Things We Loved About Virgin Voyages That You Won't Find On Other Cruises
Virgin Voyages is essentially the anti-cruise. Created by Richard Branson who had, at the time anyhow, never gone on a mainstream cruise vacation but was convinced he could introduce a product that would both disrupt and revolutionize the industry. This brash hubris has resulted in an incredibly fun experience that is truly unlike any other Caribbean cruise option available.
Innovation and being unique is a double edged sword though and I don't want to mislead anyone, Scarlet Lady was far from perfect. There were inconveniences, obvious growing pains, and innovations that well ... just didn't quite work the way I think the designers assumed it would.
That's not really the point though. Sometimes a vacation is simply about trying new things, becoming someone different for a few days, stretching your horizons, and discovering you like something that you had never considered before.
Vegas is GREAT at this and cruises can be ... but the cruise industry is generally more similar from ship to ship than they are different. Until now!
Virgin Voyages has somehow managed to cram a ship full of unique experiences that are (mostly) free to try and explore, as well as a fun, welcoming, inclusive environment for you to try something new. If you discover you like it ... try some more. If you don't ... well then just order something else or don't do it again!
Let's take a look at some of the things we tried on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady that you won't find on any other cruise ship.
Grab and Go Salads (as well as bento boxes). I HATE waiting in line when I'm hungry and I also hate being forced to grab crappy junk food at late night buffets on other ships. Sure ... I'll eat that hot dog or greasy burger but come on! There has to be another option. On Scarlet Lady they have coolers stocked with salads and some other treats up at the Galley (the not-a-buffet) as well as at the Pizza restaurant so you can always get something healthy.
Bonus points too since they come in washable plastic boxes and even the dressing is in metal tins so there's no plastic or trash waste aside from maybe food waste if you discover you aren't as hungry as you thought.
Gumbae Koreak BBQ is one of the most interesting food venues at sea on any ship. Korean BBQ is inherently social and you almost always have at least one dish or cut of meat that someone has never tried. Here you have the opportunity to try something new while having a party atmosphere complete with soju shots and drinking games.
Ok so ice cream isn't exactly exotic but where soft serve machines are a cruise ship staple, hand-dipped ice cream placed in unique cone flavors like salted blue corn help open the mind and keep the fun going.
Molecular gastronomy honestly is past it's prime so I was sorta surprised to see it on a cruise ship as cutting edge as this. However, it works well in this context since not everyone has had the chance to experience it at high-end restaurants yet ... and fewer spent the money to afford restaurants like Chicago's Alinea.
On Virgin Voyages though ... dining is included so all you need to do is make a reservation and show up with an open mind.
The theatrics and service here at Test Kitchen were fantastic and I'm glad we gave it a whirl.
Don't worry ... we've got more food photos to share and more venues to talk about. However, these all-gender bathrooms found on Scarlet Lady take the cake for the most beautiful places you will have take a crap.
I'll just leave it there.
Scarlet Lady has a suite of karaoke rooms and while other cruises ships have private karaoke rooms for parties ... or the solo crooner, there was something magical about this ship. Maybe it was the fact that the entire ship was about trying new things but I had an absolute blast belting out classic rock hits as well as a duet with Daniel from Roaming My Planet as we serenaded our wives until they politely asked us to change the song and stop singing :)
One of the best things about Scarlet Lady is that there was food everywhere and instead of being the cruise buffet go-tos it was absolutely FANTASTIC. For instance, while sipping cocktails in "The Dock" and listening to a guitar player, you can nosh on grilled octopus skewers or shrimp or even seared pineapple bites.
Up on the top deck by the pool was the Sun Club Cafe where you could get fresh made poke bowls that were surprisingly good for a cruise ship. That's not really as offhanded as it might sound ... fresh poke is hard and this is as good as any chain poke restaurants you could find on land but don't expect fresh caught fish since well ... anything served here was brought onto the ship a few days ago.
Despite my snobbyness about poke, for most people this is probably their first time trying it and they will love it. I truly enjoyed it as well and would have come back for more but our cruise was only five days long :(
Another food option besides what we've already covered was The Galley, Virgin Voyages answer to a traditional cruise buffet and while the covid protocols required people to sit and be served vs going from station to station ordering what they wanted ... this is a HUGE innovation that I hope will replace cruise buffets as more new ships come out.
Not only are we avoiding steamtable food items that can go bad but because they are prepared fresh it opens the door to venues like Noodles where they were whipping up fantastic ramen, perfect for a quick bite.
