A quick take on the best travel experiences I had in 2018.
The 7/11 rule first impressions is a quick take on the 7/11 store in New York.
A new player, Virgin Voyages, was poised to make a splashy debut just before the cruise industry went down. For months, the Richard Branson-founded company had gotten a lot of press for its maiden ship, Scarlet Lady, which was supposed to change the way people cruised by doing things differently.
Examining the Scarlet Lady
The early excitement about Virgin Voyages was all about what they weren’t going to do. They wouldn’t let children on board, there would be no buffet, and wi-fi, gratuities, and most non-alcoholic drinks would be free.
The main aim was to establish a cruise line for individuals who didn’t like for cruising or had never experienced it.
When Virgin Voyages hosted what was effectively an open house for journalists and other invited visitors this week, I finally had a chance to see Scarlet Lady for myself. We were given the opportunity to tour the ship, sample the food options, and get a better idea of what the product has to offer.
“Do you think I’ll enjoy the ship?” is a question I’ve been asked a lot over the last year by individuals who are thinking of booking Scarlet Lady. It was a tough thing to answer since I had never been on board before. And, to be honest, even after getting a chance to “kick the tires,” I’m still not sure I’m qualified to respond. This is why.
Even in the best of circumstances, recommending a cruise company or ship to someone unless you know them and their preferences is tough. As I often point out, not all cruise lines are created equal.
Those who have never cruised may mistakenly believe that Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean are all the same, yet each provides unique experiences.
Virgin Voyages takes this idea to its logical conclusion. As you go about, you’ll notice items that are drastically different from what you’ll find on other ships.
For starters, there’s the general look. Scarlet Lady has been described as a floating Instagram post, which I understand. On board, there are certain design features and places, such as the swing chair below, that seem to serve no function other than allowing people to sit, take a selfie, and go on.
This isn’t a location where you’ll stay for a half-hour, and it wasn’t intended for that. That kind of stuff may be found all around the ship… And that will appeal to a large number of individuals.
When attempting to define Scarlet Lady, one word that springs to mind is “aggressively contemporary.” Everything is vividly colored and polished, from the tattoo shop to the Korean BBQ restaurant.
Bright, eye-catching hues are very effective… particularly at night. After dark, this is a ship that actually lights.
After nightfall, the ship takes on a totally new feel. It’s perhaps not surprise that Scarlet proves to be a highly attractive woman, given the usage of various hues of red.
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Another feature that makes her a very contemporary ship — and one that people will either love or despise — is that she is very noisy in certain areas. The music playing in certain public places makes it almost difficult to hold a conversation with the individual sitting across from you — or even next to you in other instances.
However, it, too, is in line with Scarlet Lady’s mood. Consider a nightclub in Miami.
As others have said, the pool is very tiny. This won’t bother you if you’re the kind that likes to lounge by the pool but never goes in.
I had supper at The Wake, which is the ship’s steakhouse, as part of my aboard experience. All of the onboard dining options are included in the cruise cost, which I imagine will appeal to a wide range of prospective passengers.
The meal was delicious, and the ambiance was both calm and vibrant, as paradoxical as it may seem. The environment is… well, white. From the seats to the lighting fixtures, almost everything in The Wake is white.
The casino wasn’t open for gambling since the ship wasn’t really sailing. But going into the area, which was smaller than I anticipated, made me feel like I was in a James Bond movie… in the nicest conceivable manner.
We also got to witness one of the performances, Duel Reality, as part of our evening on board, which was unlike anything else we’d seen on any other cruise line. I won’t pretend to understand what was going on, but the ensemble was extremely skilled and performed the sort of high-flying acrobatics you’d see on an episode of America’s Got Talent.
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A buddy asked precisely the question I started this article with the day after I got off Scarlet Lady: “Do you think I’d enjoy it?”
My honest response was that I had no idea how I felt about the ship. There were certain sections that I thought were breathtakingly beautiful, and others that seemed sterile in the way that a lot of contemporary architecture does. The cabins seemed to be really nice, but without spending a few days in one, it’s difficult to tell how comfortable they are.
On the Scarlet Lady, a balcony stateroom.
I have a feeling this ship will be more contentious than any other I’ve ever been on. Some people will like this ship and everything about it, while others — particularly those seeking for a more conventional experience — will be disappointed.
One of the ship’s Rockstar suites has a bathroom.
The fact that this ship is so unusual is the primary reason I’m unsure whether or not to suggest it. Spend a day aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship, Mardi Gras, for example, and you’ll easily be able to remark, “There’s a lot of new stuff here, but it still has everything that a Carnival cruiser looks for.”
Scarlet Lady is so unlike any other ship I’ve ever seen that it’s hard to remark, “Oh, that reminds me so much of [insert ship name here].”
Richard Branson is well-versed in the hotel business. His airline and hotels provide a distinctive and fashionable travel experience for its customers. I believe Virgin Voyages’ product, in general, and Scarlet Lady, in particular, will have no trouble establishing a place in the cruise industry.
Its guests will not always be conventional cruisers, which is great… In fact, it is the ship’s whole purpose.
Virgin set out to create something that was completely unlike anything else on the market, and it succeeded.
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