Virgin’s Scarlet Lady Long Weekender

Having never subscribed to the view that one can make a valid judgement on a cruise ship or cruise line from a 3-day short cruise, I’ve always believed  that to really appreciate what it’s all about a minimum of 7 days should be about the normal.

Armed with that philosophy  the sole original reason for booking a short weekender cruise on Virgin’s Scarlet Lady was purely born from a need to have a burn out once Covid -19 restrictions were lifted,  coupled with convenience, both chronologically and in travel distance:  and of course a small dose of idle curiosity.

Welcome to ‘Cruising with a Difference’…

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Firstly though, a word of warning. It certainly helps to have confidence in using Apps on one’s iPhone as without the Virgin App I’m not really sure how a passenger would make any headway. Here is the basic App…

 

 

And so Friday came and we headed for our designated Covid Test area, in this case Portsmouth’s Park n Ride and the Tipner satellite park…

It was all super efficient –  our Covid Vaccination cards were checked against passports, we were directed into a cubicle for a Healgen Lateral Flow Antigen Swab test…

…and literally 11 minutes after car park arrival the test was complete.  We then waited  8 minutes in the post test area…

…and the result came through by email…

 

 

 

Within minutes we were issued with our ‘All Purpose’ Band…

…and we headed for Portsmouth’s Cruise Terminal…

A few formalities including baggage security checks and fumigation…

…and we were heading up Scarlet Lady’s gangway at 14.15…

 

As part of our booking deal we had chosen a Central Sea Terrace cabin, No 14122Z, on 14 Deck…

That’s us up there…

Cabins were available for immediate occupation. Welcome to a Dickie Branson Central Sea Terrace…

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…which of course features the famous balcony with a hammock…

Having been lead to believe that Scarlet Lady’s cruising itinerary is generally for lengths of 7 days, then one could probably accept that the cabin size is adequate. There was reasonable hanging and storage space…

…though no actual drawers…

The ensuite was noticeable for its rather minuscule size…

…though in fairness the shower unit, with its glass door and rainforest shower unit…

…were plenty big enough for us and there is something really different here too.

Forget the traditional layout of cruise ship cabins – Virgin Voyages have changed the game on that one too. Instead of fixed beds, they’ve developed transformational cabin beds: a standard cruise interior first but capable of transforming into a relaxing living space ideal for entertaining…

To prove the point we had our cabin attendant make the switch to ‘Sofa’ mode while we were out taking in breakfast…

Almost everything in the cabin, from curtains, lights, temperature and television, are controlled by the provided tablet…

Virgin Voyages claim to  offer a somewhat different approach to the cruise experience. We had certainly done our homework with a degree of research and, thanks to that research, we arrived onboard with a very open mind. We expected this cruise experience to be different and we weren’t disappointed.

We were actually travelling with two friends, and while we were obviously anxious to explore the ship we also had one mighty urge to join our friends socially in order to ‘get into the swing of things….but more about that later when I cover ‘life onboard’.

In the meantime, let’s get on with the tour.

Scarlet Lady has 17 decks with lifts available between Deck 5 and Deck 16. Let’s start at the very top where the feature known as The Runway circumnavigates the deck…

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At the rear end of Deck 17 is a smart sunbathing area known as The Perch…

…which offers a  less crowded option than the popular and more comfortable Net Deck below…

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The Net Deck is of course on Deck 16 which is home to a number of Virgin ‘Atractions’.

Moving forward on the Starboard side are the Cabanas…

…which can be privately hired.

 

…and offer spacious privacy…

…with all mod cons…

Continuing to move forward on Deck 16 one arrives at the upper deck area of the ‘Sun Club’… 

…a veritable sun worshipping sanctuary centred around the ‘Well-Being’ Pool…

…and its ‘Gym & Tonic‘ Bar.

Remaining on Deck 16 for a while I guess most readers have spotted those quirky red sun huts in the above two photographs. Well here’s an explanatory picture…

Continuing forward we now make it to the Main Pool…

Not the largest of pools but you have to admit, this ship is ‘different’ and boy did this area come into its own for sail-away and other evening parties which I’ll cover later..

The final forward area of Deck 16 is reserved for VIP Guests and is known as ‘Richard’s Rooftop’…

Nothing of course to do with yours truly but this is Mr Branson’s answer to The Grills and The Yacht Club – an exclusive reserved deck area for those occupying the ‘Rockstar’ Suites. Again, more about one of those in the ‘Life Onboard’ section later.