Room service is also available - for a $5 service fee, or $5 minimum order (food is free but drinks are extra). Luckily, a can of Heineken is $5 so I ended up just ordering that rather than paying the service fee.
Not only was the food amazing - ranging from steaks or fish to burgers and the deserts were fun and imaginative as well - but the packaging solved one of the things I absolutely HATE about room service in any hotel.
DIRTY TRAYS IN HALLWAYS!
Instead, Virgin Voyage has a stackable set of washable plastic dishes that can be placed into a dry bag. Not only does this allow you to order room service as you are heading back to the ship or while waiting for a show to end so it's waiting when you get to the cabin ... it also means that you can pack things up and place it back in the hallway without making it look messy.
This is a HUGE innovation that I hope other cruise lines take notice of and frankly hotels as well!
On a ship where we had soft drinks included in cruise fare, it seems odd maybe that I'm talking about water bottles. However, Virgin Voyages is one of the most progressive cruise lines when it comes to eliminating waste and I appreciate it. That's not to say we didn't see some single use bottles onboard but you are encouraged to bring re-usable water bottles to use and there's no need to purchase bottled water since they will also bring a carafe of sparkling or still water to your room every day.
In our case we asked that they bring extra and our cabin steward always managed to have cold water for us before we came back to our cabin in the afternoons to get cleaned up for dinner.
This is a "loved" ... the idea but since it made me smile even though it also made me scratch my head, I'm including it here.
Virgin Voyages has a variety of pop-up entertainment throughout the ship. This ranges from solo guitar players and magicians who you might initially think are just eccentric fellow guests, to shockingly elaborate theater like this one above that came complete with dancing sugar and flour containers being used as puppets as they ultimately came together to make cookies.
I swear I wasn't high when watching this but it make me wonder if there was something "magic" in the brownies I had earlier in The Galley. Some folks might not appreciate this type of entertainment and frankly our group laughed while looking at each other with WTF am I watching looks on our faces.
However, maybe that's the point. Maybe this is just something to spark emotion, get guests out of the normal state of mind where they only appreciate what they expect. If so, congrats! It works.
To many carnivores like myself, the notion of vegan or vegetarian is nearly offensive. Why on earth would you make cookies or other food in a way that is "without" a key ingredient? Razzle Dazzle, Scarlet Lady's "Plant Forward" dining venue is a great option if you are wanting to try something plant-based, test the waters and see if you might like oat milk or vegan cookies instead of your friends across the table with ice cold cow milk and cookies.
Shockingly I really enjoyed eating here and everything is presented in a way that is fun and open as opposed to making you feel like you are "missing something".
Don't worry though, if you don't want something vegetarian you can still get your waffles, bacon, tots, and eggs for breakfast here.
Scarlet Night is a weird and special event that takes over the entire ship. It's part pagan ritual to the octopus god, party drunken orgy, and part cruise ship dance party. Sprinkled throughout the festivities are various popups such as a sea dragon parade, a wedding, secret rooms where you can get cocktails and probably a lot of other stuff that we didn't discover.
Unlike "white parties" (which our group assumed this was) where guests simply dress in a color, the LED lighting throughout the ship actually changes color and the entire vessel becomes the scene of this crazy party.
It's hard to describe beyond what I've already written but trust me ... it's worth packing something red to wear and be prepared to join in the event that night like we did!
Finally, it's important to step out of your land-based-self and try something new. I'm not great about taking selfies and promoting myself on social media but I had a BLAST here on Scarlet Lady doing just that.
It was so much fun to try new things and explore possibilities.
The question I got the most from people who knew that I was sailing on Scarlet Lady was "who is that ship for?" Conventional wisdom suggests that it is for millennials and they clearly are catering to this demographic with a very progressive environment both in terms of efforts to be more sustainable as well as the diversity of the crew, casual uniforms, even tattoos, and crew ... as well as bridge officers with colored hair.
However, the reality is that I saw a lot of folks older than me having an incredible time ... trying Korean BBQ for the first time, discovering they actually like avocado toast, staying up late and taking place in their first cruise ship dance party, or even just kicking back in their Rock Star Suite listening to records while sipping on some Scotch from their included mini bar.
The answer isn't a number ... it is a mentality.
If you are willing to shed your notions of what a cruise experience is all about and simply enjoy the experience then you will have an insanely fun time sailing on Virgin Voyages.
- Written by James Hills
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