Glamorous rock star suites, no hidden charges and not a single child in sight; Virgin Voyages is shaking up the cruise scene with a raft of boutique hotel-like experiences at sea. And now, it’s Australia’s turn to get in on the act.
Resilient Lady – the third ship in the Branson-backed cruise line – is entering the final stretch of its 44-day repositioning cruise from Athens to Sydney via Dubai, Phuket and Singapore, after which it’ll base itself in Melbourne for its inaugural season from December 11.
So, what can passengers expect from this sleek adults-only cruise?
All-inclusive dining at more than 20 eateries, complimentary WiFi and unlimited group workouts – a way to beat the inevitable cruise blowout – are just the start.
Loyal cruisers and frequent flyers (including Velocity members) can also take advantage of a status match, which unlocks benefits including $100 bar tabs and access to an exclusive cocktail soiree, together with boosted WiFi from standard to premium speeds.
One of 70 cruise ships arriving Down Under for the 2023/24 season (joining the likes of Celebrity and Royal Caribbean), Resilient Lady will be cruising the waters around Australia and New Zealand until the end of March.
Sailing from Port Melbourne’s Station Pier, it will visit a myriad of ports including Hobart, Tauranga, Burnie, Sydney, Auckland and more.
Virgin Voyages a long-held dream
Although serious discussions only began around a decade ago, the dream of taking to the high seas 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 was the realisation of that, replete with diverse eateries, a bright-red jogging track around its upper levels, a tattoo parlour – and more.
There are now three Virgin Voyages ships at Sea: Scarlet Lady, Valient Lady and Resilient Lady, with the fourth – Brilliant Lady – set to join in the near future.
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 on early preview sailings from the UK, which drew criticism on the quality and functionality of some cabin elements, cabin interiors were given a significant makeover, resultign in a brighter and more sophisticated feel.
Dee Cooper, Virgin Voyages’ former Senior Vice President of Design and Customer Experience, was part of the core team responsible for transforming ‘her lady ships’ from blank page into a reality.
An industrial designer by trade, Cooper 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 reveals her most ambitious project, however, was Virgin Voyages.
The golden age of cruising, reinvented
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, each of her lady ships offer flexibility and choice, with unlimited fitness classes, a la carte dining with no set meal times, free WiFi and included cruise gratuities, and even an app allowing guests to shake their phone and request champagne anywhere onboard.
They also feature 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.
Resilient Lady will return for a second Australian season across late 2024 and early 2025.