Port side of Deck 16 we did find some rather unique spots for the odd photo opportunity. Not really sure of any real practicality but hey, this is Virgin territory…

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Of course no photoshoot would be complete without one of us venturing onto ‘The Net’…

And of course, you’ll all notice that I actually obeyed the notice…

It actually says…‘NO FOOTWEAR please remove before entering’

That basically concludes the deck tour so time for a look at the entertainment and bar areas and we will start with the largest entertainment venue onboard and what comes closest to a ‘normal’ cruise ship’s theatre. Very different on Scarlet Lady, The Red Room…

 

Basically we found this an interesting variation on a Cirque de Soleil venue with state of the art sound, lighting and performance equipment.

The Red Room is so versatile with a unique way of changing shape to accommodate different layouts for various styles of entertainment – one minute its a traditional theatre layout, and the next day its changed to the ‘cirque de Soleil’ style for the show ‘Dual Reality’.

The show we attended will be covered in ‘Life Onboard’ later in this review.

The next major venue was known as The Manor…

Named after Richard Branson’s first recording studio, The Manor is a two deck, three-bar vibrant ocean going night club.

We took in two different shows: both very different and both amazingly entertaining. Both will be covered in ‘Life Onboard’ later in this review and certainly Dr. Alex Schiller’s ‘Never Sleep Alone’ all adult show is not to be missed…

Scarlet Lady is not short of bars!  Over the weekend our two favourites were ‘The Dock’ both  outside and inside…..

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The Dock also doubled up as the Late Night Disco…

…and for early evening and late night cocktails, it had to be ‘On The Rocks’…

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Other bars included Sip, the Champagne place…

 

The Loose Canon…

A rather quirky pub style drinking venue…

…resplendent with its nautical memorabilia…

…and complete with its own adjacent gaming area…

The Draught House…

The home of Craft Beers…

And so we move onto the subject of dining onboard Scarlet Lady.

Virgin Voyages proudly boast that they have over 20 ‘food choices’ aka eateries onboard and they don’t do buffets. Personally I would say they are stretching the credibility licence a little here. The Galley, for instance, certainly resembles what is generally perceived as a buffet on many ships: the Kings Court on Cunard, Windjammer on Royal Caribbean and Oceanview Cafe on Celebrity. Here is what Virgin Voyages claim…

The reality is that the Galley is modelled on any popular food hall and accounts for around 8 of the claimed ‘eateries’ within its confines. Yes, it is open 24/7 but not all of the 8 separate dining options are available 24/7.

What it does have in its favour however is the a variety of eye catching contemporary styles allotted to the different eating zones within The Galley…

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So what is actually on offer. Well there is  the Taco Bar…

There is a Noodle Bar…

There is the  Hot Press…

 

…which puts a whole new label on paninis while the ‘Daily Mix’ proved  essentially to be a ‘Salad Bar’…

By far the largest section was reserved for “Diner and Dash…

…which started each morning as an All-Day-Breakfast provider…

…and as the day progressed morfed into a  multi functioning  diner mainly operating as a Burger Bar, boulangerie and dessert counter….

Here’s the menus that were on offer during the day…

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We dined in The Galley on two occasions. The first time was to sample their breakfast and the second to give Virgin Voyages the Solent Richard Burger test.

Anything cooked had to be served and everything ordered was transmitted electronically by the waiter to the chef. It was, as we found out, a recipe for disaster. My fruit dish and the cooked element of my breakfast all turned up at the same time…

…as did the next table’s cereal and cooked choices. Needless to say we were not impressed.

Our second meal at ‘The Galley‘ was lunch on the first sea day and as already stated we had a burger in our sights.

Billed as ‘The Impossible Burger’ readers can rest assured that the only ‘impossible’ description applicable was the fact it was not matching anything close Oceania’s or Carnival’s offerings.

But enough of that negativity, we experienced some excellent food onboard Scarlet Lady and our first taste was within an hour of joining when, enjoying gin and tonics on the open air section of ‘The Dock’ we ordered a selection of tapas from the snack menu…

Now you can’t pick any holes in this selection…

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More about our other onboard meals later but first, a look at what’s on offer other than at ‘The Galley’.

The main dining restaurant onboard is called ‘The Wake’ and is situated, as you would guess from the name, at the stern…

An impressive staircase leads down into the restaurant…

…which stretches the width of the ship…

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During our time onboard The Wake opened for brunch between the hours of 8.00 am and 1.00 pm and for dinner from 5.30 pm to 9.30 pm.

Next up is the Mexican styled Pink Agave…

It’s Scarlet Lady’s Mexican hacienda, where you’ll go on a virtual tour of Mexico City and share the experience with your friends.

