HomeLifestyleI spent the night on Virgin Voyages' new cruise ship, and it was a millennial playground I didn't want to leave
I spent the night on Virgin Voyages' new cruise ship, and it was a millennial playground I didn't want to leave
Richard Branson has launched a cruise line, Virgin Voyages, and I got to spend a night on the first ship, the Scarlet Lady, as part of a comped press launch.
I'd always thought cruises were a bit uncool, but I was blown away by how much there was to do on the Scarlet Lady.
My favorite parts were the almost endless fitness facilities, the spa, and the cirque performance.
Its stylish design — which is targeting millennials — also changed my image of a cruise ship.
I'm desperate to go back, but I might have to wait for a ticket sale.
Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Virgin has entered the cruise world, and I was one of the first people to experience staying on one of its game-changing ships.
Virgin Voyages, billed as a "lifestyle and travel brand," is Richard Branson's latest venture, and the first ship of four to launch is the Scarlet Lady.
The first cruise is scheduled around the Caribbean this spring, and the second ship, the Valiant Lady, is set to launch in 2021 with destinations around the Mediterranean.
With the Scarlet Lady on a 37-day launch tour from Genoa to Miami via Dover, Liverpool, and New York, I had the chance to stay on the epic ship in Liverpool, England, for one night as part of its fully comped launch event.
Cruises have never held much appeal to me in the past. Perhaps snobbishly, I've always associated them with an older crowd who don't really care about actually exploring destinations.
But alongside travel agents, friends and family members of the staff, and a handful of other journalists, I was one of the first people to set foot on the Scarlet Lady — and despite being on board for under 24 hours, I was blown away.
Here's what the experience was like — and why I'd book a full cruise in a heartbeat.
As I approached Liverpool's Royal Albert Dock and saw the Scarlet Lady for the first time, my jaw dropped. I had never seen a ship so big.
The ship has an incredible 17 decks and has been in construction since March 2017.
I arrived at Liverpool Cruise Terminal at 1:30 p.m. having been told I'd be boarding at 1:45 p.m. Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, everything was running behind schedule and we were all sent to a nearby hotel to wait. Luckily, endless snacks, tea, and coffee were provided.
Day visitors boarded first, and a little after 3 p.m. it was my turn. I was told to get on a coach for a journey that took all of 30 seconds …
… and it was time to check in.
The Virgin Voyages branding is strong, and even the check-in room created excitement for what was to come.
The process was slow. There was a lot of waiting and queuing, with staff seemingly unsure about what they were doing. But with any new venture there are teething problems.
A little while later, I'd handed over my passport, checked in, and was on my way to the ship.
I went through security, stood in a couple of more queues, and by 4 p.m. I was finally on board.
But, um, where do I go?
I was given my room key and headed up to the 12th floor by elevator — on real voyages, sailors will be given bands that function as their room key and wallet, and each one is made from recycled ocean plastic.
After a few wrong turns, I found my cabin — I was staying in a Sea Terrace room.
Here's what it looked like.
Scarlet Lady's Sea Terrace rooms are 225 to 265 square feet in size — it didn't feel massive, but it was big enough.
One aspect of the room that was big, however, was the bed, and I can confirm it was super comfortable.
A decent-size TV was mounted on the wall, but I didn't have time to watch anything — there was far too much to do on board.
I really liked the ombre red and blue curtain across the terrace door, which bathed the room in a soft light.
The terrace featured not only a little table and two chairs but also a hammock — not super appealing in drizzly Liverpool, but most likely a different story in the Caribbean.
The room had a desk with a tablet and a little fridge along with water and glasses. The fridge was empty, and I found it strange there was no kettle, tea, or coffee provided, which I always consider to be the bare minimum.
The design of the room was certainly stylish — all the interiors have been carefully created alongside top designers such as Tom Dixon.
There was plenty of storage, with space to hide your suitcase, which would be useful on a longer trip.
It felt as if everything had been carefully planned to make the most of the space.
The bathroom was small, but it had everything you needed — basic toiletries were provided, including a bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
The shower was small but fine, with two shower-head options.
My room wasn't the most basic accommodation on board, but it certainly wasn't the top tier. Here's the Rockstar Suite, for example.
Its bathroom is definitely a step up.
