Virgin Voyages & Scarlet Lady: Pre-Cruise Thoughts

Starting tomorrow (Wednesday, January 26th), Premier Custom Travel Founder and President Chris Grum will be onboard Scarlet Lady, the first ship launched by the newest cruise brand – Virgin Voyages. Each day, Chris will be posting a recap blog with his thoughts on the ship and the experience. Today, he’s sharing his pre-cruise thoughts and expectations.

Here I am, sitting in a corner room on the 17th floor of the Miami Hilton Downtown, looking out at the cruise port and wondering what tomorrow will bring. As of today, I’ve sailed 41 cruises on 11 different lines. In less than 24 hours, I will add a 12th to that list – Virgin Voyages. I consider myself to be well-versed in the 50+ cruise lines we offer, but I must admit that despite all the training and research, I have no idea what to expect.


Sir Richard Branson claims, in a welcome letter on the cruise line’s app, that he has wanted to create a cruise line since he was 27 years old. His goal, the letter continues, is “to curate voyages that celebrate and protect the oceans we sail and communities we travel to – while creating an elevated and ethereal sailing experience. From diverse eateries and brilliant entertainment to mindful wellness and fitness initiatives, every part of our ship and its programming has been thoughtfully designed to toast you, the Sailor, and honor the ocean and places we visit.”

You likely had a reaction to reading that. Some will find it inspiring, while others may find it pretentious or maybe even “woke.” I must admit that our first interactions with the brand had us scratching our heads. One of the first things we were told in our initial meeting was that Sir Richard had never been on a cruise in his life. I immediately wondered how one would create a new cruise line without knowing anything about what the others were doing. Seems a bit counter-intuitive to me. We were also told repeatedly that this line would be very different. They’re not customers or cruisers – they’re Sailors. There is no cruise director. No Broadway-type shows. Adults only – no kids allowed. It was clear from day one that Virgin Voyages wants to be different. The question will be – is it a good different or an off-putting different?

After that initial meeting with our rep, I was quite frankly a bit unsure about this brand. They seemed to want to change everything about the cruise experience, even using new terms to describe things like groups (they’re called circles) and sometimes their new ways of doing things made things more complicated or confusing than they needed to be. Different is fine, but why re-invent the wheel? A few months later, just prior to the pandemic starting, the Virgin Voyages sales team came to Houston for a day-long agent boot camp. I walked away from that event with a better grasp of what they were trying to accomplish, and impressed that they had listened to our feedback and were making changes to how they approached things. More on those changes later.

I was scheduled to sail on one of the pre-inaugural cruises in March, but obviously those got shut down. The ship finally made her debut in the fourth quarter of last year, sailing four and five night voyages from Miami. Her sister ship, Valiant Lady, is ready to go and will make her debut in the U.K. in March. A third ship, Resilient Lady, is under construction now. It’s clear that Virgin Voyages plans to be a major player in the cruise industry. Can they achieve that goal?


I must admit – I am a bit nervous about tomorrow. While the reviews have been mixed, I’ve heard nothing but stellar things about the crew and how friendly they are. I’ve also heard that the ship is gorgeous, if different. Excited to see that for myself. I do wonder if I will fit in or feel out of place on this ship and this brand. It is clear that I am not their target demographic, so I am curious how I will be received by the crew and by my fellow passengers Sailors.

I am looking forward to the dining experience, which is also something very different from other lines. There is no main dining room and all of the restaurants are included. There is also no buffet, but rather a food hall. I am curious to see if this is really a buffet in disguise or something completely different. I am also looking forward to seeing how they will offer their entertainment, which I understand is a mixture of planned performances and pop-ups.

Tomorrow, I will check into the terminal at 11:45am. Typically they mail you “The Band,” a wearable bracelet that acts as your room key and charge card. However, due to COVID-19, mine will be waiting at the terminal. Once I arrive, I will be given a rapid antigen test to make sure I’m okay to travel. I must say that I am pleased that they are doing the testing at the terminal, although I am a bit apprehensive about it. What if I do test positive? Will the test take long or delay my boarding? It’s my understanding that the ship will not board until 2pm, since they allow late check-outs on each voyage. Guess I will have to pack my patience. Follow our Social Media for updates as I go through the process.

Once my negative test comes back, I will be able to check in, get my band, check my luggage, and wait to board the ship. With any luck, some time after 2pm Miami time I will be onboard Scarlet Lady and can begin exploring. You can bet that I will be taking lots of photos, plus a few videos along the way. Virgin Voyages calls Wifi “a basic human right” so I am hoping that their internet is strong enough for us to do a special edition of THE ITINERARY on Thursday evening. If not, we’ll certainly do one when I return. I plan to attend as many of the onboard activities as possible, and I have reservations to dine in virtually every restaurant during my four-night cruise. Along the way, we will visit Nassau and Virgin Voyages’ private experience The Beach Club at Bimini.

While this may not be a cruise line that is designed for me, I am hopeful that I can learn enough about it so I can recommend it to customers that would be a good fit for the brand. One criticism they frequently get is that they are trying too hard to be different and hip, sometimes at their own peril. One great example is the staterooms. The beds were designed to convert from a “day” configuration, where it is essentially a couch or lounger, to a “night” setting where it is more like a traditional bed. Many people were concerned about the comfort of such a setup, despite repeated reassurances by the Virgin Voyages folks that it was, in fact, very comfortable. Earlier today (great timing) they announced that they are re-designing many of the rooms and the bedding, plus adding some more storage space (another frequent criticism of the staterooms). I actually hope I get one of the original designs so I can see what all the fuss was (or wasn’t) about.

The ship’s ice cream parlor. Cool name – or over the top?

My general feeling is that this will be a fun four nights, even if I am not their target audience. It will certainly be different. I just hope it’s authentic. I do feel like they are sometimes trying too hard to be cool and I hope that is not off-putting. Regardless of what I see, you can rest assured that I will report it accurately and entirely so that you, my readers and my customers, can have an honest evaluation of this new cruise option.

Good night from Miami. A big day awaits tomorrow.