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There’s no ‘shake and bake’ instant Mexican food here, but authentic dishes including tlayudas, memelas, sopes, tortas, esquites, and tamales plus a pretty  impressive restaurant manageress, meet Sokie…

…very resplendent indeed on ‘Scarlet Night’.

 

Virgin Voyages invite sailors to take their cruise dining experience to a whole new level and maybe learn something at the same time. That, they claim, is possible at The Test Kitchen…

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Part restaurant and  part cooking school,  it supposedly introduces diners to a world of flavours, spices, and cooking skills.

Next up is the Korean BBQ named ‘Gunbae’…

A meal at this Korean restaurant starts with a complimentary round of soju, which pretty much sets the mood for an evening of mad drinking games and spicy food.

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The flameless grill in the middle of your table encourages a fun eating experience. More about our evening in Gunbae later.

Another speciality restaurant with a full on vegetarian/vegan twist is  Razzle Dazzle…

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Razzle Dazzle lets you unleash your inner vegan with a host of veggie dishes, as well as some marvellous meat dishes for carnivores.

The final example of a true speciality restaurant is Extra Virgin…

Pasta just like mama used to make! Regionally-inspired food and handmade fresh pasta offers an authentic Italian dining experience….

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Sticking with the Italian theme there is also the 24 hour Pizza Place on Deck 7….

Freshly made to order, there can be little doubt this is the real McCoy…

An excellent choice in a bright and airy setting, highly recommended…

 

And finally on the eating front, what cruise ship designed for the American market would be worth its salt without a Hot Dog venue? Welcome to The Social Club…

…which also actually sports an outstanding candy selection…

 

That just about completes what is actually on offer. The real experience however is utilising as many of the services, dining experiences and entertainment. So let’s move on to our time onboard and the experience we had.

Here we go then, Life Onboard…

Full marks to Virgin Cruises for the Covid restricted check-in and embarkation. We were onboard some 40 minutes before schedule time and were soon actively enjoying  a few social drinks with our travelling companions on the stern section of The Dock…

…and, as promised, we were able to use the complimentary Virgin Wifi…

It is probably prudent to point out at this juncture that we and our friends had both taken up Virgin Voyages kind offer of a pre-paid ‘Bar Tab’. The onboard currency is the US Dollar and the Bar Tab offer gave each couple an additional $100 for a pre purchase of $300. So, combined with our $125 On Board Credit from the booking agent we were faced with the prospect of hoovering up a total of $525.00 over three days.

Well imbibed, unpacked, showered and changed and headed up to Deck 16 for the Sail-away Party…

…where the music played…

…and the complimentary sparkling whatever flowed courtesy of ‘Marvellous’….

…as we headed out of Portsmouth…

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Past the Spinnaker Tower…

…and through the narrow harbour entrance with its traditional farewell vantage point for naval ships, the Round Tower…

…where it just so happened our very good friends, Jackie and Bob, were waving us off…

Couldn’t miss him in that high vis cycling jersey really.

And so we said goodnight to Portsmouth and hello to Virgin Cruising…

We had sailed slightly later than planned and so, having pre-booked all our evening dining through the app before sailing, we now headed to our first onboard dinner at the Italian speciality, ‘Extra Virgin’…

Between us we managed the Antipasto  Calamari…

and Braised Meatballs…

Shared the Affettati Misti…

…before sampling the Oxtail Agnolotti and Beef Tendon Crisps…

…and Nero Gemelli Seafood pasta with Sea Urchin Sauce…

Alas there was a minor problem. We ordered a Pinot Grigio and a Chianti Ruffino with our meal and were disappointed to be told neither were available, particularly when Virgin Voyages state in their promotional blurb...’a meal where the wine menu is as important as the food and  gives you an authentic Italian dining experience’.

Needless to say we reordered and were more than satisfied with our new choices of Italian wines.

Time for il Dolci…

…which, prepared table side, was pure theatre…

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our choice was simple, Gelati…

All in all an excellent meal, particularly when one considers there is no cover charge for dining at Extra Virgin.

Well fed and watered we headed for some evening entertainment and our choice this evening was…

Finding one’s way in was interesting…

 

…but we persevered and it was worth it…

This two deck high floating night club is a must with a vibrant atmosphere, great music and  a great singer who entertained us till the early hours…

At one stage I even got a wave…

A talented lady who did a number of different sets that evening…

Our first day at sea was really all about discovery, we checked out the shops…

…and various ‘services’ on offer, including the aptly named first oceangoing tattoo parlour, Squid Ink…

We met up with our friends for pre-lunch drinks at The Dock before heading up to The galley for the big Burger Test – already profiled in my earlier Galley description.