Or there's the Massive Suite, which is a ludicrous 2,147 square feet.
Back in my room, I dropped my bags and donned my lanyard for the stay, and I was ready to explore.
Even the elevators on the ship are fun.
The heart of the ship is the Roundabout, a big spiral staircase connecting the sixth and seventh floors.
It was suddenly clear who the ship was targeting: millennials. There's a craft-beer bar …
… and an ice-cream parlor with a cheeky name that your grandma almost definitely wouldn't appreciate but that made me laugh.
All food and soft drinks are included for passengers, and with more than 20 eateries on board, you're going to want to go to town.
This is the Test Kitchen, described as a "laboratory-like eatery" that's "part cooking school and part restaurant."
There seemed to be a place to eat, drink, and chill for whatever mood you were in.
This is the Dock House, and I was into the Ibiza vibe.
It made me think of lazy seaside lunches in Greece.
It was a stark contrast to this diner-style restaurant.
Razzle Dazzle is the ship's "vegetarian-forward" restaurant, serving up Impossible burgers and "fish" made from crispy banana blossom.
Or if that doesn't float your boat, hit up the Wake, which focuses on steak and seafood.
I loved the entrance.
When you just want a coffee and a muffin, there's the Grounds Club.
The more I explored, the more overwhelmed I felt. There was so much to see, do, and eat, and simply not enough time, which wouldn't be the case on a proper cruise.
Everywhere I looked, there was fun to be had, like these shuffleboards.
Want to play a board game? There are plenty.
Fancy taking some snaps in a photo booth? You can.
Or maybe you'd rather pose for a photo as a mermaid.
With a DJ pumping out tunes and lots of people hitting the bars already, there was a real party vibe.
Though alcoholic drinks aren't included in a normal ticket price, prices seemed to be reasonable: a basic cocktail costs about $9 (tip included).
My favorite bar was Sip, the Champagne bar, because I'm fancy like that.
With velvet chairs and a pink-and-blue color scheme, it was stylish and elegant.
The gold lights added a Gatsby-esque feel, too.
I would've been quite happy to spend an evening here. Sadly — or not so sadly — I didn't have time, as I had a blow-dry appointment in the ship's hair salon.
The Dry Dock blow-out bar was just as stylish as the rest of the ship, with the color scheme seeming to have been chosen to match the Kérastase products used.
I loved that the hair-washing seats looked out to sea.
The salon offers blow-dries, cuts, and color. There are various other beauty treatments on offer in the spa, but more on that in a bit.
I opted for a Scarlet Night blowout, which was a hair mask and blow-dry that would've cost £109 ($140) normally. It's pretty pricey, but not as much as the Keratin blowout, which is £209 ($270).
An hour later I emerged with an upgraded 'do and I was ready for the evening ahead.
I was having dinner in Pink Agave, the ship's Mexican restaurant, which had this very Instagrammable entrance — Scarlet Lady is certainly not short on spots for the 'gram.
Described as "upscale Mexican," Pink Agave is dimly lit and stylishly decorated.
A margarita seemed appropriate as my dining companions and I perused the menu.
There are 20 dishes on the menu, divided into small, medium, and large plates, including aguachile and chicken enchiladas (my favorite dish) …
… seared shrimp and classic guacamole …
… plus a wonderfully cheesy rib-eye steak. The food was all sensational, and I was very full. Fortunately, the next activity simply involved sitting down and gasping. Repeatedly.
It was time to take a seat (front row, of course) in the Scarlet Lady's theater, the Red Room.
What followed was a cirque show called Duel Reality. It was as good as Cirque du Soleil on a performance level but with more of a storyline, which I loved.
The incredible cast flipped one another into the air, swung from chains, climbed poles, and leaped into the sky on a seesaw. it was breathtaking.
The show may have been over, but the night certainly wasn't. Some passengers hit the casino …
… and others opted for the ship's nightclub, the Manor, which is also a performance space so can look like this.
It was very much in club mode when I popped in for a boogie, though.
It's the entrance to the Manor that has caused the biggest stir among guests, however — the twinkly "infinity room" has already become an Instagram sensation, with everyone clamoring to get their shot.
By this point in the night I was pretty tired, and though the party was still going strong, I just wanted a peppermint tea and my bed. Finding tea proved to be harder than expected, though. None of the bars seemed to serve hot drinks, so I went exploring and ended up outside by the pool.
