After years of travelling but never trying a cruise before, it felt kinda appropriate to be doing our first sailing with ‘Virgin’. Virgin Voyages is a new ocean adventure concept, with four new ships planned over the next several years. Our first ocean odyssey was to be with a twist – a four night adults only ‘seacation’ onboard the Scarlet Lady cruise ship as part of Virgin Voyages August UK Summer Soirée series (the Scarlet Lady returns to the US and Caribbean in the fall).
We weren’t sure what to expect but (sea spoiler alert…) as you’d expect from Virgin, this is a super-cool cruise with attitude and incredible attention to detail. From the cute cabins through to the idiosyncratic stylings and elegance throughout the ship, and that is before we even get started on how amazing the high-end restaurant food was (all included).
Virgin Voyages pre departure – Scarlet Lady
Before boarding the ship, download the Virgin Voyages app to your phone as this will be your one-stop on board guide both pre and post departure. Once booked, you can check out the daily itineraries and book your restaurants/shows/classes. Each of the main 6 restaurants can only be pre-booked once during your trip but walk-in slots and virtual queues are also available onboard if you don’t get lucky before sailing or you want to return again.
On board, all purchases are made and kept a record of by using a wearable microchipped bracelet. All food and soft drinks are included, but you’ll need to pay extra for alcoholic drinks and certain premium activities like the spa or classes like cocktail making (more on this later). So you’ll be asked to add a credit card to your account / app before you board.
For safety during these COVID-19 times, all passengers are required to be double vaccinated and to show a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. You will need to complete a pre-departure health and medical condition form on the app, then take a free test at their testing centre which is a short drive away from the main port (shuttle buses are available). We were fortunate enough to do a private test onboard but this is only available to certain booking types.
After clearing customs and immigration (even for a staycation you still need your passport), a shuttle bus takes you the short one minute ride to the Scarlet Lady – upon first sight, you cannot but be impressed by her sheer scale and size.
Staff welcome you aboard and after a quick check of our bracelets, we were directed to our room (we opted to carry our own bags on but you can also check them in at the port terminal when you arrive).
We have lift off!
Once on board and after a quick glass of complimentary bubbles (mandatory – probably!), our first impression aboard the Scarlet Lady was how beautifully decorated it was and how super friendly the staff were. Also how cool the lift was, with LCD video walls making you feel like you are travelling up from under-water.
Another nice touch demonstrating how Virgin Voyages are doing away with all the usual tradition is that they do include a 13th floor / deck which apparently most cruise companies and some hotel groups do away with because of the superstition associated with it – and as luck would have it (or should that be unlucky?!”), our cabin was located on the 13 floor.
Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady cabins
There are several types of cabins onboard the Scarlet Lady (over 90% have ocean views) and we were fortunate enough to have a Sea Terrace room. As we haven’t been on a proper cruise before, we weren’t sure what to expect but were pleasantly surprised.
The room had plenty of mod-cons and was technologically advanced with most room functions controlled by a tablet. You can create mood lighting, turn the room into a home cinema with all the recent on demand movies available or use it to ask for your room to be cleaned or request new towels / drinking water. The room included a fridge, wardrobe and shelving plus a compact bathroom.
You can also use the tablet to request housekeeping to transform your bed into an L-shaped sofa, giving you much more room inside your cabin.
Likely because we were new to cruising, our highlight of the room was the balcony as we used it several times a day, mainly to sip drinks (sometimes coffee, sometimes champagne!) and hang out in the bright red hammock.
To note – cabin sizes and furnishings depend on the room type you book – we hear the Rockstar cabins are out of this world and some even include cocktail kits, huge bathrooms and retro record players with a variety of vinyl – niiiice!
After we’d checked into our Sea Terrace room, we headed to the mid decks to join other passengers for some complimentary prosecco and to have our first wander around the ship. We sat outside on deck with our glass of bubbles admiring the views, before relocating to the On The Rocks bar, where we were treated to more glasses of fizz and then invited to undertake the mandatory safety briefing.
The five minute demonstration is conducted by a member of staff on how to use a life-jacket, where to find lifeboats and also the ship’s horns to be aware of (there is a safety video to watch in your cabin too).
