sophisticated feel.
Dee Cooper, Virgin Voyages Senior Vice President of Design and Customer Experience, is part of the core team responsible for transforming ‘her lady ships’ from blank page into a reality.
An industrial designer by trade, she has played a pivotal role in numerous Virgin projects over the years, from designing Virgin Atlantic cabin interiors and Clubhouse lounges to amenity kits and even in-flight meal services.
Cooper’s most ambitious project, however, has been Virgin Voyages.
Though the initial vision focused purely on the beauty and glamour of sailing, it soon flourished into a holistic ideal and design aesthetic of introducing ‘the modern romance of sailing’.
Choosing to be adults-only from the beginning – passengers must be 21 years or older – gave the team freedom to let their imaginations run wild with the kind of experiences they would want from a grown-up holiday with choice.
To that end, Scarlet Lady offers flexibility and choice, with unlimited fitness classes, a la carte dining with no set meal times, free wifi and included cruise gratuities, and an app allowing guests to shake their phone and request champagne anywhere onboard.
It also features The Red Room, a multi-form theatre that transforms to suit the performance requirements, and the Athletic Club, where passengers can detox and then re-tox with a sports bar, cabanas and outdoor strength training zone.
On the dining front, passengers can enjoy a variety of included options such as Razzle Dazzle, a stunning venue offering plant-based cuisine; Pink Agave, a Mexican mescal bar and restaurant; and Gunbae, the first Korean BBQ restaurant at sea.
From a design perspective, the team focused on the promise of bringing back the romance of sailing – inspired by the past but executing it in an up-to-date, modern and glamorous way.
Cooper says the design team had fun with materials that were reflective of maritime heritage. The ships feature liberal use of exposed steel and brass, as well as dichroic glass, which changes colour in certain lights.
But rather than design it all in-house, the team realised early on that it was important to work with a variety of designers in order to maintain a high quality throughout the entire ship.
When compared to Royal Caribbean and MSC, which style their ships to have as broad appeal as possible, Virgin has opted for a youthful, carefree design. It may be polarising for some, but sometimes you need to ruffle a few feathers to stand apart.
New York design firm Roman and Williams was responsible for several key spaces of the ship, including The Wake restaurant, which glistens with an Art Deco edge; and The Dock, a glamorous beach bar with lounge seating and a stellar view from the stern.
Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio brought an eccentric British flair to the VIP Rockstar Suites, which feature vinyl record players (there’s a vinyl store on board), hand-woven hammocks, and a Peek-A-Boo shower looking out to sea.
The fun continues on land too, with Virgin joining Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises in offering private island experiences, but with a more Ibiza-style twist.
Featured on the Scarlet Lady’s ‘Fire & Sunset Soirees’ sailings, Beach Club at Bimini is a beachfront paradise where guests can enjoy morning yoga classes, lounge by the pool, or dance up a storm with visiting DJ sets.
Scarlet Lady sails year-round from Miami to the Bahamas and Caribbean.
Valiant Lady will make her debut in the Mediterranean, before moving to the Caribbean for winter, while Resilient Lady will be based in the Mediterranean from July and Australia from December.