It was freezing (and there was no tea to be found), but I couldn't help thinking about how nice a spot it would be if the weather were good.
I then found myself in the Galley, where a selection of fried food was being served to guests with the late-night munchies. Was I hungry? No.
Did I eat a random plateful of food? Yes.
I also found myself a tea. (If I ever go on a Virgin Voyages cruise properly, I think I'm going to pack a kettle.)
The next morning I started my day with a yoga class and fell in love with the studio. With floor-to-ceiling windows, it was airy, bright, and very zen. Again, I imagined looking out at tropical seas instead of drizzly Liverpool.
The studio also had a barre and TRX cables that could be hung. I was impressed. And this was just the beginning of what's on offer fitness-wise.
Outside the studio was the resistance gym, and there were more machines than I expected.
There was a better selection of dumbbells than most hotel gyms, too …
… plus plenty of stretching place, which I love.
Next up I found the cardio gym, called the Burn and Bike complex, which was just as slick as the weights gym. Views across the ocean might even make a serial cardio-phobe like myself hop on a treadmill.
There was also an impressive spin studio.
Upstairs I found the training and boot-camp room, which had all the facilities you'd expect in a top-level gym — not on a ship.
Just outside, I found the outdoor boxing ring, which could look like this …
… but instead looked more like this. I was beginning to understand why the ship won't be cruising around the UK.
There's also a running track around the top of the ship, an outdoor yoga platform, and a basketball court — and classes are included in the cruise price. As a fitness fan, I was in awe.
All that thinking about exercise had made me hungry, so I headed to the Galley, which is where I'd been told to have breakfast.
The Galley is a food hall with options as varied as all-day breakfast, bento, and baked goods.
Upon initial inspection, I struggled to find anything healthy — I was after something light after all the food I'd consumed the night before.
Ultimately I settled on a veggie-and-cheese omelette with avocado, a blueberry bagel with cream cheese and honey, some muesli, and an apple — not so light in the end, but I figured I should try various things in the name of research.
While the food was tasty, I'm not sure I loved the vibe of the Galley — it felt a bit like a school canteen or a food hall in a mall. Not so chic, but it did the job. And it was nice to eat by the sea.
It was almost time for me to disembark, but there was still so much of the ship I hadn't seen. My first port of call — if you'll pardon the pun — was the spa.
It's called Redemption.
When I walked into the main area, my jaw dropped for what felt like the millionth time since boarding the Scarlet Lady.
With an array of plunge pools, it was stunning.
There was a sauna, as you'd expect, but also a mud room, salt room, and steam room.
I also loved this area where sailors can just lie on the heated marble surfaces and gaze out to sea. Sadly, however, there was no time for me to enjoy it.
Much like the boarding process, leaving the ship was long and slow — I stood in a queue for 45 minutes and seriously considered just going back up and stowing away for the passage to the US. Staff did keep passengers happy by coming around with Champagne, though.
After less than 20 hours, my time on the Scarlet Lady was up — and I was reluctant to leave.
There was a lot of the ship I didn't get to see, like the tattoo studio (yes, really) and all the restaurants. But I was impressed.
The little touches — like USB sockets all over the place and all-gender bathrooms — are what will set Virgin's ships apart.
It's certainly catering for trendy millennials, but it remains to be seen whether those who pride themselves on going on cool holidays will actually book a cruise, or whether the demographic will be made up of existing cruise fans who want to feel as if they're still 28.
After all, to reach a younger audience, the price needs to be right — young adults today are usually on a budget, and luxury doesn't come cheap.
Prices vary between rooms, locations, and seasons — the average price for a five-night cruise in Cozumel, Mexico, is $1,500, for example.
Also, as blown away by the Scarlet Lady as I was, I still have some reservations about the concept of cruising — with so much to do on board, I imagine I'd feel conflicted between making the most of what I'd paid for and exploring the destinations.
That said, if I were going to book a cruise, it would now be with Virgin Voyages — I'd love to spend a week on the Scarlet Lady, especially with a group of friends, but it's more than we'd spend on a holiday of only a few days, so it would have to be a special occasion.
I would go back in a heartbeat if the price was right, but I think I might have to wait for a ticket sale.