The highlight of our afternoon however was a visit to The Red Room…

…to witness the show, Duel Reality…

This is Cirque de Soleil on a whole new theatrical level and the show follows an epic love story (Romeo & Juliet) down to the core of its conflict where the stage morfs into a sporting arena.

There’s some pretty spectacular stuff here…

…and definitely not to be missed…

*****

The evening onboard was designated Scarlet Night and we kicked off our pre dinner session at ‘On the Rocks at around 7.00 pm. With dinner booked for 9.30 we had anticipated at least some musical entertainment at the most central of the bars. Alas not so. Fortunately we were already in a group and in a nutshell entertained ourselves along with others who were similarly perplexed at the lack of live music.

Suitably watered we headed up for dinner. This evening we had booked at…

Come on in and join us…

Here’s the menu…

Once we’d ordered our meal started with a complimentary round of soju –  which pretty much sets the mood for an evening of mad drinking games and spicy food.

We also had a dedicated table host on hand to guide us through the various formalities.

And here’s our choices. Crispy Chicken and Pickled Daikon…

The Seafood and Scallion Pancake…

…and Seaweed Salad with Shitake Mushrooms…

Having demolished the interesting and delicious small bites we moved on to the BBQ…

*****

We rounded off our excellent Gunbae evening with Black Sesame Ice Cream…

before heading back for another late night at The Manor.

Sunday, our last full sea day onboard, started with breakfast at Razzle Dazzle and, a first for Solent Richard, a Veggie Breakfast…

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Not a bad starter, the Watermelon, Granola and Sesame Cream…

Or plain fruit and the ‘Razzle Dazzle’ Breakfast with Sage Patty (V)…

…while my wife enjoyed her ‘Wild Mushroom Frittata…

 

Altogether a major improvement on the previous day in The Galley.

The weather was kind to us on Sunday so we spent the morning either catching the sun or retaking brighter photographs around the upper decks…

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…sporting our newly acquired Virgin ‘Sailor’ hats.

With the improved weather pre-lunch drinks was a no brainer and once again we met up with our travelling companions at the al fresco section of The Dock…

We were unanimous in our choice for lunch, it was Pizza time…

*****

 

 

Prior to joining the ship my wife and I had booked, via the app, what was billed as a ‘Couples Massage Workshop’ in the Redemption Spa.

We duly turned up in the afternoon to find we were the only ‘volunteers’. No problems there and following a most interesting massage session with more than one pair of hands we were allowed to visit the remainder of the spa’s facilities. Kind of made it all worthwhile…

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That is truly one awesome Spa facility they have onboard Scarlet Lady.

Within minutes of returning  to our cabin  the phone rang. We were invited to an impromptu  private party at one of the Rockstar Cheeky Corner Suites at the aft end of Deck 8…

*****

…and a peep at the interior…

While I understand this isn’t the largest of the Rockstar suites – those are forward on Deck 15 – certainly the wrap around balcony was a good size. Unfortunately time was limited due to our having made an app reservations for one particular entertainment choice.

Our first evening serial was an event that I had particularly been looking forward to ever since I’d read the first reviews.  Scarlet Lady is an adult only ship and there are often ‘adult themed’ events on offer. So particular were Virgin Voyages to ensure we were in the correct frame of mind that as we waited to enter this particular one we were questioned as to how easily we may be offended…

We were of course about to watch Dr. Alex Schiller’s…

Indeed, I couldn’t believe my luck to discover that Dr. Schiller’s assistant, Nurse Natalie, was going to personally escort us to our seats…

There is, of course, considerable audience participation and there was no apparent restrictions on photography until audience participation commenced. Needless to say I had captured a few images of the ‘warm-up’ but adhered religiously to the request when made.

 

How about this for a taster then…

Our final evening dining experience was at The Wake…

Inspired by London’s Wolseley and New York’s The Grill, the centrepiece of the restaurant (apart from the food) has to be the grand staircase – or so Virgin Voyages claim.

Anyway its also billed as the best Surf and Turf so we thought we’d have to give it a try…

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We were once again in full harmony and each couple plumbed for a ‘Grand Seafood Plateau’ as a starter…

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There, job done Richard…

No problem ordering the Chianti at The Wake…

…in anticipation of our main course, the lamb chops….

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Dessert followed of course, we were on a roll…

and between us we enjoyed a good selection including the Coconut Panna Cotta…

The Wake Chocolate Mousse…

…and the Baked Alaska…

All in all a most satisfactory final evening meal.

