Travel

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady review: This fun, feisty cruise ship is foodie heaven

Champagne bar on Scarlet Lady

Think you know cruising? Think again. With Scarlet Lady, and her sister Valiant Lady, Virgin Voyages has ripped up the cruise playbook and thrown it overboard. 

From the moment you board, this Virgin Voyages cruise feels different. Part of it is down to the Scarlet lady’s design, which doesn’t comprise cookie cutter deck destinations (a tattoo parlour, yep they have that), and part is down to the entertainment and choice of eateries.

The ship’s livery is distinctive, with the outside areas predominantly grey and red. The interior is somewhat more glitzy, and instagrammable. Instead of a staid atrium, there’s the Roundabout, a bustling lobby with vinyl record store and coffee shop. 

Is hotel hipster chic a thing? If it is, this might be it.

The Roundabout is the central hub on Scarlet Lady
The Roundabout is the central hub of the ship

The casual atmosphere and upbeat nature of the staff is a major plus point. There’s no formal night, which will delight many, but there is a dress to impress policy for Scarlet Night, wherein everyone is encouraged to wear red. There’s suitably colourful activities around the ship.

TLR turned sailors (Virgin’s pet name for guests) for Scarlet Lady’s UK-centric inaugural season, as part of its Summer Soiree season saling out of Portsmouth, before the ship relocated to its new homeport in Miami.

The Scarlet Lady in dock
Scarlet Lady’s homeport for 2022 is Miami Florida

For 2022 Scarlet Lady is offering four and five night cruises out of Miami, taking in Nassau, Puerto Plata, Cozumel and Beach Club at Bimini, prices start at $960 per cabin. 

Virgin Voyages sister ship, Valiant Lady, is sailing out of Portsmouth, before transitioning to Barcelona in May 2022.

Virgin Voyages third cruise ship, Resilient Lady, will begin sailing this summer, initially out of the Athens port of Piraeus.

Virgin Voyages clearly hopes its novel approach will appeal to non-cruisers – but we suspect it’ll also appeal to cruise veterans looking for something different. The Scarlet Lady can accommodate just shy of 3000 passengers and virtually all cabins have an outside balcony. It’s classed as a mid-size vessel, but feels spacious and airy.

The main deck area is basically a Beach Club

One big difference between the Scarlet Lady (and Valiant Lady) and rival cruise ships is the deck area. Rather than go for a conventional sundeck, the ship has created a beach club. A powerful sound system accompanies early morning aerobics. There’s also a secondary wellbeing pool area.

There’s around 20 dining options onboard the Scarlet Lady, six of which are premium dining destinations, and you’ll struggle to visit them all. We tried, of course. The food is so good, and the choice so varied, it would have been a shame not to put in the effort.

The fact that these restaurants are included in the price you pay is a significant bonus. They are equal to, if not superior to, other lines premium pay options.

The Galley food court, used for breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks, goes beyond the usual. There’s a ramen noodle bar here which has an irresistible Spicy Tonkotsu, but do try out the Bento boxes, breakfast burritos and the sensational pastries.

The dining choices genuinely surprise: the much vaunted Test Kitchen has a laboratory vibe and serves an experiential six course tasting menu that pushes the gastronomic envelope: mushroom mouse in the shape of a mushroom, beef with chocolate, blue cheese ice cream.  Not every course is a hit, but it sure makes a change from Beef Wellington.

Then there’s the vegetarian-forward Razzle Dazzle – its plant-based cooked breakfast is an absolute treat, and a great way to start the day. If you have a sweet tooth, try the Fairy Toast – a brioche slice topped with sweet sprinkles.

The Wake is a premium steak and fish restaurant, with predictably spectacular views. You enter via a winding staircase, it’s all very grand. 

The Gunbae Korean BBQ is a dining at sea first

In what’s a cruise line first, there’s also Gunbae, a Korean BBQ, where octopus, Squid, pork belly and vegetables are cooked over a flameless grill – delicious! We didn’t need too much encouragement to join in with the complimentary Korean soju drinking game starter.

One of the best dressed restaurants onboard is the Pink Agave, a Mexican with interiors designed by Tom Dixon. Don’t plan on dining late. Come 10pm, the restaurant opens up its dance floor and a DJ hits the decks. There’s also an Italian, Extra Virgin.

The Dock House on The Scarlet Lady
The Dock House Open-Fire Grill is snack-tastic

While there’s no premium attached to these many dining options, all are included in the price, you will need to book on the dedicated app. All charges are made to your room using the Feeling Nautical wristband. There are no drinks packages though.  

Fancy a light lunch? The Dock House Open-Fire Grill does a superb selection of tapas, with meat and seafood skewers grilled to order. There’s also The Pizza Place, the Pretty Fly for a White Pie (with a combo topping of Mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan and garlic) is to die for.

Our cabin on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Virtually all cabins have an outside balcony

Our cabin, was smart and relatively spacious, with a high level of fixtures and fittings. The balcony features a hammock, and a small table – not quite large enough to accommodate an indulgent in-cabin champagne breakfast.

Entertainment options range from classic arcade machines and casino to cabaret. The Red Room Theatre is no hackneyed haven for show tunes. The stunts and athleticism of Montreal’s The 7 Fingers troupe had everyone gasping. 

The Red Room theatre on Scarlet Lady
The Red Room theatre is no place for showtunes

The ship has free Wi-Fi, although when we were onboard it was almost comically slow. During the Risky Quizness pub quiz, our host encouraged players to use their smartphones, jokingly pointing out that pages wouldn’t load fast enough to be of any use.

There’s no shortage of places to chill. The Scarlet Lady literally has a dive bar. The Loose Cannon is dressed with diving paraphernalia, but it’s more notable for its rock ‘n’ roll jukebox, beer choices and excellent cocktails. It’s a great place to meet before heading off to eat, or winding down later in the evening. 

The Manor Nightclub has its own glitzy ambience; inside is a stage for live music and dance floor. Entrance is via a mirrored walkway, perfect for social posts. 

Need to work off your meals? The ship also has two well equipped gyms, and a running/walking track up top. There’s also the Athletic Club, an outside boxing area with a retro-Venice beach aesthetic, including punch bags and weight training. There’s also the Redemption Spa, with mud and salt rooms, and a hydrotherapy pool.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Verdict

Fun, frivolous and feisty, there’s nothing predictable about Virgin Voyage’s Scarlet Lady. With some of the best dining experiences we’ve had at sea, and a refreshing, contemporary ambience, this is cliché-free cruising. We had a ball. You will too.

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About Steve May

Creator of Home Cinema Choice magazine, and editor of The Luxe Review, Steve muses and reviews for Trusted Reviews, T3, Yahoo UK, Home Cinema Choice, Games Radar, Ideal Home, Louder Sounds, Channel News and Boat International. He’s also the editor of professional home cinema website Inside CI. He's on Twitter and Instagram as @SteveMay_UK

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