First night aboard Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Our particular sailing disembarked at 7pm, so for the first evening, after the champagne welcome, we had our first meal in The Wake (see our dedicated Food and Drink section) and a glimpse of Portsmouth and the iconic Spinnaker Tower disappeared into the background as we headed out to the English Channel.
There was lots of entertainment on the first night (e.g. a comedy show, roaming performers or casino lessons), but we opted to explore the ship. As it was dark and drizzly outside by the time we left The Wake, we noticed no-one was in the hot tub on the main swimming pool deck, so we spent our first evening looking up at the stars, soaking in bubbles (plus drinking the alcoholic kind too). After a quick trip to dry off in the room, we tried several bars and called it a night via a late night snack in the Pizza Place (open ‘til 1.30am).
Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady – Restaurants and food
Possibly the highlight of the whole Virgin Voyage cruise for us was the quality of restaurants and food served on board. You could literally spend your whole time eating if you wanted and were spoilt for choice. Whilst speaking to other passengers, everyone said this was the best cruise food and restaurant offering they’d ever experienced. Many other cruise ships have one main dining room, but Virgin Voyages have over 20 different places to eat with cuisine from all around the world.
So who are we to disagree as we made it our mission to try every place onboard during the five days we spent on the Scarlet Lady – and remember, all food is included (apart from a few add ons which are all clearly labelled on the printed or app menus).
There are 6 main signature restaurants onboard where booking in advance via the app is recommended (although most do take walk-ins). As you’d expect, the food in each was exceptional and a gastronomic delight – we could write loads about each but here is our quick guide:
The Wake – Deck 6
Our first restaurant experience aboard the Scarlet Lady and we were not disappointed – specialising in steak and seafood, we tried several dishes and were lavishly looked after by the waiting staff. As first meals go, this could not be better – we had the filet mignon and pan roasted ora king salmon, with creamed spinach and asparagus side dishes. We then managed to find room for the lemon cheesecake and baked alaska for dessert.
Razzle Dazzle – Deck 5
With a name like that, you expect great things and Razzle Dazzle delivered it in spades – from the sparkling interior (wear shades if you are nursing a hangover from the night before!). This ‘vegetarian forward’ and health conscious restaurant packs a serious punch. We loved it so much we went twice, trying everything from their probiotic hash through to their Impossible burger (best veggie burger I’ve ever tried).
Make sure you have room for their starters as the avocado toast is a thing of beauty and the mushroom bruschetta is chock full of fungi flavour.
Gunbae – Deck 15
As recent travellers to Seoul, we were particularly excited by this Korean BBQ extravaganza. From the warm welcome as you enter the restaurant (all the staff greet you loudly) through to the hands-on tableside cooking experience (both you and your waiter cook it at the table), this was so much fun. Not to mention the drinking games where you are given soju (rice based spirit) and have to try and beat your waiter at a numbers game or risk a shot (no surprise that they never lose!).
We tried the chef’s BBQ recommendation (ribs, pork belly, shrimp and beef) plus various vegetables – the fried chicken starter is highly recommended.
The Test Kitchen – Deck 6
We were served a sumptuous six course meal at this science meets food experimental restaurant (wine and cocktail pairings are also available). Ranging from the sublime (the best venison I have ever had) to some of the more interesting dishes (blue cheese ice-cream is quite an acquired taste). This was a super fun experience and cannot be missed.
We grabbed a ringside seat at a chef’s serving bench meaning we got to see the dishes being prepped, whilst also admiring the ocean views through the portals.
Extra Virgin Italian Restaurant – Deck 6
A tour de force of fresh handmade pasta, I still dream about my carbonara dish – thick hand cut pasta with an explosion of eggy pancetta and creamy goodness. The spaghetti vongole was also delightful.
Alas, our biggest regret was not leaving room for the cheese and charcuterie platters as they looked so good. We opted for a whiskey ice-cream based dessert which is made tableside by your waiter with your own choice of accompaniments and toppings.
Amazing Mexican fare and a lush late night spot for salsa, the opulent interiors and reception area set the tone for a night to remember. As you’d expect, the bar menu is extensive (tequila ahoy!). We dropped by for some late night beers and light bits such as Aguachile (tuna, avocado and jicama).