We finished our evening at ‘On The Rocks’ where we were joined by the Scarlet lady’s wandering resident Magician, Andy…

*****

…for a private session into the world of magic.

It was once again gone midnight and we’d yet to have seen any notice or instructions for luggage arrangements for our next day’s disembarkation. Needless to say with all the alcohol we had now consumed we hadn’t a care in the world on that matter. What would be would be.

We needn’t have been concerned. There was no pressure to place luggage outside cabins whatsoever and we retired for the night with the view we would ‘self help’ disembarkation later that morning.

We’d pre booked a ‘Brunch’ at The Wake for our final culinary experience…

My choice was the Avocado Benedict…

…while my wife chose the Brioche French Toast…

As with the previous days breakfast in Razzle Dazzle, our experience with The Wake’s brunch was altogether a much enhanced one over that we had the first morning at ‘The Galley’.

There is a facility on the app to book one’s departure time. Having enjoyed an excellent brunch we noted there was some time before our chosen disembarkation time. With nothing left to discover we decided to make an appearance at the gangway earlier than our chosen time and, as luck would have it, the only queues were those at the ‘Sailor Services’ desks. One assumes our fellow guestshad a variety of problems. With no queries we were immediately ushered to the departure desk, our band scanned and we bid farewell to Scarlet Lady.

 

Summary

I would refer readers to my opening statement…

‘Having never subscribed to the view that one can make a valid judgement on a cruise ship or cruise line from a 3-day short cruise, I’ve always believed  that to really appreciate what it’s all about a minimum of 7 days should be about the normal’.

Scarlet Lady, and by definition Virgin Voyages, is certainly a unique cruise experience. They are offering a different approach to the cruise experience: one targeting a much younger age group. Passengers like us who have cruised with other lines will have to sail Virgin with an open mind and understand things are done differently.

As ‘young at heart’ seasoned cruisers we found the experience synonymous with the Curate’s Egg. To the fore was the fact that the crew were absolutely amazing. They exude a cheerful and enthusiastic manner at all times and individually cannot do enough for you.  There are no gratuities to pay and close questioning revealed there is a quarterly bonus system whereby their pay rises depending on Sailor (Passenger) spend. That sounds like a good formula to me. There are no uniforms as such and the staff ethos dictates that all ranks, from Captain down, dine at the same crew restaurant.

We certainly had a great time and onboard experience, mainly enhanced by the company of our great friends. With regard to my above reference to needing 7 days I’m going to have to eat a bit of humble pie though: we saw enough to know that Virgin Voyages was not really our cup of cruising tea. I’m also reasonably thankful that we didn’t commit to a 7 day cruise though one should suppose that with shore time the Virgin exposure would not be full on. And by definition I’d confidently predict that neither will it appeal to those older cruisers who are more affiliated to the traditional styles.

Yes, one can arrange one’s own schedule around activities and shows, you can also link travelling companions together. We are fortunate and are both generally tech savvy with modern iPhones. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to cruise on any Virgin ship  without a smartphone…

The above app shot  goes for so many ‘services’ other than dining. Most entertainment is bookable through the app and it can occasionally be frustrating to find certain entertainment times ‘sold out’.

We certainly found bar prices ‘affordable’ though some choices did carry higher than normal markups. We  were fortunate to have availed ourselves of the bar tab bonus package…

 

So there you have it folks. The ball is in your court.

 

If you have enjoyed this review of our experiences onboard an Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady and would like to be amongst the first to hear of new reviews: including two new experiences for my wife and I, an Emerald Waterways Luxury Yacht Cruise along the Dalmatian Coast and an  Emerald river cruise along the Danube,  plus P&O’s latest offering, Iona and MSC Virtuosa. as well as  Solent Richard’s next port guide review of Charlottetown, Nova Scotia   in his ‘One way to do…’ series, why not join over 630 followers by clicking on the ‘Follow’ link on the front page.

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©2019 – 22 * Solent Richard’s Cruise Blog * All Rights Reserved

Duplication in part or whole without prior written consent is prohibited by international laws.

 

Disclosure to potential conflict of interest:

It is common throughout the travel industry for travel journalists and many cruise bloggers to be provided with complimentary cruises for the purpose of their reviews.

Solent Richard has no ‘conflict of interest’ as he is not an accredited journalist, he pays for his cruises, and is happy to confirm that all his reviews are his own given without fear or favour.

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5 responses to “Virgin’s Scarlet Lady Long Weekender

  1. I have to say Richard that you do an amazing job with your reviews. So detailed and informative and honest. All those photographs really bring the cruise ship to life.
    One can only say Thank you for spending so much time on writing for our pleasure.

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