When it comes to cruise lines, anyone that’s sailed knows that each one is a little different. You can go so far as to say they each have their own personality. And while no two lines are exactly the same, it is the case that the experience onboard is fairly similar (though definitely not exactly the same).
Following the pandemic, one brand-new cruise line started out offering an experience they promised to be altogether new. Virgin Voyages now sails three ships, with a fourth on the way. And while the line in general may be relatively small, they’ve definitely made a splash.
From being adults only to including things like gratuities and wi-fi into your fare to even getting rid of the buffet and main dining room, Virgin breaks the mold in cruising.
But what’s it really like? Like many, I had yet to sail the line. So I recently booked a four-day cruise aboard Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady to see just exactly what’s so different about the new style of sailing. You can follow along as I experience what the trip is like as I sail for the first time on the line…
You can view other days here:
- Day 2: Key West, Key Lime, and Treasure
- Day 3: No Kids Allowed in Paradise
- Day 4: A Must-Have Meal & What’s the Final Verdict on Virgin?
Sailing From the Port of Miami… And Seeing the First Differences Right Away
As mentioned, this cruise is a four-day trip aboard Scarlet Lady. The sailing departed Miami, with ports of call in Key West and Virgin’s Beach Club at Bimini before a day at sea prior to returning home.
For this trip I flew in this morning and despite a flight attendant not showing up for my early morning flight (leading to a 30-minute delay that had me sweating a connection!), I still arrived in Miami well in advance of boarding. That’s where I noticed the first difference with Virgin.
Typically most cruise lines start boarding around noon. Here, the earliest boarding window I could book was at 3:45 p.m. with some being even later. So instead of heading straight to the port, I took a detour to visit the HistoryMiami Museum, a downtown spot dedicated to the story of how Miami came to be.
It’s a great little museum with a number of neat artifacts of the area, including everything from a cigar-wrapping machine that was confiscated by police in a raid on a counterfeit cigar maker to silver and gold treasure from Spanish shipwrecks in the area. If you’re even remotely interested in the history of Miami, I’d recommend a stop. It was also a great way to kill a couple of hours before I could board.
Arriving in the late afternoon to the port, Scarlet Lady was the only ship docked in the usually busy Port of Miami. That meant traffic and getting to the ship was a breeze and much less hectic than normal (one of the perks of sailing mid-week!).
The first impression of any cruise is set by the terminal, and the new “Terminal V” is one of the best. It’s open and air with a lot of light. Thanks to checking in through the app, all I had to do was show my passport, and then I was checked-in and handed my room key.
Another way that Virgin is different? Instead of the traditional keycard, you’re given a bracelet with an RFID tag. It acts just like a keycard in that it opens your room, serves as your charge account, and even tracks your play in the casino. I’m not sure how I feel having to wear a bracelet the entire cruise, but it is handy so far not having to dig out my room key.
First Impressions of Scarlet Lady
Boarding the ship, I immediately headed to my cabin. For this trip I’m sailing solo, and Virgin offers an interior solo cabin. I knew it would be small, but it was still a bit of a shock opening up the door and seeing just how small it really is. Just like a typical cabin, it has everything you need but it can throw you for a loop when you can spread your arms and touch both walls! On a weeklong cruise I wouldn’t want to be in a space this small. For a four-day trip with two ports of call, I think it will be just fine.
The cabin is one spot where you really get to see a difference with this cruise line compared to others. For one, the décor is fairly trendy and modern. But it also offers a lot of higher-end touches you don’t see with other lines.
For instance, it’s a small feature, but it’s always annoying how you can never get a drink of water in your cabin unless you pay for bottled water or drink from the bathroom faucet. My room has a carafe of water with a couple of glasses, no charge (and another one chilling in the room fridge).
My bathroom features a rainfall shower head instead of the usual wanded nozzle you see on most lines (though it has one of those, too). And there is also a tablet that controls all the features in the cabin like the lights and air conditioning. You can also dim lights (instead of just off/on) and even put on colors to set moods.
Compared to most rooms, it just feels higher end.
What about the first impressions of the ship overall and the first day aboard Scarlet Lady?
After even a few hours on the ship, I can tell that it’s different than anything else I’ve sailed.
First things first, Scarlet Lady is simply cool. I’ll be honest, in my mind the marketing for Virgin has always been filled with trendy, hip people. It always seemed like it was geared toward 20-somethings that party all night and then wake up for brunch. That’s decidedly not me.
The crowd on board definitely does trend younger and more fashionable than most cruise lines, that’s for sure. But I don’t feel out of place at all despite not having a handlebar mustache and not drinking mimosas. I do think older passengers (60 years and older) may feel like it’s not a right fit as that demographic seems fewer than a normal cruise, but I’ve seen plenty enjoying themselves. So while it seems to skew younger, I think anyone will fit right in.
But if the crowd isn’t overly trendy, the ship certainly is. There’s the classic arcade that’s free to play. Stylish restaurants serving all sorts of food that, well, I have never heard of (and often can’t pronounce). And there are plenty of spots around the ship that simply look like they were made exactly for getting Instagram-worthy shots.
I’m also noticing that despite being a couple of years old, so far the ship seems in excellent condition. It’s clean and everything looks brand-new instead of getting worn down with so many people coming and going.
Weather Keeps Things Calm Onboard, Until…
Oddly enough, I came into this cruise expecting it to be a huge party. That’s definitely not the vibe on Day 1, but the weather may have something to do with that.
It was a cloudy afternoon in Miami with on and off rain, so the sailaway party was cancelled. Instead when the ship left the port, passengers just lined the railing to watch the city go past. No loud music blaring or dancing, just a peaceful start to the trip thought not really what I expected.
The evening on board felt more relaxed and subdued than a cruise on other lines. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of couples having meals and drinks, playing in the casino, listening to live music, and enjoying themselves, but that extremely energetic atmosphere you usually see on the first day was much more calm.
Given that the ship seemed pretty laid back on the first evening and I had been up since 4 a.m. to catch my flight, I headed back to the room around 8:30. I wrote up this post, watched a movie (Major League is an on-demand movie option!), and then tried to get some sleep for a full day in Key West the following morning.
And then the bass hit.
Evidently my room was above the ship’s nightclub and the late-night “pajama party” started at 10:45. Depending on the song, there would be a low rumble or an outright rattling of the walls inside the metal cabin. Putting my head on the pillow seemed to amplify it even more, like it was coming through the floor, through the bed and straight into my ear.
Looking at the schedule, the party didn’t end until 1:30 a.m. And looking ahead, there are more parties on future nights, including some going as late as 3 a.m. Finally, I dragged myself out of bed and went down to guest services to see if there were any other rooms available. To the staff’s credit, they quickly got me switched over to a cabin two decks higher. But it meant changing rooms in the middle of the night.
That’s definitely not how I wanted my first night to go, but hopefully it means the future nights won’t be shattered by bass. As for the vibe onboard, I learned while it may be calm in a lot of places, there’s definitely a side that like to get a bit wilder.
Day 2 sees the ship is in Key West.
- One thing is for sure, there is definitely a lot more elbow room compared to most other cruises. Whether it’s due to fewer people on the ship or simply the amount of space per passenger, it’s nice to feel like you can breathe even when you are visiting the more crowded spots onboard. I think that’s why it feels less hectic than other cruises.
- Despite feeling like there are fewer people on the ship, it’s not helping with reservations. I made the mistake of not booking dinners ahead of time (all the venues are free to eat, but sit-down spots require reservations). The spaces are all filled up.