Still hungry? Other food outlets aboard Scarlet Lady
A fine foodie floor, this is a huge dining area comprising of several outlets to choose from – from tacos to paninis, burgers to bento boxes plus oodles of bakery items like sweet treats and bagels, should you ever find yourself hungry at any hour of the day, this is the place to head to. It is open 24 hours a day and we once went for omelettes at 1am – please don’t judge us!
If you are still feeling full from a huge breakfast, this is your best bet to grab a light bite or grab a coffee to go. Fruit and salad bowls are also available.
Lick Me ‘Till Ice Cream – Ice Cream Shop
The name says it all – nicely icey sundaes with rich flavours (they also host a daily quiz where the winner gets to name the flavour of the day). Ice cream flavours include strawberry milkshake, financiers’ brown butter (yep, no clue either) and classics like key lime pie. Kudos for the cone choice of flavours too – red velvet and blue salted cones were our faves.
The Pizza Place
Open till late, this is a good place to get a late night dinner and takeaway beer after most of the bars have closed. This is as much about the post pub conversations as it is about the food – plus during the day, they have a huge alfresco lounge area directly overlooking the ocean.
Sun Club Cafe
Possibly the ship’s best kept foodie secret on deck 16, we always had this place to ourselves and never had to queue – they served fresh as poke bowls with salmon or tuna which we often ate poolside.
Entertainment and nightlife / theater and performance
With a daily schedule of activities usually starting with sunrise yoga and finishing with a dance in the Manor nightclub or a spin of the wheel in the casino, there is much to keep you entertained whilst on board the Scarlet Lady. It is hard to get bored – we often found ourselves having a mid afternoon drink in a bar only to chance upon say an impromptu performance of sea shanties or a hostess with the mostess encouraging fun and games.
Some of our entertainment highlights included:
The Groupie Karaoke Bar
Several private booths where you can sing your heart out! This was my (Neil’s) first foray into a private Japanese style karaoke booth and it was such a laugh – although I could barely talk the next day. You can book a one-hour session and there are hundreds of song choices to choose from. Half of the entertainment here is the fact the booths are not totally soundproof so when you first walk in, you can hear the dulcet tones / strangled cat noises from the other singers – nice to hear people having so much fun.
Duel Reality Stage Show
A twist on Romeo and Juliet (we think), this high octane, acrobatic stage show was the most entertaining performance onboard – the skill of the athletes and players was superb and some of the stunts (particularly the aerial stunts) were white-knuckle – recommended.
Quizzes and games galore
Scarlet Lady has numerous quizzes and games aboard, from a dedicated board game kiosk (next to Shuffleboards and air hockey / table football – nice!) through to nightly quizzes (some rather risque). Although we didn’t attend, two lovely Welsh ladies in the pool also told us the bingo was huge fun with a $400+ prize.
From Mario to Mortal Kombat via Golden Axe to Donkey Kong, the Retro Arcade located next to the Loose Cannon pub is good for a daily dose of old-school gaming (all free). Good to see that the most popular game by far still is Pacman located at the far end of the arcade – classic!
Virgin Voyages bars
In the name of research (honest), we made it our mission to have one drink in at least every bar on board during our five days onboard the Scarlet Lady and these were our top drinking spots:
On The Rocks
Our first porthole….sorry, port of call, this is a classic cocktail lounge with lavish and opulent green and gold interiors. Extensive menus and knowledgeable staff – a treat.
The Loose Cannon
Nautically themed and rather understated (apart from the octopus table decorations), this was a nice, chilled place to hang out with – we’d recommend asking Otto (top mixologist and bartender) to knock up one of his special concoctions.
The Social Club
Not so much a bar as a nostalgic American style diner, this is right next door to the Loose Cannon and was one of our favourites as the hot dogs were off the charts (delicious dawgs) and the interior is divine.
The Draft Haus
Probably the closest thing to a traditional pub, this taproom has a brewery feel and has the widest selection of beers on tap on the whole ship.
