I’ll always have a constant reminder of Virgin Voyages’ sparkling new ship Scarlet Lady – a TATTOO. I’ve wanted one for years but never knew what design, where to have it or plucked up the courage to go into a tattoo parlour.
But then, Sir Richard Branson bizarrely puts one on his ultra-modern, super-stylish ship and, once I stepped inside Squid Ink, the dye was cast! Two tiny birds (all to do with having two children and two grandchildren) now sit on my right wrist thanks to award-winning New York artist Jason Ackerman.
The parlour is just one of the hip and cool attractions on the adult-only, 2,700-passenger ship which expects to attract fun-loving people including hens and stags.
I arrived on a grey, windy day in Dover and, at first glimpse, Scarlet Lady looked a bit grey apart from the red trademark Virgin logo and hammocks swinging from the balconies.
But, she’s a bit like Tardis, a whole new colourful world awaits inside and the more time I spent on board, the more she won me over.
Looks like Sir Richard, who has dreamed of launching a ship since he was 26, is shaking up another established market.
He said: “It’s a dream come true. It might be for adults only but I brought my five-year-old grandchildren aboard and they went ‘Wow’ round every corner. And they danced on the table in a RockStar Suite!”
There are 78 of those super suites – think marble bathrooms, large balconies, bars and cocktail kits. The best two called Massive Suites (because they are) have hot tubs on the balconies, outdoor showers but, best of all, a room stocked with guitars and an amplifier.
The lucky people in the lap of luxury also get to use Richard’s Rooftop on Deck 16, named after the man himself. Most of us will be booking into a smaller one of Scarlet Lady’s 1,408 cabins – criticised by some “cruise experts” as too small with little storage space and tiny en-suites.
I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t bother party, party sailors. Why would thirty or forty-somethings pay for a four or five-night cruise to sit inside a cabin, especially when there is so much fun to be had on the decks?
Storage space? Well, they won’t be bringing evening gowns and DJs either – more like bikinis, gym gear and skimpy party outfits. As for a small en-suite, how much time do you spend there? And it’s not for sharing.
What’s novel is that during the day, the bed is an L-shaped sofa. You can switch it to a double bed or singles yourself or, early evening staff, will do it for you. There are also cabins for three and four (bunk beds).
I should add that my bed was super comfortable, not that I spent very long in it. I was eating a late-night snack of veggie sausage and sweet potato chips at 1am after drinking cocktails and posing with a drag queen.
Scarlet Lady (the name of one of the earliest Virgin Atlantic planes) has now arrived in Miami but, because of the Coronavirus outbreak, is postponing its inaugural sailing until July 15, with its maiden voyage taking place on August 7.
After the UK showcases in Dover and Liverpool, there were umpteen reviews from cruise writers and instagrammers scattered all over social media.
Some loved it, some didn’t… few actually not being much more specific than that. One said the flooring and main staircase resembled that of a department store. Good, Virgin has got away from polished bannisters and thick-piled jazzy carpets.
Not sure why anyone compares the ship to others. Scarlet Lady isn’t supposed to be like any other, that’s the whole Virgin point.
My kids are 31 and 35, so the right target age and they’d love the facilities – including the all-important nightclub which Virgin Voyages boss Tom McAlpin says is the “best at sea”.
And before partying, they’d pop into the impressive fitness centre and athletic club with every strength, spin, yoga and cardio equipment going and a spa, with an underwater cave theme, that also hosts spa parties at night with a DJ.
Btw, for those who fancy a run, three times round the track on Deck 17 is a mile.
The main pool has been criticised as far too small. I think young people will prefer lounging on the floating loungers either side of the deep water rather than swimming lengths. Call it a plunge pool to cool off in, there is also an extra-large Jacuzzi among others.
There are inside and outside bars (including a pub with a pint for under a fiver) and lounges with day beds and an innovative 220-square-foot net where you can chill as if on a catamaran.
And there’s lots of hideaway chairs and sofas where you can escape. As Dee Cooper, head of design for Virgin Voyages, told me while giving me a tour: “It’s all about giving people choice, sometimes you want to be with a lot of other people, sometimes you don’t.
“We have created a ship for couples and groups providing choice and variety – everything for an exciting, fun, relaxing, energetic and memorable cruise in a modern and contemporary environment.”
What about dining? No main dining room (thank goodness), set dining times, dress code or buffet. There are more than 20 places to grab a bite to eat and all food is included in your fare as well as basic drinks.
Eat Italian, Korean, Mexican, Mediterranean and British. The quality of what I was able to sample looked and tasted good. but it’s hard to judge until after the first cruises start later this month.
But if the cuisine is as super as the crew, it will be tasty indeed. For the new team are incredibly friendly and happy, telling me they feel they are part of a family compared to previous jobs with other liners. Sir Richard described Scarlet Lady’s crew as “wonderful”. He added: “It’s how the world should be, a mix of people. We have nearly 1,500 from 60 different nations and they are delightful.”
So what else? The shows, well they are certainly different. A Cirque du Soleil-style/circus-style version of Romeo and Juliet with the audience split in seats either side of the floor and pole-performing acrobats.
And later at night, a dance performance features a pink whale and a goose which, one cruise writer described to me as being like “on acid”. I didn’t ask him how he knew!
Scarlet Lady will also host special On Deck voyages with DJ talent such as Mark Ronson, Diplo, MK and Sofi Tukker, providing personal appearances on an island stopover, The Bimini Beach Club.
There’s a casino, games arcade, karaoke rooms, barber and beauty shops, blow-dry parlour, vinyl record store and Lick Me ‘Till Ice-Cream shop.
I’m sure the punters’ reviews will come flooding in after Scarlet Lady sails out of Miami on two itineraries.
Four or five-night Mayan Sol cruises to Costa Maya, Mexico and five-night Dominican Daze voyages to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. All sailings will visit Virgin’s private port on Bimini to enjoy a pool, fire pits and a DJ. Prices vary but a five-night Riviera Maya cruise is priced from £660 on virginvoyages.com
Before signing off, I must mention there are super shops on board where you can buy a Scarlet Lady souvenir – other than a tattoo!