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These 10 Pictures Show How Virgin Voyages Reinvented Cruising
Virgin reinvents cruising for Gen Xers and beyond.
In 1982, I spent every afternoon playing video games — back when we had to stand at a giant console shoving quarter after quarter into a machine. Just like with the pool table, if you wanted to play, you put your two quarters down on the console and cheered on (or stared at) the current player until it was your turn. I was so obsessed with Pac-Man that my back-to-school miniskirt outfit included the coveted (by dorks like me) Pac-Man deely bobber. (Google it.)
The miniskirts are long gone, but that arcade-loving chick lives on. So, when I stepped onto Virgin Voyage’s first U.S. cruise ship, Scarlet Lady, thinking I’d have a wellness spa trip I was delighted instead to find a 1980s-style arcade (where quarters are never needed).
While the adults-only ship itself is a newborn, her passengers reflected an incredibly broad range of ages. I saw guests who looked barely out of their teens and those who appeared octogenarians. But to this Gen Xer, Virgin’s Scarlet Lady was pure excitement because it felt directed at (or inspired by) my generation. Often overlooked in favor of boomers and millennials, it was delightful to be so reflected.
The Arcade (clearly designed for me) offered the vintage arcade games of my youth, with Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, as well as pool and air hockey (the only sport I have ever excelled in because you can play it drunk). The adjacent ’50s-era soda fountain offered traditional and booze-filled milkshakes as well as boundless free popcorn.
Other spaces were equally delightful. The Groupie elicited a passion bordering on obsession. There you can book private karaoke booths in shades of pink, purple, and red. The booths have mics, giant screens, and song choices that span decades, genres (and an LGBTQ+ playlist), and singing abilities. To my surprise, there were plenty of openings on the signup sheet. Next door is Voyage Vinyl, a record shop stocked with albums, magazines, headphones, and record players, and several listening stations. Another unusual cruise ship space: Squid Ink, a real tattoo parlor with two resident artists and one piercer.
Virgin founder Richard Branson calls the Untitled Danceshow Party Thing, which is produced by Sam Pinkleton and Ani Taj, “the hype music-video-meets-club-scene” and an “absurdist dance party.” It felt like a night at New York City’s famed ’90s club, Limelight (minus all the blow), and turns from a show to a dance with electronic, hip hop, and pop music that had the entire audience on their feet.
On the cruise’s weekly Scarlet Night, one of the interactive performances centered around the circular stairs where dancers included numerous LGBTQ+ performers. Virgin also hosts a drag show.
Duel Reality, an acrobatic street-style theatrical interpretation of Romeoand Juliet, is performed in The Red Room, billed as the first transformational multi-form theater at sea (sections can move back and forth depending on the show and size of the audience).
Earlier this year Virgin announced a fleet-wide partnership with J. Lo. “My artistic and social mission is to empower, inspire and entertain,” the international film and music superstar said at the time. “I am inspired by Virgin Voyages’ dedication to creating irresistible experiences and focus on well-being.”
Even though Jennifer Affleck (née Lopez), is helping create Sailor (Virgin for guests) experiences with an emphasis on well-being and fitness, you’d be hard pressed to call Virgin a wellness cruise — it’s just too much fun.
There’s a sense of play and whimsy throughout the ship and activities. I did sunrise yoga and a mediation class but spent more time playing on the athletic deck, where a massive gym and full. court fenced basketball court, and a boxing ring are surrounded by a variety of playground throwbacks too fun to feel like fitness (seesaws, circular rope swings, and a DIY burpee station). I discovered that the Athletic Club is also a bar, so you can get drunk and watch other people get in shape or try chess strategies with the giant-size pieces. The deck shares space with two hot tubs as well, for further relaxation and incredible views.
Elsewhere, the Scarlet Lady features the largest hot tub at sea, a pool-size space with various depths and seating options. On at-sea days the pools and hot tubs were well occupied, but days in port, relatively empty. If you book one of the larger Rock Star suites, you also gain access to Richard’s Rooftop, an exclusive section of the upper deck featuring private hot tubs and a bar with VIP treats (like free champagne at bon voyage).
Hands down, Virgin’s Scarlet Lady had the best food I’ve ever had on a cruise ship. There are more than 20 eateries (but not a single buffet), including everything from fine dining to experimental gastronomy to juice bars and the winkingly named stand, Lick Me Till…Ice Cream (try the salted blue corn cone with orange ricotta ice cream and you will not be disappointed).
At the first Michelin-star restaurant at sea, Test Kitchen, the ever-changing innovative menu features smart molecular gastronomy. Each meal has multiple courses based on one element that ties all the courses together (ours was mushroom but that included the best farm-raised venison I’ve eaten and a chocolate-infused dessert that I can’t forget). The restaurant’s design includes a foodie version of the Periodic Table of Elements and even though it’s a prix fixe menu, servers (who wear white lab coats) ask about food allergies and vegan/vegetarian preferences before service, even switching things up for a tablemate allergic to at least one ingredient in every course (she loved their creative solutions).
Pink Agave’s entryway (pictured) is filled with giant silver and glass bulbs, making you feel like you’re walking the red carpet with dozens of old-fashioned flashbulbs going off. It was clearly the ship’s most Insta-worthy spot but the elevated Mexican menu — mostly small plates — was enchanting too. Enchilada del Pollo showcases the simple dish while the Pescado Zarandeado included so much halibut, lobster, scallops, and (giant) prawns that it had to be shared. I topped it off with a chocolate tamale and chocolate taco (neither what you’d expect) and a sip of a smokey whiskey with Mexican chocolate.
Gunbae (the only authentic Korean barbecue at sea) is another culinary experience worth a visit. Ingredients — thin sliced Wagyu beef, short rib, pork belly, seafood, and vegetables — are cooked on a tiny flameless grill built into your circular table. Be prepared to start with the eatery’s riotous drinking game led by the servers who wear funky street-style K-pop threads. The Korean soju-based cocktails were a blast. Give Me That Dong-Lip is essentially a wine ice cream float; Smash It includes Tokki black label, ginger, citrus, and shiso leaf; and my new favorite, K-Pop Disco Water, includes actual Pop Rocks candy (hello ’80s!) with watermelon juice and Ginro grapefruit soju (and it’s served in a tiny disco ball).
The Ship Eats (which you order through the ship’s app) will deliver to wherever you are on the ship, including the Red Room during a show! We ate breakfast in our room most days, only venturing to The Wake for their amazing pork belly and asparagus eggs benedicts (though I heard missing Razzle Dazzle brunch was a mistake).
Virgin has its own private beach in Bimini, where the Beach Club’s pool felt like a Palm Springs circuit party, complete with jamming music and hot queer guys in various states of undress. None of the straight guests batted an eye at men canoodling.
Beyond the gays on unicorn pool floats, a bevy of loungers ensured everyone got their own with plenty of space in between. We shared our row with a group of six Black queer women (three couples) and a white woman with blue hair who was partnered with a pudgy guy with dreads. It underscored that Virgin travelers are a quirky and beautifully unique bunch that I fit in with. That’s not something I always experience on mainstream cruises, and further endeared me to the Scarlet Lady.
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