Your first glimpse of The Manor is something special to behold, a fairy light infused infinity tunnel that would not look out of place on Instagram – inside, a dance floor and lush bar interior await, with drinks and DJs until the wee small hours.
Gym & Tonic
Probably the bar we ‘used’ the most as it was located in between the two pools on Deck 15, this is perfect for hot tub Heinekens or classic cocktails to cool you off in the afternoon sun – you can get served at one of several bar hatches or the team regularly walk around and take drink orders.
Swimming pools and Sun Club – Deck 15 and 16
As you’d expect from any cruise ship that spends much of its time on the ocean, the upper decks boast a wider number of alfresco activities from the sedate (a giant chessboard) through to swimming tubs and hot pools (a quick tip – the two hot tubs at the back / aft of deck 16 are open until 3am and are less popular).
For something a little more unusual, try and climb on The Net on Deck 16, a bungee style rope mesh net where you can see the sea directly below – even though it is entirely safe, it feels a little weird lounging in a transparent net with the ocean looking up at you.
The star of the show is the main pool, followed closely by the series of hot tubs immediately behind, with the Sun Club bar acting as centrepiece with a well stocked bar. Many activities take place in and around the swimming deck including poolside DJs, impromptu musical performances and the occasional pool party (Odyssey, on our last night, a 90 min disco inspired show was heaps of fun – don those glad rags and party frocks).
There are free beach towels available and lots of sun loungers – extra sunbathing space can be found in the form of the bright red beach huts on deck 16 along with bookable private cabanas.
The Swimming Deck has a fun atmosphere and is hugely popular and the bright neon sign above the main pool perfectly sums up the experience – ‘Save Water, Drink Champagne’
Gyms and Fitness
If unlike us, you didn’t want to consume your own body weight in cheese, there are ample options on board from the Runway on Deck 17 (a bright red running track – six loops make a mile) to morning yoga, plus several onboard gym and wellness centres, all with huge floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean.
On the top deck, The Perch is an alfresco active wellness centre for meditation and stretch based exercise plus the Burn & Bike complex runs regular cardio and spinning sessions. We also noticed lots of free weights and punchbags dotted along the outside areas
Redemption Spa on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
We love a bit of pampering on holiday and the onboard spa offers massages, facials, acupuncture and other lovely treatments. We purchased a thermal suite day pass for $75pp which you can use from 8am-10pm and you have access to the steam/salt/sauna/mud rooms, hot and cold plunge pools and heated marble hammam benches.
Workshops and Classes
Last and not least, to finally mention about the range of classes and workshops that can be booked whilst on board (some free, some an additional charge).
As we spent so much time checking out the bars, restaurants and swimming pools (hard work, we know!), we didn’t have time to participate in many classes, other than the Cocktail Making Class / Shot For Shot experience that took place in the Test Kitchen. This was a nice opportunity to meet other passengers from the ship in a small group, with a hands on session where we got to learn from some of the top Scarlet Lady food and drink supremos about how to make cocktails, adapt them for our tastes and how to take top pics of our efforts (ideal for Instagram or to bore your work mates when you get back).
Some of the other classes and courses available included well-being, casino tips and also some more risque ones like tips for the bedroom (probably not how to paint the ceiling).
Final thoughts on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady cruise ship
Overall, a very ‘Cruise-y’ experience. As we hadn’t been on any type of overnight or luxury cruise before, we had no prior expectations of what a cruise ship holiday or staycation would be like, but we were totally blown away by our time on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady (if anything alas, four nights was too short as we wanted to do so much more).
We felt spoilt rotten (clearly the intention as the staff were just incredible) and the sheer range of high quality food and drink experiences on board are bar none. Combined with the activities and upper deck sweet spots, we had a terrific time, rewarded with rockstar service and we’ll definitely be carrying on cruising in the future.
Virgin Voyages UK Summer Soirée cruises are set to finish the end of August 2021. The Scarlet Lady will then return to Miami for Caribbean cruises, and her sister ship Valiant Lady will be running European adventures in early 2022. Check out their cruises on the Virgin Voyages website.
Disclosure: Our 4 night UK Summer Soirée cruise with Virgin Voyages was gifted.
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