Leave the kids, cartoon characters and formalwear behind on a Virgin Voyage!
It’s been quite a while since I was on a cruise ship for more than a night or two. During those longer voyages, events on board ranged from deck shuffleboard and skeet shooting off the rear deck to a formal night, when passengers sported evening gowns and tuxes to celebrate the sailing.
Nothing like those experiences were part of a recent five-day excursion on Virgin Voyages’ 2-year-old Scarlet Lady, where all “sailors” (no passengers, please!) must be at least 18. Virgin does things a bit differently, just like its founder Richard Branson, the brash entrepreneur who launched Virgin Atlantic airlines in the 1980s. It hosts multiple venues for rock ′n rolling entertainment, VIP suites decorated with antique guitars and a line-up of edgy entertainment not meant for your granny.
My travel companion and I spent the night before sailing at the InterContinental Miami, where our room overlooked the ship a few miles away. Getting in a day before gave us time to unwind over a leisurely breakfast, take a dip in the pool and not worry about last-minute flight snags. By 3 p.m. Friday, we had cleared the COVID check lines and were being served crispy Caesar salads in The Galley, the main dining room. It’s the first place passengers will notice something different: Virgin opts to keep food behind glass. You can have anything you’d like–and as much of it, too– but it’s less wasteful than having an overladen buffet table (and people breathing over it).
The ship has 20 food options, from pizza ovens to Korean barbecue. We managed to try most of them, including the candy and soft pretzel snack bar, but if we’d had time to go back, we’d head to Extra Virgin for its impeccable Bolognese and The Wake, the steak and seafood option where towers of chilled ocean delicacies started a meal that ended with a lemon ricotta cheesecake encased n a tart white chocolate shell.
Virgin’s cabins offer the latest in technology (free Wi-Fi, iPad controls for lighting and temperature), no plastics (glass water carafes are filled daily) and balconies with hammocks in most. The upgrade to an extra-large stateroom was well worth it for having a downright roomy bathroom by ship standards, with a full counter, storage shelf and separate shower and toilet rooms. Despite the comfy accommodations, we spent little time inside. We tried daily fitness classes, jogging around the suspended track, playing trivia, sipping a formal afternoon English tea and luxuriating in the full-service spa and salon before checking out the plethora of bars, hot tubs and plunge pools. (We skipped the tattoo parlor, but it appeared to be doing a brisk business whenever we strolled by.)
On a five-day Caribbean jaunt, Virgin offers two ports of call: Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic and Bimini, where the company has a private getaway with two pools, several spots to grab a drink and lunch, and a pristine beach lined with umbrellas and loungers. Nightly entertainment onboard takes place in various venues and ranges from acoustic guitar to ear-popping dance music, with a Cirque-style acrobatic display and an edgy, sex-themed audience participation show in between. The finale is Scarlet Night, when passengers are encouraged to don red attire and party late into the night.
Of all the things to check out, we learned about our favorite from a fellow passenger. Just waggle your cell, and a bottle of Moët & Chandon and two glasses appear within minutes. It’s the perfect way to toast Mr. Branson for his ingenuity.
Atlanta-based writer and editor contributing to a number of local and state-wide publications. Instructor in Georgia State’s Communication department and Emory’s Continuing Education division.